On The Nightstand – The Consuming Fire – 10/21/2018

Lighting finally struck for me this weekend.  Anyone who’s been reading along with me these last few months has noticed that I’ve reviewed 4 of John Scalzi’s books:

“Old Man’s War”


“The Ghost Brigades”




and “The Collapsing Empire”


Scalzi has always been a bit of a conundrum for me.  I’ve generally found his books to be entertaining but I haven’t been nearly the fan that so many seem to be.  The first three of the books listed above – at least for me – fell squarely in the mediocre to good category – a tick above average – despite the fact that “Old Man’s War” was nominated for a Hugo and “Redshirts” won both a Hugo and a Locus award for best science fiction.  I enjoy him – his books have just never impacted me in the same way that they so obviously have so many others.

I actually enjoyed “The Collapsing Empire” more than the first three.  I found the world to be extremely well-conceived and he gave me one of my stand-out favorite characters in Kiva Lagos.  I had some quibbles with the book but they were minor.  Overall, it was a very fun read that I strongly recommended.

Here’s where the lightning comes in.  I read “The Consuming Fire” and – for the very first time – I’ve found a Scalzi book that I enjoyed in a completely unconditional way.  The world develops in such a way as to become even more interesting.  The Emperox matures and becomes a far more interesting character – growing into her power and position.  There’s a truly entertaining encounter with a new AI / Hologram personality that I found to be a great addition and that left me wanting more in future volumes.  Most importantly, there was – again – a solid helping of Kiva Lagos – who was every bit as powerful, fascinating and lovable in a very intimidating and kick*ss way as she was in the 1st book.  She continues to be one of the most enjoyable new characters I’ve come across this year.  Most importantly, Scalzi builds up to and delivers a wonderful climax in this book where the good guys dominate, all the bad guys get served and a great platform is built for future installments.  Thank you John Scalzi – for finally giving me a book that I really loved.  From now on – I’m all in.

As I was reading the book and thinking about this review, I considered putting in a minor quibble about the fact that so many of the characters were just so witty in their banter that the personalities seemed to blend together a bit but I’m not even going to go there.  I ultimately decided that it would be a bit petty to throw out a minor, technical criticism of an aspect of the book that I really, truly enjoyed.  I just wound up letting go and giving myself permission to appreciate Scalzi’s humor the way it deserves to be appreciated.  There were just too many conversations in the book that left me chuckling.  It was good fun.

I can’t recommend this one highly enough.  If you liked or loved “The Collapsing Empire” or just love Scalzi in general, you’re going to love this book.  Of those I’ve read, this one is far and away his best.  I’m with Kiva on this one: “F**cking best party ever!”.

Very Best Wishes For A Great Week

PS:  I feel like I’m on a bit of a roll here – three great reading experiences in the last two weeks – “Port Of Shadows” by Glen Cook, Uncompromising Honor” by David Weber and now “The Consuming Fire” by John Scalzi.  All have been great reads that I’d highly recommend.  I’ve also managed to finish “The Accidental War” By Walter Jon Williams and I’m in the middle of Steven Erikson’s “Rejoice: A Knife To The Heart” – which I hope to finish early in the week.  Keep an eye out for reviews of both this week.  “Rejoice” in particular is quite unique and different from anything I’ve ever read by Steven Erikson.

PPS:  I may have made a HUUUGE mistake last weekend.  I’ve mentioned several times in these posts that one of the changes in my routine over the course of the past year that’s freed up so much reading and writing time has been a conscious decision to step away from computer gaming.  It was a great choice and I’ve gotten through more books in the last 9 months than I had been reading in twice that time during preceding years.  Here’s the mistake – my son was home for Fall Break last weekend and we spent time talking about gaming – a hobby we’ve always shared.  It spurred me to look through some Steam titles that I’d been ignoring for awhile and – on a lark – I decided to download Elder Scrolls Online (ESO).  I went there because I’d been an enormous fan of Skyrim – I don’t even want to think about how many hours I put into that one – an open world game that in many ways served as the inspiration for ESO.  Very sad to say that it’s just a beautiful, immersive game that I’m going to have to spend some time with – which means that I’ll be doubling down on time management in order to now serve three loves instead of just two.  Wish me luck!!

Posted in On The Nightstand | 8 Comments

On My Mind – Principiis – Cowboy Rules – 10/16/2018

“Sorry Don’t Get It Done, Dude”

John Wayne Playing John T. Chance In The Movie Rio Bravo


1. Live each day with courage

2. Take pride in your work

3. Always finish what you start

4. Do what has to be done

5. Be tough, but fair

6. When you make a promise, keep it

7. Ride for the Brand

8. Talk less and say more

9. Remember that some things aren’t for sale

10. Know where to draw the line

This is the 5th of my 6 pillars and – as I’ve done with every prior post – I’ll link back to prior entrants.

This is the post that started the series:


I followed that with a post on my 1st Pillar, “IF” by Rudyard Kipling:


Next came a post on my 2nd Pillar, “Life A Good Life” by Marcus Aurelius:


I followed with a post on my 3rd Pillar, “Six Mistakes Of Man” by Cicero:


Most recently, I added a post on my 4th Pillar, “What Counts” by Teddy Roosevelt:


Let me start this post by saying I am not a Cowboy, nor do I play one on TV.  I spent the better part of my young life in Texas – in Dallas from around age 10 to age 18 – then on to Austin for school from age 18 to age 25.  No – I didn’t pull a Belushi 🙂 – I was at The University of Texas at Austin for both my undergraduate and graduate school experiences.  Having said that, I’m as much or more a Southerner as I am a Texan – having been born in NC at the Camp LeJeune Marine Corps Base and then moving in fairly short order to Jackson MS, New Orleans LA, Birmingham AL and El Paso TX before settling down in Dallas around the age of 10.  My father’s family is from Jackson and my mother’s family is from New Orleans and I still have plenty of my people in both places.  I’ve spent a fair bit of time around horses – we kept horses from the day we moved to El Paso through our time in Dallas.  I’ve done my fair share of feeding and grooming and taking care of tack – complaining about the work all the way .  I know how to ride and I’ve ridden a fair bit but I’m no true horseman – this was always more my sister’s and mother’s hobby than it was mine.  Still, I consider Texas my home – always will – and I’ve known a fair few people that either could be called cowboys or who like to describe themselves as such.

That’s not where this came one from.  I found this through a website for a non-profit called The Center For Cowboy Ethics And Leadership where these ten principles are referred to as the Code Of The West:


And they’ve always spoken to me – particularly with respect to my professional life.  While they have utility in the day to day, these 10 principles have been pivotal for me over the course of the last 10 years as I’ve further defined myself as an employee, a professional and a leader.

These are my high level decision filters.  They guide me through challenges and tricky situations.  They don’t speak to the specifics of any situation.  They help to define attitude and ethics – the larger lens through which I understand and manage my obligations or address and solve my problems.  I can remember very few challenges at work over the course of the last decade where they haven’t helped me frame the problem.

