Quick Review of Craig Johnson’s The Cold Dish

The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


You need a certain languid frame of mind to appreciate Craig Johnson’s first Longmire novel. The language is exquisite and Johnson captures the atmosphere and personality of small-town Wyoming. This was clearly a labor of love for the author. On the other had, to read this book you can’t have anywhere to be. The pacing is glacial. Halfway through the book Longmire doesn’t have any solid suspects and doesn’t seem to mind much. Johnson spends so much time building in background to every character and situation that not much manages to happen. Sure, it’s wonderfully colored and the relationships between the characters show a depth that the current Netflix incarnation of the series can’t hope to reach. I just wish it moved along a little more quickly.



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Quick Review of Sixteen Ways to Defend A Walled City

I wish K. J. Parker could make up his mind as to whether this story is fantasy or a pseudo-history. His story features a not-quite Roman empire and the wrong-race engineer who saves the city from his [SPOILER] best friend. Yeah, all of that. As stories go, it was fine. Orhan, Colonel of Engineers, narrates the history of his defense of The City, which is Not-Rome. He’s a great character and a great unreliable narrator.

My gripe is that the author injects his 21st Century “new atheism” late in the story as an aside, lambasting the “freak cult who believes the king of the Gods sent his eldest son down to earth to die for the sins of the people.” Again, Parker needs to decide what kind of story he’s writing. Even for snarky Orhan, the diatribe was out of place and probably out of character.

Parker is a good author, but the odd screed just pulled me out of the story.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37946419-sixteen-ways-to-defend-a-walled-city

Quick Review of Alastair Reynolds’ The Prefect

The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


When Alastair Reynolds is on, his work is amazing. He is an undisputed master of hard science fiction. Unfortunately he was not on for this one. The Prefect–the name of the book was changed from Aurora Rising–is mind-numbingly tedious. Changing the name didn’t help. From the beginning of this story, he introduces unappealing characters that I find it hard to care about. Tom Dreyfus is a pseudo-cop involved in rooting out voter fraud, bad AIs, augmented humans, and other future-y stuff. Bad things happen, who cares.

In his Revelation Space future history universe, Reynolds has created a sweeping epic spanning millions of years. The problem is that each of the stories is a snippet and there’s no coherent arc unifying the vastness. He’s published stories covering events happening in the next few hundred years, then some several million years in the future, back a few millenia, and so forth. He addresses some interesting and even amazing concepts in a nebulous setting with bland, lifeless characters. I want to like it all, but it just doesn’t come together for me.



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Quick Review of “Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View”

Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View by Elizabeth Schaefer

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I’m sure that on some planet far away there are original, entertaining stories that enthrall and entertain. This is not that planet. This is a collection of trite fan-boy fiction that adds nothing to Star Wars lore. The “From a Certain View” should give a clue that these are retellings of Star Wars vignettes from differing perspectives: Jawas finding the R2 unit, storm troopers aboard Leia’s ship, Sand People, etc., blah, blah, blah. What it really translates to is, “There’s nothing new here.” Don’t waste your time or money.



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Quick Review of Orson Scott Card’s A War of Gifts

War of Gifts takes us back to the Battle School during the time that Ender Wiggin was with Rat Army. Ender isn’t the protagonist–WoG doesn’t really have a consistent protagonist. The point of view switches from Zeck, an outsider Christian fundamentalist, to Dink Meeker, to Ender. Ender is a gratuitous afterthought and he serves no purpose that Dink couldn’t have fulfilled. The story revolves around a minor crisis on the station caused by Dink giving another boy a Christmas present. If the author had let Dink resolve the issue it would have fleshed out his character. Instead, Ender is given the task. Ender ex machina.

Check out this book on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/552987.A_War_of_Gifts

Quick Review of Falcon and the Winter Solider and Loki

You can give these two a pass, but for slightly different reasons. Falcon and Winter Soldier has gone full anti-US/anti-capitalist and spews the standard woke nonsense. The new Captain America is a grimy musclehead who needs a shave and has no concept of what Steve Rogers stood for as the iconic Cap. He beats a compassionate, thoughtful terrorist to death with Cap’s shield and stands there reveling in blood-soaked red, white, and blue. How pithy and edgy. All the characters are sympathetic to the terrorists who just want a better world, no matter who they have to kill to get it.

Loki is a grim, nihilistic, self-indulgent mess. The last episode started with an homage to all the woke warriors through time, including Greta Thunberg. It’s written from a secularist, human point of view, so there is nothing and can be nothing outside ourselves. There is no grace, no God, nothing but chaos. Loki gives his sister/self from another timeline a passionate kiss. Nuff said.

Review of Don’t Go There. It’s Not Safe. You’ll Die. And other more rational advice for Overlanding Mexico & Central America

Driving the Pan-American Highway from the States to Tierra del Fuego has long been a bucket list item for me. This book is a country-by-country guide to driving through Mexico and Central America. The title is tongue-in-cheek and refers to the standard response you get when you tell anyone what you have in mind. It was published in 2012 so I’m sure much of the info is dated, but what an absolute treasure trove. The authors provide detailed info on exchange rates, how and where to cross borders, what documentation is needed, and whether you should pay bribes (generally, no). There are also favorite camping spots, road conditions, favorite food and drinks in each country, and more. The authors’ web site (LifeRemotely.com) is still active and has more great info.

Check out this book on Goodreads: Don’t Go There. It’s Not Safe. You’ll Die. And other more rational advice for Overlanding Mexico & Central America https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/19015368-don-t-go-there-it-s-not-safe-you-ll-die-and-other-more-rational-advic

Goodreads Review of House of Suns

House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I’ve been on an Alastair Reynolds binge recently and they absolutely don’t get much better than this. Reynolds is a master of hard-science fiction. House of Suns is a loose whodunit featuring six million year old clones wandering the galaxy in deep time. The thousand (give or take) clones of Abigail Gentian meet up every revolution of the galaxy for a reunion and now someone wants them dead. The concept that struck me was how the mind would cope with six million years of memories. At the reunions the clones download and share their memory strands but they still retain most of them.

There are a few weak spots. Two of the clones, Purslane and Campion, have chosen to consort, that is, to form a personal relationship. They’re lovers. This is frowned upon by the rest of the Gentian line. The chapters alternate between his POV and hers, which would be fine if there was a lick of difference in the two characters. Maybe that was intentional, but I think not. You have to deduce POV from the action.

The other (mostly minor) gripe is that the ending is very abrupt. Major plot issues are resolved but the final chapter seemingly ends in mid-scene.

I still give House of Suns two thumbs, way up.



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