Book Review: The Butcher of Anderson Station by James S. A. Corey (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Butcher of Anderson Station (Expanse 0.5) by James S. A. Corey

Three Stars

A well-conceived and well-written short story which apparently sets up a great series. This is a good way to set the hook: a self-contained story which introduces the setting and perhaps the characters of the greater tale. The reader know what she is, and isn’t, getting.

“Centuries of warfare in the electronic age …”

That said, it reads as if it takes place late in this century, not two hundred years or more into the future. The weapons are current or under development. The technology and electronics is nothing beyond the reach of current science. In fact, the tactics—a “ground” assault on a space platform—seem incredibly archaic. I know space operas thrive on grand battles and fleet engagements, but it strikes as a failure of imagination to have nineteenth and twentieth century forms of warfare the norm.

“With the same information, I’d do it again.”

The issue of culpability is as old as mankind. Even folks who came back from “good wars”, like World War II and the 1991 Gulf War, have regrets and misgivings about the tactics employed to achieve the ends. Our protagonist earned the skeletons in his closet. For readers who have no engaged in combat or combat support, it’s a good stretch of their minds.

Nice set up for future reading.


Book Review: A Passage of Stars by Kate Elliott (Two Stars)

Book Review: A Passage of Stars (Highroad Trilogy #1) by Kate Elliott

Two Stars

“Set patterns never work. You have to make it up as you go along.”

This is another of those first-volume-is-merely-the-setup books. Sigh. It’s a nice set up, but the reader is left hanging. Episodic.

“Waiting takes the most discipline.”

Interesting characters, though several are so stereotypical as to seem like caricatures. Many decisions and branches of the plot seem forced, that is, the characters seem to be propelled by no logic other than advancing the plot. The people in the story shouldn’t act as if they know it’s a story; they should think and act as if it’s life.

“He ain’t like the other ‘bots. He be smart. Real smart, not fake smart.”

Another story where the robot or android or alien is the most fascinating character. Assuming Bach turns out to be the key to the story, not just a MacGuffin, he is developed slowly and enigmatically. His “singing” bits of seventeenth century music adds to his peculiarity.

“I judge injustice, not humanity.”

Lots of de rigueur Occupy Wall Street, baby Bolshevik philosophy and pompous rich entitlement bashing. Science fiction serves as a bully pulpit for many a preacher. Elliott is smart enough to keep the preaching at arm’s length, but it’s still tedious.

“Never be sorry for love. That is what sustains us.”

Book Review: The House Without a Christmas Tree by Gail Rock (Four Stars)

Book Review: The House Without a Christmas Tree (Addie Mills #1) by Gail Rock

Four Stars

“Who says I’m a character?”

Addie’s house doesn’t have a Christmas tree. It’s missing other stuff, too. Though the Christmas season has passed, this gem addresses issues relevant year round.

“In this life you can’t have everything you want.”

Excellent story on many levels. Addie grabs your attention and your heart and doesn’t let go. This forty-year-old, award-winning illustrated novella captures at time (late 1940s) which is beyond the memory of most alive today. The story debuted as a television movie before being published. It’s still being in print tells you something about the universality of the story.

“He’ll be black and blue before he realizes that’s your way of liking.

The Charles C. Gehm illustrations are amazing. He died in 2015. Don’t know if other editions have them, but the one with this cover does.

“No good every came from layin’ blame.”

Good reading for ten year old and seventy year olds. It’s about more than a tree.

“It scared me to think about him being so upset about something that I didn’t even know about.

Twenty-Five Years of War

Twenty-five years ago the air phase of Operation Desert Storm kicked off. I’d already been in Saudi Arabia five months defending against a possible Iraqi invasion, since they’d waltzed into Kuwait in August 1990. We made it look easy. Americans at home laughed at quips about “the luckiest man in Baghdad.” Though air dominance and the liberation of Kuwait came quickly, not everyone returned home when it ended.

Most Americans forget the American military did not leave the Gulf region in 1991 and return in 2003. Enforcing the various no-fly zones and “peacekeeping” in the Gulf region required uninterrupted coverage by our Air Force and Navy aircraft. Flying from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, off aircraft carriers and farther afield, American men and women kept their finger in the dike of Middle East political, sectarian and military unrest. With no hope of draining that swamp, we contended with its myriad alligators.

Throughout the administrations of Presidents Clinton, both Bushes, and Obama a grinding operational tempo has kept members of all services away from the families and in harm’s way. I doubt if any of those presidents and few members of Congress understood what they demanded of those men and women.

