Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Building

Sorry for no book review.

I’ve been off my normal reading pace this month as we prepared and started packing shoe boxes for Samaritan Purse‘s Operation Christmas Child. We have been building boxes for over a decade–usually a few more each year.

Sunday October 30, my wife Treva hosted friends and neighbors to a packing party. The ladies in the photograph are members of her prayer circle.

Over a hundred packed so far.

Book Review: The Currents of Space by Isaac Asimov (four stars)

Book Review: The Currents of Space (Galactic Empire #2) by Isaac Asimov (four stars)

“Don’t you know that everything in all the Galaxy is mostly Nothing?”

“No school like the old school.” Published in 1952, this story is better than much of today’s science fiction. Asimov competently weaves the science of his day into an engaging tale of amnesia, power, and apocalypse.

‘It took hours to reach a point far enough from star-mass distortion of the space fabric to make a jump possible.’

Many tropes of subsequent science fiction are already present: faster-than-light jumping, galactic empires, and orbital dynamics. He also addresses social issues of his day—racism, sexism, classism, power politics—though from the point of view of mid-twentieth century. (Younger readers may have doubts.) Of course, there’s a lot of pseudo-scientific hand waving, but its no worse than subsequent franchises.

‘No Florinian could, of course, be more than a clerk, regardless of how much of the actual threads of office ran through his white fingers.’

His character building and storytelling stand up well. His language and social habits are credible and inoffensive. Though this tale becomes an origin story for his Foundation series, the story admits standalone reading.

“May the Spirit of the Galaxy watch over the Squires as they watch over us.”

What We Have Here is a Failure to Lead

Amid the current chatter about warmongers, the public may miss the bigger story: the United States of America is not ready to fight large-scale regional conflicts in Europe and Asia simultaneously.

With the Department of Defense focused on acquiring new weapon systems by retiring older ones, failing to recruit replacements, supplying Ukraine, and turning their culture upside down, the gap in our current capability is large and growing.

Several issues are to blame (which I’ll address in the future), but the biggest problem is the lack of leadership. Both the civilian and uniformed management of DoD are unfit to serve, much less lead. Most should not be entrusted with almost three million people and a $700 billion budget, not to mention hundreds of ships, aircraft, installations, and weapons capable of ending civilization.

They are not leaders. They are bureaucrats, bean counters, and politicians. Both parties, all services, all industries are to blame. And finally and foremost the voters. We let it happen because we were complacent, distracted, and stupid.

They embody the worst of Eisenhower’s warning about the military-industrial complex. Government collusion is required to maintain our bloated, ineffective Defense establishment. Not only because they always want bigger budgets and more weapons, but because they have betrayed the defense of the nation since the end of the Cold War.

The fall of the Iron Curtain, if not the end of World War Two, was the highpoint of American defense. Not even the tragedy of September 11, 2001, roused DoD and the nation from the delusion of their status as the world’s sole “hyperpower.” They believed that  history had ended.

“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” We haven’t been vigilant. Our liberty is at risk.

Book Review: Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse (four stars)

Book Review: Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World, #2) by Rebecca Roanhorse (four stars)

“Godslayer, huh.” His mouth bleeds into a half smile. “I always knew you were the crazy one in the girl gang.”

Excellent story; excellent storytelling. Roanhorse continues her saga woven with Navajo language, culture, and lore in a post-apocalyptic Dinétah, approximately a hundred years in the future. The geography is based on the American Southwest after the Big Water, a series of cataclysms including California sliding into the Pacific. People live as best they can on the remnants, using their clan powers to aid or oppose each other and spiritual deities, including the Diyin Dine’e.

I open my mouth to remind him of her clan powers, but I shut it when I see the look on his face. Why ruin his familial pride with a few pesky supernatural facts?

Maggie is totally believable in a speculative fiction way, which is way over the top. The genesis and inner dynamics of her gang of girls adds to her and their depth. Gratuitous profanity cost Ronan a star. Yes, that’s who Maggie and company are, but beyond establishing character, it dulls the edge which it presumably was meant to whet.

