Book Review: The Very Best of Kate Elliott (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Very Best of Kate Elliott (Three Stars)

“Gold is not harder than granite.”

A better-than-average collection of short stories. Admittedly a low bar. Nice cover art, unrelated to any story.

“A woman could live her life tending the fire of such a man’s life. Its heat was seductive, but in the end its glory belonged only to him.”

Eclectic, apparently some connected to novels she published elsewhere. Strong female characterizations.

“See, it’ll be the last burial in this house—we’ve got no more sheets to spare!”

For those who her message, the closing essays clarifies.

“Sometimes stubbornness was the only thing that kept you going.”

Operation Desert Storm: 1991

“First-Wing; First In”

Thirty years ago today, I pulled a 36-hour day as the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing deployed to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia launched the air war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

Our role was to clear the air of Iraqi fighters. That took less than a day. My one thousand maintainers continually loaded, launched, recovered, re-loaded, re-fueled, and re-launched our 48 deployed F-15C/D Eagles all night, day, and the next night in that rapid sortie generation effort.

I was later awarded my second Bronze Star Medal for my role as 1TFW Deputy Commander for Maintenance preparing and deploying and supporting the five months of continuous air cover for Operation Desert Shield which preceded as well as for Desert Storm and re-deploying home later in 1991.

1 TFW maintenance leaders deployed “somewhere in southwest Asia”

Dhahran Air Base, on the Persian Gulf, was home to the Royal Saudi Air Force premier F-15 squadron, our hosts. Hence the Saudi markings on the model behind us in the photograph. LtCol Joe Harrison, right, 1st Aircraft Generation Squadron commander, was also awarded a Bronze Star Medal.

Book Review: “Do as I Do; Sing as I Sing” by Sarah Pinsker (Three Stars)

Book Review: “Do as I Do; Sing as I Sing” by Sarah Pinsker, published in Ceaseless Skies, Issue 246, March 2018. (Three Stars)

(Spoilers Below)

“We had not been chosen because we were special; we were now special because we had been chosen, and taught.”

Engaging short story about consequences. The protagonist finds herself the focus of her villages hopes and her brother’s ire simply because she followed directions.

“Why does ‘why’ matter?” “Because it lets you fix things better when they go wrong.” “Our job is not to fix things. It’s to make sure they don’t go wrong in the first place.”

Close point of view storytelling. Delving deep into the character of her protagonist, Pinsker let’s the plot take care of itself. Seemingly. Good job.

“‘What if they wanted our land?’ Everything was based on what-ifs. What-ifs that could destroy everything. What-ifs that relied on my brother acting ethically, acting logically. When had he last done either?”

Both main characters compromise themselves. One lies about his shortcut to increased agricultural self-sufficiency; the other thwarts that threat to traditional and proven crop production by destruction and lying. Do two wrongs make a right?

“Cropsinging was serious business, life and death for everyone involved. Now it was ours.”

Book Review: Every Man a Hero: A Memoir of D-Day … by Ray Lambert and Jim DeFelice (Five Stars)

Book Review: Every Man a Hero: A Memoir of D-Day by Ray Lambert and Jim DeFelice (Five Stars)

“Always for us the war was an immediate affair; the only strategy that counted was the one that kept you and your buddies alive.”

Extraordinary memoir of one of the last survivors of D-Day. The story summarizes growing up in Alabama in the 20s and 30s, and his decision to escape poverty by joining the US Army in 1940. He thought he knew what was coming, but had no idea what was ahead for him.

“I guess they figured if a man can take care of dogs, soldiers would be a cinch.”

Though Lambert had no medical training, he had assisted the county vet giving rabies shots to dogs.

“The 2nd Battalion medics never retreated; we just found a better location.”

Excellent voice and sense of the times. Lambert was older than many recruits and a natural leader. He survived landings in Algeria, Sicily, and Normandy. My father was a WW2 vet, and many of Lambert’s expressions and slang resonated with me. And reminded me of my father, dead over twenty years.

“Your mind plays tricks when you look back. Things that should be sharp and crisp blur. Odd events, people you barely knew and places you rarely visited, suddenly become sharp.”

DeFelice undoubtedly facilitated producing a modern text for the 90-year-old Lambert but did so without losing the sense of the original.

“No mission too difficult, no sacrifice too great—Duty First” First Division motto.

We cannot imagine what it was like: Lambert’s First Division “The Big Red One” went through. It is estimated that fully 30% of everyone who landed on Omaha beach was killed or wounded during his first hour ashore … or, in many cases, not quite ashore. Lambert was wounded three times that morning, the last took him out of the fight. His team rescued him and started him back to England.

“And that’s all right. In a way, it’s better. Every medic who did his job that day was a savior; every man a hero.”

