Sunday, August 30, 2015

Odyssey

Odyssey (The Academy, #5)Odyssey by Jack McDevitt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think McDevitt's lost this series. I think he lost it when he moved the great character, Hutch, from space ship pilot to administrator. The books since then have been bland. She's been bland. It's been a huge disappointment. I miss her fire, her leadership, everything about her missions.

In the opening of Odyssey, an Academy ship jumps out of hyperspace with a blown engine thinking they're a zillion miles from earth. Ships are sent to search for them. Turns out they're in our own solar system. Been there the whole time. Terrible embarrassment for the Academy and Hutch. People are calling for defunding the Academy, maybe even shutting it down, and it's fighting for its very existence. Turns out the ship in question is an old, obsolete model that Hutch feels needs to be retired from the fleet, against her boss's wishes. She does so. And faces criticisms. The weird thing about this opening sequence, though, is we see no more of this ship, this crew, this line of ships, nothing. McDevitt drops it on us and then forgets about it.

Meanwhile Hutch meets a senator from Georgia who wants to yank the Academy's funding -- and his 15 year old daughter, who wants to become an Academy pilot when she grows up. She talks Hutch into letting her go out on a mission and she gets to. Additionally, we encounter cranky editor Gregory MacAllister again and the beautiful spaceship pilot Valentina Kouros on a TV show where they debate the space program. MacAllister, who respects and likes Hutch, still wants to shut everything down while Valentina wants to keep going to the stars. They like and dislike each other after that experience. MacAllister also encounters a North Carolina man who grew up in a religious fundie school that taught hellfire and damnation and was traumatized. He saw his old priest in a store and attacked him in front of witnesses and was arrested and charged with assault. Mac takes his side and hires a good lawyer to represent him. The book then spends an inordinate amount of time on this trial through the remainder of its pages and I can't figure out why. It adds nothing to the plot. It has nothing to do with anything. It's like McDevitt threw it in there just to show his disdain for religion. I have disdain for most religion myself, but it's a stupid gimmick from an author who should know better.

There have been sightings of "moonriders," UFOs, around the galaxy and people are curious about them. Hutch commissions a mission to go put out monitors where they've been spotted recently and Val will be the pilot. Going along with her will be Amy, the senator's daughter, Eric, the Academy PR chief, and Mac, of all people. It'll be a month long trip.

I know this might all sound like a lot, but it's not. Most of the first 200 pages are taken up with politics and funding and fighting and UFO sightings and it's honestly pretty damn boring. I was going to give it a two star review at that point, but thank God, McDevitt upped the ante after the first couple hundred pages and the book improved.

Mac and Val grow close on the trip. Could it be a romance? And if so, could it be remotely believable? Amy is precocious to the point of being annoying as hell. Eric sulks about his lack of importance. They set out their monitors. And they see moonriders. They see one land on a small asteroid, change its bearings, and send it toward a planet. Everyone on earth freaks out. Hutch has a plan, though, to defeat them, and they do. So far, so good. Meanwhile, Orion Tours, which relies on Academy bases for its tours throughout the system, is building a large hotel near a planet. Two moonriders show up there and all of a sudden, a planet sized asteroid is sent lunging toward the hotel. People freak out. However, there's enough time to evacuate the hotel, which is under construction, so all is not lost. But now, after talking about shutting the space program down, people and politicians on earth are talking about creating a navy with actual weapons (there are no weapons on earth in the future).

Valentina continues to take them around to place monitors while Hutch faces a lot of heat at home. They go to a floating museum, where Val leaves the other three to go help rescue the people at the hotel. One night Amy is awake and hears footsteps. She goes to the ship's bridge and sees a large version of Hutch, who tells her he wants her to get him the Origins Blueprints and to evacuate Origins. It's a moonrider. She freaks out. She tells the two men and they don't believe her. They think she dreamed it. She's furious. She tells Val when she gets back and she's more receptive, but doesn't know what to think. They get in touch with Hutch, who actually nearly takes Amy seriously, but doesn't know whether to believe her or not. Still, she takes action. Origins is a huge outer space project being built that is a super collider that will build black holes that can show us how the Big Bang created the universe. Hutch sends everyone she can find with ships to Origins to assist with evacuation. Val and Eric head over there themselves. The others had been dropped off at home a day earlier when their original trip was over.

Meanwhile, there's a big plot twist. Big. Unexpected. And Hutch is furious. Val and Eric make it to Origins, where they've been warned they might be in danger. They don't really believe it, especially after being told the circumstances. However, two moonriders appear in the sky several kilometers away and sit there waiting. Unfortunately, most of the ships coming to save the employees won't make it in time, so it's possible the moonriders blow the hell out of Origins. You'll have to read it yourself to find out. And Valentina does something totally unexpected at the very end. Another big plot twist.

The book ends with the religious man who assaulted the priest being found guilty. Why was this even in the book again? What did it have to do with anything? People all around are possibly facing criminal charges. Hutch resigns from the Academy. And that's it. Book Five was the weakest of the five Academy books I've read. Nothing huge takes place, like in the other books. Hutch is a disappointment. Mac, as the main protagonist, is okay, but he's not her. I hope the last and sixth book will be much better, but I doubt it will. The only way it could be would be if Hutch would get out in the stars again piloting a ship. I'm not sure that's going to happen. Guess I'll have to read it to find out. This book, although part of a series, can probably be read as a stand alone book. The first half is worth two stars, the second is worth four. Overall, three stars. Cautiously recommended.

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Robot City: Cyborg

Cyborg (Isaac Asimov's Robot City, #3)Cyborg by William F. Wu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This third book of the Robot City series wasn't nearly as good as the first two. In fact, I was pretty disappointed with it. The writer just didn't seem to have it together. Maybe he's a new author. I don't know. The language was stilted and forced. Transitions were left out. It was just bad.

In this book, Derec and Katherine are still trying to locate the lost key so they can leave the planet and get to another planet somewhere. However, the robots of Robot City have hidden it in a well guarded location and it's virtually impossible to get to.

Speaking of Katherine, Derec learns her real name is Ariel and she's a rich daughter of a famous woman from the planet of Aurora. She apparently has an unnamed terminal disease that, although not contagious, has gotten her banned from her home planet and she has been searching the galaxy for a cure. Since Derec, who is very angry in this book for some unknown reason, and Ariel fight a lot, this new knowledge softens his stance some and he feels sorry for her and starts to take it easy on her.

One day, when going through the city's computer, they discover there are three other humans in Robot City. They get excited, thinking these people might have a ship that could get them off world, so they are determined to find them. Meanwhile, a teenager heading to college crash lands in Robot City and nearly dies. The robot medical team doesn't know enough about human physiology to repair his human body, so they create a new robot body and transplant his brain into it, making him a cyborg. Weird how they can do that, but they can't fix his human body, huh? Naturally, he's freaked out, so against their advice, he takes off into the city alone and wanders around. He talks out loud to himself, which is really annoying to read, and he determines that he is the strongest individual on the planet, since he has a robot body, but is still a human and robots have to apply the Three Laws to him. He decides to take over the planet and rule it. Why? No idea. He decides to enlist the two other humans he has found, Derec and Ariel, to help him, so he goes to see them. And gets in a fight with them. Literally. A physical altercation. It's bizarre. He's a very tempestuous individual. He later asks Ariel to have her brain transplanted into a robot body and join him in ruling the world and she actually considers it, thinking this could save her from her disease. How incredibly stupid is that? Jeff, the cyborg, is crazy, so Derec and Ariel give the robots instructions to find him and bring him to them. He is eventually caught and is put under the knife by the medical staff. They ask Derec to get naked and let them scan him. Now they know about male human physiology. Yeah. So, they transplant Jeff's brain back into his old body and fix him up. All it took for them to do that was to scan Derec's naked body. Okay. Whatever. Bad book, as I said. Meanwhile, two of Derec and Ariel's old friends from the first book show up in a one person lander. They decide to send Jeff off to college in it and they would stay in Robot City and continue to search for cures for Ariel's unnamed disease.