This post would go on forever if I were to try and speak to every one of the 10 rules so I’ll tease a few out and try to show you how they work for me.  I’ll start with #7 – Ride for the Brand.  This isn’t referring to “brand” in the marketing sense – it refers to the organization you’ve hired on to – to which you’ve made a commitment.  At the core of that commitment is the explicit understanding that by accepting their offer to join and taking their dollar, you’ve agreed to serve.  You adopt their rules and culture – you don’t ask them to adopt yours.  You’ve signed on to that Brand and you have to honor what they tell you it means.  If you don’t, it should come as no surprise when you find yourself looking for another Brand to sign on to.

Nothing, however, is absolute – which is why #9 and #10 are so important.  It’s not unlikely that, at some point in your professional life, you’ll commit to a Brand without fully understanding who they are or what they stand for.  It may also happen that you wind up working for someone within your organization who represents an imperfect representative of your shared Brand or who simply chooses to disregard what that shared Brand stands for.  When that happens – and it’s happened to me on at least one occasion – you find yourself in what may be an unsustainable position.  It’s time to remember #9 – Some Things Just Aren’t For Sale.

Once you’re there, you have options.  You can object, take a principled stand in the face of authority or work to change the situation from within.  You can challenge the person you’re working for who’s creating the inconsistency.  I can, however, say with a fair bit of confidence – based on many years of experience – that in most cases you’re not going to get the outcome you want.  Brands are built to protect themselves and preserve their status quo.  It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make the effort.  You should, however, enter into efforts like these with eyes wide open and a very realistic set of expectations – and that’s why #10 – Know Where To Draw The Line – is so important.

It’s far too easy to lose sight of this one.  At one point in my working life, I did for almost 4 years.  It’s way too easy to tell yourself that you may not like where you are, that you’re not happy riding for a particular Brand, but that you can’t make a change.  You need their dollar too badly or you won’t be able to find something better.  In doing so, you change your own standard for what is and what is not for sale.

There’s nothing straightforward about these types of calculations.  They’re the hardest conversations you’ll ever have with yourself.  There are times when you’re right to change that line regarding what is and is not for sale – at least for awhile.  As I said before, I’ve screwed this up myself on more than one occasion – either by forgetting those things that aren’t for sale or by being far too arrogant about trying to insist on having my own way in the face of a Brand culture that wasn’t a perfect fit but was, overall, very acceptable.  Those were times when I failed to remember one of Cicero’s “Six Mistakes Of Man” – The Refusal To Set Aside Trivial Preferences.  Nevertheless, having these 10 Cowboy Rules with me wherever I go does force me to think in these terms and, as I get older and more experienced, I get better at using them.  They make a huge difference for me.

I’ll finish by saying that I have, for most of my life, worked for large organizations – the U.S. Government or large public corporations.  I don’t know how useful or relevant these rules would be for someone working in a startup or a small company or as an independent contractor.  I do know that they serve as a great foundation as you’re trying to grow, develop and advance in the corporate world.

I’ll also say, just to provide context, that I’m not – never have been – one of those who believe that you have to love what you do.  Far too many pontifical CEOs, inspirational speakers, high paid consultants and professional coaches have popularized this notion.  I consider it to be one of the cruelest lies that far too many people – particularly young people – tell themselves.  In 30 years of work life, I don’t think I’ve ever loved a job or an employer.  The things I truly love are the things I leave my work and travel home to every day – my wife, my children, my dogs, my neighborhood, my books, my gardens, the chance to get a run in or work out – so many other things.  My job and my employer are there to give me the means to pay for and support and continue to enjoy the things I love.  It’s always been far more than enough for me to like what I’m doing and, for almost every job I’ve ever had, that’s been the case.

I’m now left with one final Pillar – “Feed The Right Wolf” – which is actually going to be addressed in two separate posts.  The reason for doing so is that there are actually two versions of this principle.  There’s the one that most people know as “Feed The Right Wolf” – the on that fits on a PowerPoint slide and that teaches a simple lesson and then there’s the one called “White Wolf, Black Wolf” which is far more complicated and harder to explain and apply to your life.  It’s also probably teaches a more fundamentally meaningful principle.

Very Best Wishes For A Great Week!


Posted in On My Mind | 4 Comments

On The Shelf – Big Books – The Lord Of The Rings – 10/14/2018


“Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,

Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,

Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,

One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne

In the Land Of Mordor where the Shadows lie.



In the Land of  Mordor where the Shadows lie”


“In The End, The Shadow Is But A Passing Thing”

This is the Third in my Big Books series – introduced in this post:


The purpose of the series is to “spotlight what, for me, are the biggest, most important books in my collection and why.”  My first two choices were historical and very U.S. focused:  “The Constitution Of The United States” and “Miracle At Philadelphia”.

I thought it best to move to something with a bit more universal appeal – both in terms of subject matter and in terms of geography – “The Lord Of The Rings (LoTR)”.  While this post is ostensibly about LoTR, I made the conscious decision to headline a picture of the author because LoTR, while certainly a BIG book – actually represents a culmination of the man’s life’s work.  I think you’ll see that as this post progresses.

This was a seminal reading experience for me.  It was my first foray into Fantasy.  It came early in life – the Middle School years if memory serves – and, to be completely honest, it set the bar for every other book I’ve read within the genre.  I honestly don’t know whether this represents a sad or a happy comment but no other work of speculative fiction has impacted me or stayed with me the way LoTR has in all my 57 years.  More than any other book, it launched me into a life centered on reading and books – a reverence for the written word and a life of speculation and imagination.  It’s occupied a central place in my mental landscape for over 45 years and it’s a work to which I often return.  For many years, this was a Christmas read for me and I went back to it as recently as 3 years ago.  For my age group, I don’t think I’m totally alone in all this.  I’ve always felt that LoTR occupied the same place with young readers of my generation that Harry Potter occupies with those of my childrens’.

I can also honestly say that over the course of 45 years – give or take – I’ve never read a finer work of fantasy and I’m willing to broaden that to the general category of fiction – thought not with the same level of certitude.  I’ve read so much fantasy in my life and so much of that reading has likely been a search for an author or a book or a series of books that could move me in the same way I was moved by Tolkein and LoTR.  I’ve yet to successfully complete that quest and I think I know why.  This wasn’t just a book or a story for Tolkein.  It represented decades of thought and academic labor.  He devoted a significant portion of his life not only to writing the books but to designing an alternate history and an alternate world with a level of granularity that no one since has ever attempted.  I see authors who have made valiant attempts – Jordan with his Wheel Of Time series and Martin with Game Of Thrones – but, in my opinion, no one has created a speculative weave as detailed and as substantial as that from which LoTR was born.  Given the pressures of daily life today and the demands placed on professional writers – I’m not sure that anyone ever will.  Tolkein was a University Professor – an Academician – a Philologist.  That was his vocation.  The work he did to produce LoTR was his avocation and his passion.

There are so many reasons this book impacted me the way it has and so many ways in which it’s helped to shape my approach to life.  It left me with a deep and abiding belief in heroes (both small h and capital H heroes).  Aragorn was likely my first and to this day still my archetypal literary hero.  In the back of my mind, as I’m reading other works of Fantasy, I suspect I’m constantly comparing the protagonists and the strengths they bring to their story to those of Aragorn.  It reinforced my belief in the necessity of living to stringent standards – right vs. wrong and good vs. evil.  It helped to reinforce my belief in service to a higher cause – something larger than just yourself.  Finally, it left me with a deep and abiding belief in the potential – the POTENTIAL – for a just and worthy outcome no matter how high the odds – tempered by the realization that any worthy outcome would almost always be accompanied by loss.  Those were all deeply personal and critical influences for someone entering his teen years and they’ve stayed with my throughout the arc of my life.

