On The Nightstand – The Wolf: Under The Northern Sky – 5/20/2018

I mentioned this one in my May Releases post:

On The Shelf – New May Arrivals – 5/18/2018

….as the new arrival I was most excited about and I went straight to it after spending a couple of weeks dedicated to reading new Military Science Fiction titles.  My instinct was right.  It was a very satisfying read in so many ways.

I have an approach to evaluating new books – laid out in my “Ancillary Justice post:

http://booksofbrian.com/on-the-nightstand-ancillary-justice-2-3-2018/

It lists up the critical criteria I use to inform my decision about a book’s “worthiness” or “literary value” – not always related to the amount of fun I have with a book.  I read a lot of Science Fiction and Fantasy and – as I’ve said before – I usually find something to enjoy in most of the titles I read.

Having said that, however, some new titles stand out – you know as you read them that they’re going to have staying power, that they’ve pushed the boundaries in a really fascinating or compelling way, that they’ve introduced a novel concept that you know you’ll see in the work of other writers in future years.  After reading “The Wolf” by Leo Carew – first in a new series called “Under The Northern Sky” and thinking about it in terms of those 4 criteria – I’d have to say that this represents a resounding “Maybe”!

I found the writing to be quite good – it was a well crafted book.  It’s sparse where it needs to be and rich when Carew wants to touch you, force you to feel something or make a judgement.  The world and history and culture that he’s created are well-designed and extremely interesting.  The contrast he’s created between the two peoples at the heart of his story and the emotional and intellectual connection to the structure, values and traditions of the Anakim society – the people of the North – he allows you to establish – were – for me – pretty compelling.  It was very easy for me to develop a deep appreciation for the Anakim in the collective sense and at the same time judge individual actors – those that failed to live up to the standards Carew writes into the heart of Anakim culture – quite harshly.  He allowed me love the nation but despise many of it’s citizens.

I also enjoyed the story as a whole – but there were weaknesses.  The book is divided into 3 parts – Autumn, Winter and Spring – and I found the transitions a bit cumbersome.  I thought the introduction of the plague in the second section did little to contribute to the overall narrative.  I understand what Carew was trying to do – give Roper an opportunity to grow as a ruler and develop a unique connection to and empathy with his people – but it wasn’t as well done as it could have been and wound up being more of a distraction for me than anything else.  The Kryptea – the secret society of assassins – was introduced but only as a bogeyman – not a critical component of the story – likely there to be used in future volumes.

There were other small bumps and warts but no serious problems – first novel stuff – which is nothing compared to what he did right.  When you juxtapose those negatives against the way Carew paints his picture of the Anakim people, society and culture and uses it to drive the story – the way he teases you regarding the outcome of the book’s second pivotal battle and the return to the Hindrunn – the steps behind Roper’s path to power – securing his allies and destroying his rival’s supporters – I felt there was far more good than bad – enough so that the story really grabbed me and pulled me along.

Finally, the book was full of truly fascinating characters that you wind up wanting to know even better – Gray, Price, Tekoa, Keturah, Uvoren – even Bellamus – Roper’s foil and primary Sothrun antagonist – who in many ways turns out to be the most interesting character in the book.  The only character that I found to be disappointing in any way was Roper himself – the new Black Lord – The Wolf.  It’s not that Carew doesn’t make him likable or that you ever come to see him as anything but worthy – it’s just that he seems less real – less substantial than those who surround him – and the author gives me very little in the way of back story that allows me to believe he’s capable of becoming the Leader he turns out to be in Part 3 – Spring.

By way of example – Gray and Pryce and Uvoren – who they are and what motivates them – are easy to relate to and accept.  Roper…not so much.  As you first come to know him – early in the Autumn narrative – during the Battle of the Floodplain and it’s aftermath – he’s presented as weak and slow to understand what’s happening around him.  I’m willing to believe that he learns and grows but I really needed to see into his past – to get a feel for a personal history that would allow me to accept the man he ultimately becomes.  I couldn’t help but think that Carew missed an opportunity to flash back to episodes in Roper’s past – when he was training at the Haskoli – glimpses of courage or intellect or charisma – that would ease my acceptance of his growth and transition to manhood and leadership.

