Review: Marking Territory

Marking Territory
Marking Territory by Daniel Potter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First off, I need to point out that I was given an advanced reader copy of this novel for free in exchange for an honest review. But, my reviews are always honest, so…

Things in Grantsville are getting really complicated. They were complicated enough already, but now…

Thomas Khatt, Freelance Familiiar, and his pal Rudy, the Pyrotechnic Squirrel, are on a quest to earn enough magic currency (tass) to help their friend O’Meara recover from her injuries suffered on the first novel in the series. Thomas allies himself with the Technomagi ‘friends’ he’s made in order to achieve his goal quickly, but is pulled into the war of Houses and Cabals that form the politics of the world behind the Veil. Thomas soon finds that his own moral compass is still out of alignment with the Magi, both friend and foe, who soon engage in a turf war that threatens the lives of all the residents of Grantsville.

This sequel is an action packed romp from start to finish. From fire elemental powered hot air balloons, to squirrel piloted robots, to a love affair between a mountain lion and a were-wolf turned were-cow, to… well just read the book. If you have not read the first book in the series, I highly recommend that you go read it first, though. And you should read it because it is amazing! The world of magic is very complicated, and you learn much of this in the first novel. You will need that information coming in to this book, because it gets even MORE complicated here.

You learn more about various forms that the magic can take and how the various planes of magic are used, and how they affect the environment around them. You learn of the major Houses and the intrigue and politics they employ. You find out some new MAJOR secrets. In fact, that was probably the one ‘issue’ I had with the novel because it set so much stuff on its head. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what it is without spoiling, so you’ll have to read for yourself. Despite that fact, you also learn tiny snippets of various ideas that will make you want to read the next one just to see more.

I give this book 4 stars, and call it a Fantastic Read!
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Review: Oath of Fealty

Oath of Fealty
Oath of Fealty by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oath of Fealty is a dated, but not outdated, science fiction story of what might happen to a large group of individuals if they were to live inside a self-contained (mostly) arcology (city sized) in the midst of modern society. Modern society being one guessed at by the authors from the perspective of 1980. Keep that in mind.

I must preface this review with a rant to anyone who judges or reviews older books based solely on their own modern perceptions of society. If it is twenty or more years older than you, the author’s mind-set will not have existed in the same world you do. Adjust your pre-suppositions before reading. Think of the era ‘in which it was written’ along with the story itself.

IT IS NOW ON A DIFFERENT TIMELINE THAN YOU.

You cannot write a book about the future and get everything right. Also, you cannot read a book written thirty-six years ago and expect it to be a match for your current social setup anymore. When you choose to read a book this old, you must adjust your expectations and try to wrap your mind around the world as it was when it was written. If you cannot do that, then don’t bother picking up any book older than 15 years. And, for that matter, skip science fiction altogether because it requires you to use your imagination, and sometimes (God forbid!) willingly suspend your disbelief and repress your ‘triggers’. History happened whether you like it or not. You can’t read Shakespeare and judge his work to be crap because he comes across a misogynist to you. The same must (not optional) be applied to reading any work that was published some time ago.

This is one of those books.

Now I can get back to the review. I picked up ‘Oath of Fealty’ after a re-release of the e-book went on sale, and I realized it was a Niven/Pournelle that I had not yet read. If you have not read these two authors (collaboratively &/or individually) I feel both excited and sorry for you. You have some superb reading that you could tackle, but at the same time, a lot of it will be dated, like this book is, simply due to the passage of time. Go read them anyway!

This novel is of a near future (that spun off of the year 1980/81 when it was written). The setting is the city of Los Angeles. A riot destroyed a large portion of the city which consequently allowed the development of a corporately sponsored arcology. Todos Santos is a huge walled edifice, a skyscraper the size of a city, that stockholders may buy a share in and live their lives there. It is a place that is under nearly constant surveillance – including in apartments if needed for emergencies – that affords the occupants a premium on safety at the expense of privacy. Over time, this trade-off has become a non-issue for them. They have become used to it. Also, the corporate nature of the complex means that a distinct strata of individual privilege is present. This too is accepted by the residents as perfectly fine. Why do they think it’s fine? Because, simply put, the guards and the higher-ups technically work for them. People who have domestic servants don’t care if they know their comings and goings, right? The book’s title originates from a reporter character who does a documentary on the arcology and compares it to a feudal society. The residents have sworn an Oath of Fealty to the leader, granting him high privileges in exchange for protection.

Outside the walls of this community is the city of Los Angeles with its high crime-rates, poverty, and very jealous individuals in politics that resent the success of Todos Santos (and its independence, and their lack of influence on it, etc.) The arcology does not pay taxes to L.A. which was part of the deal at the start of its development, so this is really irksome for the politicians. The All Saints in the middle of the City of Angels is only for those who accept its constraints on the inside, and those on the outside mostly despise it, even though the symbiotic relationship that has developed also keeps industry and development flowing to them. The regular residents of Los Angeles feel this way too, but also want to be part of it at the same time. They want the benefits, but without the necessity of conformance.

Also, a militant faction of Eco Terrorists is seeking to disrupt – and destroy, if possible – the arcology. Despite the good the arcology has done for the environment, and how green it is (it is almost self-contained and recycles everything) they believe it (and other concept arcologies) to be a crime against humanity. Their socialist ideal is that the arcology takes from the poor and concentrates the riches of society in the hands of the privileged few. A very socialist dogma for the bad guys, certainly, which is to be expected from a book written at the tipping point of the cold war era from two authors with a conservative bent.
So, that’s the setup of the novel. The characters are not deep. The novel was written to showcase the concept of this arcology idea. The plot was created to give the reader a way to learn about it. The characters were written around this plot to bring the story to life.
Even so, it works. The story is entertaining. You do have to read about eighty percent of it before it becomes a page turner, but still, I like some good world-building.