It looked to me like the target audience for this book was middle school males. At least it was short, a one day read. And I still like the series and will continue to read on. If you're reading the series, you'll want to read this just to know what is happening. However, it's not much of a stand alone novel, so I'd suggest with starting with the first book and going from there. If you're reading the series, I cautiously recommend it. If not, I don't.

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Friday, August 28, 2015

How Firm a Foundation

How Firm a FoundationHow Firm a Foundation by David Weber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! Thank God. How Firm a Foundation is so much better than its predecessor, A Mighty Fortress. A huge improvement. This was a great book to read. It's the fifth book in the Safehold series and Chiris is still fighting for its life against the evil Church of God Awakening. After the Church's complete naval battle destruction at the hands of the Charisian Navy, the Group of Four realize they have to resort to other methods. Or at least Grand Inquisitor Clyntahn does. He's an evil bastard, that one. He starts sending suicide bombers into Charis with horrible consequences. Thousands of people die. Merlin catches one before he can detonate, however, and they interrogate him and find out the Church's strategy. Meanwhile, Clyntahn decides to assassinate Prince Daivyn, the child prince of Corisande, Charis's defeated enemy that is now part of the Charisian Empire. Earl Coris, his protector, and his sister are in grave danger. They apply for asylum in Charis, are granted it, and Merlin is sent to get them out of their trap and bring them 180 miles to the river where members of the Charisian Navy and Marines will be waiting to get them out.

One of the really nasty things in the book is the torture and murders of the Charisian seamen captured in the naval battle in the last book by Earl Thirsk. He's instructed to give them up to the Inquisition, which he's appalled at as he knows what will happen to them, but he has no choice. What happens is gruesome. As a result, Charis announces that anyone found representing or fighting for the Inquisition will be executed on the spot. Personally, I thought they should have executed some of the 60,000 Church prisoners they had in retaliation, but Cayleb said he wasn't interested in vengeance.

More cool weapons are introduced in the book, leading to a great naval battle (all of Weber's naval battles are great), where Charis demolishes its opposition entirely. It's pretty sweet to see. Also, more people, including Charis's Inquisitor, are let in on the truth of Safehold and Merlin.

Empress Sharleyan survives an assassination attempt in Corisande, thanks to Merlin. It's truly frightening, especially as she's now a mother to the heir of the throne.

Clyntahn also finally goes after Siddarmark, getting his Inquisitor priests to lead massive uprisings against Charisian expatriates and the government, leading to tens of thousands of deaths and mass destabilization throughout the country. Just what Clyntahn has wanted for so long. He's so evil. I hope that Siddarmark will join Charis in the next book as a mainland empire to go after the Temple Lands and attack the Church on their home territory. I think they will.

The positives of this book are that it reads a whole lot faster than the previous book, even the previous two books. The previous book was SO plodding, it just got boring at times. The only boring part of this book is the beginning, when you start with 40 pages of a storm at sea with a ship trying to survive it. It does nothing to advance the plot and I'm willing to bet all of the nautical terms are lost on most of the readers, including me. It's frankly stupid. Additionally, it seems like there are fewer characters to keep track of and that's refreshing. The last book had nearly 500 characters and that's about 250 too many. The name spellings are still ridiculous and stupid, but I'm used to them by now, I guess, so I'm going with it. There's a ton more action in this book than in the previous couple of books, especially the last one. That's refreshing. The land rescue at the end of the book is especially a nice touch. Of course, this isn't a stand alone book. You have to begin with the first one and read the series in order to know what's happening. But it's worth it. This series is so addictive, even with the many problems one encounters in it. My main problem is it moves at such a slow pace, overall, that I worry if it'll ever finish before either I die or Weber dies, in which case I'll never find out what the hell happens! Still, strongly recommended as part of the Safehold series.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Gruel

GruelGruel by Bunkong Tuon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bunkong Tuon is a very good and skilled poet. This, his first book, is an excellent start to what will likely be a long and talented career. It's a biographical book arranged largely chronologically about his life as a Cambodian refugee escaping the Khmer Rouge with his grandmother, coming to America to a new life and the challenges that presented. He describes growing up on the East Coast, being teased and bullied because of his Asian heritage. He describes his family's dedication to one another and his mother's death at the hands of Pol Pot. He gives us his moving to the West Coast, to Long Beach, with family members, to a new life there as a teenager. He describes his (bad) career as a student, his jobs working in warehouses and as a custodian. We learn of his going to the Long Beach City Library and his discovery of Charles Bukowski, which changed his life and his learning forever. I can certainly relate to that because I, too, hated most poetry and literature until I discovered Bukowski myself and he opened up a whole new world to me, one in which any type of poetry with any topic was possible. It kick started my career as a poet.

Tuon went on to go to Cal State Long Beach (my alma mater), graduating and going on to graduate school back on the East Coast. Along the way, he meets his wife, who is also an academic and they enjoy discussing literature and academics. After he gets his doctorate, he's surprised to be given a job at a small liberal arts college in New York, where he is today and writes of his students and his teaching, his wife's efforts to finish her own studies, and her attempts to learn Khmer culture. There's a lot of sadness and humor in this book and it makes for a nice, comprehensive look at his life. The book is divided into sections, many of which are titled things like "East Coast" and "West Coast," etc. However, I think his last section, "Cambodia," stands out the most for me. In it, he writes of his relatives in Cambodia and his birth, the destiny of his wife's and his births and lives, his uncle and his aspirations, and what I think is the most powerful and impressive poem, "Inheritance," in which he gives us the Cambodian dead, destroyed temples and monks, child soldiers, and more. It's quite moving.

Overall, this is a strong book of poetry, especially for a first effort. It's narrative poetry, free verse, but not as lively as Bukowski, so if you're expecting gambling, drinking, and whores, you won't find it here. What you will find is a unique perspective on a Cambodian man living in a world different from the one of his youth, a person dealing with ghosts, trying to make a new life with a new spouse in a new profession and enjoying life in the process. And it's a good process to read about. Recommended.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Mighty Fortress

A Mighty FortressA Mighty Fortress by David Weber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh.My.God. I can't believe I finally finished this near-1200 page monster of a book! It was brutal at times. I usually try to write complete or thorough reviews after reading a book, but I'm afraid I won't for this one. Just too damn long, too damn much. So, a short review for a long book.

This is the fourth book in Weber's Safehold series. It's not a standalone book. You need to start with the first one and read them in order to know what's going on and who's who. In this book, the Empire of Charis is still defending itself from the Church of God Awaiting, which intends to destroy Charis. Emperor Cayleb and Empress Sharleyan are splitting their time between Charis and Chisholm, although they spend most of this book in Chisholm. They also have their first child, a girl, so they have produced an heir to the throne.

The Church's Group of Four (vicars), led by Grand Inquisitor Clyntahn, who is a raging insane maniac, decides to build a navy to attack Charis, so they pay the various mainland kingdoms to start building ships and armaments, as well as training seamen, for the attack. When they do attack, they will vastly outnumber Charis's fleet and it could be brutal.

Speaking of the Charisian navy, it's always been the best in the world, but the Dohlarians now have a navy of their own and they go out looking for Charisian galleons. And they kick the Charisians' asses. Of course, it was a 38-4 ship advantage, so look at it however you want to, but it was the first time Charis has ever lost a naval battle and the mystique is tarnished.

