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The Sea Witch (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 26 August 2012 00:00

The Sea Witch is a collection of three aviation short stories by Stephen Coonts, rich author guy, written between 1999 and 2003. They aren't bad, not if you like planes, but with one exception, I'm not sure what the point of the stories are. Anyway, the three shorts are...

The Sea Witch: The titular story centers on a PBY flying boat that has been tasked with a night bombing run over Rabal in WW2. Coonts demonstrates a full working knowledge of the craft itself (which is interesting). And it's one of those "desperate crew fearfully flies the edge" deals. However, I'm not sure of the point. The main character (the new copilot, booted out of SBDs because of his excess zeal (i.e. he's a dangerous-to-be-with-mo-fo)) joins a crew whose nerves are stretched to the limit. And the low-level night bombing run is hairy indeed. But I need to point out that action is only part of a good story. I'm not sure what all that character development led to. The main character hung onto the joystick to keep the plane flying. No tense dialogs took place. No appeals to patriotism, no snarling threats. Just a rattling night in a beat-to-shit plane with characters dropping like flies. I'm not sure if the conclusion meant anything. Look, I'm not suggesting that a story needs all sorts of crafty elements, but just that a slice of life (even dangerous seat-of-the-pants-flying life) doesn't necessarily make a story.

The 17th Day: This is a reference to the survival rate of WW1 pilots during Bloody April (where the Royal Flying Corp got shot out of the sky). Again, Coonts knows his airplanes (at least the SE5a) but neglects the storytelling. It turns out that today is the 17th day of this pilot's active service and he feels if he can make it, he'll last a good long time (like until next week, perhaps). However, my first bump centered on the fact that this statistic was known sometime after the period, not during it (you can't determine an average in the middle of the time span). In all the WW1 aviation books I grew up on, no pilot ever fixated on the 17th day. The second bump were the Fokker DVIIs showing up in presumably what is sometime in 1917 (the squadron's Nieuports have just been replaced with SEs). DVIIs shouldn't be about for another couple of months, even a half year. Even DR1s (the dreaded triplanes) would be a new thing then. And again, the story is episodic but somewhat pointless. The main character flies about, people get killed, it's all very thrilling. But no progression, no hopes, no introspection.

Al-Jihad: Finally, something resembling a plot. This time, a retired ex-marine is hired by a batshit crazy woman who flies V-22s, whose parents were killed some time ago aboard an airliner bombed by terrorists. So terrorists the world over are going to be meeting in this ancient fortress in the back-end of Libya, and she wants to blow the place up. With very little planning (they decide their plan of attack when they are on the ground), they go in. Of interest to me was the V-22 itself, which I did flight simulator work on years ago. Here, the main character has an interesting backstory, the woman is eerie yet mysterious, the tension mounts, and finally, in the end, a clever twist. So even though this story was the furthest from my interests, I found it better than the others. Still, there was that one terrorist who seemed to have expected them, who spoke English without prompting. This was a Chekhov's gun of the highest order.

I've been a little picky here. Coonts writes solid, he knows his stuff, he gives us flyboy porn. Since I got this from the library, I'm not too bent out of shape. If you are your library and see it on the shelves, by all means, run it through the scanner. Fun but light.


Last Updated on Sunday, 26 August 2012 08:14
Embedded (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 18 August 2012 20:38

I hate Embedded.

I hate Dan Abnett.

This is writer's hate, you see. It happens when a writer reads a book that's really, really good. I just sit here hating the book, the author, all while I'm really, really marveling at it.

Think I'm alone? Hemingway felt that way...

Gil: I would like you to read my novel and get your opinion.
Ernest Hemingway: I hate it.
Gil: You haven't even read it yet.
Ernest Hemingway: If it's bad, I'll hate it. If it's good, then I'll be envious and hate it even more. You don't want the opinion of another writer.

Well, this comes from the movie Midnight in Paris, but it's still true.

Seriously, Embedded is good cutting-edge scifi. The first moment I hated it was when some journalists said the work "freeking®". That's right, with the register mark behind it. Finally the main character asks about it - it's a "sponsored expletive". Turns out that the government office behind the journalists being there wanted to broadcast to a wide audience but didn't want to have to bleep everything. So they gave the journalists "ling mods" (linguistic mods, i.e. changed their brain wiring) so they would say "freeking®" every time they swore a blue streak. And "freeking" is such a weak word - it just fits, and you could see corporations actually doing that, registering an expletive. Bloody beautiful.

I hate it.

So the book is about a once-famous-but-going-to-pot journalist who gets into something that looks like a war zone - not civil disturbance, not terrorism or anything humans have seen for three hundred years, but a war. A real shooting war. And to get that cutting-edge story, the journalist gets his consciousness injected (via new cutting-edge technology) into a soldier's head (totally illegal, but there's a little cash on the side, and what harm can come from it?)

Except that the soldier takes a disabilitating head wound, and now the journal's mental presence is all that's keeping this staggering body going.

The story rolls along with us finding out along the way who's behind the war, how it's going, and more hints as to why it started. I'll give Abnett this, his combat scenes will have you ducking when the shots are flying, and his dialog feels pretty much like soldier talk. So, man, do I hate him.