Will I ever find a work like this again?  Given my age and the time I have left, given the time we live in and attitudes that sometimes treat the types of principles I’ve counted out above as a bit old fashioned and unrealistic, I’m not hopeful.  I may be wrong but what I perceive to be a decline in High Fantasy tells me I may be right.  Almost all of the Fantasy I read these days – so much of it exceptionally well-written and impactful – falls into the Grim Dark category – far too gritty and ugly and bloody and painful to be uplifting in the way that LoTR has always been for me.  As much as I’ve enjoyed recent works like “Ravenmark” and “The Traitor God” or seminal Grim Dark like Cooks “The Black Company”, they have no potential to move me to a higher place – only to engage and entertain me with stories that focus too much time and effort on spotlighting the worst of us – not the best.

The good news – I always will have LoTR to go back to when I need it.  It occupies pride of place within my Library, as I feel it should in the library of anyone who purports to love Speculative Fiction or Fantasy.  It’s presence isn’t just confined to these three small volumes, however, I’ve spent years and a great deal of effort acquiring source material and related works.  Here’s a list of the books that occupy this section of my shelves – all in hardcover:

Two separate versions of LoTR:

  • Three volume, boxed set of the Houghton Mifflin 2nd Edition
  • Single volume, Houghton Mifflen 50th Anniversary edition

Three separate versions of “The Hobbit”:

  • Green box, Houghton Mifflin edition
  • Gold box, 50th Anniversary Houghton Mifflin edition
  • Unboxed, 70th Anniversary Houghton Mifflin edition

Bilbo’s Last Song, Hutchinson Edition

Two volume Houghton Mifflin edition of “The History Of The Hobbit” by John D. Rateliff

Two separate versions of The Silmarillion, Houghton Mifflin 2nd edition

Unfinished Tales Of Numenor And Middle-Earth, Houghton Mifflin edition

Boxed, three volume The History Of Middle Earth, Harper Collins edition, encompassing:

  • The Book Of Lost Tales, Volume 1
  • The Book Of Lost Tales, Volume 2
  • The Lays Of Beleriand
  • The Shaping Of Middle Earth
  • The Lost Road And Other Writings
  • The Return Of The Shadow – The History Of LoTR, Volume 1
  • The Treason Of Isengard – The History Of LoTR, Volume 2
  • The War Of The Ring – The History Of LoTR, Volume 3
  • Sauron Defeated – The History Of LoTR, Volume 4
  • Morgoth’s Ring – The Later Silmarillion, Volume 1
  • The War Of The Jewels – The Later Silmarillion, Volume 2
  • The Peoples Of Middle Earth

Individually Published Houghton Mifflin editions of The History Of Middle Earth (Incomplete – I currently have Volumes 1 – 5 and 10 – 12 – still searching for quality copies of volumes 6 – 9)

Three Volumes, published separately by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, of Tales Of The Silmarillion

  • Beren And Luthien
  • The Children Of Hurin
  • The Fall Of Gondolin

I also have the Houghton Mifflin Boxed edition of The Children Of Hurin

Finally, I’ve collected many of Tolkein’s remaining published work:

  • “Tales From The Perilous Realm”
  • 50th Anniversary Edition of “Farmer Giles Of Ham”
  • “The Lay Of Aotrou And Itroun”
  • “The Story Of Kullervo”
  • “Beowulf”
  • “The Legend Of Sigurd & Gudrun”
  • “The Fall Of Arthur”

With the exception of “Farmer Giles Of Ham”, which was published by Houghton Mifflin, all published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Sorry for trying your patience with all of this.  I included the list for two reasons.  First, I’m proud of the collection and I’m all too human to resist the temptation to show it off.  Secondly, and more germane to the post, it illustrates just how deep, rich, thoroughly conceived and detailed the world of Middle Earth actually is.

If you’ve had the pleasure of reading LoTR, I’m happy for you.  If you haven’t, I strongly encourage you to give it a go.  This is where so much of what you read today – begins!

Best Wishes For A Wonderful Week.



Posted in On The Shelf | 10 Comments

On The Nightstand – Exit Strategy – 10/13/2018

“Teenagers – Tired Of Being Hassled By Your Parents?

Act Now!

Move Out, Get A Job, Pay Your Own Bills…

While You Still Know Everything.”

James Hauenstein

**Here Be Spoilers**

I’ve finally finished the Murderbot Novellas and I’ve really, really enjoyed the trip.  Before I get to the book, however, I’m going to do the same thing here that I’ve done with my reviews for both “Rogue Protocol” and “Artificial Condition” – I’m going to rant:

“I honestly have only one complaint and it has nothing to do with the book itself.  I don’t like the way Martha Wells and the publisher are commercializing the work – hence the Razor / Blades quote.  The story is being sold as 4 separate novellas:

  • All Systems Red – 2017
  • Artificial Condition – May 2018
  • Rogue Protocol – August 2018
  • Exit Strategy – October 2018

They’re sold separately as hardcovers at the price of $16.19 and as e-copies for $9.99.  In reality, these are 4 sections of one book – obvious as you read through each separately – and could easily have been published in one volume.  The fact that they were all released within an 18 month period only confirms that the Author and the publisher made a pretty crass commercial decision to break the book into four pieces and sell them separately to maximize revenue.

Instead of paying $25 for a single hardcover volume, I’m forced to purchase 4 separate novellas for a combined cost of ~$68.00 in hardcover or ~$40.00 in digital format.  Before you say it, I will – shame on me – no one forced me to spend the money – I know I’m being played.  Nevertheless, I’m really enjoying the books and I want to get my hands on them as they become available.  It just leaves a bitter taste in my mouth and it makes me wonder about Wells’ attitude towards her fans and readers.  Wells and her publisher gave me the Razor but she’s selling me the blades – one at a time – at a pretty high price.”

Good – got that out of the way!! I can now go on to say that this 4th novella was, in my opinion, the very best of the Murderbot installments.  It went quickly – just like the preceding three.  It was funny and fun – just like the preceding three.  It was easy to fall in love with Murderbot again in this novella – just like the preceding three.  What made this one stand out from the others, however, was the fact that it reunited the original group of characters – it closed the circle.  Most importantly, it brought Mensah and Murderbot back together.

Seeing them together again in this final installment, I found myself thinking of the two of them and their relationship in a very different light.  It may be a bit of a stretch for some but I can’t help but think of Murderbot as a teenager – a smart, capable, totally frustrating, thoroughly conflicted teenager.

Throughout the story, Murderbot is doing all the cliche things that many would equate with teenage behavior.  He’s rebelling.  He’s running away from home.  At times, he’s surly in the face of authority.  He’s pre-occupied with his media.  At times, he lacks the conversational filters you develop as you age.  He thinks all humans / adults are stupid.  He always thinks he’s right.  He doesn’t do what he’s told to do.  Most importantly, he’s growing up and defining himself in a very complicated world.