Even Bellamus – his opponent – is easier to accept and believe – his political skill – his leadership – his motivation – all grow out of a backstory that hangs together.  You come to like and buy into Roper based on his actions but you never really know him the way you do all the other fascinating players in the book.  When I compare him to Paul in Dune – who you admire and support and understand due in part to your admiration for and influence of his father, his mother, his  retainers – those who have trained him – Roper feels almost empty – not fully formed – to me.

Beginning to end – that’s why this feels like a Maybe to me.  I did really fall in love with the Anakim – their culture and way of life – the way all of that is reflected in so many of the secondary characters described by Carew – but I don’t completely connect with Roper.  I would unhesitatingly recommend this book to anyone – I really enjoyed it – but I just can’t tell yet whether this series and the world in which it lives – has that “worthiness” it needs to become a classic.  I guess that’s up to Carew and what he does in subsequent volumes.

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On The Nightstand – Empire Of Bones – Epilogue – 5/20/2018

Just a quick note to cap my experience with this series.  I stumbled across it as part of my Military Science Fiction binge and wound up really enjoying it.  I wrote a balanced but largely favorable review of the first book:

http://booksofbrian.com/on-the-nightstand-empire-of-bones-5-13-2018/

…one that was good enough to prompt me to read through 6 of the remaining 7 titles in the series. After doing so, I can honestly say that I’ve ended where I began – average books that turned out to be a whole lot of fun.

Be warned – to enjoy this series – you have to enjoy a simplistic, good guy vs. bad guy type of military Space Opera.  You won’t find any subtleties in these books, they don’t raise meaningful issues and they don’t provoke deep thought.  What you will get is plenty of action and plenty of Knight In Shining Armor heroes and heroines.  Each book is based on a predictable formula – Terry Mixon has a blueprint and he sticks to it – allowing him to churn these out pretty rapidly – 8 books in less than 4 years – but it generally works – if you’re reading with a forgiving eye.

It also helps that they’re short quick reads – you can finish a title in ~4 hours of uninterrupted reading.  I was able to finish 7 of 8 in a little over two weeks – testament to the fact that there’s really no such thing as “uninterrupted reading”.  This was actually a positive for me – not unusual with this genre – as it provides a fair bit of immediate gratification.  You’re not going to read every word, you’re not going pause to consider the larger implications of a plot development or the meaning of an exchange between the characters.  You’re just going to drive through, fight the fights, watch the New Terran Empire find new allies and develop new and powerful capabilities and win battles.  It’s just good fun.

It was enough to prompt me to pause my binge and get back to the regularly scheduled programming – satisfied in the knowledge that the whole exercise left me with another 21 titles from 4 other series that I can come back to any time I get bitten by this particular bug.  In the meantime, I shifted back to my May releases, was able to finish “The Wolf” – review forthcoming – and get halfway through “Artificial Condition” by Martha Wells – second book in the Murderbot series.  Once done there, I’ll probably circle back around and finish #8 in this series – for no other reason but a sense of closure – until Mixon releases another entry.

Overall, worth every minute. 🙂

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On The Shelf – Confession – 5/14/2018

Things have gotten a little bit out of control lately – I have way too much to read and the list is only getting longer.  There is no way to get through everything currently “On The Shelf” – I know that – but it isn’t keeping me from buying more books.  I use the excuse that they’ll all be there on the day that I retire and have hours of free time every day – to catch up – to get ’round to everything I so desperately want to read – but I know I’m kidding myself.  There are just too many good books in this world.

Let me try to make this a bit more concrete.  Anyone who’s read my posts over the course of the last two weeks knows I’ve buried myself in Military Science Fiction (MSF) and I’ve been having a ball with it – I read through a grand total of 8 titles in two weeks.  To do so, I pushed the pause button on two books that I was about halfway through:  “Stiletto” by Daniel O’Malley and “The Shadow Throne” by Django Wexler – both really fun reads – just shoved to the side temporarily to indulge my literary craving of the moment.

To make things worse, I’m not yet done with the MSF reading I want to do.  I still have 3 books left in the “Empire Of Bones” series, 4 books in the “Warp Marines” series and 2 books in the “Last Brigade” series.  Once I decided to go down this path, I also ordered “Legionnaire” by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole – the first entry in an 8 book series called “Galaxy’s Edge”.  In addition, I picked up “Terms Of Enlistment” by Marco Kloos – the first entry in a 6 book series called “Frontlines.  Finally, I picked up a book called “Albion Lost” by Richard Fox – the first of 2 volumes in a series called “The Exiled Fleet”.  I know this MSF trip will eventually run its course – likely sooner rather than later – and I’ll head back and finish both “Stiletto” and “The Shadow Throne” but that’s not going to solve the problem.

