Book Reviews: Sci-Fi, Mystery, and Teen Girls

“That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me!”
“That doesn’t speak well for your husband.”

Miasma
A Star Trek novella taking place somewhen after the third movie, it features the Enterprise ferrying diplomats to a meeting—old plot—and investigating a mysterious transmission, sending a shuttle with Spock in charge—old plot—to check things out. It’s even the same shuttle, Galileo; thankfully the similarity to the old Original series episode is noted in-universe.
Other than updating how Spock has progressed as a leader from the first time the Galileo crashed—it does that a lot—there’s really not much here. Redshirts die, Spock tries to keep the rest of them and McCoy alive. That part is very similar to the original episode as well; it also reminds me of one of the better books of the possibly thousands of Star Trek expanded universe novels, Uhura’s Song. The most intriguing notion here is having Spock and Saavik be telepathically linked because of their rumored Pon Farr on the Genesis planet, but that’s really the only new thing I saw. Even the diplomats whining that they’re going to be late is recycled.
I want to say that the similarities to previous plots are part of the 50th Anniversary thing, but the author mentions he came up with this story when he was pitching Voyager. I’m sure I would have liked it a whole lot better if I didn’t have this overwhelming feeling of having seen it all before.
3/5

This Long Vigil
A lone watchman on a generation ship is coming to the end of his run. He’ll go back into stasis and someone else will be awake for a while, but he’ll never be “alive” again. And there’s the problem: having experienced real life, how can he go back to “sleep” knowing he’s never going to feel it again?
Dan the AI bore some similarities to HAL 9000—yes, I just saw 2001 yet again—so I was a little worried toward the end, but thankfully it didn’t go in that direction. Most people on this ship are born, live in stasis, and die all without a moment of consciousness, which simply sounds horrible, but they don’t know any better. . . or anything at all, really. Having to pick his successor no doubt made things worse, though considering how lonely it must be—the ship even makes the babies!—it’s surprising he doesn’t go crazy, and actually makes his final choice all the more inevitable.
I’m thankful the author chose to keep this short; others might have bloated it, but this was all he needed to tell the story.
4/5

Dark Web
Snow plow driver up in the frozen reaches of New York state finds a dead kid on the road. From there we flashback to the family moving from Florida to that snowy locale before launching into the police investigation.
The cop investigating the murder is a mess; seems like no mystery these days is complete without a damaged sleuth. Also like most investigators in literature today, he spends most of his time chasing the wrong guy. Even when he’s right it’s by accident, because he was thinking something else when he latched onto the suspect. The best part for me was, after getting used to instant results on television—especially from Penelope Garcia on Criminal Minds—how the book shows the reality of computer forensics, where it may take as long as toxicology to find out anything useful.
I felt like this is more convoluted than it needed to be. There’s a subplot for the snow plow driver and the cop—possibly from a different book—that didn’t really figure in the story. Couldn’t help but think I should have enjoyed this more.
3/5

The Teen Girl’s Survival Guide
Not sure a guy my age has any business reviewing a book aimed toward teenaged girls, but I felt that there might be stuff in here that could apply to older women who’d missed this boat, as well as men. I was right.
The first part is all about knowing yourself, and once you do, leaving your comfort zone. After that it becomes about communication, which is really the gist of this book. Basically college-aged girls tell their life experiences to make it easier for the younger ones reading this. After each there’s a section on what can be learned from those stories, which comes off a little preachy and too much like a textbook as it basically summarizes what’s been said.
Best quote: “If you give them a chance, lots of kids will give you help if you ask for it. And when you reach out for help, it gives them a chance to be the “expert,” and who doesn’t like that?” And the best advice: Being a good friend is the key to social success. It’s tough not to say that these things are rather obvious, because a lot of people, especially teenaged girls, aren’t that introspective. But at the very least it has some sections that help cut through the drama, showing that not everything is as bad as a fragile mind might make it out to be.
3.5/5

Bonus
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
(Movie, not novelization—that’s still to come)
JJ Abrams is clearly better suited for Star Wars than Star Trek. Took me about three minutes to fall in love with Rey. Special kudos to the FX people; I had no idea that Maz was completely CGI.
3.5/5

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: On the Birth of His Son

By Su Tung-p’o (China, 1036-1101)

Politics never changes. . .

Families, when a child is born
Want it to be intelligent.
I, through intelligence,
Having wrecked my whole life,
Only hope the baby will prove
Ignorant and stupid.
Then he will crown a tranquil life
By becoming a cabinet minister.