Similarly, I couldn’t help but think of Mensah as Mom.  Mensah is Murderbot’s touchstone.  She’s calm.  She’s mature.  She’s decisive.  She always does the right thing.  She is THE ONLY human that knows how to interact with Murderbot in a way that forces him to acknowledge the quality of her thought processes and she is THE ONE human character that Murderbot seems to respect.  She’s the one human Murderbot actually confers with – defer to – his one human truly ADULT presence.  Mensah also saved his life back in “All Systems Red” and she was willing to advocate for his actual personhood.

During the final combat sequence, in a life and death situation, Murderbot steps back from what he’s doing to actually ask for Mensah’s opinion regarding the motives of their attackers.  At the point when Murderbot had decided to try and capture the Bond Company gunship and was about to act – Mensah suspected what he was about to do – she stopped him cold with one word – a simple no – and then engaged him in the way a concerned and very capable parent would – explaining what was driving his behavior – making him realize that there was a more rational, less confrontational way to achieve his objective.  She provided the adult perspective.  It was classic parenting.

I know Wells is married but I don’t know for sure that she has children.  If so, I would bet my bottom dollar that she was drawing on her parenting experience as she wrote this book.  I’ve been looking at all of this through the lens of a serious and dedicated science fiction fan and – while I’ve always been really positive overall – there were parts of the story that I quibbled with – quibbles that I’ve written into my first three reviews.

With this new perspective, however, the story transforms a bit.  Looking at this as more of a family drama and a mother / son story, I fell in love with the books in a different and totally unconditional way.  I enjoyed all of these books but I enjoyed this 4th and final installment the most – by far.  As a parent myself – one that’s done the work of helping my son make the transition from boy to teenager to young adult, I now think I know why! 🙂

If you haven’t read these books, please do so.  They’re just flat out wonderful – even if you do have to pay too much to get them.


Have A Great Weekend!

Posted in On The Nightstand | Leave a comment

On My Mind – 20 Questions Book Tag – 10/11/2018

OK…And now for something completely different!!  I’m almost a year into this Blog and I was tagged the other day for the very first time.  I’ve read so many of these posts but I guess I thought I’d never find myself writing one.  I’ve always written for myself…with only the rarest of exceptions, no external prompts.  Having said that, I’m kind of looking forward to seeing how this works out.

I was tagged by a blogger that I really enjoy – H.R.R. Gorman at “Let Me Tell You the Story of…” and the title is pretty self explanatory.

This tag was created by buydebook on Goodreads. You can find the post here!

1.  How Many Books Is Too Many Books In A Series?

No school solution here.  The answer is totally dependent on the quality of the series.  I’m very happy – eager even – to read through a 20+ book series like the Honor Harrington series by David Weber or the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher or the Vlad Taltos series by Steven Brust so long as the main character, the world and the stories are compelling – generally has to have all three.  In fact, for a series like those, I never want them to end.  There are some, however, that just go on far too long – the author runs out of story or the characters get stale – like the Riftwar Cycle.  I’ve read through this massive series but all the joy went out of it somewhere around the halfway point.  Feist should have shut that one down about 10 books ago.

2.  How Do You Feel About Cliffhangers?

Not a big fan – I generally think they’re a cheap way to sell more books.  Each entrant in a series may serve as a component of a larger tale but they should also provide you with a measure of resolution – they should represent a whole unto themselves.  A series should earn its longevity not by ending with an artificially unfinished story but by serving up a consistently excellent supply of the elements listed above.

3.  Hardcover Or Paperback?

I haven’t bought a paperback in decades.  The question for me is hardcover or e-copy.  Any addition to my collection is always purchased in hardcover.  When I’m trying a new author or a new series, I always start with an e-copy.  If I fall in love with the author or the story, I’ll go back and purchase the hardcover so that I can place it on the shelf.  I’ll also sometimes double purchase – hardcover and e-copy – in the event that I want to read while traveling.  I learned long ago – when I was living overseas and traveling back and forth – that the last thing I wanted to lug around with me while traveling were physical copies of my books.

4.  Favorite Book?

At first blush – such a hard question but – on reflection – it’s easy.  I would have to go with “Lord Of The Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien.  I found LoTR at a pretty young age and it was a foundational read for me.  It was where my lifelong love for Fantasy began – one that’s persisted for over 45 years.  For many years, this was an annual Christmas read for me and I reread it as recently as 3 years ago.  If I could choose only one book to possess for the remainder of my life, it would be this one.  I’m still looking for that weekend when I’m home alone so that I can watch all three movies – back to back.  If there was a close second, it would likely be Dune by Frank Herbert.

5.  Least Favorite Book?

No such thing – there are plenty of books that I just haven’t enjoyed and you can find reviews for some of them here on my blog – but no read has been so bad that it would earn this distinction.  I can almost always find something I like – about almost any book.

6.  Love Triangles, Yes Or No?

I’ll leave this one to all those readers who love romantic novels – it’s never been a question I ever remember having had to grapple with over the course of my 45 years of reading.

7.  The Most Recent Book You Just Couldn’t Finish?

This one doesn’t apply.  If I read the 1st page, I feel like I owe it to the author and the book to finish.  I always finish any book I start.

8.  A Book You’re Currently Reading?

I just finished “Uncompromising Honor” by David Weber and went straight to “Exit Strategy” by Martha Wells.  Should finish it tonight so look for the review this weekend.  One thing you can count on though – I will once again complain bitterly about the fact that Wells and her publisher split Murderbot’s story up into 4 separately released novellas.  Pure, crassly commercial, exploitative decision on both their parts.

9.  Last Book You Recommended To Someone?

That would have to be “Uncompromising Honor” by David Weber, preceded by “Port Of Shadows” by Glen Cook – both wonderful reads.

10.  Oldest Book You’ve Read?

Technically, this would be “The Epic Of Gilgamesh”.  I think I’m safe here since it’s considered to be the earliest surviving work of literature.  It would be followed closely by “The Iliad”.  If you’re asking about the oldest physical book(s) in my collection, it would have to be the mint, 1910 complete 50 volume hardcover collection of The Harvard Classics that came to me from my grandfather.  Thanks to Mom and Paw Paw for this one.

11.  Newest Book You’ve Read?

It would either “Uncompromising Honor” by David Weber or “Exit Strategy” by Martha Wells.  I believe they were released on the same day last week.

12.  Favorite Author?

I’d have to bring this back to my favorite book – so J.R.R. Tolkien.  There is, however, a pretty fierce competition taking place within that second tier – Weber, Brust, Rothfuss, Martin, Erikson – et cetera, et cetera, et cetera – the road goes on forever and the party never ends.

13.  Buying Books Or Borrowing Books?

Buying – always buying.  I NEVER, EVER borrow or loan.  Books are too personal a possession for me and I’m a bit obsessive about their condition.  It’s a failing of mine but I simply don’t trust others with my books and – if I’m going to read it – I’m going to buy it.

14.  A Book You Dislike That Everyone Else Seems To Love?

There are plenty of these but I’ll pick one from 2018 to keep it simple – “The Poppy War” by R.F Kuang.  I don’t understand why so many people enjoyed this one.  I found it poorly written and poorly conceived.  To me, this one was painfully, unrelentingly mediocre.

