Book Review: A Bit of Colored Ribbon by Craig S. Whitmore (four stars)

Book Review: A Bit of Colored Ribbon: A Novel of The Civil War by Craig S. Whitmore (four stars)

“And you want them to put a bit of colored ribbon on your body and sing hymns around you too?” “I just want to be remembered in some way.”

Solid historical fiction. Excellent everyman view of the Civil War. Slave, conductor, and soldier’s eye view of slavery, underground railroad, and war. Origin, status, and role of Contrabands. Little heroics; lots of danger and tedium. Rumors are the primary source of news. (Somethings never change.) More real than Gone with the Wind or Red Badge of Courage.

“I’ll help you, but we do it quietly, we do it safely, we harm no one. That’s my terms.” “Now where’s the fun in that?”

Multidimensional characters. Good and bad in bad and good folks. Prejudice among Union soldiers, some of whom fought to preserve union, not free slaves. Compassion among slaveholders.

“It don’t matter what name you born with. It what name you make fo’ yo’self make de difference.”

Whitmore explains his extensive use of dialect, but it slows the reading and adds the judgmental tone which he says is the opposite of his intention. Storytelling is a bit “on the nose”; he explains when showing would have had more impact.

“Martyrdom only shows the intensity of their beliefs, not the correctness of them. There are causes worth dying for, but none worth killing for. Murder is still murder.”

Quibbles: “January 20, 1861. Abraham Lincoln at last took the oath of office.” No, the inauguration was still in March in 1861. Other minor infractions. (Huge spoiler on cover.)

“‘…and there is no end to the odd things humane people will say and do…’ Mrs. Stowe saw through them, Nat.” “No one listened to her.” “Many of us did.”

Movie Review: Top Gun: Maverick (four stars)

theatrical release poster

Movie Review: Top Gun: Maverick, directed by Joseph Kosinski (four stars)

“You should be a two-star general by now, yet here you are.” “I am where I belong, Sir.”

Maverick delivers. The action seldom slows, the tie-ins to the 1986 progenitor are many, but this is no re-make. Pumping music. (Bring ear defenders.) Snappy one-liners rather than real dialogue, but that’s who Maverick is. Nice action plane shots. Tries to hit all the right buttons. Easy for the audience to suspend disbelief and go with the show.

“Please don’t tell me we lost an engine.” “Alright, I won’t tell you that.”

Tom Cruise is the obvious choice to reprise his role. He nails it, but he’s getting old. And it shows. Despite often heavy makeup, the scars of cosmetic surgery are occasionally visible on the big screen.

“It’s not the plane, it’s the pilot.”

Book Review: “Bots of the Lost Ark” by Suzanne Palmer (five stars)

Book Review: “Bots of the Lost Ark” by Suzanne Palmer (five stars)

(Clarkesworld, Jun 2021)

“I await this new opportunity to serve you with my utmost diligence and within my established parameters, as I always do.” “Ha! You do no such thing, and if I had a better option, I would have left you in storage,” Ship said.

Hilarious! Further adventures of 9 and Ship. (“The Secret Life of Bots” won the 2018 Hugo for Best Novelette.) Think: nano-sized R2-D2.

“If the Ysmi are greeted by a free-floating swarm of delusional bots claiming both personhood and unconstrained authority, we will all be relieved of the burden of worrying about any and all of our functions thereafter.”

Popcorn for the brain space opera, but fun. Gratuitous profanity cost Palmer a star.

“What do you anticipate LOPEZ will do?” 9 asked. “Attempt to retake control of the gloms. If that fails, it will attempt to either take over or destroy my mind-system, destroy the humans, or, if it is clear it cannot succeed and survive as itself, destroy the entire ship.” “Those are all suboptimum,” 9 said.

(2022 Hugo Award Novelette finalist)

(Magazine cover art unrelated to story)

Book Review: The Kaiju Preservation by John Scalzi (four stars)

Book Review: The Kaiju Preservation by John Scalzi (four stars)

“These things weren’t built. They evolved. Evolution doesn’t overengineer. The kaiju nuclear bioreactors work well enough. Until they don’t.”

Excellent world and creature building. Raises hope that Scalzi hasn’t completely sold out to corporate bookdom. Leaving his Interdepency trash, he returns to the fresh, enjoyable storytelling of Old Man’s War and Redshirts.

“Did you mean to make it look like an Ewok village, or was that just an accident?” “Well, technically speaking, Tanaka predates the Ewok village by a couple of decades. So it looks like us.” “Does George Lucas know that?” “He might.”

Since the story is told entirely from the protagonist’s point of view, the reader knows little of Jamie’s appearance, race, sexuality, politics, etc. And doesn’t need to. If Scalzi tells us more, it’d just slow the flow.

“Is there something about this place that everyone is great, except that they will murder you if you cross them?” “There is a certain personality type that thrives here, yes,”

Apparently he can’t write without peppering the text with gratuitous expletives. Spiced with humor and pop SF references. That said, enough typos made it through to suggest springing for another edit.

“Of course it feels weird. Back home, a nuclear explosion is an existential threat. Here, it’s just Tuesday.”

Ought to be a movie. Seriously. At least as big budget as Avatar.