;o)

Book Reviews: Geocaches, Rush Songs, and Wacky Animals

“What the eye don’t see, the heart don’t grieve.”
“What?”
“Ignorance is bliss. What you don’t know won’t hurt you. Out of sight, out of mind.”
“Gotcha,” she sighed.

The Advocate’s Geocache
A death certificate—dated to happen in the future—is found in a geocache. That’s an interesting premise right there.
I’ve done some geocaching, which is what got me to read this book. For those who don’t know, you go online to find some spots near you, then go out and find them in the real world, like a scavenger hunt. It can be fun, trust me. So can this book, with the funniest moment being the woman who named all her kids after country stars; that’s as hilarious as you’re gonna ever find, yet also so sad. Also sad is she got pregnant at 15, then 17, then 18. . . all different fathers.
There was a geocache code I solved before the characters did, but other than that I simply let it flow, as the characters were fun to get to know, the dialogue between them amusing. An enjoyable read, but with one huge problem, if you’re paying attention, which unfortunately I was. Trying my best not to spoil it, but it has to do with the date on the death certificate. . .
Wish I hadn’t started on the 7th book.
4/5

2113
In a nutshell, this is a collection of short stories supposedly based on songs by the rock group Rush.
My original thought was to base this review on two criteria: the usual “how good a book was it?” and “Do I recognize the song this story is based on?” But that took a big hit when I saw in the preface: “If you had read the stories in another publication, you probably wouldn’t even notice the Rush connection.” Sadly true, and I don’t understand it. Isn’t the connection with the songs the whole point of this book? Who are they expecting will buy this other than Rush fans?
So that part was a bust; on to the other part. A few stories in and I’m already feeling the dread. Not only does the first story bear little resemblance to the song, it has no payoff, no real ending. Huh? The second one wasn’t any better. Then the third. . .
I have to admit I almost gave up at this point. I remembered what the preface said about appearing in other publications, but at this point I didn’t think there was much possibility of that. For instance, with Rush’s most famous song, Tom Sawyer, there were so many places they could have gone, done honor to the original; instead we get a quasi-comical story about a Jewish filmmaker going to the Arab world to get funding for his next film. I’d like to think Tom Sawyer was smarter than that. . .
It wasn’t till we arrive at the story based on Losing It that there’s one that matches the song; not that the story was that great, but it actually made sense. On the other hand, there’s a fantastic story about a racing legend at a gathering of racers and cars in the future, though I have no idea how it pertains to Marathon. Another great story involves a serial killer in 1940s Hollywood obsessed with his hair; I’ll let you figure out which song that comes from. Then there’s a story with shades of Harrison Bergeron, 1984, Fahrenheit 451. . . but not The Trees. To my shock, the Fritz Leiber story that inspired Roll The Bones proves that I can dislike something written by such a master.
The one entry that made this entire book worthwhile for me was the story that came out of Mission, though at first I thought Countdown would be more appropriate. The tale of an injured astronaut and a kid with a dream was heartwarming, and even though I love the song this might have improved on it; it’s that good.
Mercedes Lackey has a nice story about magic in Chicago, inspired by Freeze. One of the highlights was the Red Sector A entry, given a sci-fi twist with lines directly from the song.
The last story, a novella by Kevin Anderson, is billed as a sequel to 2112, but it’s actually much more than that, going back to fill in a lot of the stuff that was left unsaid during the song. I can see why this was placed at the end, because it has a final twist that breaks your mind so hard you couldn’t read anything after it. All I can say about it is. . . damn you, you magnificent bastard!
Okay, the final tally. There’s too much here that’s not worthwhile to give it a good score, but the few gems still make it worth it.
2.5/5

Cheats and Deceits: How Animals and Plants Exploit and Mislead
I remember attending a seminar at the LA Zoo on this very subject, which is what got me to check this book out; otherwise I would have stayed far away from it, biology having been my worst subject ever. I particularly remember the gecko who looked the same from both ends, as well as why zebras have stripes. Unfortunately for me, most of this book is focused on bugs and birds, as can be readily seen from the many close-up photos of insects; yucky.
I soldiered on, and found some things of interest, particularly how birds use sound to trick; even humans can fall for it, as in the case of a drongo scaring a two-year-old into dropping a worm so the bird could fly down and snatch it up.
There’s a few points the author makes that are spot on, like how nature is not meant to be harmonious, with most animals genetically inclined toward survival and nothing else. One I particularly liked: If a predator loses the battle it goes hungry for a while, but if the prey loses, it dies. But the most important as far as this book is concerned—without this there would be no book—is that while it seems more logical to run away when something’s coming to eat you, a lot of animals don’t do this and resort to other means for survival, those covered here.
In the end this is a pretty comprehensive study of some of the tricks insects and birds use to survive, but it feels too scholarly for non-scientists. I imagine this book will go over very well in the scientific community, but since it seems to be geared toward the general public, I don’t think it hit the mark for which it was aiming.
2.5/5

