Book Reviews: A Passel of Opinions

Being stuck at home with a sprained ankle means a lot of time for reading.

Chaos Quarter
This sci-fi novel by David Welch doesn’t go all out on the humor to put it in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy/Stainless Steel Rat territory, but it’s still the best part of the story. A disgraced military intelligence type is sent on an undercover/suicide mission into the no man’s land section of the galaxy, picking up strays as crew along the way.
While it was thoroughly enjoyable, I would be completely remiss if I didn’t mention how much similarity there is here to Firefly. The captain–complete with duster–the hooker, the muscle, the ship; even the Chaos Quarter made me think of Reaver space, especially when the captain had his two pursuers face off against each other. Even the plot point of “Can’t stop the signal” is here. The last main character, on the other hand, is 7 of 9 from Star Trek, and then at the end they meet a Borg-like creature, so . . .
So if this had been a parody I might have enjoyed it more, but I quickly became annoyed with all these “similarities,” which dropped my enjoyment of what was an otherwise humorous quick read. 3/5

Rise of Hypnodrome
When I first saw the blurb for this novella by Matt Fuchs, about a guy who buys a robobabe from Amazon, I was sure it had be a comedy. Instead it’s a much more serious story told in flashback, framed by appointments with a psychiatrist–which is very convenient for flashbacks. It’s about a man in what I take to be the near future where there’s a “race” of genetically altered humans, in a world where Chopra is president. Everyone, especially the protagonist, think they’re evil, especially when his wife becomes one. It’s all a bit weird and hard to understand, and it feels like a wasted opportunity to not go further in depth with the robobabe thing. In the end I have to admit I didn’t find it that entertaining, even once I adjusted my expectations. 2/5

Nantucket Fivespot
An okay detective story by Steven Axelrod with a terrorism plot that really isn’t about that at all. Though I’ve been to Rhode Island I definitely haven’t visited Nantucket–and I don’t keep my false teeth in a bucket–so the geography of events, as well as the psychology of this millionaire tourist trap, was a little tough to picture. More to the point, I thought the antagonist made a few mistakes that he shouldn’t have, considering how the author had painted him earlier on, especially with him being an exert hacker. It also had the Feds being jerks as usual. . . except for the one that got away from the sheriff when they were in Los Angeles, presumably a previous book in a series. In the end I thought it was okay but no big deal. 3/5

Where the Bones Are Buried
At least this mystery by Jeanne Matthews has a twist: Native American culture in Berlin! While I don’t claim to be that much of an expert on Germany, I’ve certainly been there enough times, have enough friends, and been to enough museums that I would have heard something about this obsession. On the other hand, a web search comes across an article on exactly this, albeit only one, so it does exist.
But other than that setting it’s a relatively typical who-done-it. The extended ties between the characters, and this is only a guess, would be easier to follow if the previous books–this is the fifth–in the series are read first, though on the other foot I also had trouble remembering which German character was which. 3.5/5

Get the Happiness Habit
There’s an old Spanish proverb that says there is no happiness, only moments of happiness. This book by Christine Webber tries to disprove that, and like most self-help books says the power to change your life comes from within you, a natural force you can tap into if you only know how. I’ve always found that theory, no matter what it is inside us we’re trying to access, to be overly simplistic, and though the author mentions how hard it is for some people to overcome their ways, even if it’s self-destructive, it just isn’t that simple. For those who can it’s great, but who knows just how many that would be. On the other hand, the author can’t do it for you, just give you the blueprint, and she does do that 3.5/5

The Sirena Quest
A sorta treasure quest story by Michael Kahn, this involves the search for a long-missing statue; if it’s returned in time for the big reunion their college gets a bunch of money and they get a big finder’s fee. I have nothing bad to say about it, and it’s certainly not terrible in any way; I just felt like it could have been better, or at least more entertaining. 3/5

The New Censorship
A report by Joel Simon—executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists—on the current travails of journalists around the world faced with increasingly fascist governments who don’t want their secrets to get out, it also touches on the way the internet has changed things for reporting the news, not always for the better.
I don’t want to take anything away from what is obviously an important issue, but his overuse of statistics at the beginning made it hard for me to want to continue. His earnestness was also tough to get through; made me feel like the anvil was about to drop on my head any second. There are also new buzzwords and phrases, like “global information ecosystem,” that didn’t make reading easier.
So while the information was definitely valid, I think it could have been delivered in a more reader-friendly way. 3/5



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