Book Review: The Red: First Light by Linda Nagata (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Red: First Light (The Red #1) by Linda Nagata (Three Stars)

“Our goals are to stay alive, to avoid civilian casualties, and to kill anyone with an interest in killing us.”

Tom Clancy meets Terminator. Originally published in 2013, First Light seems prescient of current politics. Nagata warns the reader of the GI language, but it’s pretty rough.

“What must be done, will be done, Lieutenant. Whether it’s possible or not, is not our concern.”

Told as if seen as a series internet docu-dramas, it includes the thoughts and feelings of the protagonist. Excellent character development.

“Married? Marriage is for people like you, Shelley. No one I know gets married. There’s no military benefits for it anymore. Marriage costs too damn much.”

Nagata reflects the growing disillusionment among authors and citizens with the current government-military-industrial complex. (Instructive that Eisenhower’s warning about all three has been truncated to just military-industrial.)

“Weird events are everywhere, the kind that we describe with words like ‘precognition,’ ‘intuition,’ ‘coincidence,’ ‘luck,’ ‘miracle,’ ‘blessing,’ ‘curse,’ ‘perfect timing.’ These are the words we use when chance goes non-random.”

Quibbles: I can’t talk about Nagata’s army hardware, but she makes numerous mistakes about airborne equipment. (I’m a 30 year USAF veteran.) “The Chinook’s engine cranks up.” Chinook’s have two engines. “Kendrick’s old Blackhawk” and “An old C-17 Globemaster.” Developed in the 1950s, the CH-47 Chinook is even older.  “A night that will last for the duration of this flight, that will follow us all the way to Africa.” No, they’re heading eastward; they will fly through a dawn and a dusk, though the day will be really short.

“It’s about perspective. It’s not that what we know is necessarily wrong or incomplete. It’s that what we know and what we believe to be apparent to everyone, isn’t.”

Book Review: Oral Roberts’ Life Story (Four Stars)

Book Review: Oral Roberts’ Life Story (autobiography) (Four Stars)

“Son, I am going to heal you, and you are going to take my healing power to your generation.”

Fascinating autobiography by a pioneering Pentecostal evangelist and faith healer. Like that of Ben Franklin, this memoir was written early enough in Roberts’ life that much of what he was famous (and infamous) for came later. This is something of an origin tale.

“God always has some one He can trust and someone He send to help those that lose their way in life.”

Roberts tells his story in a simple, straightforward manner. His narrative is the right balance between detail and leanness.

“God will take care of us. You just hush and you will see what the Lord will do.”

Before you judge a person (whether faith healer, politician, media celebrity) it’s good to hear their side of their tale. Roberts came from a conservative faith tradition which did not recognize faith healing, so he had a rocky road to recognizing and growing in his calling.

“In a world of unfriendly, unbelieving people I would hear Papa say, ‘You just wait and see. This is the one God has His hand on.’”

Amazing illustrations by Eloise Gray

“When His power is not upon me I cannot deliver people. I have no personal power. I cannot heal. Only God can heal.”

(I listened to Oral Roberts on live radio broadcasts in the 1950s with my grandfather, a conservative Methodist minister. He liked Roberts’ preaching.)

“I cannot stop preaching the gospel because all men do not receive it. I cannot stop trying to get people saved because some reject God. Neither can I stop praying for the sick because I fail on some. I have to do the best I can and leave the results in His hands.”

Book Review: Penric & the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold (Four Stars)

Book Review: Penric & the Shaman (Penric & Desdemona #2) by Lois McMaster Bujold (Four Stars)

“Sharing my life with a two-hundred-year-old demon with twelve personalities speaking six languages and an underlying yen to destroy everything in her path …. Try me.”

Wanted to like this, and did. This is my first Bujold fantasy. She delivers the same mix of characters you care about, even the villains, and fine storytelling.

“His powers had not wholly deserted him in craven company with his hope, faith and courage.”

Awesome descriptive ability. With a few words, she takes you right there. Into the scene, into the action, into the mind and heart of the point of view characters.

“Everyone talks to the gods, no one expects them to answer … almost no one.”

Fascinating take on a culture with a fully-developed spiritual dimension. One which occasionally intersects with the mundane.

“Our daytime minds, I’m told, are too full of ourselves to let Them in. At night our gates come sometimes ajar, just enough.”

This is so much better than the other 2017 Hugo novella finalists that one wishes to not vote for second or third place. (The rules allow that; I can’t decide whether that’s good or bad.)

“I’m a sorcerer, not a poet.”

If you’re thinking of reading this, you may want to start with the series opener. That said Bujold skillfully brings the new reader up to speed without insulting your intelligence. Second in a series, but a decent standalone story.