15.  Bookmarks Or Dog-Ears?

Really?  REALLY?  REALLY?  Does this question even belong in an interrogatory for true readers?  Show me someone who’s willing to damage a book by dog-earing the pages and I’ll show you – at least in my opinion – someone undeserving of respect – for no other reason but that they may be shortening the life span of the book.

16.  A Book You Can Always Reread?

Again, back to earlier answers:  “Lord Of The Rings” by J.R.R Tolkien, “Dune” by Frank Herbert, “On Basilisk Station” by David Weber, “Gust Front” by John Ringo, “The Longest Day” by Cornelius Ryan, “The Histories” by Herodotus.  There are so many more but this is represents a pretty good cross-section.

17.  Can You Read While Listening To Music?

I can but prefer not to – when I’m reading I’m living inside my head – visualizing scenes from the book as I go.  Music won’t keep me from being able to do this but it can distract.

18.  One POV Or Multiple POVs?

I’m completely agnostic on this one – so long as it’s skillfully executed, I’ll enjoy either.

19.  Do You Read A Book In One Sitting Or Over Multiple Days?

This is a Past vs. Present question for me.  When I was young – many years ago – I used to be able to read a book in one sitting.  I can dimly remember those times – before I hit 30  – when I would read all night long – until the sun rose – until I finished whatever book I was reading.  It was fine then.  I could pull that kind of all nighter, jump out of bed, clean up and get to classes – no problem.  These days, if I lay down with a book, even an exceptional book, I give myself 30 minutes before I’m fast asleep.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up in the middle of the night – lights still on – a book or my iPad laying across my nose.  It’s a joke with my wife – one of her favorites.  She’s even taken pictures of me in bed like that and texted them to me before rolling over and going to sleep herself – just so it could be waiting for me on my phone the next morning.  These days, it’s always over multiple days.  I’m just getting too old to do it any other way.

20.  Who Do You Tag?

This is hard for me – I’m writing a fair bit and I have a decent number of followers but a very small number of folks that are actively engaged – that read and like my posts or that send comments.  Most of those that do have likely done something like this already and I’d hate to create a feeling of obligation.  I’ll just leave it out there and see if anyone who sees this decides to take it on.  I’d love to see someone give it a try.  I’ve corresponded with some wonderful folk over the course of the last year and I’d love to get to know y’all better.

And…last but not least…thanks to you Mr. Gorman – for tagging me.  This was just a whole bunch of fun.  Hope you have as much fun reading as I did writing. 🙂


Cheers To All And Wishing Each And Every One Of You A Wonderful Weekend.


Posted in On My Mind | 2 Comments

On The Nightstand – Uncompromising Honor – 10/9/2018





“The Honor Of A Nation Is Its Life”

Alexander Hamilton

There are literary figures that have truly stood out for me over the years – who have resonated so strongly that they became real – came to represent something far more than just a picture on a cover or a source of fictional satisfaction.  There are a very rare few who have, over the years, become symbols for me – iconic characters that I’ve chosen to elevate and aspire to – role models.  Aragorn is one such – Rudi MacKenzie is another – Paul Atreides is a third.  While they all lived in insanely complex, richly imagined, brilliantly conceived worlds that I fell in love with, it was the characters themselves that I fastened myself to and that became the book – characters who, over the course of the book, had me wishing that I’d been given the chance to follow them – to become a part of their story.

Honor has always been one of those characters – an ideal that has helped to define expectations that I have both for myself and for others. Like everyone else, I met her in the early nineties when I read “On Basilisk Station” – a book that had the benefit of being unburdened by all the accumulating history and increasing complexity of the subsequent 20 novels – just a young, relatively inexperienced Commander, a small ship and a nearly impossible military and political situation.  The way she navigated the circumstances in which she and her crew found themselves – the strength of her character – captured me and it’s held me for a quarter of a century now.  In the interests of full disclosure, I formed a similar connection to Horatio Hornblower – Honor’s fictional template – many years earlier when I read those books as a boy – but Honor somehow became far more tangible and real for me and managed to replace Hornblower in my fictional Hall Of Fame.

There have always been many things about these books that made them special for me – the first and most important being Honor herself.  The others, however, would likely have been compelling even had Honor not been present or had somehow been less powerfully conceived.  The first is the richness of the universe Weber has created – the history of humanity as it expanded into the galaxy and gave birth to the Constitutional Monarchy of the Kingdom of Manticore, the faith based Monarchy of Grayson, the People’s Republic of Haven, the Andermani Empire, the Solarian League and many, many others.  There’s so much here to play with I’ve always been a bit surprised that no one’s created a space combat sim set in this world.  Were someone to do so, I’d likely dive in and never come back up for air.

Another defining characteristic of the books has been the cast of supporting characters Weber introduces – particularly the men and women of the Royal Manticoran Navy (RMN) with whom Honor serves.  While the RMN begins this 21 book story as a robust institution with strong, defining traditions and values, Honor she sets a new and higher standard for a whole generation of new RMN officers as she progresses through her career – all of whom come from different backgrounds, have different life stories and represent unique individuals, but who adopt Honor’s code, her commitment to the RMN and her devotion to duty as their own.  Whether as a symbol or by virtue of her mentorship, she becomes the soul of the RMN.  As the books progress, her influence spreads beyond the political leaders and military officers of Manticore’s allies (Grayson) to – in the later books – the political leaders and military officers of their foes turned friends (The People’s Republic of Haven).  Honor’s virtue becomes a defining and unifying aspect of a disparate alliance that, in the end, redefines a power paradigm that has governed their universe for centuries.

A third aspect of the books that I’ve always found compelling is the pseudo-scientific and economic framework that Weber has built.  The technology that drives these kingdoms – both in war and peace – is meticulously created and faithfully adhered to – both with respect to it’s capabilities and it’s limitations.  That technology and the underlying scientific theory defines every aspect of the world – manufacturing, propulsion, weaponry and economics.  As you read, Weber does such a good job of weaving it into his narrative that you simply accept it, you adopt it’s vocabulary and you begin to anticipate it’s ramifications.  His extended story is incredibly faithful to his science and a large and fascinating part of his long tale is the opportunity to watch that science evolve and advance over time.

Finally, and in some ways, the most rewarding aspect of the books is the combat.  Weber set out to do something that all too many of his peers simply don’t have the courage to do – create a ship to ship, fleet to fleet, approach to combat that accepts the realities of physics and the limitations imposed by mundane things like gravity, inertia, acceleration, velocity and mass.  Every battle that Weber describes is a physics lesson and is so carefully crafted that I have to believe that, even if its not for sale, he’s created his own space combat sim that he uses to virtually model these episodes as he writes them.  There’s a remorseless and graceful beauty to the combat in these novels that I don’t think anyone has ever been able to recreate.