This Is Your Destiny
A fantasy story with an intriguing premise, this is part of a much larger series, but you don’t need to have read anything else; it’s confusing on its own.
Basically some scheming gods/beings get locked away by magic hundreds of years ago, but there are humans who can open the portal to let them out. We follow one of them as he goes off in search of another, following the dictates of a mischievous ball of energy rather than his sage grandmother. Other characters are introduced who have no bearing on the story, which seems odd for a short novella-length story. The loan shark angle irritated me; wish the author would stick to the main storyline, but for all I know it plays a part in the rest of the series.
Ends at what is no doubt a jumping point to another story, enticing you to read on. That would have been irritating had I not known it coming in.
2.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Wildcats, Hockey, Nazis, and Road America

One of my favorite sentences ever:
Hell for him would be seeing his enemies piled high with naked cheerleaders.

Eye Of The Drone Vol. 2
Not nearly as sinister as the title suggests. This is a graphic novel about a couple of kids with a pet lynx and falcon going around the world looking for all 36 types of cats in the world, starting in Russia. This is the second volume in a planned series of 8, each taking place in a different part of the world.
Before it starts there’s a really funny image of a frog in common teenager position looking at a tablet. But this is definitely not a story with humor, in fact it seems deadly earnest. This is not one of those stories where I can say you can read it without needing to peruse the first one, because the backstory to their mission and why they’re drawn like early computer game animation stills is never explained. And it does need explaining, for at one point one of the humans says, “We’re 3-D. We don’t have to follow the rules that apply to fleshly people.” And no one in universe has a problem with talking animals, especially a lynx walking through the station and boarding a train. Then there’s the evil corporation against these environmentalists, the chief bad guy sporting a scar on his face, of course.
There are other touches that made me a bit annoyed, though I should temper that with the knowledge than the kids for which this is intended won’t care. A lot of stuff is left out; at one stop they look for a place to stay, at the next it’s not even mentioned, just goes from “Let’s sleep” to “Next morning.” And it’s highly unlikely those police officers in northern China speak English so well. Things liven up toward the end, when they’re joined by a mischievous redheaded fairy, or soporific butterfly, depending on her mood. And of course the story doesn’t end cleanly, but at least you’re told there’s gonna be six more volumes.
There are educational asides on some pages, plus a cat appendix, photos, links to Facebook, and so on at the end. There’s no doubt as to the earnestness of the author in trying to get her message across, and again I state that it will be great for kids, but I still think it could have bene done better.
3/5

The Hockey Saint
College hockey player who lives with his grandmother gets a partial scholarship, named assistant captain, and finds out where his idol lives. Quite an opening chapter. From there he meets his hero, who takes him to surprising places, as long as he doesn’t tell. There’s a conspiracy by the rival team to get the goods on the hockey star, and the kid has to decide which side to pick.
Each chapter comes with a recommended song list; I didn’t try it, but the one song I did know, Rush’s Limelight, was well chosen.
It’s a nice story, with an upbeat ending. But it’s hard to believe a guy this secretive would open up and spill all his secrets to a teen fan. This is more like a kid’s fantasy, especially the hero’s redemption at the end.
The artwork is fine, nothing special but definitely good enough. As long as the reader has no illusions about it being far from reality, there’s a lot to enjoy here.
3/5

The Brandenburg Quest
Named after the protagonist’s surname, this tells the story of a young man in Germany who sees an American movie about WW2 and learns things he wasn’t told in school. He goes off to interview a bunch of former Nazis—finding them rather easily, it seems—trying to figure out if one of them in particular, who was rumored to have died at the end of the war, actually escaped and is planning to take Germany into the Fourth Reich.
Written as a screenplay, oddly enough; it fails in that there are no acts, just one similar interviewing scene after another. It’s interesting to find out that German schools did not teach the truth about World War 2 well into at least the 1970s; I think this book takes place in 1986, according to something mentioned, but not sure. So for all the time were kids told the Holocaust was a lie, if they ever heard about it at all?
There’s an early mention of the main character going off to Munich and checking out the Glockenspiel; I love that place, so it made me smile. But that was the only happy moment I had. This might be okay as a book, but unlike the comments at the beginning it would never make a good movie. Too much repetition—most of the story is the protagonist interviewing one former Nazi after another—and very little action. If some Hollywood producer got his hands on this, he would add a lot of James Bond action scenes to it anyway.
2.5/5