“I try not to bother the gods any more than I can possibly help. Once, one answered me back. Makes a man cautious.”

(2020 re -read of a fantasy novella by a favorite SF author. Huh? Right.)

Book Review: The Answer Is …: Reflections on My Life by Alex Trebek (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Answer Is …: Reflections on My Life by Alex Trebek (Four Stars)

“Messing up on live TV taught me an important lesson about show business: learn to laugh at yourself.”

Not quite an autobiography, but close enough. Trebek shares anecdotes from his life and times. I knew little about him beyond his Jeopardy! persona. The format is appropriate, like answers from his game show.

“Yes, hard work and experience are essential. But so is timing. And luck. Don’t ever discount the importance of luck in terms of determining your opportunities and your future.”

Trebek has rougher edges than shown on television. He has opinions and preferences. He shares them.

“Courage is a conscious decision. You do it in a dangerous situation, when you have a choice. Here, there’s no choice. I’ve been diagnosed with a disease that is probably going to kill me. And probably sooner than later. So courage does not enter into it.”

He lived an almost-charmed life, and he recognizes it. A class act. A good read.

“I used to think not crying meant you were tough. Now I think crying means you’re tough. It means you’re strong enough to be honest and vulnerable. It means you’re not pretending.”

Book Review: New Folks’ Home: And Other Stories by Clifford C. Simak (Three Stars)

Book Review: New Folks’ Home: And Other Stories by Clifford C. Simak (Three Stars)

“I’m going to go home and keep my mouth shut.” “Nothing else?” “Nothing else. If I were a praying man, I think I’d do some praying.”

Better than average anthology. Variety of time travel, space opera, horse opera, engineered immortality, the-enemy-is-us alien encounter, and dystopia. Among the best stories I’ve read by the celebrated Simak. Admittedly a low bar.

“I came for a story, but not any more. Right now I’m … well, I’m sort of scared.” “So am I.”
“If what I’m thinking is right, it’s too big to be a story.” “I hope that both of us are wrong.”

Written in the 30s, 40s and 50s these have the expected technological cluelessness about the next decades; forget the next century. A creature of his time, he reflects all their social incorrectness, but Simak knew people.

“The fact is that that’s the way it is. The point is why? How did it happen? How was it planned? Why was it planned?” “Nothing’s planned. You know better than to talk like that.”

Forget “Barb Wire Brings Bullets.” It’s a run-of-the-mill western. “Worrywart” is about the best of the bunch.

“So Charley sits and worries and waits for the flicker of the lamp beside his chair.
Although he realizes, of course, that when it comes there won’t be any flicker.”

Book Review: Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold (Four Stars)

Book Review: Cordelia’s Honor (Vorkosigan Saga #1) by Lois McMaster Bujold (Four Stars)

“From spaceman to caveman in three days,” she meditated aloud. “How we imagine our civilization is in ourselves, when it’s really in our things.”

“Shards of Honor, the first half of this collection, is Bujold’s first novel. Excellent debut piece. Her character and plot development are better than that of many veteran authors. Only marginally science fiction, but when she does set out into space, she avoids the physics mistakes of others.

“I believe,” she said slowly at last, “that the tormented are very close to God. I’m sorry, Sergeant.”

Unique among modern fictional protagonists, Cordelia is a theist. Refreshing uniqueness of character.

“We’re both looking for the same thing. We call it by different names, and look in different places. I believe he calls it honor. I guess I’d call it the grace of God. We both come up empty, mostly.”

I totally agree with her explanation of putting all acknowledgements and explanations after the story. “It was a horrifying thought that anything at all should further delay new readers from meeting my characters.”

Book Review: The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner (Four Stars)

“Reading Jane Austen was making him identify with Darcy and the thunderclap power of physical attraction that flies in the face of one’s usual judgment.”

More like 3.5 stars. Great concept for Jane Austen fans: a period (post World War II) retelling of an Austen-type story. Jenner is no Jane Austen, but hers is a credible performance. The male characters are more deeply developed than in the Austen canon, but not convincingly so. What would we expect of a group of Austen aficionados?

“Everyone was making mistakes, and falling for cads, and giving the wrong people the benefit of the doubt. He loved it.”

The denouement is abrupt and unconvincing. Austen fans will love it. Jenner invokes post-war England and Hollywood well, but modern sensibilities mar the tone. Much dialogue is people quoting Austen back and forth, just as you’d expect of a bunch of literary nerds.

“We all live with grief eventually, every last one of us. Austen knew that.”

Quibbles. “… over the noise of the engine as it sputtered to a stop.” Rolls Royce engines neither make noise nor do they sputter to a stop. American Security and Exchange laws do not apply in England, and “inside trading” restrictions were not in effect in the 1940s. Heroin dependency is not amenable to quitting by sheer willpower.

