A Plunder of Souls by D. B. Jackson (Three Stars)

A Plunder of Souls by D. B. Jackson

(Three Stars out of Five)

Well-written historical urban legend set in colonial Boston, just like Thieftaker and Thieve’s Quarry, but unfortunately follows the formula so closely that the reader can predict each succeeding action.

Don’t get me wrong, Jackson is a master wordsmith. He paints vivid pictures of the time and place, his characters have depth and emotion, and he melding of history and fantasy is a marvel. I suspect if I’d waited a little more time between reading the books their formulaic structure might be less obvious.

(Also, three stars from me is the same as four from many other people.)

A very good read.

Morningstar Ministries Writing Seminar is First Class

rickAlmost two dozen would-be writers recently spent four days in the hills near Moravian Falls, North Carolina as the paying guests of Morningstar Ministries. Our hosts were brother and sister Rick Joyner and Deborah Joyner Johnson.

This workshop excels for Christian writers’ first exposure to formal training. The small size and single-track curriculum assure no student is left behind. Intense personal contact with the instructors proclaimed both the writer’s mission and valuable lessons in technique.

The retreat setting and home-cooked meals helped focus participants on the workshops.
In addition to writing lessons often given by Debbie, the sessions led by Rick provided needed context to the Christian writers place in the industry and society at large.

While not offering the multi-tracks and editor/agent/publisher contacts of larger conferences, this workshop provides great return on the student’s investment.

Highly Recommended.

An Evening with John Scalzi

ukeleleSpent an enjoyable hour with John Scalzi August 28th at Quail Ridge Bookstore in Raleigh, North Carolina (along with about a hundred other fools). John managed to:

read a chapter from his forthcoming Human Division book: *** *** ** *** ******. (He asked us not to reveal the tentative title.)

Read two short humor pieces.

Pedaled his new book: Locked In. (Review forthcoming.)

Exchanged email shots with Lev Grossman, who was apparently out pedaling The Magician’s Land.

Played a ukulele (and improvised) well, despite ill-mannered heckling from a jerk in the audience. (That would be me.)

Promoted local book store(s).

Signed a bunch of books.

Loved his new beard and do (see picture). Looks both hip and professorial.

Thanks, John.

Fuzzy Sapiens by H. Beam Piper (Three Stars)

Fuzzy Sapiens by H. Beam Piper

(Three Stars out of Five. Rounded upward.)

Warning: Spoilers follow.

Disappointing. Not nearly as good as Little Fuzzy, but–once it finally got started–an enjoyable bit of historic science fiction. It’s fun reading books written in the 1960s for the quaint social practices which the authors assume will remain centuries later, but in fact died in fifty years. And, of course, the changes in technology make much for humorous reading also.

That’s not what impairs this story: it’s the focus on other than the story for the first half of the book. I assume Piper was trying to hide his main threads–the danger of Fuzz extinction and the theft of the sunstones–in all the smoking, drinking, politics, smoking, cocktail parties, smoking, . . . you get the idea.

Interesting that Piper used the lack of a trace element in Fuzzy diets as the threat to their survival. Today, if trace elements figure in dietary concerns, it’s usually the fear that they’re killing us.

Still, a good read. Rounded upward in honor of Piper’s place in the SF community.

Thieves’ Quarry by D. B. Jackson (Three Stars)

Thieves’ Quarry by D. B. Jackson

(Three Stars out of Five)

When an author enjoys success with one novel, he or she is tempted to write another—the same, only different. Perhaps he wants to explore more of the world he has created; perhaps she has gained new insight into her leading character(s); perhaps there are bills to pay. The trick, from the readers point of view, is whether the author recreates the magic of the first story without simply duplicating the formula. In Thieves’ Quarry Jackson manages the first while edging perilously close to the second.

The setting is again colonial Boston, a few years after the events of Thieftaker. Ethan Kaille is again challenged to solve a crime he wouldn’t normally investigate. He works with, against and across the same characters as the first book. Yes, the stakes are higher across the board, but Ethan is the same slightly-over-the-hill conjurer and private investigator (before there were such) and always seems one step behind his competitors and adversaries. Once again the villain introduced earlier in the novel, whom neither the reader nor Ethan initially suspects of the dastardly deed.

But the magic of these tales in the telling. Jackson melds very real history into his tale of colonial urban fantasy. In fact, one of the few changes in the formula is Kaille’s changing political opinions and why. He is not swayed by the arguments of either side so much by his own feelings of violation when his city finds itself occupied by military forces. Subtly and convincingly done.

I liked it, but not quite as much.

Redshirts by John Scalzi (Four Stars)

Redshirts by John Scalzi

(Four Stars out of Five)

Sometimes the practice of offering early chapters of a book free backfires. I read the first chapters of Redshirts and, assuming I knew what it was all about, decided to pass on the whole novel. Wrong. This book is great, and it’s so much more than a send-up of science fiction television series. I can’t believe I waited to read it.

Oh, the basic story sounds like a Star Trek clone, which it is right up to the point where the main characters realize their story parallels Star Trek, then the fun begins.

John Scalzi is probably the master science fiction author in America today. (Anything else I say would be gilding the lily.)

Well-told, thought-provoking story.

And when the novel finished, the alert reader will notice that almost a hundred pages of book remain. That’s because the real fun is about to begin. Leave your preconceived notions at the door.

Unfortunately marred by gratuitous profanity. Yeah, I know why authors do it; it’s just not necessary. And distracts, rather than adds, to verisimilitude.


Thieftaker by D. B. Jackson (3.5 stars)

Thieftaker by D. B. Jackson

(3.5 stars out of five)

Jackson admits that he at least considered placing this story in a fictional environment. His decision to place it in history improves the story and the fun. That he did such a good job of evoking 1768 Boston helped, too.

Thieftaker is a eerie blend of the mundane (If historical) and the fantastic. In this case several characters are conjurers, not to be confused with witches—which confusion one would definitely wish to avoid given Province of Massachusetts Bay’s history for dealing with witches; real or imaginary.

Ethan Kaille is the eponymous thieftaker, but he gets involved in murder, high crimes and misdemeanors, Boston’s upper crust and underworld—mostly against his will. While he has a shady past he is a man of principles and little money. His ability to conjure contributes to his risks as well as his livelihood.

Like a salty potato chip, one leaves you wanting more.

Exodus Lost by S. C. Compton (Three Stars)

Exodus Lost by S. C. Compton

(Three Stars out of Five)

An engaging bit of pop history. Well documented (over 700 end notes) investigation into the possible link between pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures and contemporary Old World cultures, specifically the Hyksos and Egyptians. Compton exhaustively explores his many links connecting the dots for the reader.

It sounds good except that some of the critical paragraphs have no end notes; those are Compton’s speculation. He does this a lot in his discussion of the linguistic parallels. It may be just as he says, but his documentation is not air tight.

Having read books like African Genesis and Naked Ape in the 1960s, I’m shy about jumping on this very attractive bandwagon. The wheels of academia turn slowly. So far they haven’t caught up with Compton.

If you’re at all interested in cross-cultural pollination, do read this book. Compton makes an excellent case for his theory.

Putin Cheats

The Obama administration in July announced that Russia has violated the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Washington’s candor is fine, but the fact remains the Russians always cheat.

How both Republicans and Democrats justify treating Putin as an international “partner” is beyond me.

His is a rogue regime which has ruined his country, threatened his neighbors, and hurt—not helped—world peace almost everywhere he’s touched. He ought to be treated like the delinquent he is.