Having said all that, the series has had its ups and downs.  The first 5 of these books are devoted to a story arc that focuses exclusively on the war between the Star Kingdom of Manticore and the People’s Republic of Haven.  They’re based loosely on the Napoleonic War – as were the Horatio Hornblower novels – and they’re a very simple, straightforward pleasure.  It’s all about the war, the ships, the technology, the men and women who serve and the combat.  They’re easy to read, they’re straightforward and they represent military science fiction at it’s best.  As Weber moves deeper into his story, however, the politics of the primary players moves closer to the forefront and there are times when it detracts from the things that make these books such a pleasure.  More and more of the content shifts away from Honor, the RMN and the battles it fights to the politicians and the politics of the adversaries.  I can remember times when I hit chapter transitions that took me away from the Command Chair and into the offices of bureaucrats and it managed to deflate me – caused me to roll my eyes a bit and move to accelerated reading mode where I was sampling sentences within paragraphs just to progress as quickly as I could back to Honor and the ships and fleets she commands.  Weber is a superb writer of military science fiction but there’s a cliched, caricatured aspect to some of his political drama that can get a bit tiring.

This became particularly pronounced when he chose to create a second story arc within the larger narrative revolving around the Mesan Alignment and conflict with the Solarian League.  Weber acknowledges that his decision to do so – beginning with the book “Crown Of Slaves” (co-authored with Eric Flint) – radically altered his narrative focusing on the conflict between Manticore and Haven.  While it introduced a story line that will carry his series past Honor’s exit, it also led to a number of books focusing on political maneuverings, espionage and ground-based, planetary conflict that I found to be tiresome and decidedly mediocre.

Still, it was never so bad that it turned me away from the series and I have to say – getting finally to this last book in Honor’s story – that he brought it home in a very rewarding and satisfying way.  In this book, Weber spends far more time on the bridge of RMN warships and far more time in combat – particularly throughout the first half of the book.  He steps back a bit in the third quarter and returns to the offices of bureaucrats and the skullduggery that takes place within to set the stage for the final quarter and the concluding events but it wasn’t as burdensome or as distracting as it has been in past volumes.  Most importantly, when it ended, it was all Honor and it was rooted in all the things that have made her such a special character for so very long.  Her final solution is everything we’d expect from the Officer we’ve been following for twenty five years and it leaves both the galaxy and the person in a place that makes it possible to walk away with the satisfaction that comes from a job very well done.

The only bone I have to pick with the book is that Weber – on two occasions – allows his sentimentality get in the way of what would represent a tragic but relate-able outcome.  In the wake of two truly devastating episodes – one being the RMN’s defense of the Hypatia system and the second being the destruction of the orbital platforms around Beowulf – calamities that resulted in almost no survivors – Weber allows for a small number of critical characters to miraculously come through alive.  I would have made allowances for this once – and I have to admit that the survival of three pivotal characters in the wake of the Beowulf disaster is critical to the ending that Honor delivers and that delivers her – but twice is just too much.  He just should have let Hypatia stand as the tragically heroic episode that it was without the unnecessary miracle.

That, however, is a pretty minor criticism.  In almost every other aspect, this book is a fitting and truly rewarding final chapter in Honor’s story.  While Weber isn’t done with the Honorverse – there are still battles to be fought – Honor’s part of this story is largely over.  In his Afterword, Weber makes it clear that, while Honor may occasionally make an appearance or serve as a presence lurking in the background, she’ll be stepping out of the story and passing her torch onto a new generation.  I’m truly sad to know that she’ll no longer be there as a defining presence but I’m ready – after all she’s done, all the sacrifices she’s made, all the losses she’s endured – to grant her a very well deserved exit from the crucible of combat and give her the chance to spend time with her husband and her children.  I’ll also look forward to seeing those children grow into RMN officers in their own right and to enjoying a chance to experience their part in finally, once and for all, ending the threats posed to the Star Kingdom of Manticore.

Posted in On The Nightstand | 4 Comments

On The Nightstand – Port Of Shadows – 9/30/2018

“The Life Of The Dead Is Placed In The Memory Of The Living”

Marcus Tullius Cicero

I haven’t read a Black Company novel since 2001 – when the final volume in The Company’s history – “Soldiers Live” – was published.  It’s been so long that I’d actually forgotten most of the details of the extended narrative – stretching across 9 books broken out into 3 story arcs (there’s also a spin-off called “The Silver Spike” – a very good book but unconnected to the Company’s history).  Before cracking this one open, I had to go back and review the plot summaries from the nine volumes that preceded it – just to get myself grounded again and prepared for what was to come.  What I most remembered, though, was how much I enjoyed these books and how very different they were from all the Fantasy I’d previously read.  They were my first real taste of anything not built upon the bones of Tolkein and I loved them.  They opened up a whole new sub genre for me and a whole new way of thinking about and enjoying Fantasy.

I also remembered that while these books were amazing to the end – the very last word of “Soldiers Live” – the experience changed drastically for me with the end of the 1st story arc – The Books Of The North – composed of “The Black Company”, “Shadows Linger” and “The White Rose”.  By the end of “The White Rose”, only six out of the original ~800 – 900 Company veterans remained alive.  At the beginning of the 2nd story arc – The Books Of The South – composed of “Shadow Games” and “Dreams Of Steel” – The Company had left the Domination and headed off into a new and very different part of the world.  Both transitions were challenging but Cook managed to make them work in a pretty amazing way.  Still, finishing The Books Of The North and pushing on into The Books Of The South, I never quite got past the feelings of loss caused by the absence of so many old friends:  The Captain, The Lieutenant, Candy, Elmo – all the other Company veterans you got so attached to over the course of the first three books.  I think I may also have regretted the fact that Croaker, who I’d come to love as the Company Surgeon / Historian, was forced to assume command – no longer allowing him the latitude to be the same simple, curmudgeonly soldier I remembered him to be in the first three books.

Prior to reading the book, I was curious as to why Glen Cook chose to come back to The Company – what part of the story he felt he’d left untold.  Their history was complete and there weren’t really any hanging chads from the 9 books he’d already written.  As you read through the book, however, you realize that Cook wanted to look back to the early years of the Domination and provide a backstory for The Lady.  He does this but in a cagey way that doesn’t provide definitive answers – the realization about what he’s doing sneaks up on you – challenging at first but very satisfying by the end of the book.

Nor does it sound like he’s finished – this is the first of two final volumes he’s planning to write – the other to be called “A Pitiless Rain” – identified as the true concluding volume of The Company’s history.  This story lives inside the 1st story arc – The Books Of The North – and sits chronologically between Book #1 – “The Black Company” and Book #2 – “Shadows Linger”.  While there’s no connection to The Books Of The North narrative, it was still so much fun to get back to the early parts of The Company’s history and get caught up with all those characters that I’d enjoyed so much when I first read these books – Cook basically gets The Band back together.

I mentioned earlier that the narrative was a bit twisty and I have to admit that it proved to be challenging at first.  Cook has you regularly flipping back and forth between the earlier years of the Domination and the era in which the Company is fighting for The Lady against both the remainder of the rebel armies that were shattered in Book #1 and the Resurrectionists fighting to return the Dominator to life.  While I may not be remembering clearly, I think this is also the first time Cook has ever spent any real time describing the early years of the Domination.  It takes awhile to settle into the story and to start putting pieces together.  I think Cook is having fun with his readers, knowing that some probably will find it to be a bit too much work but not caring in the least.