“Part of the comfort they derived from rereading was the satisfaction of knowing there would be closure.”

Book Review: Dutch Girl by Robert Matzen (Four Stars)

Book Review: Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II by Robert Matzen (Four Stars)

“It always boils down to the same thing of receiving love but desperately wanting to give it.” Audrey Hepburn

Terrible opening to a worthwhile book. Opening scene focuses on Nazi sympathies of Ella van Heemstra, Audrey’s mother. Then follows a chapter on family genealogy. Readers may be excused for wondering who the book is about. Persistence is rewarded.

“After living the long months and years under the Germans, you dreamed what would happen if you ever got out. You swore you would never complain about anything again.” AH

Not a biography. Rather a detailed history of Audrey’s childhood and war years, which coincided with her early teens. Matzen weaves the many threads of the girl who became an international celebrity and ambassador for children.

“I was so destroyed by [reading Anne Frank‘s diary] again that I said I couldn’t deal with it. It’s a little bit as if this has happened to my sister. I couldn’t play my sister’s life It’s too close, in a way she was a soul sister….”

Forward flashes jolt the reader out of the moment of the story. As it is, many chapters open with a Hepburn quote from interviews thirty and forty years later. Overall, an excellent, if flawed work.

“The fact that she was speaking German to an all-German kitchen staff in a German war hospital would haunt her in the years to come.”

Not to mention two gushing articles Ella van Heemstra authored about Hitler. About her mother: officially labeled “politically unreliable” and “silly,” she was in fact a collaborator until the middle of the war. Don’t judge her too harshly, many contemporary British and Americans swooned over Hitler … and Stalin. She strove mightily to protect Audrey from the taint of her foolishness.

“I experienced a lot then, but it was not all misery. The circumstance brought family and friends closer together. You ate the last potatoes together.” AH

Book Review: Young Miles by Lois McMaster Bujold (Four Stars)

Book Review: Young Miles (Vorkosigan Saga #2) by Lois McMaster Bujold (Four Stars)

“Aren’t you going to get in trouble for that?” “I’ll worry about that if we live through this.”

2020 review: Great writing. I especially like Bujold’s self-depreciating humor. Miles is about as far from typical space opera heroes as McMasters could make him. Intentionally.

“This whole thing is balanced on a hoax.”  “It’s not balanced on a hoax. You balance it.” “Isn’t that what I said?”

Star Trekkian science, but the stories hold up better than much other forty-year-old science fiction. I’ve read so much tripe in the dozen years since I discovered the Vorkosigans that I’ve bumped the rating a star.

“I’m afraid I can’t discuss my plans. Not even with you.” “You always were tricky.” “As an experienced combat soldier, do you prefer frontal assaults?” “No, sir!”

Original 2009 review: 3.5. Good stories, fun to read. No great insights or science. popcorn for the brain. The weird part is that I’m sure I’ve read part of the third story, perhaps in an anthology.

“Don’t you think there’s a certain . . . hubris, in undertaking field leadership without a prior apprenticing in field followership?”

Book Review: The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan (Three Stars)

“The most ambitious war project in military history rested squarely on the shoulders of tens of thousands of ordinary people, many of them young women.”

Excellent history of a slice of the effort required to produce atomic bombs. Of necessity, she spreads her net far beyond Oak Ridge, TN, to include women who made significant contributions to the science and industry which produced the first nuclear weapons. For better or worse, they changed the world forever.

“There is no such place as Oak Ridge, Tennessee.”

Sadly many, especially Lise Meitner, never got the recognition they deserved. Most didn’t get equal pay or living conditions because for their gender or race. But they all contributed to a massive project (about which they knew nothing) in the hope they were shortening World War Two.

“Elizabeth Edwards, Oak Ridge’s librarian, … looked over the spines and stopped at the volume containing the letter U. As she picked up the book, it fell open as if on command, the spine already worn and bent and broken from more than a year of being opened to the same page over and over by chemistry-savvy people trying to make sense of what they thought might possibly be going on.”

Kierman refrains from using the word uranium, substituting the then-current code word Tubealloy.

“For the last year [1944], roughly 22,000 people had been working at Y-12 day in and day out, 24 hours a day, as 1,152 calutrons managed to enrich 50 kilograms, or just over 100 pounds, of enriched Tubealloy.” (Uranium-235)

My wife’s great aunt was one of them. She never told us what she did, but her experiences parallels those reported here.

Q: What are they making in those plants?
A: About 80 cents an hour.

Q: What do you do out there?
A: As little as possible.

Q: How many people are working in Oak Ridge?
A: About half of them.

“Bigger! More! Now!” (MajGen. Leslie Groves, USA)