The cost of war is much greater than bullets, fuel and food. The real cost is lives turned upside down and inside out. Yet we continue to send our people back where few want us and fewer appreciate our sacrifice.

I served for thirty years, spanning the Vietnam, Cold and Gulf Wars. I served proudly and I hope well. No time during those thirty years and the decades since was America’s military not committed to dangerous, if not deadly, duty.

And how do we thank our veterans? By ignoring their physical and psychological needs. By eroding benefits promised for years of service. By parading them out as rent-a-crowds for this or that politician. By running away when domestic politics overbalances the nation’s debt to men and women whose bodies and lives have been shattered—continue to be shattered—in her service.

Is anyone paying attention?

Twenty-five years … and counting.

Stolen Valor

“A federal appeals court on Monday tossed out a veteran’s conviction for wearing military medals he didn’t earn, saying it was a form of free speech protected by the Constitution,” reports

That is not just wrong, it’s fraudulent.

The 2007 Stolen Valor Act outlawed falsely claiming military accomplishments, but the U.S. Supreme Court struck it down in 2012 as a violation of free speech protections. A subsequent law made it a crime to profit financially by lying about military service.

Why can’t I affix “Dr.” or “Rev.” to my name, so long as I don’t prescribe medicine or perform weddings?

We have lost it as a culture when we allow people to lie about their experiences and qualifications with impunity. I realize judges can’t see that because lawyers are professional liars, but we should be confident a vet wearing a Bronze Star or Purple Heart actually earned it. If not, we begin to suspect that they’re all frauds.

That’s not fair to the men and women who earned those honors.

Book Review: Nefertiti’s Heart by A. W. Axley (Three Stars)

Book Review: Nefertiti’s Heart (Artifact Hunters #1) by A. W. Axley

Three Stars

“Crowbars are great for working out parental issues.”

I originally marked this as a young readers’ book. Oh no. It was pornographic enough that, despite its being a well-constructed and well-told tale, I won’t be reading more of this series. And mostly it’s unnecessary.

About the good stuff: Axley takes us right into the protagonist’s head and we’re comfortable fighting her fights, feeling her pain and sharing her victories. Leavened with humor. Good job.

Quibbles: Too short an interval lapses for the villain to worm his way into the heart of subsequent victims. His notes decry how long it takes, but according to the book’s chronology it’s a matter of single digit days. Alternate reality or not, if you bare handedly plug an electrically hot conductor into a battery pack (and fry whoever is wearing said battery pack) odds are you will be fried too.

Nice cover art.

As I said I won’t be back, but others may not be so put off.

I Wonder

dawe plexus 27

=========©gabriel dawe========

On August 25, 2012 Voyager I passed through the heliopause to become the first manmade object to enter interstellar space. Last week I read Einstein’s The Theory of Relativity and Other Essays. Saturday Treva and I viewed the WONDER exhibition at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D. C.

How do these events connect? Reading Einstein set me thinking about Voyager I because he claims real physics only applies in interstellar space—far from the interference of stars and the debris fields (including planets) which orbit them. Reflecting on questions of weight versus inertia, and reality versus theory, and art, I came to realize how little we know—about ourselves, about everything.

Avoiding math that would hurt my head, I understand that the great physics question of two last centuries was reconciling gravity and inertia. Einstein says the force that keeps an object at rest (or continuing in the direction it’s already going) is not the same as the force that apparently is pulling it downward from the surface of the earth. Yet they act simultaneously on everything.

Out beyond Voyager it’s empty and cold, but not dark. If you were riding on Voyager, you’d see all the stars we see—probably better. How does the light get there? Photons? Even way out there the mass of our Sun and other stars would tug on you. How? We don’t know.

Until late in the nineteenth century, scientists still referred to aether (not the chemical diethyl ether) as the material which filled space and carried light, gravity, etc. because they couldn’t figure out how light and gravity could cross nothing. Think about it. Before the concept of the photon as a massless carrier of light energy, scientists had no way to explain a phenomena we all experience daily. Even still, no one’s seen a photon. We just see the effects of their presence. Very pretty effects sometimes. As Gabriel Dawes’ plexus art at the Renwick or Crystal Bridges Galleries (above) illustrates.

Gravity poses the same problem. Scientists think/hope there may be gravitons that similarly “mediate” gravity. But there are problems with that idea. Too deep for me.

I look up at a night sky. How does light travel through nothing, unmeasurable unless it interacts with something, until it interacts with my retina, which sends nerve impulses to my brain, which presents an image to my consciousness (whatever that is), which “I” see as stars?