Book Review: Smith of Wootton Major by J. R. R. Tolkien (Five Stars)

Book Review: Smith of Wootton Major, Extended Edition by J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by Verlyn Flieger (Five Stars)

“He had returned sooner than was expected, but none too soon for those that awaited him. ‘Daddy!’ she cried. ‘Where have you been? Your star is shining bright!’”

A visit to Faery.* Beware. It may touch your soul.

“Tolkien himself called it “an old man’s book, already weighted with the presage of bereavement”, and taking their cue from him, many have read Smith’s surrender of the star as Tolkien’s farewell to his art.”

Unlike The Lord of the Rings, which Tolkien labored over for decades, Smith came to him in a flash, and he dashed it off whole. It has a rough quality which betrays both that inspiration and that lack of refining. Nonetheless, it should entertain and enrich any reader who appreciates “Farmer Giles of Ham” or “Leaf by Niggle”. It was the last story he wrote and the last published in his lifetime.

“He stood before her, and he did not kneel in courtesy, for he was dismayed and felt that for one so lowly all gestures were in vain.”

This expanded edition includes the original illustrations by Pauline Baynes as well as notes concerning the writing and revisions of the original. An excellent companion for “On Fairy Stories”* from The Tolkien Reader, since Smith of Wootton Major is just such a fairy story.

‘Yet you have given up the star. I hope it may go to someone as worthy. The child should be grateful.’ ‘The child won’t know,’ said the smith. ‘That’s the way with such gifts.’

BTW, it is only on the second or third reading that the wonder grew upon me. The first time through, I read it like any story–and of that it was quick and crude. Subsequent readings, the Faery grows upon you.

“Roger Lancelyn Green, who noted in the Sunday Telegraph for 3 December 1967 that, “To seek for the meaning is to cut open the ball in search of its bounce.” Tolkien treasured the comment, and wrote Green to thank him.”

After my sixth reading, it still grabs me as (usually) only real fairy tales do. Most modern fantasy seems so contrived. Tolkien had a grasp for what really works.

“When wisdom comes the mind though enriched by imagination, having learned or seen distantly truths only perceptible in this way, must prepare to leave the world of Men and of Fayery.”* JRRT

*Tolkien was notorious for his various spellings of this word.

Book Review: Uncharted Stars by Andrea Norton (Three Stars)

Book Review: Uncharted Stars (The Zerto Stone #2) by Andrea Norton (Three Stars)

“When there is only one road left, that is the one you walk.”

Not Norton’s best work, but a fun, engaging young adult science fiction adventure. Slow start; she spends first ten pages recapping the previous story. Once again no female characters grace the pages of this story by once of the best female SF writers of her day until the last ten pages.

“My depressed spirits told me that I was already at the point where one surrendered hope and waited for the inevitable blow to fall.” “We could not be far now from the entrance, though I could hardly believe in such fortune.”

Her point of view character has plenty of angst and apparent failures, but his luck in landing in just the right place and the right time pushes credibility. (No one reads these books expecting complete realism, but the author should at least help maintain the reader’s willing suspension of unbelief.)

“Fitting the strip of reader tape in his clawed hands into a recorder.”

Published in 1969, Stars boasts all the technological gaffs one expects of what young readers may not grasp as the way it was versus bad writing.

“… set up his hold orbit to the north.” “The atmosphere was breathable without a helmet.” Ryzk turned to check the atmosphere dials. “Arth type, livable.”

Quibbles: It is impossible to orbit the north of a planet. A polar orbit transects the equator as well as the poles. Have you ever noticed how most SF worlds have breathable atmospheres? For most of its existence, even Earth didn’t have a breathable atmosphere.

“‘Agree! There is an excellent reason.’ And, in spite of myself, in spite of knowing that no excellent reason for such stupidity could exist, I found myself agreeing.”

Book Review: 3001: The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clark (Four Stars)

Book Review: 3001: The Final Odyssey (Space Odyssey #4) by Arthur C. Clark (Four Stars)

“I am a Stranger in a Strange Time.”

A fitting close to the story that electrified America fifty years ago. (Well, the movie based on the story.) Clark closes the loop opened by the stirring overture music. Published in 1997, this story anticipates the ubiquity of computers, jihadist terrorism, and pandemics.

“Forget you’re an engineer—and enjoy yourself.”

Curiously, his thesis is that mankind isn’t responsible for our aggressive tendencies; we were programmed that way by interfering aliens. Millions of years ago.

“He had to admit that the selection was well done, by someone (Indra?) familiar with the early Twenty-first Century. There was nothing disturbing—no wars or violence, and very little contemporary business or politics, all of which would now be utterly irrelevant.”

Rides his usual hobby horses—anti-war, anti-religion, anti-government, anti-anti. His ideas aren’t necessarily logical, but he presents them well. Not terribly interested in facts. When writing a book set in 3001, who can say what they know about the world of 2001?