Meanwhile, the conquered princedom of Corisonde is producing rebels. One rebel priest and his goons torture and murder a popular priest and Merlin, who we don't see much of in this book, gives the authorities his location so that they can arrest he and his cronies and execute them. Of course, this infuriates the Group of Four. Additionally, there's an uprising in the making in the northern section of the country, but it's put down too.

The book drags in many places. It has slow plotting. It plods. It gets boring at times, for instance, when Coris has to go to Zion in the winter. That section could have been pared down by about 20 pages at least. There's not much action. Until you get to the very end. The Church finally has its navy and is joined by Harchong's puny navy, sailing to meet the Dohlar navy. Of course, because of Merlin and his technology, the Charisians know about this and they send most of their fleet to guard Chisholm, which they think is the intended destination. They also worry about the navies joining, because when that happens, there will be over 300 ships against Charis's 97. Not good odds. High Admiral Bryahn Lock Island takes 25 Charisian galleons, some with new weapons, to attack the Church's navy. It will be 25 Charisian ships against 130 Church ships. Terrible odds. The only thing he thinks he can do is to attack at night in a storm with driving rain, when the Church won't be expecting an attack. And he does. And he obliterates the first 14 Church ships before sailing into the teeth of the Church navy, taking heavy fire and casualties. But he gets his ships in the midst of the Church's navy and the galleons with the new weapons fire and a Church ship literally explodes! Everything they hit is blown to hell. It's not much of a fight. Most Church ships surrender. Only nine get away. Ninety three are taken by Charis, which itself has only eight ships left. And they have 60,000 Church prisoners now. It's a huge Charisian victory. Again. And that's where the book ends. And I had to know what happened after that, so I immediately started reading the next one. Which is where I am now.

Still, problems exist with the book. The names are still freaking ridiculous! First, there are too many in this book to keep track of. There's an index of them in the back of the book and I think there are close to 500 characters named in this book. That's freaking cruel. There's no way we can keep track of them all. Also, they all have titles! They're Baron this, Earl that, Prince this, Vicar that, Duke this, Bishop that. It's too much. And to make matters even worse, Weber writes the names in old English spelled phonetically so that the names are virtually unpronounceable and appear to look stupid as hell and interrupt the flow of the sentence or paragraph since you have to stop and try to figure out who or what this person is. It's damned ridiculous! It's insulting. It's stupid. I'm used to it now, since I've read four of these, but I still hate it.

Additionally, Weber likes to use certain words and phrases over and over again, beating them into your head until you want to rip your eyes out. People are constantly "baring their teeth." As I wrote in my review for the last book, Weber -- no one bares their damn teeth, moron!!! Dogs bare their teeth. Wolves bare their teeth. People don't bare their teeth. And certainly not multiple people on the same damn page. It ticks me off. He also likes to write that people "snort." Constantly. It's cute the first three dozen times he writes it, but after seeing it 100 times, you want to kill any character who freaking snorts. What are they -- horses?

The book also moves at a glacial pace. I think it covers about 11 months, give or take. At this rate, publishing one book a year, maybe the series will be finished by the time I die??? It's driving me insane. As everyone says, he needs an editor. Maybe three. Cause apparently he has none. They need to speed him up and cut down on the word count.

Weber is a talented writer. I have to be honest though, these books drive me crazy. The whole time I read them, I ask myself why I'm putting myself through this torture. But like many others, I'm addicted. It's a good story and well told. Just slow as hell and from too many points of view. I want to know what happens next and what happens ultimately. I just don't want to have to read 25 1000 page books to do it. This is a five star book in terms of quality that deserves three stars because of all of its faults and problems, so I'm giving it four stars. Cautiously recommended for those reading the series.

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Technogenesis

TechnogenesisTechnogenesis by Syne Mitchell
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book has to be easily one of the cheesiest books I've read in a very long time. In fact, I didn't even finish it. I made it to page 216 and gave up in disgust. It's just so damn stupid. I don't know how much experience the author has with cyberpunk, but she could use a few lessons.

In the future, virtually everyone in the world is connected to the Net. 24/7. And that's all they want out of life. There are a few cranks who are disconnected, but no one pays them any attention. Jaz is a "natural," a type of psionic who can break into networks, data, and even minds, working for an info company in Seattle. Everyone wears face rigs -- all day long. One day, hers breaks. She takes it for repair, but because hers is custom made, it needs to be shipped off, so she's left with pretty much nothing. And she didn't realize how horrible it would be to be without the Net. She can't pay for a bus ticket. She can't get in her apartment building. People in rigs are staring at her. She feels different. She goes to the library and uses a public connection and starts doing some research. When she finds some relevant articles, they start disappearing before her eyes. What's going on? More importantly, she feels something in the Net, an entity, and it soon appears before her, a self conscious, constantly growing entity reliant on ten billion networked humans for survival, and it calls itself Gestalt. It scares the hell out of her.

She calls some work friends and talks them into a disconnected hiking/camping trip weekend. She's going to tell them she has some suspicions. For instance, no networked person has committed suicide in years. She noticed that people are more complacent. She steps in front of people to try to get a rise out of them, but they just walk off. She meets her friends and they hike to a spot out in the boondocks. She shares her suspicions and is met with a variety of reactions, and they aren't all very supportive. However, soon some snowmobiles show up with what appear to be rangers and they say an avalanche warning is in effect and they have to evacuate. They're not given a chance to collect their belongings and Jaz winds up with one of the rangers. The others move ahead while Jaz's slows down. He stops, pulls out a mortar and blows up their camp, before dragging her back on the snowmobile. She's being kidnapped.

I can't remember, but she must have been knocked out, because when she comes to, she's in a prison cell. A military man comes to see her. He informs her he's a colonel with the NSA. She tells him the NSA is a research organization and he tells her he's with their enforcement division. She's in their prison. She has one choice. Go to Pasadena to infiltrate a break out organization that's offline, for what purpose we're never told, or be killed.

OK. The NSA doesn't have an army. They don't have prisons. They don't have assassins. And they sure as hell don't have witches in dungeons, which is something Jaz encounters in her ONE day of training. The two NSA agents sent previously have both disappeared, presumed dead, so she's given one day of training. And a partner. A hacker who's in an NSA prison. If they succeed, he gets pardoned.

I'm going to stop. They get to Pasadena, get mind read, immediately invited to join the breakaway organization and they have their own network with their own version of Gestalt. So what's the big damn difference? I couldn't take it anymore. What a stupid damn book! I can't believe I read over 200 pages of it. What a waste of time. Jaz is thinking of deserting the NSA and joining this organization for real. Personally, I hope she gets blown away. She's a damn idiot. If you like cyberpunk, this is the LAST book I would recommend.

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Robot City: Suspicion

Suspicion (Isaac Asimov's Robot City, #2)Suspicion by Mike McQuay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This sequel to Robot City: Odyssey didn't let me down. We have Derec and Kate still in Robot City, unable to leave, guests of the robots, against their wills. Why are they guests? Well, in my review of the previous book, I said there was a cliff hanger. Here it is. One other human has been on the planet and he has wound up murdered. Since robots can't murder humans, Derec and Kate are the suspects, even though they weren't even on the planet when it occurred.

While Kate is obsessed with solving the murder and exonerating themselves, Derec is obsessed with the city itself. See, it's growing. Constantly. And it rains every night. Hard. He discovers an underground reservoir where the water is about to overflow and destroy the city, but if the city would just stop growing, things would be okay. But he also discovers where the city is growing. Near the reservoir, in underground mines, a zillion robots are helping to build a living organism that evolves and grows -- the city, all under the watchful eyes of the robot supervisors. He confronts them and they say it can't be stopped. He's frustrated.