Take for example the fact that May releases just came in – the subject of my last post:

http://booksofbrian.com/on-the-shelf-new-may-arrivals-5-18-2018/

In an ideal world, I’d finish those books by mid-June – when I can expect June releases to arrive – but this is not an ideal world and I’m just not gonna get ’round to everything.

Combine that with the fact that Bookwraith (yes – I partly blame you for this mess) got me interested enough in”Foundryside” by Robert Jackson Bennett (if you haven’t read his “City” novels, I would highly recommend them – awesome reads) and “The Gods Of Blood And Powder” series – “Sins Of Empire” and “Wrath Of Empire” – to order them all.  Of course, once I ordered both of “The Gods Of Blood And Powder” books, it occurred to me – I’ve never gotten around to reading “The Powder Mage” trilogy so why don’t I just pick them up as well – I’ll get round to ’em eventually.  There – you see my problem?

Still, as problems go…this is probably one I can live with.

Live Long And Enjoy Your Books!

🙂

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On The Shelf – New May Arrivals – 5/18/2018

I usually keep a year’s worth of new releases stacked up in the “Saved For Later” list on my Amazon account and purchase by the month as the calendar rolls over.  The May list was particularly rich this year and I came home from my last trip on Saturday to find my May Amazon box waiting for me on the kitchen counter.  I thought I’d put up a quick post letting you know which new titles I just placed “On The Shelf”.

Here’s one – the second book in “The Murderbot Diaries” – following “All Systems Red”.

“All Systems Red” received both a Hugo and Nebula Award for Best Novella.  I read it and reviewed it here:

http://booksofbrian.com/on-the-nightstand-all-systems-red-1-16-2018/

I enjoyed it but didn’t quite feel that it lived up to the recognition it recieved – caveating that judgement with the observation that I hadn’t read any of the other nominees in the Novella category for either Award.  I did say that I’d buy the next two installments in the series but not in Hardcover – a judgement that obviously hasn’t stuck.  Still – “All Systems Red” was good enough to leave me interested in finding out where Martha Wells is going with this one.  It’s a short read – another Novella length work – that I hope to get to soon.

Next out of the box was “Uncharted” by Kevin J. Anderson and Sarah A. Hoyt.  I don’t know Sarah Hoyt but I have read some of Kevin Anderson’s stuff – he’s written some decent stuff – the Dune Prequels and the first book in the “Saga Of The Seven Sons” series.  None of that bubbles to the top of any of my lists but I was intrigued by the premise here and decided to give it a try.

Third was a new series by an old friend – Raymond E. Feist.  This is the first book in a new series called “The Firemane Saga”.  I ordered this one with a bit of hesitation – I’ve read every word Feist has written about Midkemia and – by the end of that marathon – it was more a test of endurance than a pleasure.  Still – I’ve made a huge investment in this guy and I’m really interested in seeing how he goes about re-inventing himself.  It’s like that old saying – the triumph of hope over experience.

This next one reflects the “eternal optimist” aspect of my reading life.  I’ve been meaning to really explore Neal Asher’s “Polity” works for a loooong time and made a start by reading both “Prador Moon” and “The Shadow Of The Scorpion”.  That’s where I stopped – not because I didn’t like the books – I did and I’ve reviewed them both.  I just got side -tracked – put my time into other books and haven’t made it back.  There are so many books in this body of work that I probably don’t stand a chance of finishing them all but like I said – it’s in the plan and I know I’ll eventually getting back to the Polity.  I thought I’d pick this one up just to stay current and be prepared for the day.

Last but certainly not least – in fact, this is probably the May arrival that I’m most excited about – “The Wolf” by Leo Carew – first in a series called “Under The Northern Sky”.  This one does really look good and it’s likely going to be my next read – as soon as my Military Science Fiction binge runs it’s course.

Plenty of good stuff and more coming in June – not sure where I’ll find the time but here’s hoping for a long life and a leisurely retirement.