“You know, I grew up in the church, but I’m not sure I believe in all that sin stuff.”
“I have to believe, because if I don’t, then there’s no chance of forgiveness. It’s the only hope I have.”

Mechanics: Roanhorse reveals that she wrote Storm before publishing Trail of Lightning. Assures continuity. Pace and timing propel the reader onward. Kudos to Tommy Arnold for the cover illustration.

“I’ve got issues, if you haven’t notice.” “Oh, I noticed.” “Thanks.”

Book Review: Mrs. Sherlock Holmes by Brad Ricca (three stars)

Book Review: Mrs. Sherlock Holmes: The True Story of New York City’s Greatest Female Detective and the 1917 Missing Girl Case that Captivated the Nation by Brad Ricca (three stars)

“Vice conditions here in the city are astounding,” Grace said. “The ‘good people’ of New York are as much asleep to the nastiness of their city as the nation appears to be to the seriousness of our war.”

A well-written, if pointless history of the career of a female detective. If she was New York’s greatest, New York is in trouble. Grace Humiston’s approach to crime foreshadowed Joe McCarthy’s to politics. She saw all crime through a single lens—white slavery—and developed her cases accordingly.

Grace had gone from the most celebrated woman in New York City to something of a pariah. But she was still trying to save the girls of her city.

Twice as long as necessary. Too many rabbit trails; too many extraneous details. Paid by the word? Ricca seems proud of every shred of fact he unearthed relating to Humiston or anyone she met on the street.

“I believe the city as a whole has felt that the work of the police department was and is steadily improving,” the mayor said. New Yorkers read it in disbelief.

That said, an interesting recreation of New York City crime, corruption, and journalism a hundred years ago. Little seems to have changed other than technology.

The reader must, as those of the time had to, consider each individual source. That is part of the story, too.

Learning from History

In his mind, Vladimir Putin is Russia and Russia is Putin. A threat to Russia is a threat to him. He promotes the same cult of personality as his hero and model Joseph Stalin. Putin rules by force, deceit, and brinksmanship. His modus operandi is cheat to win.

‘Former Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev told CNN Tuesday that “terror is the only thing left” for Russian President Vladimir Putin, “like for any miserable terrorist in the world.” Putin has launched missiles attacks at Ukraine on Monday and Tuesday because he “is desperate, because he made miscalculations.”

“He’s desperate and he returns to what he’s doing: intimidation, that is, threatening nuclear weapons — which he will not use — and terror actions in Ukraine and in Russia,” Kozyrev said. He doesn’t think Putin will use nuclear weapons. “He is human being, so he does not want to commit suicide with strategic nuclear weapons.”’ (Alex Hardle, CNN)

To Putin, Ukraine, Belorussia, and the former Soviet Republics are still part of Russia. Therefore his invasion of Ukraine was an internal police action.

Putin thinks he understands Biden as he thought he understood Trump, Obama, and Bush. He respected none of them.

Not the way Nikita Khrushchev respected Dwight Eisenhower. Khrushchev didn’t respect John Kennedy; therefore thought he could place intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Cuba. He guessed wrong. JFK went to the brink of nuclear war. Khrushchev backed down.

End of story to Americans, but Putin’s takeaway from the Cuban Missile Crisis was that Khrushchev backed down and lost power. To Putin, staying in power justifies any action.

“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Winston Churchill

Book Review: The Prodigal Sun (Evergence #1) by Sean Williams and Shane Dix (four stars)

Book Review: The Prodigal Sun (Evergence #1) by Sean Williams (four stars)

<At the risk of sounding critical, your strategy seems to be constructed of and entirely dependent on random factors.>
<Yes, [Redacted]. Exciting, is it not?>

A well-conceived and executed high adventure in space. More than a space opera. Sort of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress meets Ender’s Game. A protagonist who is enough of an “every man” to keep the reader engaged, as opposed to super people fighting super people.