Meanwhile, Kate finds the murder site. It's an enclosed building that needs to have a hole cut into it for her to enter. In it, she finds the naked body of the man called David, strangely, Derec's given name. When she turns the body over, she freaks out because she sees Derec. She passes out and the robots rush to get Derec to come assist her.

Derec keeps thinking about the city and the robots. He finds the very first robot and quizzes him. It saw a human walking away from him as his first waking sight. Derec is convinced the pyramid at the center of the city plays a key role and enters it, only to be told that the top of it is off limits. He goes in anyway. He goes up some stairs and finds an office. Of a human. Who is obviously not there. And he finds a computer. With files for defense of the city, which he reads. He tries to modify them, but is unable to do so.

Later, he and Kate go to the building housing the dead man. They enter and find the body gone. Derec gets suspicious. The computer had said something about an alien presence in its defensive information. The body had had a cut on its foot. The building was enclosed and had no air. He cut himself and let his blood hit the ground. Immediately, the building closed up around them, enclosing them in it. The blood is the alien presence. Derec now knows what killed David. Carbon monoxide poisoning. Still, the rains come. Derec rushes to the mines to find the supervisors to see if they'll let him reprogram the core to include hemoglobin in its defenses, as well as to dig further for more space. One of them helps him. They find the core, he programs it, the core accepts it, the city is saved.

Good book. But lots of unanswered questions. Robot City has no communication equipment. It can't let anyone know Derec and Kate are on their planet, nor can it summon a ship for them. Who is the human overseer and probable creator of the city? Where is he hiding? What happened to their key that brought them there that they hid in the pyramid? Who was David? I guess I'll be looking for those answers and more in Book Three. It's a short book and readable in one day. Not too heavy, not too sci fi, except for the robots. But fun, nonetheless. Recommended, assuming you've read the first one.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Final Evolution

The Final EvolutionThe Final Evolution by Jeff Somers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Avery Cates is a bad ass. A major bad ass. And he knows it. And so does half the world. What's left of it, anyway. It's a futuristic dystopia Jeff Somers gives us in this five book series and it's incredibly depressing, with death and destruction waiting just around the corner for practically everyone. Some go sooner than others though.

Cates is a Gunner. He's a hired gun, a mercenary. He sells his services to the highest bidder and he's one of the very best in the world. He has survived so much in this series and is still alive. It's truly amazing. In this book, we see Cates and his apprentice and friend, Remy, in a South American country, ready to take out a small time dictator. They take care of his guards and kill him ruthlessly. When they go to collect their pay, the idiot who hired them claims to be broke and offers them jobs with him. Cates pulls his gun and is about to blow him away when an Angel appears. Angels are psionics with tremendous powers who go around passing judgment on people and killing them. One has come for him. And so it begins.

The book follows the two, with a beautiful female companion, up to Mexico City, where they encounter an old enemy of Avery's. He's been waiting to kill him for years. When he meets him, the man is in a hospital and shows him the stumps of where his hands have been cut off. Then he tells him that he's bait for Cates. Avery starts to understand. Avery's biggest nemesis and the greatest Gunner of them all, Canny Orel, is stalking Cates all the while while Cates has been after him. He has a score to settle. But Cates sort of blanks out and wakes up to find the guy in the hospital bed shot dead and Remy having done it. What the hell? He wanted to do it. Before this happened, Cates heard that Canny might be in Croatia, so that's where he heads next, with Remy in tow. Remy acts strangely the whole trip and when they are on board a boat, where the three of them are stowaways, the crew finds them and sells them to some unknown party. Cates is ticked. Turns out it's a group of Techies, people who are trying to preserve technology in a world where technological advances no longer exist, where manufacturing no longer exists.

First things first. Cates is knocked out. When he regains consciousness, his female friend has beaten it out of there and Remy is in a cage. Grisha, the leader of the Techies, explains that Remy is dead, Cates had killed him in the hospital, and this Remy is a powerful psionic who has been controlling Cates ever since. The psionic is killed and Cates can't believe that Remy is gone.

Grisha tells him that the system cops left over from when there was a system are now avatars, dead people who have been uploaded into metal chassis' and who are heavily armed. But while they have the capacity to keep order, they are about to run out of time in three weeks unless he can get the override codes. And he needs Avery to do it. See, Canny has the codes. And needs to be captured alive. But he's the most powerful psionic avatar on earth and is holed up in a castle in Croatia, where he will be able to defend himself against nearly any attack. Cates agrees to do it, provided he gets Canny back when Grisha's done with him. So he can kill him.

They take a Techie team and head to Germany, where they pick up some avatar system cops who will help out on the raid. Cates will lead a small team through a drainage pipe tunnel while the cops storm the castle. Well, shit happens. A lot of shit. People die. They come across zombies Canny is controlling, who are attempting to shoot them. Canny's being is injected, partially, into a doll-like girl in the tunnel, whom Cates and the others capture. But they're ultimately driven away.

They head to Spain. Cates is convinced Canny will come for them. He wants the head of the girl Cates took with them. It contains too much of his information and personality for him to be comfortable letting them have it. There are about twenty armed Techies and Avery. Then about ten psionics join them for the purpose of helping to defeat Canny. They set up trip wires, security, alarms, everything, and prepare.

Canny comes at night. They can tell by gunfire and the sound of someone yelling as they die. More people die. Canny's getting closer. The thing about psionics is they have to see you to throw you up in the air or "push" you inside your head or anything like that. So Avery's told Grisha and some others to always be on the move and don't let yourselves be seen. One of their psionics spots Canny and throws him up into the air and a good ten Techies rush together to go shoot at him while he is aloft. But they don't. He's stopping them. Avery grabs one of the rifles and starts shooting, but Canny causes a buried hovercraft to come up out of the ground and land on the group, minus Avery, killing them all. Avery takes off down into the cellars. It's an old prison that he had actually been in, with Canny, some years ago. And Canny appears before him. And they get it on. Canny tosses him around like a rag doll. Cates gets a few shots off. They do nothing. Canny pushes Avery's mind and it's horrible, but he's able to withstand it ultimately because his brain was screwed up by the system several years before and is impenetrable. Canny flies through the air. Canny lands on Cates. He's hurting everywhere. Avery gets him to go down an elevator shaft, where he drops some grenades and it does some good. Canny returns on fire and everything on top of his chassis is burned off. But then he bull rushes Cates and knocks into him hard. Cates knows he's going to die. Somehow though, he's able to get on top and pull his gun. He sticks it in an eye socket and pulls the trigger repeatedly. Tough luck Grisha. Not getting him alive. Cates wins in the end. Final scene: Cates walking a deserted street in Toledo, going into a deserted bar and getting some alcohol. Great ending to a great book and a great series. However, there is an appendix, which is really an epilogue, and it's completely perplexing. It's purportedly a diary of someone, a woman, somewhere in Croatia, probably back at the beginning of the troubles. People around her are disappearing. People around her are turning into zombies. And that's it. What does it have to do with the book or the series? Perhaps I'm just stupid, but I didn't get it and don't know why it was included. Nonetheless, if you like uber violent dystopian cyberpunk, this is definitely the series for you. Strongly recommended.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Robot City: Odyssey

Odyssey (Isaac Asimov's Robot City, #1)Odyssey by Michael P. Kube-McDowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an interesting beginning to a series commissioned by Asimov's publisher and with his permission. Indeed, he writes the forward. Of course, the Three Laws of Robotics are in full force here.