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On The Nightstand – Decisively Engaged – 5/13/2018

Here’s the last of the 4 Military Science Fiction titles I chose – the first entry in the “Warp Marine Corps” series – the third title in my reading order.  Let me start with a disclaimer:  My Dad is a Marine (there are no former / ex-marines).  I respect him and honor him for his service and I love him for the man he is and the Marine that will always be a part of him (Mom – I feel the same way about you but this is – after all – a book about Marines).  When we’re out socially meeting new people and my wife gets the chance – she like to jokingly say that I served under my father for the first 25 years of my life – not exactly how I feel but I never take issue with her.  I had the chance to work with more than one Marine when I was with the State Department and they are – by and large – the epitome of what you would want to find in anyone who has served our Country.  So….am I going to buy and read a series titled “Warp Marine Corps”?  You can bet your everloving *** I am.

This one was a pleasant surprise as well – putting me at 3 for 4.  It assumes a very hostile universe – populated with aggressive, unfriendly races locked in a perpetual battle for supremacy – with the price of defeat being all too high.  In this respect, itincorporates some aspects of David Brin’s “Uplift Series.  Terra is – of course – a relative newcomer to the party – having been uplifted by one of the less ravenously aggressive races due to a debt of honor incurred after leading a far less friendly race to the Solar System – resulting in a near genocidal attack.  After rebounding and rebuilding, Earth has projected itself into the universe and begun to carve out it’s own Empire – capitalizing on it’s unique ability to better tolerate the effects of warp travel than any of the other advanced races – earning us the nickname of “Warp Demons”.

This is a modest beginning to a more expansive series that currently contains the following additional titles:

  • No Price Too High
  • Advance To Contact
  • In Dread Silence
  • Havoc Of War

The 1st book was enjoyable enough so that I purchased these 4 additional installments as well.  I’ve assumed – eternal optimist that I am – that they’ll continue to be fun reads.

The story is based on a classic Rorke’s Drift scenario:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Rorke%27s_Drift

Small force of Marines and auxiliaries surprised and isolated on a backwater world – facing a local uprising fomented by one of those very unfriendly starfaring competitors.  Facing enormous odds, the objective is to hold until relieved and the Warp Marines – of course – do just that.

This isn’t “Empire Of Bones” with it’s more antiseptic fleet combat:

On The Nightstand – Empire Of Bones – 5/13/2018

It’s up close and personal static defense of a small perimeter – small group of defenders with superior technology facing an overwhelming force of local irregulars and regular military – punctuated by occasional sorties to either rescue isolated personnel or address localized threats.  It’s muddier and bloodier and the Marines are as gritty and real as you’d expect – fewer Officers and Gentlemen here – and definitely no Princesses.  It’s never pretty, mistakes are made, plenty of people die, not in a Medal Of Honor type of way but in the unpredictable, all too random way that I have to assume characterizes real combat.

Overall, it works well and it’s pretty enjoyable.  I do plan to read through the 2nd title in this series as soon as I’ve finished the final 3 and a half books in the “Empire Of Bones” series.  These don’t read as quickly as the books in the “Empire Of Bones” series – they’re longer and a bit more complex but – if you enjoy this genre – they’re worth the time.

I’ll let you know if the 2nd book holds up.  Semper Fi!

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On The Nightstand – Empire Of Bones – 5/13/2018

You never know what’s going to happen when you open a book.  I find myself being surprised all the time – both on the upside and the downside.  This was actually the 4th title I tackled as part of that Military Science Fiction Binge I kicked off two weeks ago to the day.  I’ve already posted on:

Standing The Final Watch

http://booksofbrian.com/on-the-nightstand-standing-the-last-watch-5-6-2018/

and

The Rods And The Axe

http://booksofbrian.com/on-the-nightstand-the-rods-and-the-axe-5-7-2018/

If you’ve read these two posts, you’ll know that one turned out to be a pleasant surprise and one not so much.

The third of four titles – which I’ll try to post on today – is:

Decisively Engaged

More on that one in a bit but to get back to Empire Of Bones, which turned out to be a pleasant surprise.  It’s pure Space Opera – very good vs. very bad guys, admirable Noble Houses vs. Evil Empires, virtuous constitutional monarchies and their militaries vs. evil AIs ruling enslaved human populations, brave Fleet Officers and Space Marines vs. thralled humans and autonomous killing machines, honorable Kings and Princesses vs. corruptible bureaucrats, politicians and rival claimants to the throne who mobilize them to no good end.  It’s full of action – small and large fleet engagements, up close and personal boarding actions, augmented humans and the ships and powered combat armor they employ – everything you could possibly want.

Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t a great book – there are plenty of things to criticize here.  The writing was average, the plot’s simplistic, the characters are exaggerated – both good and bad – there are too many Dues Ex Machina events that help to secure victories for the good guys – everything that needs to go right – does.  Still, it was really fun.  In fact, it was so fun that I just pushed right on into the series.  I went straight from “Empire Of Bones” to”

Veil Of Shadows, Bones Of Empire #2

Then to:

Command Decisions, Empire Of Bones #3

On to:

Ghosts Of Empire, Empire Of Bones #4

Currently leaving me halfway through:

Paying The Price, Empire Of Bones #5

All of this in a week – moreover, I plan to finish this one and go on to the three other, currently available books in the series:

Reconnaissance In Force, Empire Of Bones #6

Behind Enemy Lines, Empire Of Bones #7

and The Terra Gambit, Empire Of Bones #8

Sorry for all the covers but one of the many things that make a series like this fun is the cover art – the colors, the ships the combat – it adds to the whole experience.

I’ve bought them all from the Kindle Store and I do plan to finish each and every one before going on to another choice or set of choices – something the books are making it surprisingly easy to do.  I’ve described these types of books in past posts as literary junk food and guilty pleasures and nothing could be more true in this case.  Starting one of these series’ is like opening a bag of Doritos or a bag of microwave popcorn – not necessarily good for you but so hard to stop until you get to the bottom of the bag – just like Lays…you can’t eat just one.  The fact that each book is easily finished in 4 – 5 hours makes it that much easier to do.

Reading this series brought me back to Middle School – jumping into a series like E.E. Doc Smith’s “Lensman” books – pure, unmitigated, unembarrassed pleasure.  I’m not reading the books with a critical eye.  I’m just plowing through them – one book at a time – reveling in the heroics and the explosions and the victories in the face of almost certain defeat and enjoying every page.  It’s almost like reading comic books.  They allow you to leave pretension and sophistication behind and just root for the good guys.

They’re not going to be for everyone but I’ll admit to a feeling of thankfulness to the Author for giving me some pure, unvarnished Space Opera fun.  Long Live the New Terran Empire!!!

Yes – I’m a closet nerd and a kid at heart – I feel for those who aren’t.

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On The Nightstand – The Rods And The Axe – 5/7/2018

Sunk Cost Fallacy

In economics, a sunk cost is any cost that has already been paid and cannot be recovered. The sunk cost fallacy is a mistake in reasoning in which the sunk costs of an activity – instead of the future costs and benefits – are considered when deciding whether to continue the activity.  The sunk cost fallacy makes it more likely that a person or an organization continues with an activity in which they have already invested money, time, or effort, even if they would not start the activity had they not already invested in it. The greater the size of the sunk investment, the more people tend to invest further, even when the return on added investment appears not to be worthwhile. 

I can’t think of any other explanation for why I bought both this book AND pre-ordered the next in the series – “A Pillar Of Fire By Night” – than that laid out in the quote above.  This is the sixth book in the series – preceded by:

  • A Desert Called Peace (2007)
  • Carnifex (2007)
  • The Lotus Eaters (2010)
  • The Amazon Legion (2011)
  • Come And Take Them (2013)

I thought I’d given up on this series after “Come And Take Them”.  The world Kratman has built is ridiculous.  It assumes a precursor race went to the trouble of terraforming a distant planet in such a way as to create a biological replica of Old Earth.  Once discovered, the Transnational Government of Old Earth colonizes the New World by transporting a representative sample of all the national populations of Old Earth – who promptly recreate their old countries on the new World.  You find the U.S., Russia, China, Japan, France, England, Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Vietnam, Colombia, Argentina, Somalia, Israel – of course – Panama – the ultimate protagonist nation in the book.  They also manage to conduct a repeat of Old Earth history – with a World War that ends with nuclear weapons being employed by the new U.S. against the new Japan and a second Iraq War.  You’d think that cascade of improbabilities would be enough to prompt me to walk away.