I will say that this is not a book for anyone new to The Black Company.  While I can see someone attempting it as a standalone read, I’d recommend against it.  I don’t know about others but I fell in love with The Company when I read that first book – its people, its culture and its traditions – and you should have taken that fall before you start “Port Of Shadows”.  Trying to get to know and appreciate the Company’s world and its culture through a book whose narrative structure is not straightforward and intuitive would likely be a hard slog for many.  Short to long – don’t cheat yourself out of the pleasure of the 1st book before jumping into this one.

For me, Cook’s Company has always been a family – big, extended, unruly and highly dysfunctional in so many ways – yet at the same time – extremely well led, bound by tradition, loyal to each other and incredibly, competently deadly.  I found it interesting that Cook spent most of this book creating two other families and putting them at the center of the story – Croaker’s weird but very likable group consisting of Mischievous Rain (Kitten, Credence Senjak, The Lady), Shin, Baku and Ankou – and the weird but somewhat repulsive false family of the Necromancer (Papa), Bathdek (Kitten, Credence Senjak, The Lady) and Liassa (Dorotea Senjak).

I need to think about this more – go back and reread several sections – but I think Cook is trying to give us perspective on The Lady – using her first, very twisted faux family experience with the Necromancer and Liassa to illustrate a youth that leads her to becoming the immensely powerful but measured and emotionally nuanced sorceress capable of defeating the Dominator and re-establishing his Empire without resorting to the same level of brutality and terror.  He’s using the second of the two faux families – Croaker, Mischievous Rain, Shin, Baku, Ankow – to show just who The Lady has become over the course of so many years – ruthlessly efficient, terrifyingly capable, absolute in her power yet with soft spots and the ability to care in an all too human way – even if it’s just an indulgence that she knows is fleeting.

I have to say – I loved this book – really loved being back with the old Company – before it was decimated in the remaining two Books Of The North – before it headed South to a very foreign and ugly environment.  Having said that, it won’t be a book for everyone.  I’d recommend this only to those who have already read and fallen for The Company.  It’s not going to be satisfying to a new reader or someone who isn’t a committed Company man.

Best Wishes to all for a great new week.

Posted in On The Nightstand | 2 Comments

On My Mind – One Amazing Weekend – 9/23/2018

Having just finished reading and reviewing “Empire Of Silence” by Christopher Ruocchio:


I jumped right into a new release from one of my long time, Go To Authors – Glen Cook’s new Black Company novel – “Port Of Shadows”.  I haven’t made much progress though – not because of the book – which I’m thoroughly enjoying – but because the weekend took me in a far more important and enjoyable direction.

I honestly didn’t think we were going to be able to top the weekend we just had in Austin with old friends.  Sue and I came away from that one thinking that it was about as good as it gets.


It only took about 5 days to prove that wrong and I thought I’d put up a post to let you know what I think qualifies as just as good as Austin and even better than books.

Sue and I celebrated our wedding anniversary this weekend.  For the last few years, we’ve celebrated our day in the same way but decided – this year – that it was time to mix it up a bit.

As we were thinking through plans, we discovered that one of our favorite local restaurants  – a wonderful French brasserie called Cafe Pyrenees which had – very unfortunately – closed about a year ago due to escalating rents at their long time location – had started sponsoring Pop Up Dinners at out of the way locales.  This weekend – they were hosting a dinner at a location that we’d never heard of called McCrae Farms – a stable and riding center devoted to French Classical Dressage.  We had no idea what to expect but decided to give it a try and we’re so very glad we did.

Here’s a view as we drove up to the facility:

Ready to be surprised – we got out of the car and walked towards the building.  Things started perfectly – being met with a big hello and glasses of wine by several of the staff we’d gotten to know so well from nights past at the old restaurant.  After welcoming us, we were ushered deeper into the building and seated for the show – and here’s where it just became amazing.

We were treated to a classical French dressage exhibition – unlike anything I’d ever seen since the time my parents took us all to see the Lippizaner Stallions about 40 years ago.  I can’t tell you how much fun it was – not only did Sue and I get to celebrate another wonderful year – we had the chance to do it in a unique and amazing way.  Here are a few pictures from the evening – and I apologize in advance for the quality of the photography – I was using my phone in a dim exhibit hall without a flash:

If you look closely, you’ll notice that the rider – Jill McCrae – has a peregrine falcon on her wrist.  We learned that the birds and horses are trained together and will often appear together in both competitions and exhibitions.

Here’s another of Jill, her horse and the falcon.

And here’s two of Jill and her husband Jeff – a great couple who we had the pleasure of eating with once the show was over.

I knew nothing about Dressage until we had this dinner and I have to say – for anyone who loves horses – try to find a chance to see a show – it’s a pretty amazing display of shared skill between horse and rider.  Sue and I just loved it.

Once the show was over, we were moved into the stables, where the restaurant staff had set up a beautifel space for dinner.

We ate with Bandolero – who you’ll meet in the next photo – sorry about the closed eyes – anyone who knows me will tell you I’m photography challenged.

This is Bandolero with one of his buddies in the background – a very well behaved dinner companion.

From beginning to end, it was a perfect evening.  Thank you, Love Of My Life, for a wonderful night and another truly wonderful year.

If that wasn’t enough, we got up at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning and drove down to West Lafayette so that we could spend Dad’s Day with our daughter, who’s in her Junior Year at Purdue.

We started at the Sorority House but headed out pretty quickly to the Stadium.  I know the burnt orange is out of place but please understand – the Horns were playing TCU yesterday and I just felt like I had to represent!  My wife and my step daughter were willing to make allowances.  🙂

Beautiful day at Ross-Ade Stadium and the band put on their normal amazing show!

….made that much better by popcorn, dawgs and beer!

…then made perfect by a Boilermaker win!!



We finished the day with an early dinner at Triple XXX – my first visit to an Indiana classic.  Yes – I did have the Duane Purvis All American – 1/4lb. chop steak, thick, creamy peanut butter, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle & onion on a toasty sesame bun – as featured on The Food Network – and finished with a root beer float made from the original Triple XXX Root Beer.

Thanks for a wonderful weekend CR.  We love you, you’re doing great work and I hope you know how exceptionally proud we are of you.

You’d probably be thinking that Sue and I – as we headed back to Chicago – were feeling pretty satisfied with our weekend – and you’d be so very right – with one small, tiny, unresolved item – the Texas game.  I was not going to call it a weekend until I’d made it over that hump and I spent the next 2.5 hours in the car – Sue was kind enough to drive us home – tracking the game on ESPN play-by-play.

Here’s the final blessing from an amazing weekend:

Oh yes they did – my Longhorns DID beat #17 ranked TCU – convincingly!!  Now that represents a perfect end to a perfect weekend.

Sue and I ended the day back at home, on the couch, watching an episode of The Crown – a show we’re loving – and reading – priceless!

It’s Sunday now and I’m starting to look ahead to the week at work – with all the normal, day to day challenges that can bring – but it doesn’t keep me from looking back – thinking of my wonderful wife and my amazing step daughter and all the fun we had – and being able to say to myself with complete conviction – that I am one lucky bug.

Now – time to get back to “Port Of Shadows” – I have a feeling that this one is going to make for a very fun review.

Hope you all have a great week!