A man, who goes by the name of Derec, which is found on the front of his shirt, wakes up on an asteroid with severe amnesia. He has no idea who he is, where he's from, where he was going, who his family is, what planet he's from, what his work is, etc. All he knows is that he's surrounded by robots. Many, many robots. And most of them are pretty darn busy. It looks like they're mining. He starts wandering around the various levels and meets some of the robots and while they're respectful, they won't let him leave the premises for his own safety or rebuild the craft he was in to take off in. After awhile, a space ship is seen coming toward the asteroid and no own knows its intent, but the robots start going wild. They start taking everything on the premises to be burned and once dumped in the incinerator, they jump in after. They're committing suicide. The ship turns out to be hostile and fires lasers at the asteroid and their colony, wreaking terrible damage. Derec outwits a robot, dons a special suit, and makes it to the surface. At the very end, a robot breaks free and shouts to Derek that they've found the key. Derec passes out.

And wakes up on the space ship. Where a very hostile alien is captain of the ship and wants robots for slaves. He's got some blown up parts and insists Derec build him a robot or else. There are several types of aliens on this large ship and one that looks kind of like a dog becomes a kind of friend to him. Derec somehow builds a robot, but gives it instructions to listen only to Derec as his ultimate master, even while following someone else's orders. The captain is happy with the robot and promptly tells Derec he wants 50 more. Derec and his doggie buddy make it to the control center of the ship, where the robot and the dog carry off the captain. Derec starts looking for the hidden key the robots gave him, as he's obsessed with it. As he's looking, a young woman appears and seems to know him. However, as they're talking, he's working on lifting floor boarding and an explosion occurs, knocking everyone out.

Derec wakes up in a hospital room in what he later finds out are weeks later. And his female friend, Kate, is there too, still asleep from her injuries. And they have a robot doctor. They're on a space station manned entirely by robots. And part of the space ship had come loose and the robots had captured it and brought it back to the station. As soon as Kate, the young woman, is able to get around, they start talking about getting back home, wherever that is. And they talk about the key, which the woman knows about too. However, neither of them knows its significance. Odd. The doggie alien turns up, hiding from the robots and the three of them team up to rescue the key, which the doggie knows the location of. And they pull it off! The three of them end up back in a darkened room and it turns out that the alien knows a little about it. Apparently, it's a key to a transdimensional travel ability, which is why it's so wanted. As the robots are closing in on them, Kate and Derec rub it, find a catch, push it and disappear. And appear in the middle of nothingness. They push it again and appear atop a pyramid in a large, beautiful but alien city. They try it again, but it doesn't work, so they figure it needs time to "recharge." So they spend the night atop the pyramid.

In the morning, they go for it again and they're taken back to the land of nothingness. They press the key again, thinking of winding up on Kate's home planet and they're dispatched right back to the pyramid. Odd. Derec decides he wants to go down and look around. Kate follows him down. At the bottom, they're met by robots. They're taken to a house, where they get cleaned up, and then go to meet the city leaders, who they assume are going to be human. But they're wrong. More robots. Because they're in Robot City. There are no humans. They're stunned. And while they want off the planet and to go back home, it turns out that can't happen because of an interesting plot twist that leaves you hanging at the end of the book. Completely unresolved. You have to buy the sequel and probably each sequel after that in order to find resolution. This publishing strategy usually bugs me and I'm encountering that with David Weber's Safehold series, but his books are 800-1100 pages long. This book was only 200 pages and I read it in a day. So I'm not too put off by the idea of reading a few sequels in this series. The writing is simple. The plot is basic. It's pretty easy to understand. The sci fi isn't very original. But it's still fun. It takes you back to a simpler time in sci fi. And if you like robots, you're in for a treat. Recommended.

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Honor Among Enemies

Honor Among Enemies (Honor Harrington, #6)Honor Among Enemies by David Weber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While this isn't my favorite Honor Harrington book, I really can't think of any reason not to give it five stars, so that's what I'm doing. In this book, Honor is still an admiral in the Grayson Navy, but Manticore comes crawling back to her, begging her to rejoin their navy as a mere captain to lead a four ship squadron of Q ships in the Silesian Confederacy area, where pirates are destroying merchant shipping and crews. It's an ugly invitation, but she wants back in the Manticoran Navy so badly, she accepts. Crazy.

Q ships are converted merchant freighters with no armaments to speak of, but in this case, with lots of weaponry. They are to act as targets for pirates and when they are attacked, to destroy the pirates. But obviously, they have to do so immediately, as they can't sustain damage. Honor is gratified to learn that her captains and execs are of good quality and she knows some of them, but the crews are a combination of cast offs and new recruits fresh out of the academy. Not good.

Klaus Hauptman figures in this book. He asks that she be chosen for this assignment because she's a great combat commander AND if she gets killed, that's great for him too, as he hates her. So when she saves his sorry butt late in the book, it's pretty ironic.

A nice piece of writing in this book has to do with Haven. In the past, the Havenites have always been evil, for the most part. In this book, we see some evil Havenites, but we see some good ones too. It makes for a more realistic and humane look at this group of people. One Havenite cruiser is in the same area as Honor's ship and it's going after pirates too, and the captain rescues some Manticorans, even though he knows he probably should have destroyed them.

Speaking of pirates, there are some pretty evil ones in this book. Led by a maniac. With nukes. And of course, Honor outwits him. Couldn't have it any other way. And also, the body count is high in this book. Honor's crews always suffer high casualties. Makes ya wonder why so many people want to serve under her.

One nice touch was a new kid fresh out of the academy. He shows some promise in Engineering and is promoted, but there's a crew of about five nasty bullies, led by one utterly insane nutjob. He loves to hurt people. He wants to murder people. And he wants to desert the navy, knowing it's an execution squad he would be facing if he were caught. Well, he catches this kid alone and beats the shit out of him. Someone spots them and runs him off, but neither of them will say anything other than the kid fell down. Right. Everybody knew who did it, but there's no proof. Later, one of the kid's friends, a female of the same rank, has her space suit (?) sabotaged, and nearly dies, but again there's no proof. Meanwhile, this kid has been working out with the Marines on board the ship, learning how to fight. He goes and tracks down the bully. He goads him into taking a swing at him and then beats the shit out of him and it's a pretty sweet scene to read. Honor gives the bully 90 days in the brig, followed by a court martial. She gives the kid one day of sitting in his room and docks him one week's pay. He's stunned. He thought he'd lose his stripes and maybe be court martialed himself. She knew what was going on. She approved. Nice.

It was good to get Honor away from the religious nuts and politics of Grayson. That was starting to get old. But it was crappy not seeing her in the captain's chair of a dreadnaught. However, she worked wonders with those Q ships and it was a pretty good story, so five stars it is. Recommended.

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Degrees of Freedom

Degrees of Freedom (Samuil Petrovitch, #3)Degrees of Freedom by Simon Morden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Degrees of Freedom is the winner of the 2012 Philip K. Dick award and it's very well deserved, I think. It's the third and final book in the Samuil Petrovitch trilogy. I loved it and I hated to see it end.

Samuil Petrovitch is a nerd/mathematician/physicist living in London's Metrozone, now called the Freezone. He has twice saved the city from disaster (in the previous books). (This is a future dystopia where Japan has sunk into the sea and America is full of "Reconstructionists," crazed religious nuts out to destroy the world, not unlike today's America. He has handed control of the Freezone over to Sonja Oshicara, but he still plays a significant role in its running. The people there are busy trying to rebuild their city.