“Needless killing is never honorable, Commander.” “That at least I can agree with. Perhaps we only disagree on our definition of ‘need.’”

Appreciate that injuries don’t heal overnight. In fact accumulate. Some clunky phraseology: “topped and fell” and “temporarily if not permanently.”

No one stirred as she climbed out of the bunk and donned her survival suit.

Quibbles: The valise strap. Roche constantly changes clothes unimpeded by The Box’s unremovable strap on her wrist. “the most powerful engine one powered by petroleum. By thus keeping the population at a level barely approximating civilized.” Not on a world with no petroleum industry. “There was a slight dent where the bullet had struck, but otherwise it was undamaged.” If a bullet could dent it …

“Never feel so superior, or inferior, that you can afford to relinquish your most valuable weapon: deceit. A war is won only when at least one of the parties loses the ability to lie…”

A good read, embarrassing: I don’t remember the book I first read eight years ago.

“All leaders have less freedom than anyone under their aegis. That’s a natural law.”

Book Review: Life Dust by Pam Webber (five stars)

Book Review: Life Dust: A Novel by Pam Webber (five stars)

“Quy is what Asians call ‘life dust’ or one who is left behind.”

 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. Dual-track plot with several cross connections. Dickens would have been proud.

“Sometimes the most valuable lessons are not the ones we learn in a classroom, they’re the ones we learn when people abuse power.”

The best kind of historical fiction, inserting the reader in history. 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 and events related to the National League of POW/MIA Families right that she must have consulted those who had been there.

“Never underestimate the power of human contact and what it means to someone who feels isolated and alone.”

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

“People rarely forgive you for what they do to you.”

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

“No one is beyond forgiveness.”

(Full disclosure: I was a beta reader of this novel in 2021. This review reflects my impression then and now. The finished product is even better.)

Book Review: Faster by Neal Bascomb (four stars)

Book Review: Faster: How a Jewish Driver, an American Heiress, and a Legendary Car Beat Hitler’s Best by Neal Bascomb (four stars)

“To win the prize, it is necessary to take great risks.” René Dreyfus

Excellent history of inter war auto racing in Europe emphasizing the struggle of Lucy Schell to a field competitive French Grand Prix car against the Silver Arrows of Mercedes and Auto Union in the gathering dusk before World War Two.

“There was only one thing wrong, [Redacted]. The others drove like mad, but you drove like … a night watchman.”

Ostensibly about Lucy Schell’s Écurie Bleue team headed by René Dreyfus driving Delahaye racers, the book traces the fortunes, genius, and compromises of many teams and drivers pursuing their sport while civilization teetered on the brink. As much about Rudi Caracciola as René Dreyfus.

Races were increasingly a battleground between nations rather than individual drivers, and the Nazis were clearly investing to dominate.

Photos and maps enhance the reader’s appreciation. Name and nickname changes muddle the narrative. Skip the self-serving introduction bogs the story. The prologue is fine. Appropriate 30s style cover.

“We cannot go on this way … One of us will die.” Bernd Rosemeyer

Book Review: The Expert System’s Champion by Adrian Tchaikovsky (four stars)

Book Review: The Expert System’s Champion (Expert System #2) by Adrian Tchaikovsky (four stars)

We, who can do things no other human can, and all we paid for the privilege was everything we had and ever were.

Engaging and imaginative science fiction about “second contact.” Tchaikovsky veers in a new direction for his second story on this world. Parallel narratives precede and follow The Expert System’s Brother. Excellent development.

We were the lords of the unnatural. We had made ourselves the ambassadors between the people of the villages and that other unseen world the ancestors had come from.

Really unique aliens. So often, like online games and SF movies, the aliens are just humans with strange masks. Prepare to have your Eweh sense disturbed.

Hope was most of the little we had. The remainder, which was to say, my plan, was despair.