If I've got a complaint, I began to suspect what was behind the war about fifty pages short. It's a bit of a old-school reason, and I was hoping he'd come up with something new. It's a shame since everything was new and fresh, but the wrapup was a bit of an old chestnut.

But still, I hated this book. And I strongly recommend that you go out and get a copy - you'll hate it too!



Last Updated on Saturday, 18 August 2012 21:11
The Odyssey (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 09 August 2012 20:10

Odysseus' household is in trouble, worse than an upside down mortgage. See, this King of Ithaca has been away in the Trojan war for nine years, then missing for another decade. Convinced that he is dead, a hundred suitors for his wife Penelope's hand have flooded his hall, working through the larder like cockroaches, threatening his son Telemacus. They are insistent to wed Penelope (not for her beauty, which appears to have held up well into her mid-thirties (if not later), but for Odysseus' riches).

She's already started one gambit, claiming that she needs to finish sewing a funeral pall for her father-in-law, claiming she'll pick one of the bores once she completes it. Years go by before they realize that she's been sewing by day and unraveling by night. Suckers.

Telemacus, meanwhile, has launched a private expedition, attempting to gain world of his missing Pappy (like Popeye, in a way). The suitors, not wishing him back, stake out a narrow strait, intending to deep-six the troubling youth. And where the hell in all this is Odysseus?

See, I thought this book would be a Sinbad the Sailor sort of thing (which I've read), where he goes from adventure to adventure, all while losing crews to horrible disasters (who would want to work for these guys?). And yes, we do get some of Odysseus' alibi (he and his crew getting trapped by the cyclops, of the cyclops eating a couple of them (See???), of him tricking it and putting out its eye, of them sneaking away. This angers HIS pappy, Poseidon, who makes Odysseus' life a seagoing hell. Several crews later, he finally manages to get home.

And this is where the book really caught me. With the help of Athena the Goddess, he disguises himself as a beggar. After being reunited with his son, he sneaks into his own house. And now the epic king plays it crafty. Odysseus takes his time, shuffling about like Pig Pen, being buffeted and humiliated (and taking names). Soon will come the accounting. Soon will come the payback. And when it comes, it's godlike.

I won't say this is an easy read. The story hops back and forth between the present and the story-telling past. Also, people tell their backstories over and over. And there are those poetic memory tricks (used in a more verbal day) for describing the wine-dark sea, the dark-hulled ships, the bronze-gleaming dawn, dialogs of winged words.

Different time. Different storytelling. But still a must-read for anyone curious about the origin's of western plot devices and narrative pace. I enjoyed it, I'm glad I read it, but like the true Odyssey, I'm glad it's over.

Have a look.


Last Updated on Thursday, 09 August 2012 20:42
Perdido Street Station (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 05 August 2012 10:00

So you’re sitting around one night, poised in that indecisiveness readers occasionally flounder into. What next? Science Fiction? Steam Punk? Magic? Fantasy?

Why not all of them, wrapped together in a plot which chafes so delightfully?

China Miéville is a London author – it shows. His city of New Crobuzon is a sprawling, dangerous, vibrant, cruel place, a fun-house mirror image of London. Steam-technologies work. Magic (in a limited yet practical form) works. The city is a melting pot of story types and urban fears. Presumably New Crobuzon has a positive side, a side of decent people, quiet suburbs, theaters and museums. But hanging around with the likes of Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, we never get to them. No, we base our stay in the dirty sections of town.

Where London seems to be coping with interracial issues, New Crobuzon faces problems of interspecies. There are cactus men, winged Garuda, and Khepris (along others), all living in their sections of town, all bringing down each other’s property values. In fact, our main character Isaac is dating across the species line, taking a khepri lover (who has a woman’s body and a bug for a head – creepy). But he gets along with Lin well enough, and he’s got his interests, specifically the difficult assignment of fabricating wings on a Garuda who’d had them sawn off for some unspeakable crime against his people.

The thing I loved about Perdido Street Station (and its sister books, The Scar and Iron Council) is the scale. New Crobuzon is a sprawling city existing on a massive continent, surrounded by dozens of half-understood seas. 5000 miles away, there is another city and culture, but the New Crobuzonians hardly know anything about it. It is a world where pictures of dragons are drawn on maps, not in art but in warning. It’s a place where no matter how many steamer lines and telegraphs are thrown out, you can never know it all. It’s a gigantic world where everything is possible, everything discomforting, and everything is sinister.

Buggy Lin is asked to create art for a dangerous mob boss. And Isaac’s searches for an avionic solution to his Garuda’s problems are leading him down some dangerous paths. Slowly the truth unravels, truths about cationic victims found babbling in alleys, of the mob’s involvement with horrific winged creatures hunting across the city, of the government’s contact with demons. And when the black threads of the plot finally come together, the reality is almost too terrible to believe.

I liked China Miéville’s writing – it is a mixture of Victor Hugo and H.G. Wells, with a touch of Lovecraft to spice it. It’s long and sprawling and bombastic and unsettling. I can’t recommend it enough.


Not eveyrone likes him, it seems...

Last Updated on Sunday, 05 August 2012 10:09

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