Then there’s the central character himself – Carrera – the Blue Djinn – who’s hard to characterize as anything but a psychopath.  The compounding atrocities he commits over the course of six books just start to wear you out.  By the sixth book, any sympathy you might have felt for the underdog nation – the new Panama – and the Government Carrera helps to build – which is hard to characterize as anything but a Fascist dictatorship unconvincingly clothed in the trappings of a Timocracy – is unsustainable when weighed against Carrera’s ruthlessness, the body count he racks up, the executions, the crucifixions, the torture and the formation and ruthless use of military units composed of women and the handicapped.  It goes on and on and it just gets to be too much.

There’s the contempt and disdain Kratman heaps upon the rest of the New World countries, the New World version of the E.U.  and their U.N. masters resident in orbit in the ships which brought the original colonists to the planet.  Journalists, politicians, lawyers, liberal democracy, transnationalists – all are painted black and evil with such a heavy, hate-filled brush.  Kratman treats the new U.S. less harshly than the rest of the New World states but it’s relative – they are portrayed as suffering from much of the same rot he layers onto everyone else in the New World he’s created.

Finally, there’s the premise in the second half of the series that this small country – the New Panama – is able to build a military and a militarized society that’s capable of standing against and defeating the combined militaries of all the major nations of the New World – with the single exception of an uninvolved New U.S.

Even with all that foolishness, I see this book and I think – I’ve come this far – I should carry on.  I consider myself a relatively educated and intelligent individual.  With so many good books to read – why do I waste my time.  The only explanation I can find is the Sunk Cost Fallacy.  My only consolation is that other, smarter individuals have fallen prey to the syndrome in situations where the stakes have been much higher.

This is my chance to encourage any who haven’t started down this road not to take the first step.  If you have, please turn back.  It only gets worse.

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On The Nightstand – Standing The Final Watch – 5/6/2018

This was the first title in my Military Science Fiction binge and it’s technically not military science fiction.  I think it should be characterized as Alternate History Military Fiction.  It’s only right to say that I’ve always loved this stuff.  There’s a lot of this stuff being written today – both alternate history and science fiction – and all too much of it – with some really notable exceptions – isn’t worth the paper it’s written on or the digital storage space it occupies.  Still, I’ve read a lot of it over the years and I always – from time to time – find myself putting the weightier stuff aside and just digging into a stack of this stuff.  I can’t explain it – except to say that I have fun with it.  There’s a good vs. evil – victory against all odds – martial virtue and values – honor and tradition aspect to it that I can’t help but enjoy.

This one starts in present day – a world falling apart – the United States fracturing and degrading politically.  The protagonist is a U.S. Army officer – one of the last of the true believers – committed to his men – committed to the mission – committed to a concept of the United States that seems to be disappearing or – in all too many cases – already gone.  His wife and one of his children are killed by domestic terrorists – leaving him with nothing but revenge.

Before being able to extract that revenge and – as he’s in the process of walking away from everything he’s committed his life to – he’s convinced by the last remnants of a government and armed forces determined to protect and preserve those aspects of the country to which they’ve committed their lives – to enter a covert program that recruits soldiers willing to submit to cryogenic hibernation – waiting for the day they’re needed – to be called upon in an emergency where their return might play a meaningful role in saving the country and re-establishing order.  It should come as no surprise that things go wrong – the sleepers are forgotten or never activated – the country and the government collapses – and they wake to a Mad Max version of North America.

There are plenty of things to quibble over with this book – the first being the premise that so much could fall apart in such a short period of time – another being that the U.S. Government would be capable of engineering such a massive and expensive project off the books and keeping it secret – a third being that every aspect of our society but the military is fragile, corruptible and not worth saving.  If you’re able to forget all that and more – and I was – it’s actually a pretty entertaining story.  This book spends most of its time building the concept and introducing the players but there was enough action to hold my attention.  It’s a very quick read, the characters are sympathetic and admirable enough to identify with and the base and all its capabilities is enough to make you wish that it’s something we might actually be capable of building.

One aspect of this book that worries me – and it’s a common element in a lot of these stories – is that the U.S. Military is the only organization manning the barricades – the only group working day in and day out to preserve the promise and purpose of the United States – that every other institution in the country is weak, corruptible, ill-intended and at odds with the principles at the heart of our constitutional democracy.  The military and those who serve are presented as individuals – not perfect or pure – but virtuous.  Journalists, politicians, lawyers, average citizens, law enforcement are always juxtaposed as groups against this collection of noble men and women and are always found wanting in contemptible ways.  To me, that’s a simplistic and potentially dangerous illusion.

