Book Blog
Game of Thrones (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 16 December 2012 00:00

A good thing in George RR Martin’s thick Game of Thrones (the first of a series) is the character list in the back. So many characters! It’s like Bleak House.

It would have been improved if it had a checkbox behind each one, so you could check them off as they died.

Characters die a lot on the various struggles for power.


A friend loaned me the first book (“Yeah, thanks,” I murmured as I hefted it). It was pretty standard stuff, guys on horses, guys with swords, a threat from the north, the uneasy lord, every bit of dialog sprinkled with “My lady” and “My liege”. Dada dada da. Nothing as exotic as Tigana.

And then I started to care. Like a car slowly cresting a long rise – no longer laboring but gradually accelerating, I found myself flipping a few more pages before going to bed every night. I wanted to know what the latest Lannister scheme was, how Lord Stark would deal with his latest domestic issue (like that crippled son of his). My interest kept growing as exiles sought favor with barbarian clans, courtiers schemed around the throne, and a bastard made a career upon the northern wall.

And as the action heated up, Martin started killing these characters off.

That’s what really caught me – the one’s he killed. First it was a second-tier character or two. Fine. But then main characters started to go. That rocked me back. And finally, a character I figured to be unkillable (not because of magic armor or prophecy or anything silly, but because he was central to the plot) got it. And no, no resurrection, no healing potion – that’s his head on that spike.

I’ll talk in a week or so about the literary charm of killing characters, but Martin’s got that, and a nod to him for carrying it through. I’ll be reading the other books (eventually) and hope that he can continue the solid storytelling and honest plot he’s followed so far. It took a while for me to heat up, but yes, I’ll admit, I’m hooked.

Damn it.




The Fantastic World War II (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 09 December 2012 00:00

The cover of this old paperback is a true eye-catcher: A Nazi officer and a Japanese solder whirl as a Corsair fighter flashes over them, guns blazing, against a backdrop of the crumpled Statue of Liberty.

This collection was released by Baen back in 1990, and quite the collection it was. Like all collections, it had its not-so-goods, and its goods. Some of my favorites:

Vengeance in her bones: An old tramp freighter hates U-boats so bad, it repeatedly wrenches the wheel out of the captain's grasp to ram subs, or sit over them until the destroyers get to the scene. Very cute.

Secret Unattainable: A strange break-through invention for the Germans that has consciences most unexpected. It took a long time to get to the punchline, though.

My name is Legion: What happens when some pseudo-Germans can mass-produce their leader, each copy one minute apart. Again, a tale of unexpected consciences, but usually that's a staple of short stories, right?

Barbarossa: We've all heard of Japanese stragglers on their flyspeck islands. But what if a German U-boat was biding its time over the long decades, waiting for the perfect moment.

Two Dooms: An objector at work on the atomic bomb gets a look at the world that might be. Okay, so it's time to rethink passiveness.

The Last Article: An old favorite of mine: Gandhi was able to turn the British strengths against them. Had the Germans pushed all the way to India, would such things have worked against the battle hardened generals of the Reich?

I like books like this - they are perfect airplane fodder (that's where I read this one). If you don't like a story, you can stick with it a few more pages or just dump it (as you see fit). And it also represents the reason I'm cool to eBooks - its another gem plucked out of a dusty used bookstore. Anyway, a great collection, and one worth amusing oneself with.


Last Updated on Friday, 07 December 2012 21:58
The Ten Thousand (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 02 December 2012 00:00

I caught the reference to this novel right off the bat – the Ten Thousand is a reference to the like number of Greek mercenaries who signed up under Cyrus the Younger (a Persian linage queue-jumper)around 400BC. They began their trek in Ionia (western Turkey) and marched and fought all the way to Central Babylonia where their employer (and all their generals) were killed. Left without supplies in the middle of a hostile empire, totally cut off, they hoisted their thirty pound hoplon shields and turned due north, driving towards the distant Black Sea.

Which is why, when I saw a book in a used bookstore with this name and a stylized drawing of a tank, I had to check it out.

Harold Coyle, who made himself a name way back in my college days with Team Yankee, does it again with The Ten Thousand. In the book, we have the perfect storm – a foolishly bold American assault on the Ukraine to seize illegal nukes, launched from a reunified Germany run by an angry politician (who still keeps his Hitler Youth dagger hidden in his desk), runs into trouble. Big trouble, in the way that only desperate Ukrainian officers, sealed in a bunker with a couple of illegal warheads and a “in case of emergency, push button” solution can create. Blinking away the mushroom-cloud after-effects, the American armor group sends the remaining nukes to an American base in Germany, breaking several protocols and allowing the power-mad German leader to seize them. When they are told to lay down their weapons and surrender, the group decides that they, like Xenophon and his mercenaries, are going to drive to the sea (in this case, the Baltic)

This sets the stage for a series of modern engagements (many of which are mapped in the back of the book, helping the reader to see just where everyone is). And on it goes, the various American characters (virtuous or otherwise) slogging away, the Germans either stanchly defending or conscientious objecting, the politicians maneuvering and bargaining. It’s an interesting story that follows several points-of-view, bringing all the combatants together for one more heart-in-mouth skirmish (including a “who got shot?” moment). All good fun.

I read it over the San Diego train weekend and enjoyed it. It was a great airplane book, one that I could read while my seatmates sulked at not being able to turn on their Ipuds. If you see it on the shelf, you might consider it. I rather liked it.


Last Updated on Friday, 30 November 2012 08:27
Frank Reade (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 25 November 2012 00:00

There was a time in America (the late 1800's through the early 1900's) when gear-ratchet, chrome-lever technology seemed to be the way of the future, when airships were around-the-corner, when the unknown areas of the globe were being fully explored, and an American could go anywhere and do anything. These feeling of manifest destiny (in it's most absolute form) was captured by the Frank Reade dime novels that came out at that time, where the plucky (and seemingly endlessly funded) Reade family ran its own factory, producing single-run vehicles (armored cars, tanks, airships and subs) with which they could explore the world and save each other (while heaping large piles of colorfully picturesque native corpses) in the process.

Ah, those were the days, when hard science and social/political consciences didn't get in the way of a ripping good story.

So now Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett have produced a look back at this remarkable collection of stories, breathing life into the Reade legacy, attempting to caulk the gaps of reality. You don't get complete stories in this book but rather sections of stories, giving you the gist of those time-forgotten dime novels without the mountain of pulp they represent. It's just fun, nothing more, but quite a lot of fun it is.

It was a fun read, perhaps a little frustrating in that I found myself wanted to read just one Reade story from begriming to end, un-edited, un-sanitized. That his companions were a black and an Irishman would lend themselves to an interesting slice-of-attitudes of the times, to see what people really thought and what was acceptable (and comic) (and I've read the Flashman Papers, so I'm hardly about to be insulted by the way the real world was). No, while it was interesting, it was like being allowed to come into a room containing a strange and exotic feast, and being permitted to taste one or two things before being chivvied out. I found myself wanting more.

Still, in this age of unlimited (and unending) drone campaigns against generations of "fuzzy wuzzies", its interesting to see a quaint view of Yankees potting natives from armored airships (how similar). Further, the clever efforts of the authors to make the impractical "fit" into the real world is a curious exercise. And the pictures of the grand and glorious vehicles, priceless!

A fun read, and perhaps a way for liberal parents to introduce their kids to whatever we call political correctness these days. But I mean this in a good and educational way.


Last Updated on Thursday, 22 November 2012 17:37

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