Posted in On My Mind | 2 Comments

On The Nightstand – Empire Of Silence – 9/20/2018

“It Is Better To Fail In Originality Than To Succeed In Imitation”

Herman Melville

Writing critical reviews has, for me, always been a challenging task – balancing the good against the bad – tempering criticism – calling out perceived shortcomings in a measured and constructive manner.  I find it to be particularly challenging when I’m reviewing a debut as I’m always rooting for new writers.  This book is a perfect example of just how challenging it can be.

I’m not going to beat around the bush.  This was not a good read for me and I do not understand the gushingly positive reviews it’s receiving – several of which I’ve copied and pasted below from Amazon with my own comments added in parentheses:

“Empire of Silence is epic science fiction at its most genuinely epic.  Ruocchio has made something fascinating here, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.” —James S.A. Corey, New York Times-bestselling author of The Expanse novels

(No damning with faint praise here – does Corey really feel that Ruocchio’s epic is more genuinely epic than his own massive epic?)

“Christopher Ruocchio’s Empire of Silence is epic-scale space opera in the tradition of Iain M. Banks and Frank Herbert’s Dune, without being a clone of either of them. His is a welcome new voice in science fiction.” —Eric Flint, author of the bestselling 1632 series

(Descriptive but not truly evaluative –  a clever sophistry – I think I can respect this more than the comment Corey provided)

“Empire of Silence has the sweep and political complexity of Dune (though no sandworms). It builds to a blazing climax, followed by a satisfying conclusion. I recommend the book.” —David Drake, bestselling author of the RCN Series

(I found this one particularly interesting – calling out one iconic element of Dune that wasn’t written into this story when so many others were)

“Empire of Silence is a rich tapestry of future history and worldbuilding, a galactic-sized story of a hero, a tyrant, but portrayed as a man.” —Kevin J. Anderson, New York Times-bestselling author of The Dark Between the Stars

(Again – descriptive but not evaluative – given how I feel about the Anderson novels I’ve read, I probably would have been relatively comfortable having him create an equivalence between Ruocchio’s debut and his own “Saga Of Seven Suns” series)

Had I been asked to write the blurb review, it probably would have gone something like this:

An overly ambitious but heartfelt effort that offers the reader rewards in places but disappoints in equal measure.  Ruocchio is to be commended for this monumental first attempt but might have better served himself with a less aggressive maiden voyage.  He leaves me both hopeful and worried about where this might eventually go. 

I’ll call out several aspects of the book that I found challenging:

  • It was just too derivative.  In the first 100 pages of this book, you’ll find analogs of The Butlerian Jihad, Mentats and The Litany Against Fear from Dune, lightsabers from Star Wars and The Borg from Star Trek.  Unlike Flint’s comparison to Banks and Herbert, I found the narrative structure to be far more similar to Rothfuss’ “The Name Of The Wind” – lacking the roguish exceptionalism and endearing characteristics of the protagonist.  It almost felt like Ruocchio took a sampling of the more iconic elements of some of the most notable books and movies from the last 40 years and renamed and repurposed them.
  • It was far too long – there were entire chapters that contributed little or nothing to the overall story and they detracted from the tale that Ruocchio was trying to tell.  The Author and the book would have benefited from some aggressive editing.
  • The protagonist spent far too much time hinting at his dismal end state and his moral and ethical repugnance.  I found Hadrian Marlowe to be a relatively unsympathetic character to whom I was never really able to connect.
  • The book was loaded with the purplest of prose – while there were places where this worked, I found myself all too often thinking that Ruocchio fell in love with his own language – hard – and overwrote in a tortured way.  I kept hearing Sergeant Hulka whispering in the background – “Lighten up Francis!”

This is one of those books that broke my heart a little.  I wanted very badly to enjoy it but I just never got there.  There were moments when it shone – Hadrian’s time as a Myrmidon and his relationships with his brothers and sisters in arms was rewarding – I truly appreciated his Jaddian characters, particularly Olorin, and wanted to spend more time with them – Valka was a fascinating character that I enjoyed getting to know.  Overall, I’m encouraged by the fact that many of the characters I enjoyed are – in the last chapter – brought back together as a group that will travel together in the second volume.

It wasn’t bad – it just wasn’t nearly as good as I wanted it to be.  All I can do is write this one off as a minor loss and hope for a better second quarter.

Posted in On The Nightstand | 7 Comments

On The Shelf – Big Books – Miracle At Philadelphia – 9/18/2018

This is the second in my Big Books series – introduced in this post:


The purpose of the series being to “spotlight what, for me, are the biggest, most important books in my collection and why.”  The first book I chose to feature was “The Constitution Of The United States Of America” for what I hope are relatively self-evident reasons.  I thought it only appropriate to stick with this theme for one additional post and feature “Miracle At Philadelphia” by Catherine Drinker Bowen.  The book has a special place in my library for two reasons – the first and less important being the edition itself – I’m fortunate enough to have a near perfect copy of the special, slipcover Bicentennial Edition.  The more important reason by far is what the book offers any student of U.S. History.

I’ve always felt that any study of our history starts with an understanding of the U.S. Constitution and The Bill Of Rights but I also know that reading the actual Constitution – always intended to be a living document – is not nearly enough.  Understanding it requires both some exposure to the interpretations that have been layered onto it over the years by the U.S. Supreme Court as well as an understanding of the men who wrote it and the history of it’s composition.  This book is recognized as one of the best – maybe the best account – of that process.  “Miracle At Philadelphia” is a fascinating account of the personalities and the personal and political struggles of the men who, over the course of five long months in 1787, produced this amazing document.

In Bowen’s words, “The Federal Convention, viewed from the records, is startlingly fresh and ‘new.’ The spirit behind it was the spirit of compromise, seemingly no very noble flag to rally round. Compromise can be an ugly word, signifying a pact with the devil, a chipping off of the best to suit the worst. Yet in the Constitutional Convention the spirit of compromise reigned in grace and glory; as Washington presided, it sat on his shoulder like the dove. Men rise to speak and one sees them struggle with the bias of birthright, locality, statehood – South against North, East against West, merchant against planter. One sees them change their minds, fight against pride, and when the moment comes, admit their error. If the story is old, the feelings behind it are new as Monday morning. “If all the tales are told, retell them, Brother. If few attend, let those who listen feel.”  It truly is an exceptional story that everyone should take the time to read in order to see our Founders come together – at times bringing their worst – and finding a way to agree on what has, over time, become the very best.  It’s a book that I think every library deserves.

While you’re at it, give some thought to acquiring the following two volumes:

“The Glorious Cause” by Robert Middlekauff is the first edition in The Oxford History Of The United States, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 and is one of the very best accounts – from beginning to end – of the American Revolution.  I’d recommend it as a must read for any student of U.S. History and a superb addition to any library.

One other exceptional read in the same vein:

“Founding Brothers” by Joseph J. Ellis is a Pulitzer Prize winner and a superb set of short vignettes focused on several of our most prominent Founding Fathers – George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin.  It recounts six discrete moments in history that helped to define the nature and character of our Republic.  I can’t overstate how much history this book offers up in 248 brief pages.  It’s a superb account of the men who built this Country and the moments that helped to define so much of what came after them.  I would suggest that this one belongs in any library as well.

Anyone willing to put enough time aside to finish these three will be relatively well grounded in the critical, early years of this country’s history and will have made a very nice start to assembling a collection focused on the history of the United States.

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