Braking Points
Female racer once again gets involved in a murder investigation, is suspected and has to clear her name, all while handling a boyfriend, a crash on the course that injures a popular driver, rabid fans, crappy journalists, and old friends.
This is the second in the Kate Reilly series, though it’s the third one I’ve read. This one starts at Road America, which is one of my favorite courses. Like the other books, the murder mystery is okay but really isn’t the point. Considering the author’s job in real life, this is meant as a treatise on the difficulties faced by women in the racing world today, and in a broader perspective all the workforce.
Once again I thoroughly love Kate as a character. It’s cute how girly she gets about joining Twitter, and there’s something satisfying about the occasional tweets; not so much hilarious or noteworthy, more like humanizing her. Sadly there’s also a lot of internet crap sent her way, so much so that she has to hire publicity specialists. The author always gives Kate a lot to handle off the track, but this time it might have been too much, as we’re introduced to her jerk cousins who will show up in later books as well as all those mentioned above.
There’s a lot of racing scenes in this one, even more so than the others, and this time it’s not all fun for our heroine. Usually the track is the place where she can get away from all her problems, but in this case bad things happen just as often as the good, although the good does make for a happy ending.
4/5

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: Returning

By Hafiz (1320-1389)

The morning breeze comes back
and from the southern desert
the lapwing returns
The dove’s soft song about roses
I hear that again.

The tulip, who understands what the lily says,
went away, but now she’s back.

With the sound of a bell,
strength and gentleness.

Hafiz broke his vow and damaged his heart,
but now, for no reason, his Friend forgives that,
and turns, and walks back up to his door.

;o)

Book Reviews: Outback, Mars, and College

“Hope you had a great weekend!”
“I had a weekend. . .”

The Doom Loop!
This book deals with boredom in the workplace; too bad there was no advice on dealing with the boredom of this book.
Which is not to say there isn’t some good stuff in here, if you’re into this type of business stuff. From a symbolic logic standpoint it’s interesting seeing how the four variables work despite their simplicity. It’s basically the psychology of the workplace.
It’s the presentation that doesn’t work for me. I actually think it could have been even shorter than its 100 or so pages, once you take out the diagrams. For one thing, there was too much repetition. Despite being intrigued by the premise at the start I quickly grew bored. This would probably only be helpful to human resources people.
2/5

Fear is the Rider
Female photographer in the Australian Outback shares a drink at a way station with an architect. He’s so smitten he follows her off the main road, picks her up when she’s attacked and her car is stolen. His sedan versus her land rover on a small track, like a submarine battle in the dust. There’s also scenes in an abandoned mine, a closed-down hotel, a bunch more road, and a walk to a cave of the Dreamtime. In addition to the wacko after them, they have to make it through heat, dust, sand, and a huge fire.
For something claiming to be a novella, it sure reads longer. Toward the end I felt as bogged down in the sand as their car, even though I read it in a little over an hour late at night. . . which I wouldn’t have, had I known this could easily fit in the horror genre. Would have liked at least one sentence to explain why the Man was after them; not a whole psychological profile, just enough to make this emotionally worthwhile.
3/5

Keep Mars Weird
In a future Earth that appears to be like Harrison Bergeron’s, a guy who is clearly a stickler for following the rules gets into a fight over a girl he thinks he loves but blew him off; he can choose his punishment: jail or Mars. Since the advertising says that Mars is such an awesome party place to be, he chooses that option. Might have been better off in jail. The reality of space travel—cheap space travel—is just the first step in showing him how wrong he is. The ride from the spaceport to downtown New Austin is a huge second.
There was one info dump near the beginning; thankful for the info, but not so much at once. In general this story was a good idea, good sentiment. Appreciate the parallels to the present situation with income inequality and corporate greed, and especially advertising, media, and scholastic brainwashing. But the story itself could have had more to it, been better. The dialogue was there, but at times too snarky for its own good, especially Leonard. On the other hand, there were a bunch of tiny gems that could easily be missed, like “The University of Austin’s prestigious Willie Nelson School of Natural Pharmaceuticals.” And there is a spot about halfway that could be the dictionary definition of how you do a cliffhanger.
By the end of this part of the story—it’s a continuing serial, by the book and you get updated as new parts come out—the protagonist is completely brainwashed into being everything he was fighting against; the bad part is it took so little, even discounting sleeping with the gorgeous daughter of the main bad guy.
3/5

