Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Eye of God, by James Rollins

This novel is clearly in a series featuring the same main characters, but the author did a good job of not making that an issue for someone who picks this book up at random.   It is, however, one of those spy / save the world novels that relies on bizarre conveniences to make the story work.   I don't mind a novel occasionally stretching credibility, but to me, that's best done in stretching the plot premise, and not in manufacturing scenarios that couldn't possibly happen.

The plot was interesting though.  So this book is fine to read as long as you're not in a picky mood.   In summary:  a comet carries a dark matter force with it, it passed the Earth 2800 years ago and some dark matter -affected materials ended up as relics.   It is passing nearby again and is drawn to contact the Earth to rejoin those materials, unless our band of heroes can stop it by aligning the right dark matter with the other right dark matter in the middle of Mongolia after having passed through and escaped from North Korea and other pleasant way points.

The Eye of God: A Sigma Force Novel (Sigma Force Novels)

The October List, by Jeffery Deaver

Oh no, another un-read book.  This seldom happens, and now it is two times in a very short time period.   The problem here is the design of the novel:  it is written backwards.  In the first chapter we are at the end, and each subsequent chapter works towards the beginning.

The author quotes the joke,
"The bartender says, 'We don't serve time travelers in here.'
A time traveler walks into a bar."

Well, that might work in a kind of geeky joke, but it  doesn't work (for me) in a mystery novel.  I got to page 17 out of 301 before I realized that the joke was on me, and I didn't like it.

The October List - Free Preview (first 4 chapters)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Rasputin's Shadow, by Raymond Khoury

I did not read this book. I tried to, making it all the way to page 29 before giving up. That's out of 404 pages. At a mere 7% into this novel I could tell it wasn't worth reading. And anyone who follows this blog knows that I'm really not all that picky about what I read. So consider this a public service: don't bother with this book.


One of the big annoyances in this novel is the extraordinarily clumsy way that Mr. Khoury links this novel back to prior ones that featured the same main characters. At least that's what I imagine he was doing; if not, there's just no explanation for the ham fisted descriptions of prior events. So for someone who's invested in all those (I have no clue how many) previous books, maybe it is worth while to keep going.

But I doubt it.

The clumsiness isn't limited to the link-backs. There's an overall miasma of poor writing going on here.

Rasputin's Shadow

Monday, November 18, 2013

Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card

Although first published in 1977, I'd never heard of this title until I saw a preview for the movie adaptation a couple of months ago.  Apparently this is true for lots of folks; as I hear it the local middle school library is suddenly seeing a run on a book that had been sitting lonely and dust covered on the shelves for some time.

Yes middle school.  Which makes sense, in that the hero is only six years old when the novel begins, and not even a teenager at its end.   But I don't believe there's any reason to think this isn't also a novel for adults. I just missed it because I seldom read science fiction. Which brings us to the story line.

Set in the future, an alien race (buggers) caused trauma in an attack on Earth, and having barely won, the governments worry about a new attack. The complexity of coordinating space warfare with these aliens seems beyond the ability of veteran soldiers and instead requires an intensively trained savant: someone who has enough genius to understand the situation, can perhaps process the massive information streams in some intuitive fashion, who is vicious enough to prevail but empathetic enough to lead others. So the governments seek out little children who might have the right mix of abilities and carefully monitor them, looking for the one(s) who have what it takes.

Ultimately our hero Ender is a strong candidate. Ender's back story includes his little sister, for whom he has much affection, and his sociopathic big brother for whom he has only discomfort. His training consists of life like simulations. And I can't say more without introducing spoilers.

So is it worth reading? Absolutely. The plot is interesting, the development of Ender as a hero is interesting. The absurdity of the children's age considered their circumstance is hardly noticeable, other then in the occasional bit of puerile dialog.

Ender's Game

Friday, November 15, 2013

Never Go Back, by Lee Child

This, the latest "Jack Reacher" novel, suffers a few annoying defects.  First, Mr. Child over-played the main character's "coin flip, 50/50 chance" trope.  Second, he overplayed that hero's knowledge of literature, because the prior novels did nothing to support the level of literary awareness that Reacher displays in this book.  Worst of all, the heroic Reacher now steals to fund his needs (albeit from meth cookers); where in the world did this come from?

It was, though, a fast read from the point of plot movement.  If I could have avoided my disappointment at those problems it would have been more enjoyable.

The concept:  hero Jack Reacher travels to Virginia to visit his telephone buddy, Major Susan Turner, at his old command, the 110th MP (which is headquartered, in real life, at Fort Hood, Texas).  When he gets there he finds that Turner's been arrested, and Reacher is about to be.   They escape, and mayhem ensues.

Never Go Back: A Jack Reacher Novel

Monday, November 11, 2013

Ep.#1 - "Aurora: CV-01," by Ryk Brown

As an episode of a television series, this is a great book.   As a novel, it is just okay.   The flaws in the novel aren't as bad in the television show:  superficial characters, predictable actions.

I make this comparison because Mr. Brown's series is episodic, from its naming down to the way the series is continued from one episode (novel) to the other.  (Yes, I peaked at the next volume .)  As of today, he's up to nine episodes.

The general idea is this:  We're in the far distant future, where Earth has a unified government which rules in a post apocalyptic time.  There is an alien race which seeks our destruction.  Our hero behaves like an impulsive kid but manages to get through a space academy and become a commissioned officer, about to become a pilot on a spaceship, prepared to save the world from the bad aliens.