I do wonder.


Revised Review Ratings

Up front, I need to tell you: three stars is positive. Two stars is “okay,” that is I’m ambivalent or indifferent about the book or show. I’ll usually tell you why. Four stars means I really like it. Five stars I’m trying to reserve for books and movies which are special. Why they’re special will vary and I’ll tell you why in the review.

While I use the usual five star rating scale, I’m trying to be more rigorous. Previously, a book I liked got four stars, now it gets only three.

I made that alteration in 2014 so that my four and five star ratings really meant something. I don’t want to give only 1 and 5 star ratings, then whine because the scale is so restrictive.

There’s a sixth rating: “gave up.” I apply what I variously call the 50-page and the 100 page test. As Frank Zappa said, “So many books, so little time.” Some books are so bad that I quit them within the first ten pages; those you’ll never hear about–I delete them from my database. But some books seemed to have enough quality that I soldiered through 50 or 100 pages (depending on the length of the book and the deepness of my exasperation) before I quit. Those reviews (and the single star ratings) tend to only posted on unless I feel you need to know.)

I’m not especially qualified for reviewing books other than liking to read. I am a college graduate and have a master’s degree. I’ve read thousands (of documented) novels and hundreds of non-fiction books. I’ve attended half a dozen writing conferences as I struggled to learn the craft myself. I know from first-hand experience that it’s harder than it looks. Few of us can be Tolkiens or Rothfusses; in fact, I’d settle for producing the page-turning excitement of a David Weber space opera or be able to evoke mood like Jodi Picoult.

I have adolescent tastes and standards. Engaging characters and strong plots are preferred, and happy endings, especially unexpected ones. I like humor. Not big on graphic or gratuitous violence or sex. Most of all I like the story that’s believable in its context (especially hard in science fiction, where so few authors passed high school physics). As Coleridge suggested, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief but I expect the author to meet me halfway with a coherent tale.

Likewise, I have no special credential for reviewing movies; I probably see many fewer than the average American and most of them on video.

So, my ratings are conservative but, I hope, informed.

Book Review: Washington’s Spies by Alexander Rose (Three Stars)

Book Review: Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring by Alexander Rose

Three Stars

“The event we leave to heaven.”

A competent history of espionage during the American Revolutionary War. Not to be confused with the romanticized fiction of the television series TURN, purportedly based on it. (See below) Well research and well-written. Explores the motives, means and outcomes for the spies and spy masters on both sides. In 1776, following a series of victories in August and September, the British commanded New York City and Long Island and were chasing the defeated colonial army toward Philadelphia. Then came Christmas and the miracle at Trenton. But Washington had only survived to fight another day. To engage a larger, better equipped, more professional army, Washington needed to cheat. He did.

“Everything in the matter depends on intelligence of the enemy’s motions.” G. Washington

This book unearths the facts about those people who put themselves at great risk, starting with the martyred Nathan Hale, to provide Continue reading

Movie review: O Brother, Where Art Thou (Three Stars)

Theatrical release poster

Movie review: O Brother, Where Art Thou by Coen brothers

Three Stars

This 2000 farce starring George Clooney is “loosely based” on Homer’s Odyssey. The key word is loosely. Our supposed Ulysses escapes from jail and stumbles through many adventures trying to get home before his wife remarries. No Penelope she.

“I’m the pater familias.”

Along the way they encounter characters suggested by Homer’s epic who mostly impede their progress. Subplots include contacts with “Baby Face” Nelson (who died in 1934), the Tennessee Valley Authority building dams that flooded out many homesteads, and a coming gubernatorial election. At one point they are saved by a miracle: shades of Moby Dick.

Ulysses Everett McGill is nothing like his namesake, but that seems to be the point. The whole story turns Homer upside down. But this wasn’t about history or literature; it’s a farce capitalizing on Clooney’s box office draw. It worked.

“You ain’t no kind of man if you don’t have land.”

The most jarring element of the movie is its stilted take on race relations in 1937 Mississippi. Bigotry and hatred show, but the feel-good ending implies that most folks of that time and place rejected the Klan and prejudice. Sadly, that wasn’t so. Still, it’s hard to fault that in a movie whose goal was to be funny and optimistic.

“We’re going to see a brave new world … like they did in France.”

Period folk music pervades the movie, some of it integral to the plot. It’s the best part of the movie. The sound track won a Grammy.

“I am a man of constant sorrows.”