The Semester Of Our Discontent
A newly minted college professor at an exclusive university clashes with the evil department head, so of course he turns up dead. Is her cousin the poetry teacher guilty? Why won’t she explain about the design that keeps showing up, especially as a tattoo on her body?
The story is a little longwinded; when I got to chapter 8 I was surprised to find how much there was left. I did like the main character; witty always does it for me. There’s plenty of fun dialogue, aside moments that have nothing to do with the plot. But here’s another example of my pet peeve, where no clue is given as to who the murderer might be. We read mysteries to see if we can figure out who it was before the detective in the story, but the author needs to play fair and give us a chance, more than “it’s the person you last suspect.” I also have to agree with the protagonist that the secret her cousin and others was keeping was not worth all the crap that happened, especially spending weeks in jail.
3/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Toads, Racing, and Mad Women

“I love men in uniform,” she purred.
“There’s Santa Claus. Go get ‘im.”

Stinky Cecil in Terrarium Terror
A toad who’s the leader of his little pond gang gets captured by a school group and placed in a schoolroom terrarium. Though his new friends are a bit annoying, he comes to enjoy himself just in time to be rescued. A children’s book with a little bit of an edge, for a children’s book, anyway. Cecil the toad is so delightfully snarky, and of course stinky when he needs to be.
There’s a harsh reminder—probably sad for the first time—of a fly’s five-day lifespan, but his heart will live on. . . I mean his soul. A gerbil-piloted helicopter is indeed faster than a turtle; everyone gets their own cute little headsets. And for a smart toad, Cecil can’t even handle an apple.
The artwork is fine, and there’s an educational appendix. Fun for adults as well as children.
4/5

Dead Man’s Switch
After having enjoyed the upcoming entry in this series, I had to go back to the start of the series, which takes place at Lime Rock racetrack on the east coast, a venue I’d only heard of and never visited.
Kate is of course the main suspect, and it’s a little strange to find her younger and not as mature. She gets the dead driver’s ride, which is why she’s the main suspect. As with the other book, the murder mystery is well done but not extraordinary. There were too many characters, and therefore suspects, but in the end the resolution was acceptable. The important thing in these books is the racing detail, which is fantastic. I wish I’d been able to read such vivid descriptions before I took the racing class, would have made things all the more fun.
4/5

Sons of the Devil
This was a strange one, even for a graphic novel, starting with a literally bloody bludgeoning before moving to Venice in the here and now, where a not-so-tough guy gives in to his dog and carries him rather than let him walk, to show his sentimental character, I suppose. Adding to that, he helps a lost kid, which makes him late enough to work to be fired, where he goes off on his boss with his fists. But the boss cuts him a break, so he only gets community service. Then he finds his foster brother killed, and he’s knocked over the head when he finds the body, so of course he’s suspect.
There’s intimations of a cult in his past, and a girlfriend who’s way too good for him; I don’t understand how she puts up with him. It doesn’t take long for him to go ballistic yet again. It’s infuriating how unlikeable this protagonist is. I should be rooting for him, instead I don’t care that he screws up again and again. There’s a moment when he’s in group therapy where he says there are no excuses, even being adopted and growing up in crappy places. He’s right, and that’s why I feel absolutely no sympathy for him. Good riddance to this story.
2/5

College Bound
A beautiful young woman who keeps losing her temper and making wrong choices agrees to be something of a sex slave so she can earn enough money for college. But of course it’s much worse than that. . .
There’s a lot to both love and hate in this character. She’s got a fantastic sense of humor, but she’s a stubborn idiot that is her own worst enemy. Over and over she loses her temper or simply strikes out at her captors for no reason. After a while it becomes hard to have any sympathy for her.
At least the title’s funny, once you read far enough to understand it. There’s one chapter that goes, “Two hours later, the FBI showed up and arrested everyone in the house.” That’s the whole chapter; now that’s funny. But in general this was simply too weird to accurately describe or even understand. It’s far more about control than sex, and in the end I have to say I didn’t like it very much.
2/5

;o)