[SPOILER]

Sam and his oft-separated wife, Maddie, a former nun who is Amazonian in size and carries a big gun, hear there is an Armageddonist with a nuke in a park and they rush to the park. They find the large container housing the bomb and Petrovitch gets in to discover a mummified corpse holding what appears to be a nuke. He inspects it and thinks he can disengage it, but needs some tools, so he sends Maddie to get them. Next thing you know, some thugs show up, break his arm badly while beating him up, and take off with the bomb. He's pissed. And he wakes up in a hospital with his arm in metal rings. Valentina, Tabletop, and Lucy are there, his crew, and they help him "escape" from the hospital, even though he's doing horribly, because he wants to find the bomb before it's used and he wants to stop these men.

He sees a video meant, apparently, just for him of masked men claiming they want the New Machine Jihad back, or they'll blow the bomb. The New Machine Jihad was an AI-based monster that destroyed half the city in an earlier book that Sam thought he had killed. He knows of a group of NMJ worshipers, so he and the gang head off there, hoping to find the bomb. Problem. Sonja has declared him a criminal and claims he has run off with the bomb. So her troops are looking for him.

They get to the place where the worshipers are, and there's no sign of a bomb. However, things seem off, and before they know it, men appear and start shooting! It's the CIA, who have been trying to kill Petrovitch and Michael, the super quantum computer that's possibly alive and that only Sam knows where it is. They want Michael destroyed. Petrovitch and the ladies get in a shoot out and escape, only to see a suspicious van leaving, possibly the people with the bomb, so they follow it. They overtake the van just as Sonja's troops arrive. It's a standoff. They let Sam and Valentina tear apart the bomb, carefully, though and it's a fake -- it's not a nuke. Someone set them up.

They then decide to rescue Michael, which they do with a lot of effort. However, they need to get him to safety, so they use Al Jazeera's satellite to upload him to other computers. He's now active and helping Sam run things.

More stuff happens. Lots of action. Petrovitch and the girls are trying their best to both save the day and escape from harm. Finally, Sam announces that Sonja has screwed up things too badly and he's firing her -- she's no longer in charge. I thought this was pretty naive on his part and it turned out I was right, because shortly after this announcement, some workers in the same park encountered some of Sonja's troops and were fired on and killed. Sam and the women rushed to the park and killed the bad guys. Meanwhile, he's trying to figure out a way to talk to Sonja and get her to stop. He finally decides to just go up to her office at the top of a high rise and talk to her, which seems unbelievably stupid. Until you realize his logic. He tells Maddie, who is pleading with him not to do this, that Sonja has never harmed him, except for the broken arm, and he thinks that was just a mistake. She's had plenty of chances and each time, his life has been spared. He thinks if he just walks through her lines of troops guarding her building and goes up to her office, he'll be safe. Because she's in love with him. Has been for a long time. So he does it. He calls her and tells her he's coming.

He goes to Sonja's office. They talk. She tells him everything she's done, she's done for him. He says horseshit. She claims that the CIA came to her months ago, demanding his head, and this was the only way she could think of to keep him "occupied" and out of their clutches. And now he's ruined everything. He tells her she was wrong. He tells her he's going to go out there and correct everything she's ruined. As he leaves, she pulls a gun out, puts it in her mouth and pulls the trigger.

He's heard the CIA have a nuke with them. They're going to blow up the Freezone and kill Samuil Petrovitch and Michael and everyone else. He's got to stop them. He and Madddie go down into the underground tunnel leading to where Michael had been stored and catch up to the CIA operatives. Maddie kills one. They had already captured one previously. There were five to start with. Petrovitch releases an odd type of bomb he and Lucy have cooked up which doesn't explode -- it turns into a mini-black hole and sucks everything around it into it. They roll it down the tunnel and it gets the third agent. The final two are in Michael's vault. Maddie climbs down and shuts the vault door, locking them in, but they know time is critical, because that bomb is going to go off and they have to warn everybody to get the hell away from there.

As Sam and Maddie are dragged out of a manhole, they tell everyone about the bomb and tell everyone to take off. Sam can barely move, he's so badly injured. Maddie drags him. Fortunately, Sam had thrown his last little black hole bomb into the shaft above the vault, destroying the tower above it and collapsing it. Minutes later, the bomb explodes, knocking everyone to the ground and blowing houses, bridges, and other buildings to smithereens. However, the collapsed tower seems to have helped, because there's no mushroom cloud. There is radiation, however and everyone heads for a radiation Red Cross site, where they are cleaned up. Sam loses an eye. He is probably going to lose his arm too. And he's pissed. At America. As is everyone else. And he knows how to get back at them.

A phone in the White House rings. Someone picks up. Someone claiming to be Samuil Petrovitch speaks and says he wants to speak to the president. He gets an admiral. The admiral says they don't talk to terrorists and is about to hang up when Petrovitch tells him he's about to witness the destruction of his country. The admiral pauses, then hangs up. Sam rings the Situation Room and gets someone there. He demands to talk to the president. He won't talk to Sam. Sam tells them Michael has inserted an indestructible virus in every American networked computer so that when they are powered down, they'll be wiped permanently and the American economy will collapse. The Americans then notice that missiles have been launched from Russia, China, the European Union and elsewhere, hundreds of nukes, all aimed at America. They begin to panic. Petrovitch tells them they're getting what they deserve. The president calls for his own nuke codes, while cities on the coasts start to disappear from the screen. Sam then asks what if this is not real? What if? Should you launch? The president starts reading the code. Someone stops him with two code words left and Petrovitch says to utter the last two, he has almost captured the whole string. The president fires two of his cabinet members, more cities disappear, but interestingly, no missiles are aimed at Washington. He reads the last two code words. Sam and Michael get them. One of the president's men calls his brother in Colorado, which has just been hit. His brother answers and he's asked if there have been any nukes exploding in his state. He laughs and says no. It was all a scam. Sam has scammed them and now has their nuke codes. He says he is going to post them to electronic bulletin board walls. He tells them he's captured the entire conversation electronically and once the American people hear and see it, the president will be toast. He hangs up smiling.

There are a few wrap up things that happen, but that's the gist of it. Sorry for the spoilers. If you like action packed, very violent sci fi that's borderline cyberpunk, then this is definitely the book and series for you. I'm really going to miss Samuil Petrovitch. He was far from perfect. He was even deeply flawed. But he felt real, somehow. You lived his experiences and grew with him as he grew. It was a great ride. Definitely recommended.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Devil's Eye

The Devil's Eye (Alex Benedict, #4)The Devil's Eye by Jack McDevitt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book turned out to be a real disappointment and I think the author did a pretty poor job on it, which is very unlike him. I normally love Jack McDevitt books and I love the Alex Benedict series, starring Alex and his assistant and pilot, Chase. They're into finding and selling very expensive antiques to rich clients. The basic premise of the book had promise, but the author kind of blew it by writing two different books in one. And by making it pretty unrealistic in the process.

Alex and Chase have been visiting old Earth for the first time with two Mute friends, aliens who are telepaths and are considered repugnant by humans. Of course, they consider humans to be repugnant. However, these four get along. On their way home, Alex gets a transmission from author Vicki Greene, asking for his help, stating that "they are all dead." And that's about all there is. Alex is bothered by this, while Chase is ready to forget about it. Until they get home and find that Vicki has wired two million credits into Alex's bank account. Now Alex feels an obligation to help her, somehow.