“I had fun writing this, and I needed to have fun writing this. We all need a pop song from time to time, particularly after a stretch of darkness.” John Scalzi

Book Review: Servant Mage by Kate Elliott (three stars)

Book Review: Servant Mage by Kate Elliott (three stars)

As Grandmother often said, What you believe you know of another’s thoughts is generally just your own hanging in front of you.

Decent story. Well-developed characters in a believable medieval fantasy world. Uncertainty is a believable response to Fellian’s situation. Nice cover art.

the bird fluttered down to perch there. It had a fierce gaze, a toothy beak, and three legs.

Quibbles: Three legged birds. No. Just no. Gratuitous profanity.

“F*** off, you old swine,”

Like so many series openers, Mage merely sets up the rest of the series. Lots of hooks into the second book, but little incentive to read them. But wait. This isn’t a series opener. Yet. Elliott has done better. And worse.

Pain burst in her chest like the cracking of her sternum punched from the inside with sheer, utter, unstoppable, unbearable emotion.

Book Review: Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal (five stars)

Book Review: Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal (five stars)

“Noch ein gespenstiger Spion … Another ghost spy.”

Well done. Cobbling together history and popular interest in spiritualism at that time, Kowal writes dramatic, credible historical fantasy set in France during 1916.

“You are a contradiction.” “I like to keep you guessing. It is the role of an intelligence officer to avoid predictability at all costs.” “Mm … and here I thought you just enjoyed being difficult.”

Kowal weaves together a diverse and occasionally real cast to create an engaging mystery as well as highlight the prejudices and practices of that day. Excellent denouncement; set the stage for possible (as yet unannounced) sequels.

“You are as stubborn as your mother was.” “I take that as a compliment.” “I meant it as one.”

Better than her already good Lady Astronaut series. Readers new to Kowal might start here. Excellent cover art, unfortunately not credited in the electronic edition.

“Your hearing is damaged, but your soul isn’t.” “After the war, I’m not sure any of us can claim to have undamaged souls.”

Book Review: A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark (four stars)

Book Review: A Master of Djinn (Dead Djinn Universe #1) by P. Djèlí Clark (four stars)

‘First story of djinn, steampunk, and Cairo’

One ring to rule them all. Sure it’s been done, but not in Cairo a hundred plus years ago with an all-female primary cast. Males appear only to make the females look better

“Boilerplate eunuchs generally don’t have much in the way of thought.” “And how is that different from men?” 

A well-done message story, though occasionally overselling the message distracts from the story. Readers who sit back and let it flow over them will be more satisfied than those who think too much. Better development than Ring Shout. Satisfying resolution.

“What would you think my motive?” “I feel a villain rant coming on.” 

(2022 Hugo Award novel finalist)

Book Review: Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard (three stars)

Book Review: Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard (three stars)

“It feels a lot like love.” “Good. Then that’s all we really need to be happy, isn’t it? Life is too short to be ringed by other people’s expectations of proper behavior.” 

Becoming typical medieval royal same-sex triangle fantasy. albeit set in an east Asia analog. Yawn.

“You would have given me so much, in exchange for me giving up everything.” “Don’t be so melodramatic.” 

Not a bad story but feels recycled. Nice cover art.

‘Just because it makes sense doesn’t mean it needs to happen that way.’ 

(2022 Hugo Award Novella finalist)

Life Dust by Pam Webber (five stars)

Life Dust by Pam Webber

Amazing tale of second chances. The protagonist, Nettie (and her now-fiancé Andy) from The Wiregrass and Moon Water, matures and faces new challenges personally and professionally in the early 1970s. Dickens would have been proud.

Since Webber is a nurse, we assume she got the nuances of nursing student life right. Vietnam veterans will recognize she got enough of the situation on the ground in Vietnam’s I Corps in 1971-72 right that she must have consulted those who had been there.

Overtly Christian. Optimistic. Not overtly political, though hospital and military life is awash with internal politics. All of which will offend some readers. Those who stick with the story will be rewarded.

As true for her previous books, Webber does not dwell on race though several characters are people of color.

(Full disclosure: I was a beta reader of this novel in 2021. My review is based on my impression of the draft I read. I suspect the finished product will be even better.)

Book Review: The Silver Bullets of Annie Oakley) by Mercedes Lackey (four bullets)

Book Review: The Silver Bullets of Annie Oakley (Element Masters #16) by Mercedes Lackey (four bullets)

“If what you saw the Wolves turn into was real . . . what else is out there? Was every nightmare creature from fairy tales real?”

Well-done historical fantasy. The sixteenth instalment of a series is not the recommended place to start, but Lackey fills the reader soon enough and fast enough that there no gagging on data dumps.

“Wear somethin’ that won’t show blood. Well, that ain’t ominous.”

Annie’s character, history, and inner voice are established before she becomes aware of the supernatural realm she’s lived in all her life. A touch of humor.

Mama used to say, “All a poor person has is their reputation, so be careful never to lose it.”

Vocabulary and action appropriate for young adult readers, yet engaging reading for all ages.That said, like all Lackey stories, it’s all a bit too easy.

‘But part of her kept reminding her that she was not the heroine of a dime novel. That she was not, in fact, what she pretended to be in the Wild West Show.’