The books in this series can be borrowed from the Kindle Lending Library for free if one is an Amazon Prime member; the catch is that you have to wait until the next calendar month to borrow the next book.   At that price, though, it is worth reading.

Ep.#1 - "Aurora: CV-01" (The Frontiers Saga)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Threat Vector, by Tom Clancy

I had stopped reading Mr. Clancy's books for a while because either I'd lost interest in them or because his writing changed (i.e., deteriorated) over time.   But this one was at the library, so I gave it a go.

I got through all 848 pages of it in one day, which tells you everything you need to know.

This book reminded me of the first of Mr. Clancy's books that I read, "The Hunt for Red October (Jack Ryan) ."  (I foolishly read it on a flight from New York's JFK airport to Nice, France, when I should have been sleeping instead.  I paid for that decision dearly at work the day I arrived in France.)

Threat Vector (Jack Ryan Novels)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, by Malcolm Gladwell

This is almost a terrific book: the first two-thirds are very good.  I'd recommend the first third of the book to everyone I know.   But the last third continues a theme of "good results come from suffering" that is both wearisome and also not as well written as the start of the text.   Earlier examples of good results coming from difficult circumstances, although flawed by their anecdotal nature, were at least well written and interesting.  More importantly, in these examples Mr. Gladwell tied the conclusion up in a clean bow.   But toward the end there was no circling of the story back to a crisp statement, it was just a pouring on of sad times.

It is though a fast read, and the first few chapters are enjoyable; I realized how long I'd been captivated only when I took a sip of my coffee and found it cold.   That's generally a very good sign for a book.

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

Monday, November 4, 2013

Blood Money, by Brian Springer

Hero Greg Kelton is a domestic mercenary, one who will only take cases that map to his moral code.   He's hired to rescue Jessica Robbins, who - in an inexplicable plot stretch - invented an inexpensive and effective AIDS treatment but is being held captive by (corrupt?) government forces who do not want her breakthrough to see production.   The novel covers Jessica's rescue and ultimate delivery to the man who orchestrated her freedom.

This was an interesting book, and a plot twist surprised me.   I don't really understand why so many authors in the suspense / action genre feel it is essential that their heroes fall in love and intend lifetime relationships after but a few hours after meeting the inevitably beautiful and talented victim that the plot sets them up to protect.  But aside from that, this book was pretty good.

Blood Money (A Greg Kelton Thriller)

The Protocol, by J. Robert Kennedy

This is a bit of a Indiana Jones rip-off in that the hero, James Acton, is an archaeology professor who is expert at weapons, evasion, spy craft, and, well, just about everything outside of archaeology.   It is an interesting enough book, especially when available on Amazon Kindle for just 99 cents.

The concept is that a multi-thousand year old group, the Triari, exist to protect us from a set of crystal skulls falling into the wrong hands.

Oh, gosh, I can't even describe the plot.   Let's just say if you have time on your hands, nothing else you're in the mood to read, and an extra dollar in your pocket, this novel will help pass the time.   Apparently this is the first of a series; I don't intend to read book #2.

The Protocol (A James Acton Thriller, Book #1) (James Acton Thrillers)

Steel World, by BV Larson

I seldom read sci-fi, but I would read more of it if it were as interesting as this novel.   Mr. Larson's concept is as follows:   The advanced leaders of the universe notice the probes that we on Earth have been sending into space.  They (the Galactics) stop by and allow the Earth to join their empire (or be destroyed).  The catch is, theirs is a trade -based model.  If the planet doesn't have something of value to trade, its continued existence is without purpose.  It turns out the best contribution our planet can make to a galactic economy is war making:  since we tend to do it all the time anyway, why not export the talent.  So Earth exists to provide mercenary forces to fight on behalf of whatever planet chooses to hire us.

Fast forward to where the hero comes in: James McGill.   A slacker college dropout, he signs up with the mercenary force Varus.  This novel chronicles the adventures of his first military campaign, in the invasion of Cancri-9, aka Steel World.

If there's a sequel, I'm in.

Steel World

Three, by JA Konrath

Since I enjoyed reading the precursor to this novel, "Spree," I was eager to see what happened next to the unlikely group of super spy triplets, Chandler, Fleming, and Hammet.

In this volume, the brush strokes are much more like caricatures.  The President is a religious nut who personally manages spy activity while seeking to kill millions to further his aims.   The main characters are essentially comic book superheroes.   And yet, while not as captivating as "Spree," this was entertaining.  I will stop at this one though.

Three (Chandler Series)

Spree, by JA Konrath

This novel is weird, trashy, and well written enough to keep reading to the end.  The concept is that a government trained group of killer elite female spies includes identical triplets Chandler, Fleming and Hammett.   As you might expect at this point, their skills are beyond description, and they can handle pretty much any feat the author imagines.

Other main characters include Jack Daniels as a Chicago police officer and Tequila Abernathy as a heroic, mysterious good guy.

In spite of how it seems this wasn't an overt attempt at humor: the authors really push the plot forward.

Well, it isn't literature but it is fun to read.

Spree (Chandler Series)

Shadow Unit 1, by Will Shetterly

This is a very clever concept done quite well.   The novel is written to give the reader the feel of watching a television series, and it works.   The Shadow Unit is a group within the FBI's behavioral analysis unit whose cases are too off for normal processing - think X Files.

Like a television series, there are a number of writers.  Unfortunately though the group couldn't keep up the momentum:  I was eager to read volume two but didn't make it very far before giving up in despair.  But this first book is worth reading.

Shadow Unit 1