I don’t call this out because I don’t respect the military – I do – in a very fundamental and thankful way – military service has been a consistent part of our family history – but I also respect journalists and politicians and lawyers and law enforcement officers and social workers and activists.  I’ve lived long enough to know that there are as many types of individuals in each of these professions or callings as there are people – they range from exceptionally good to exceptionally bad and most of them / us fall somewhere in the middle – imperfect but capable of goodness – sometimes even greatness – on any given day.  I’m an attorney, I’ve worked for the U.S. Government, I know a fair number of journalists and diplomats and federal law enforcement officers and service people and veterans and most of them – in all categories – are good, decent people who are capable of and committed to doing the right thing as they see it.

So…if you suspend disbelief, embrace the United States of Mad Max and buy into the concept that the U.S. Military could run a black program on a scale similar to the effort made to put a man on the moon – you may actually find yourself enjoying the story.  While I’m almost embarrassed to admit it – I did – enough to buy the next two titles in the series:  “Standing In The Storm” and “Standing At The Edge”.   I suspect I’ll have fun with them as well.

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On My Mind – Odds & Bits – 5/6/2018

Warning:  This one is going to drift and wander a bit – just capping off a very busy week and trying to transition to my writing from everything that came before.

Anyone who’s a regular reader has probably gotten a feel for the routine I’ve established.  My work leaves me with little time to write during the week – particularly given the fact that every post takes a good hour or more.  I can usually get my reading in during those hours after dinner and before lights out or when I travel.  My only time to write is on the weekends and I almost always manage to get a couple of new pieces up every Saturday while my wife is at work.  I’m running behind this week – Sunday evening and I’m only just sitting down at the keyboard – but it’s all for good reason.  Summer’s coming, colleges are letting out and the two parts of our lives that help make everything good and fun in the world are either home or are headed home.  Things get busy around here during summer break.

No way I can begin to describe how proud I am of these two.  My step-daughter – who came back home this Friday – just finished her Sophomore year and is doing everything right – great grades, working, active member of a really superb Sorority, involved in a really cool service organization – I honestly, truly don’t know how she does it all and it leaves me feeling a bit embarrassed about how I spent my college years.  She delights and amazes me and I love the chance to watch her succeed – doing so much in such a short period of time and doing it all so very well.

My son – who will be here soon – is also doing really well.  He stepped back from his first college after a hard year – smart enough to know it just wasn’t a good fit – and spent the last year working through as many college pre-requisites as possible in Community College while trying to figure out where he wanted to be and what he really wanted to do.  He put a lot of thought and effort into it – decided on a school that I’m sure is going to be right for him and worked really hard to get a transfer acceptance – which happened just this Friday.  He took control of his own process, made some great decisions, did the work to get what he wanted and will be starting back in next fall with a lot of credit hours in the bank and with a real plan for this part of his life.

To top it all of – both of them are headed overseas to work and study this summer.  Not to tempt fate but they’re on their way and my wife and I are starting suspect that we didn’t completely screw this whole thing up.

All of which is meant to be an excuse for being behind on my writing.  When you combine the kids’ coming home with the fact that the weather has finally turned and has given us the chance to do some gardening, there was just no time.

None of which kept me from reading – along the lines I’d mentioned in this post last weekend:

On The Shelf – Binge Week – Military Science Fiction – 4/29/2018

Finished 4 books – “Standing The Last Watch”, “The Rods And The Axe”, “Decisively Engaged” and “Empire Of Bones” – all of which I plan to post on tonight – assuming I don’t fall asleep at the keyboard.  What’s more – with one notable exception – I had a lot of fun plowing through them – enough so that I’ll probably continue this binge for another week or so.

I also changed my buying patterns a bit.  Ever since I purchased my 1st i-Pad, I’ve always used the iBook app for my e-book purchases.  I have a pretty extensive e-library of those books that were never important enough to purchase as a hard copy or as a collectible.

In attempting to purchase all those military science fiction titles, I found that only one of them was available through the i-Book app.  I made the mistake of buying those I couldn’t download to i-Books and having them shipped to the house – reading them as they arrived.  Unfortunately, the three I enjoyed – contrary to expectations – are all first entries in extended series and there was no way I was going to start filling the house up with paperbacks – particularly books that – without exception – fall into the guilty pleasure category.  There’s a ton of military science fiction being written – most of which is junk – and the stuff that’s not – the ones I wind up enjoying – is just not stuff that I’m going to hold onto.  Like I said in that earlier post – even the good stuff is literary junk food and there is no reason to keep it around once you’ve finished your binge.