Vicki Greene is a well known horror writer who pumps out a book a year. She's spent the past year on a far off planet called Salud Afar which is well known for supernatural occurrences -- hauntings, werewolves, etc. Good stuff to start your next horror book with. However, when she gets home, she doesn't seem to be herself, seems a little depressed, and when Alex tries to contact her, has disappeared. He eventually finds her brother and they talk. Turns out Vicki has voluntarily mind wiped herself, a process usually reserved for hardened criminals. It's basically murder. Your life is over. You have no more memories. You start over as a blank slate with a new life. Alex and Chase find out the psychiatric institute that did this process, but the administration and doctors there won't tell them anything about why she would do this or where she is now. So, what to do?

They decide to go to Salud Afar and trace her steps to see what she could have found out that was so disturbing that she mind wiped herself. They arrive and play tourist. They ask questions. They start getting some interesting answers and then ... they're kidnapped. By cops. They escape, barely, but Alex is caught again while Chase gets away and heads for a taxi to take it up to her ship. They've discovered something important happened on an asteroid and there's something important about the lone star in the system. She goes with a friend and his wife to the asteroid. And finds nothing. But then finds something in space which explains everything. When she gets back to the planet, the corrupt cops contact her and she tells them every news agency on the planet will have her news in an hour unless she gets Alex back. She does. And Alex had guessed what the mystery was.

And this is one of the book's problems. Halfway through the book, the book's mystery is solved. It's over. What to do now? Politics! Yeah, that's what I'll do, thinks McDevitt. So, that's what he does.

There are skirmishes between the humans and the Mutes in space, leading to wrecked space ships and casualties. It looks like war is imminent. But the head of Salud Afar asks Alex and Chase to go to the Mute's capital as diplomats to try and get them to agree to a cease fire, so that the humans will also agree to a cease fire. The goal is to get the human fleet to the planet to aid in evacuating it before disaster strikes in three years. And so Alex and Chase go. And Chase gets interviewed by a major celebrity, which everyone sees. As a result, the Mutes declare a cease fire and eventually the humans do too. Then the humans announce the fleet is on the way. And they send 11 ships. Eleven. WTF? They're holding back to attack the Mutes. Alex and Chase return to Salud Afar, which is incredibly stupid, because their ship had already been impounded for the next three years to aid in the evacuation and they were going to be held as virtual prisoners on that planet. So instead of going home to their freedom, they head back to that planet. Real bright. And their ship is impounded again. They resign themselves to spending the next three years of their lives there. Let me tell you, they handle the news better than I would. I have to say, it's pretty unrealistic. I think the author did a pretty piss poor job with this. I would have been livid with the government. I would have gone ballistic. Alex and Chase just go Yeah. So, shock of all shocks, the Mute fleet arrives, along with tons of individual Mute ships, to aid in the evacuation! Chase's interview had really gotten through to them. So now they're heroes on the planet. And they get their ship back. And next thing you know, the actual full human fleet is on its way to help out too. And the planet is saved. And all is right in the universe. And the second half of the book had very little to do with the first half.

And here's what I consider to be the one major problem of the book, and that's its original premise. Why would a successful author whose memory has been partially wiped, on her return to her home world, want help? What kind of help? Why not from the government? Their version of the FBI, CIA? How about private Is? How about mercenaries? Of all people, why does she turn to an antique dealer for help and transfer two million to his bank account before he does anything? It literally makes no sense whatsoever. It's stupid. And then, after contacting Alex for help, she's moved to go get a mind wipe and virtually end her life as she knows it. To what end? For what purpose? To draw attention to what she found on Salud Afar? If so, it seems like a stupid way to do it. I think McDevitt must have been drunk off his ass when he wrote this book, or wrote so much of it, that when he realized how bad it was, it was too far along to ditch it, so he finished it, knowing it was trash and sold it to us, the readers, as a normal Alex Benedict book. And I'm annoyed by that. Very annoyed. Normally I give his books four or five stars, but this book gets two and it's definitely NOT recommended.


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Monday, August 10, 2015

By Heresies Distressed

By Heresies Distressed (Safehold, #3)By Heresies Distressed by David Weber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the third book in the epic Safehold saga series and like its predecessor, it has a 4.07 out of 5 rating on Goodreads, which is pretty good. However, you'll find, as was the case with the previous book, that a lot of people don't like it. And they have their reasons. I liked this book. For the most part. I think. But it also pissed me off. Because it was merely an obvious continuation of Book Two. It was a filler book in the series. And while the end of Book Two promised war between Charis and Corisande, and while we finally got that war in this book, that's about all we got and in so getting, we only got two battles and even then, only parts of them. So I feel cheated. I feel screwed. And this book ends like the previous one did, with an ending that begs the reader to buy and read the next book in the series if you want to find out what happens. And that pisses me off. Whatever happened to stand alone books? Hell, whatever happened even to just trilogies? Now every author has to write a freakin' series, and the only books that actually matter are the first and last ones and all the ones in between are filler. And these books are so damn long. 700 pages, 800 pages. I think the next one is 1100 pages. Weber seriously needs an editor or two. Obviously the publisher agreed to a contract with him that guaranteed he wouldn't have one.

In this book, Cayleb and Sharleyan are now happily married and in love, but Cayleb has left Sharleyan to rule their combined empire while he leads his fleet to the conquest of Corisande. Meanwhile, Church Loyalists try a huge assassination attempt on her life, in which all but one of her guards are killed, but super android/AI Merlin rushes to save her life, which he does, and then she is made privy to his secret and the secret to her world and its history. Meanwhile, Mother Church's Group of Four is plotting to destroy Charis and its empire, per usual. Different book, nothing changes. Corisande's Prince Hektor is assassinated by the Church, hoping to spin it as Cayleb's brutal murder scheme, even though he's at war with Hektor and would have killed him anyway if he had caught him. By the end of the book, Corisande has surrendered to Charis and has been made part of the empire, but we're made to believe there will be many rebellions to put down there. The occupation will be difficult. Hektor's exiled daughter ends the book by vowing revenge on Cayleb and Sharleyan. End of story.

More problems. The naming conventions Weber employs remains brutally stupid, although I suppose I'm somewhat used to it now. However, phonetic spelling of names, hundreds of them, seems damned stupid. And in the back of each book, there is a character reference. In the back of this book, there are about 10 pages of characters, I believe over 300 of them. And they all have to have titles. Duke, Earl, Baron, Sir, Captain, Commodore, Prince, King, Vicar, Archbishop, etc. How the HELL are we supposed to remember all of these people, Weber??? Dumbass! He's making a pretty penny off of us suckers and the thing that really grates my nerves are these stories are well told and darn addictive and now I have to read the next one to find out what happens with the Church's efforts to build their own army and navy to attack Charis and with that empire's occupation of Corisande, among other things. Damn you, Weber! I didn't know whether to give this book three or four stars. I wanted to give it three because I was so freakin annoyed, but in the end, I'm giving it four because it is pretty well written and it does cover the war that was promised in Book Two. But don't read this if you haven't read the first two, in order. And I actually don't recommend this book. Just because I'm addicted to the series doesn't mean I think other people will be. Not recommended.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

By Schism Rent Asunder

By Schism Rent Asunder (Safehold, #2)By Schism Rent Asunder by David Weber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is another epic book in the Safehold series, Book Two. Even though this book has a 4.07 out of 5 rating on Goodreads, almost all of the reviews I read were one and two star annihilations of the book. Readers/reviewers HATE this book! It's too long. There are too many characters. There's too much religion. There's too much infodumping. Worst of all, nothing happens. It's all politics and dialogue. There aren't any major battles like in the previous book or, presumably, in the following books.

