Book Review: Questing Beast by Ilona Andrews (Three Stars)


Book Review: Questing Beast by Ilona Andrews

(Three Stars)

“Sean Kozlov … groped the surface of the desk for a pen. The pen felt moist and cold. Suspiciously like a nose.”

Competent short science fiction about folks in a jam who find a creative—perhaps too creative—solution to an apparently insolvable problem. And the clock is ticking. (Nice, if inaccurate cover art.)

“There are only two ways to break down a third-order AI like Nanny: a chaotic protocol or a goal-oriented protocol.”

Creating a chimera on a newly-discovered—perhaps develop-able, perhaps left as a sanctuary—world would be irresponsible. But it may be the only solution. What could go wrong?

“…sheathed its body. A long silky man flared on its sinuous neck.”

Book Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi (Three Stars)


Book Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi (Second Reading)

(Three Stars)

The following is my 2014 review (with non-spoiler quotes added):

“I’ll try, sir,” Dahl said. “Try’s not good enough,” Abernathy said, and clapped Dahl hard on the shoulder. “I need to hear you say you’ll do it.” He shook Dahl’s shoulder vigorously. “I’ll do it.”

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.

“If Q’eeng’s leading the away team, someone Continue reading

Movie Review: Frozen II, directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee (Three Stars)


Movie Review: Frozen II, directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

(Three Stars)

“Don’t you know there’s part of me that wants to go into the unknown?”

Disney stroked the money goose and out popped this pleasant, but derivative golden egg. Competent, but not nearly as wonderful as the opening opus. Obviously aimed at the little girls who loved the first Frozen, there’s little here to appeal to their younger siblings, not to mention their parents. (At least there is no danger of anyone singing these songs ad nauseum, which is an indictment itself.)

“Because when you’re older, absolutely everything makes sense.”

The pace is frenetic. No lingering for the beauty; Little to no character development; songs and dialogue rushed through. Olaf has matured into a maxim-spouting Yoda doll. Everyone except sisters Elsa and Anna are extras. The cinematography is amazing; incredible textures.

“We’ve always feared Elsa’s powers were too much for this world. Now we must pray they are enough.”

Elsa gets all the fireworks, but Anna is the soul of the movie. With no help and no hope, she keeps doing “the next right thing.”

“You can’t just follow me into fire.” “Then don’t run into fire!”


Book Review: Hard Times by Charles Dickens (Four Stars)


Book Review: Hard Times by Charles Dickens

(Four Stars)

“Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls noting but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else.”

Stinging indictment of the what-you-see-is-what-you-get materialists of his time and ours. Though he wrote it a century and a half ago, Dickens’ critique of hard-nosed realists  true today.

“The only difference between us and the professors of virtue or benevolence, or philanthropy—never mind the name—is, that we know it is all meaningless, and say so; while they know it equally and will never say so.”

Probably not Dicken’ best story–it lacks the clear central character, the redeeming (if not sticky sweet) ending and the sentimentality of other tales–but Hard Times may be the most–dare I say–Christian of Dicken’s stories. Beyond the numerous references and allusions to the Bible, Hard Times is also a story of Continue reading

Book Review: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi (Five Stars)


Book Review: Old Man’s War (Old Man’s War #1) by John Scalzi

(Five Stars)

“The universe is a big place. Maybe we’re not in the best neighborhood.”

(The following is the review I wrote for this book in 2008 upon my first reading. My opinion hasn’t changed. I’ve added a few quotes from the text, as I always do now, to give the reader a taste of the writing.)

Oh, yeah! This is what it’s all about. This is great fiction, and great science fiction. Read this book.

Perhaps I should explain why I call this fantasy as well as science fiction. Unlike many other readers, to me the presence of aliens in a story is as much a sign of fantasy as magic. I understand that the probability there might be life, intelligence and superior science and technology in this galaxy–let alone the rest of the universe–approaches unity, but . . . for us to populate our science fiction with them is as much a work of imagination as to create stories with dwarfs, elves, hobbits, etc. I’m certain many of you will object. Sorry, that’s how I see it.

“You said it wouldn’t hurt!” “I said ‘not so much,’” Dr. Russell said. “Not so much as what? Having your head stomped on by an elephant?” “Not so much as when the sensors connect to each other.”

Scalzi’s political correctness intrudes on his otherwise excellent story. Beyond the mandatory fawning demanded by our age, he fails to even give passing mention to physiological differences between the sexes–critical considerations for infantry. In fact, when the “Old Farts” get their new bodies, his (and their) attention is fixated on their physical beauty and condition without mentioning that the females’ enhancements might have been turned up a notch to compensate for their natural smaller size. It doesn’t hurt the story especially, but it is noticeable. And will surely mark this story in time just as the misogynistic attitudes of nineteenth century novels date them.

“Entropy is a bitch,” Alan said. “We’ve got theories to back that one up.”

His portrayal of military life is spot on except for two omissions. First, all battles are “at a distance.” Everything is surgical and arm’s length. The most intense kind of combat is hand-to-hand: confused, frightening and messy. He reports on melees, but none ever happen on stage. Even John’s crash landing seems too analytical and not emotional. Second, his “only need two hours of sleep” rule does not do away with the second feature of long engagements: being tired. Even if their green skin and super blood keeps them ready to go, sleep deprivation has psychological implications, which are not mentioned.

“He’s got cat’s eyes,” I said. “You’ve got cat’s eyes.”

Don’t let these quibbles dissuade you from reading <i>Old Man’s War</i>

(End of original review)

“Harry, were you always this paranoid,” I asked, “or was this something that crept up on you as you got older?” “How do you think I made it to seventy-five?”

New quibbles: “waiting as air was pumped back into the bay.” “The air will be pumped out of this bay in precisely seven minutes.” Why? Why not use an umbilical? Or sealed door? Especially to avoid repetitive pressurization, which probably take more than seven minutes for a shuttle bay that large.

And the Cubs won a World Series; who would have guessed? Not Scalzi.

“Not only don’t we know what we’re up against out here, sometimes we simply can’t imagine what we’re up against.”

Book Review: Tap Code by Carlyle S. Harris and Sara W. Berry (Five Stars)


Book Review: Tap Code: The Epic Survival Tale of a Vietnam POW and the Secret Code that Changed Everything by Carlyle S. Harris and Sara W. Berry

(Five Stars)

“I am convinced that there is a reason for all of this. Whatever the reason, I am sure we can use this time to become emotionally and spiritually stronger.” Excerpted from Smitty’s first letter to reach Louise, Sep 1965.

Ruminations on the nature of integrity and struggle. Starting with the moment “Smitty” Harris was shot down on April 5, 1965, he and his wife Louise take the reader moment by moment through eight years of combat of a different sort than either imagines they would fight. Treated as criminals instead of prisoners of war, Harris and hundreds of other POWs (including Vietnamese and Thais) suffered starvation, deprivation, and intense psychological and physical abuse, though their captors tried to not inflict obvious wounds.

“If Smitty can do what he is doing right now, I can do this.” Louise

A compelling and well-told history. Told in a conversation voice. Folded timeline confuses. Digressions inside digressions. Needed on more Continue reading