The whole thing prompted me to – finally – download the Kindle app and start shopping the Amazon Kindle store.  Three comments:  1) every one of these series is available on the Kindle, 2) it was so easy AND cheap that I wound up buying all 13 additional entries across the three series and 3) why the h*ll have I not done this long ago.  It left me feeling both satisfied that I found a way to get readable copies of all those books at a really reasonable price and pretty stupid for not having done this before.

There you have it – a week in review – plenty of reading done – and ready to write.

Time to get started.

 

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On The Screen – Avengers: Infinity War – Epilogue – 5/1/2018

**Caution:  Spoilers**

Always interesting to see what occurs to you as you put some distance between yourself and a book or a movie.  I’ve spent some time digging through all the stuff that’s been posted online about the movie and I’ve seen some interesting stuff.  I’ve also seen some stuff that makes me shake my head.  What I haven’t seen is a thoughtful discussion about where the original 4 Avengers – Cap, Tony, Bruce and Thor – are in their personal journeys at the end of this movie.  That – to me – is the biggest tell of all with respect to what’s eventually going to happen in Avengers 4.

Here’s what occurs to me:

  • Cap:  He’s a man who’s outlived his own time.  All his friends – with the exception of those he’s made as an Avenger – are gone.  Even the relationship with Tony – his foil, friend, rival and, in many ways, his one true peer – is fractured.  The two institutions he’s devoted his life to – America and S.H.I.E.L.D. – are both broken – possibly beyond repair.  He’s one of only two Avengers who have shown a willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for both his Team and for humanity in Captain America:  The First Avenger.  It’s sad to say but I know Cap’s journey has come to an end.  The only thing left for him to do is reconcile with Tony and give his life to the causes he has left – justice and the future of humanity.
  • Tony:  He’s finally reached the point in his life where he’s ready to settle down and build a normal life with Pepper.  He’s adopted a surrogate son in Peter Parker and obviously cares very deeply about the “Kid”.  He seems to be done with the Playboy / SuperHero / Avenger life and is ready for something different / more.  Very sad to say but…he’s getting old.  He’s the second of the two Avengers who has already demonstrated a willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for humanity in the first Avengers.  One way or another, Tony is moving towards an evolution – all we have left is to wait and see whether Feige chooses to allow him to step away and create that life with Pepper – maybe giving him mentor / father figure / wise elder cameo roles in future movies – or in partnership with Cap – once again make the ultimate sacrifice.
  • Thor:  Thor’s story has been a coming of age tale – from brash, young adolescent exiled to learn some hard life lessons – to the final step of filling his father’s shoes and assuming leadership of Asgard.  Hard to forget Odin’s last bit of advice – “You’re not the God of Hammers – you’re the God of Thunder”.  After all that, I’m pretty sure that Thor’s journey isn’t done.  Valkyrie and Korg are noticeably absent when we get a view of the wrecked ship on which the remaining Asgardians had used for their escape.  I can only hope that they – along with some portion of the escaping Asgardians – were not present when Thanos destroyed everything and everyone.  With Stormbreaker, Thor may now have the ability to recreate the Bifrost Bridge.  Something tells me that Thor’s final chapter will involve the rebuilding of Asgard.
  • Bruce / Hulk:  Bruce and Hulk have been on a bit of a journey as well – trying to reconcile the two halves of their existence.  Avengers and Avengers:  Age Of Ultron were largely about Bruce.  Thor:  Ragnarok was all about the Hulk – he was persistent and semi-articulate.  He’d developed a personality that was not all about his rage.  In Avengers: Infinity War, the Hulk disappeared and Bruce finally walked onto the field as a man and, with the help of Tony’s Hulk Buster suit – satisfyingly ironic – actually became an Avenger independent of the Hulk.  I can’t help but think that Avengers 4 will be the opportunity to bring these two together and find some type of reconciliation and balance.

Just my two cents and nothing too original but I do think it hints at where #4 has to go.

Seriously – I can’t wait.  Just glad I have Deadpool 2, Ant Man and Wasp and Captain Marvel to tide me over.

Have a Great Week.

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