Well. That's a lot to swallow. And most of it's true. But you know what? I don't care. I loved this book. After finishing the first one, which was brilliant, I had to read the next one to know what happened next and this book went a long way in explaining a lot of things. Cayleb has taken over as king of Charis for his late father. Merlin, the indestructible android, is still his guard and is still providing spying information on virtually everyone in the world to the Charisian leaders, as well as technological advances. The Archbishop sent a letter to the Group of 4 (Vicars of the Church of God Awaiting, which essentially rules the world) insisting that "Mother Church" has unprovoked-ly attacked Charis and that the Church is corrupt. The Gang of 4 is shaken by their military defeat and seriously ticked about Charis's letter, copies of which have been sent to every kingdom on Safehold. They are meeting to determine what to do next and they decide to build a new fleet to attack Charis again, to force the various kingdoms to blockade their ports from Charisian merchant seamen, and nearly to officially declare a Holy War. The Grand Inquisitor Clyntahn is the worst. He is utterly evil. Meanwhile, King Cayleb is looking for allies. One of the five kingdoms that was ordered to attack him seems like a natural fit, as they had been friends before. And it is ruled by a young queen. Queen Sharleyan of Chisholm is surprised to get a visit from the first councilor of Charis in which he proposes, not only an alliance, but a marriage and an equal partnership. This really throws her, but Cayleb means it. And she accepts, knowing this will mean her kingdom will endure Mother Church's wrath now too. She sails to Charis, where she is warmly greeted by the population, and they are married.

Now what to do about Charis's enemies? Emerald and Corisande, the leaders of the attacks, are the biggest threats. Cayleb is determined to have Corisande's Prince Hektor's head for killing his father and playing the biggest role in the attack. He's going to invade Corisande. Emerald is a different story. Prince Nahrmahn tried to assassinate Cayleb when he was still a prince and they've been enemies for a long time, but they are neighbors and Cayleb knows he can destroy Prince Nahrmahn and Emerald anytime he wants and he knows they know it too. So he surprises them. Prince Nahrmahn sends an emissary to Charis to negotiate a peace, knowing it'll probably cost him his life, but it will save his kingdom. Instead, Cayleb offers to allow him to remain prince of Emerald if the country will join the new Charisian Empire. Nahmahn takes little time to think about this and does it. He's named spymaster of Emerald and is encouraged to continue his tricks against Hektor and others. Meanwhile, the Inquisitors have gone to a small kingdom where they have forced the military to board and take all Charisian ships. They do so at night and it turns violent, with the priests loudly shouting, "Kill the heretics." One of the ships is armed with cannons, though, and protects itself and about eight other ships and they escape the slaughter. They return to Charis, tell their tale, and the Charisians are royally pissed. They send their Navy and Marines to teach this kingdom a lesson and the Navy destroys their shoreline cannon batteries and pretty much the entire shoreline and the Marines land. I was disappointed to see the military surrender, as I wanted vengeance, but there you have it. However, what I really wanted was Hektor's blood. Towards the end of the book, the Charisian harbor is full of ships loaded with artillery and Marines. They're getting ready to sail. Cayleb says goodbye to his new wife. And that's where the book ends! DAMMIT! Now I have to read the next one. I have already ordered it from Amazon and it's due to arrive tomorrow. I can't wait to get started.

So, does this sound like a terrible book to you? It isn't. Oh, and Merlin's secret is revealed, first to the Archbishop and then to Cayleb. I forgot to mention that and it's critical. And the secret of their history and of humanity's. Big. It's a great book. Lots of politics. Lots of intrigue. Lots of spying. Lots of preparations. Some fighting. The promise of a major war. The names are still freaking ridiculous, but I guess I'm getting used to them. The length of the book doesn't bother me. Sometimes the infodumping annoys me and I think Weber's just showing off his research, but oh well. It's not perfect. It's a good book. If you haven't read the first book, I definitely wouldn't start with this one, but if you have, I certainly recommend it.

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Monday, August 3, 2015

Seeker

Seeker (Alex Benedict, #3)Seeker by Jack McDevitt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the third book in Jack McDevitt's Alex Benedict series, although it should probably be called the Chase Kolpath series, as the story is told from her point of view, like all but the first book. They are antiquities dealers, selling extremely rare and often old artifacts for small fortunes to rich collectors. They often travel to distant worlds to find these items. In this book, they meet a young woman who has a cup she'd like to sell and they figure out it's from the legendary space ship Seeker, a ship that left Earth 9,000 years ago with colonists bound for an unknown planet that was never seen again. They become interested in finding, first, the ship, and then later, the planet, and so the mystery begins.

Alex sends Chase, his assistant and pilot, everywhere, including to a museum on an alien world where they're telepaths and they can all read her mind, and then to old Earth. They do ultimately find Seeker and its hidden contents, but discover there was a second ship as well, and so the search continues. Meanwhile, someone isn't too happy with their efforts and tries to murder them. When the identity of the person behind the murder plot is revealed, I was shocked. Shocked! And Chase is amazing. She can do practically anything, while Alex gets all the credit.

I'm not sure if this is a five star book or not. It's not the best book I've read and it may not even be the best Alex Benedict book. But after thinking it over, I can't come up with a valid reason NOT to give it five stars. It's a great mystery. It's got action. It's got history. It's got space. It's got sci fi. What more could you want? Recommended.


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Sunday, August 2, 2015

Off Armadeddon Reef

Off Armageddon Reef (Safehold, #1)Off Armageddon Reef by David Weber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a really good book starting what is probably a really good series, yet it has some problems. First, it is about a world called Safehold, humanity's last planet, because an alien race that can detect technology has wiped out the rest of humanity. As a result, this planet was colonized by people who were mind wiped and given medieval technology and given a theocratic rule, by the Church of God Awaiting, founded by "Archangels," who are the people who founded the colony. Nine hundred years later, an AI "wakes" up in a cave to discover she/he has been lying dormant, waiting for the right time to emerge and wake humanity up and bring technology back to the people. The Church, which rules all, is completely corrupt. Merlin, the indestructible AI, goes to the kingdom of Charis, which he feels is most likely to accept change. He saves the prince from an assassination attempt, and then the first councilor from another assassination attempt, and is given a spot in the king's court.

And so it begins. The Church decides it no longer likes Charis. Merlin has been helping make changes in Charis, introducing looms, sails, muskets, quick firing cannons, etc., and the Church forces five neighboring kingdoms to gang up on Charis and sail in their navies to destroy the kingdom. There are a couple of major naval battles, which are written pretty well, and the book ends. At about 800 pages. It's a long book. And it could have done with an editor. It's too long.

Some of the problems. There are far too many characters. Weber loves characters. He loves to introduce them in his Honor Harrington series, but this is ridiculous! There must be hundreds of them here, and they all have titles -- Sir, Earl, Duke, Prince, King, Vicar, etc. And to make matters worse, he thinks he's being clever by intentionally misspelling them. Instead of spelling common names normally, he adds vowels and consonants, so that the names look like Haarahld, Nahrmahn, Maysahn, Kahlvyn, and Makferzahn. It's freaking stupid and it makes it totally impossible to remember them all. Impossible. Did I say stupid? Also, if I have to see the phrase, "He bared his teeth" one more time, I'm going to puke! Weber -- people don't bare their damn teeth!!! Dogs do. Wolves do. People don't. And he wrote this at least 15 times. It was damned annoying. And did I say the book was too long? Talk about infodumps! He could have pruned this book by 200 pages and still made it good. Was he being paid by the word?

Irritants aside, it was a pretty good book. He handles separation of church and state pretty well. The naval battles are really well done. The heroes are heroic and the bad guys are pure evil. Merlin is a little two dimensional, but he kicks ass and that's cool. I've already started on the next book, so I obviously wanted to know what happened next. This isn't exactly sci fi. It's partially fantasy, I guess? World building? Whatever the case, it's recommended.

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