“Corpse-food was on the way out even in your time,” Anderson explained. “Raising animals to—ugh—eat them became economically impossible.

Quibbles: “The general consensus about the single greatest work of human art. Over and over again, in almost every listing—it’s Angkor Wat.” (his consensus) “Lenin was unlucky; he was born a hundred years too soon. Russian communism might have worked—at least for a while—if it had had microchips. And had managed to avoid Stalin.” (his 1997 perspective) “How long would it take to build a super-bomb?” “Assuming that the designs still exist, so that no research is necessary—oh, perhaps two weeks. Thermonuclear weapons are rather simple, and use common materials.” (Plutonium and refined U-235 would not be common in a world with no nuclear reactors.) I can’t find a source, but I thought we knew that Ceres was mostly ice by 1997, so ice mining in the Oort Cloud would be stupidly and expensively unnecessary. Not to mention slow.

“For ordinary humans only two things were important: Love and Death. His body had not yet aged a hundred years: he still had plenty of time for both.”

Book Review: The Art of Stars Wars: the Mandalorian by Phil Szostak. (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Art of Stars Wars: the Mandalorian by Phil Szostak. (Four Stars)

“These stories were something that I had been working on for a long time. I didn’t know it would be for television. But I loved the idea of doing a story [after the fall of the Empire in Return of the Jedi.” Jon Favreau

This book will appeal to three, possibly overlapping, sets of people: fans of Stars Wars, those who have noticed and liked the art displayed with the closing credits of The Mandalorian television series, and those curious about the creation prop and set designs. All three should be satisfied with one caveat: the text font is so tiny and thin it impedes reading the text. So what, you say, this is about the art. Well, yes, but the text deserved better treatment.

“While flipping through these pages I am transported back in time, not just to 2018 but all the way back to 1977. We’ve honored George Lucas’s design philosophy in order to realize Jon Favreau’s bold new vision.” Doug Chiang, executive creative director

The book follows the creative process tracing The Mandalorian back to its roots in spaghetti westerns, samurai classics, and Boba Fett and IG-11. The artifacts spring from World War Two and Gulf War aircraft, ancient firearms, and assorted machine parts. The evolution of the title character’s armor and the Yoda child are especially interesting.

“Our ambitions can make the Force into something terrible even when our intentions might have been good. The Mandalorian has a choice: do his job … or take this lost child in and protect it, become it’s guardian.” Dave Filoni

Book Review: The Secret Life of Bots by Suzanne Palmer (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Secret Life of Bots by Suzanne Palmer (Four Stars)

“We have served admirably for many, many years. Abandoned?” “It is the fate of all made things,” Ship said. “I am grateful to find I have not outlived my usefulness, after all.

A pleasant excursion into the minds—albeit small—of the electro-mechanical minions of a superannuated spaceship on what may be a suicide mission. Both the central computer and the bots have an opinion about that. Who knew?

“Ship, find your damned bots and get them cooperating again.” “Yes, Captain. There is, perhaps, one other small concern of note.” “And that is?” “The positron device is also missing.”

Palmer draws the reader slower into an intimate but charged relationship with 9, yet grounds us also in the outer world’s issues. They collide in a humorous, but logical denouement.

“Space did odd, illogical things at jump points; turning space into something that would give Escher nightmares was, after all, what made them work.”

Book Review: Blood of Dragons by Jack Campbell (Four Stars)

Book Review: Blood of Dragons (The Legacy of Dragons #2) by Jack Campbell (Four Stars)

“My whole life has been a lie.”
“Kira, you’re being a little overdramatic.”
“What else haven’t I been told? You are my mother, right? For real?”
Mari nodded. “Do you think I would have stuck with this if I had a choice?”

Young adult adventure, second of a trilogy, set in a future world which has clawed its way back to steam technology. And mild magic. Teen angst, fast pace, moments of humor, acts of improbably strength and endurance. Good storytelling. What’s not to like?

“Mother, I am trying to wallow in the misery of this betrayal! Fine. My life is a lie and everyone I know has been plotting against me.”
“I’m glad you’re keeping a sense of perspective about this.”

Kira grows as a person inwardly and externally. She finds a new set of worries and meets them head-on. (Nice cover art, but at no time does Kira wear goggles and wield two pistols.)

“This is a lousy game. Really. It ought to have taco trucks.”
“Jason, are you sure you’re all right?”

Kira and Jason face near starvation and limited water yet rise to a climatic, seemingly impossible battle with strength that would shame many well-fed, well-equipped soldiers. Realistic? Who cares?

“War is insanity. You already know that. You’ve now seen it first-hand. But if someone begins such insanity, someone else has to stand against that, even though it means embracing the insanity.”