Probably the neatest thing I found in this novel was that some concepts of the science were spot on and didn’t even click as ‘futuristic’ until I stopped and thought about what existed when it was written. Let me give some examples of things that happened in 1980/81, but were still futuristic to this book:

  • Ronald Reagan was first elected as President of the United States.
  • MS-DOS was released and used in IBM’s new Personal Computer (PC)

Today, most of us have cell phones that are more powerful. The book mentions at one point using a data printout of a whopping 25 megabytes (staggering!) to delay the local police.

  • NASA launched Columbia, the first Space Shuttle put into orbit.

Some of the residents of Todos Santos work from home with tele-operated devices that run machines in greater Los Angeles, and one even operates a bulldozer in a construction project on the moon.

  • Rhodesia gained its independence and became the state of Zimbabwe.

Used as a plot device in the later book. Zimbabwe today is a collapsed failed society.

  • Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was released in theaters.

The book mentions Star War Episode VIII where a character mocks Han Solo’s science. We all know what really happened to Han in Episode VII!

Those are just a few things that jumped out at me.

In this novel, Todos Santos is managed by several executives who are very good at their jobs. Part of their success stems from their ability to link with the central computer system via implant technology in their brains. This is a huge futuristic tech item, even for today. However, one of the benefits of this tech that was given was the ability of this computer system to keep track of everyone within the complex. It let the guards be able to track down and deliver messages to and from residents if needed. This was ‘amazing’ in regards to the book at the time it was published, but we all know that today we would not need guards to do that… we’d use our cell phones! Another advantage of the implants was the ability to mentally talk to other implant users via the computer. That’s pretty awesome, and still ‘advanced tech’ for today, but we can also send e-mail and text messages, so we are not that far off the mark.

Another idea in the book that has never taken root in today’s world was making use of icebergs as a source of fresh drinking water. I don’t know the feasibility of that particular idea is today, but I think the environmentalist would probably throw a fit about shrinking the ice shelf or stealing habitat from the polar bears or something. It would sure help with that drought in Cali though!

The mega city slide-walk moving from walking speed up to fifty MPH in graded strips would be a nightmare to implement as well. OSHA would have puppies and kittens at the mere thought of something like that being used by people. And the lawsuits when someone got hurt… I shudder to think.

The self-sufficient and self-contained arcology has also never been tried on this scale (to my knowledge), but I can say that I personally would not want to live in one. Then again, I wouldn’t want to be an Angelino in a crowded crime ridden cityscape either. I’ll stick to the backwoods, thanks!

One last concept in the book (which is oddly coincidental to what is in the news at the time I write this review), touches on race relations of the time, but more specifically on the US versus THEM mentality. In this case Angelinos versus Saints. What is justice from the perspective of one group is often seen as the opposite of justice from the perspective of another. We have this same issue ongoing in America today. That seems not to have changed much in thirty-six years. That is sad, but also could be seen as a lesson that speaks to the failure of the more liberal ideas of crime and punishment in our society. A lack of respect for authority and the rights of others, along with a refusal to enforce effective punishment leads to tragedy and discontent for all. The book depicts a situation in which people committing a criminal act are killed, but those with tighter ties to them are convinced that they were the victims of the out-of-control authorities of the arcology. The arcology is just as adamant that they were defending themselves from harm. This is an eerie coincidence to what I have witnessed in the news recently. Thirty-six years is a long time to fail in the same way without trying something different. The differences of opinion continue, though, because those who support the liberal side believe we just need more of the same because we haven’t tried hard enough. Conversely, those on the other side of the spectrum have gotten to the point that they just don’t care. As in this novel, the only end result is a sharp divide in societies that cannot be effectively healed. Again, a sad thought.

Anyway, the science and social concepts explored in this book, including the idea of a separate culture developing inside the arcology itself, are very interesting. I don’t know if all of it would go the way presented, but some of it undoubtedly would. I found the novel to be entertaining and mentally engaging, even if it is somewhat dated by its cold war era origins. I give it 3 stars and call it a Good Ole Read.

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Review: DarkShip Thieves

DarkShip Thieves
DarkShip Thieves by Sarah A. Hoyt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

DarkShip Thieves is an entertaining read, but it is not really my taste. Although I like the space adventure, and the genetics behind the world-building, I found it to be much more about the emotions of the main characters. Some may like that, but I found it to be too thick for me. Especially since Athena’s refusal to see the obvious made me want to face-palm constantly. Especially, especially since it was usually her own inner monologue hinting at it over and over (and over) again. Another quirk of character that was hard for me to swallow was that she is super-callous at first, but is saved by love… meh, that’s a bit too tropish for me, or maybe I’m just a guy and don’t get it.

There is also a frequent requirement to accept that certain things work because…well… reasons. It just exists. That’s fine, I can willingly suspend disbelief for the sake of a tale, but do it over and over and I get bored. I like to think about the science in my science fiction… otherwise it is ‘magic’ and then I’m reading fantasy, which is a whole other path for me to go down mentally.

The story was a good one, but it never focused on the parts I was hoping it would. There is a whole history in the backstory that begs to be explored. Maybe the sequels do, but I have more books to read than time, so I may never get to them.

All told, I’m glad to have read the book. I like the author. I follow her blog, which I highly recommend. And I plan to read other works by her. The Shifter series has gotten my attention and may be added to my queue soon. So, I give this one 3 stars and call it a Good, But Not My Flavor Read.

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Poképlague

Poképlague

A short story by

J.D. Beckwith

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Poképlague. It sounds ridiculous. Six months ago it was the most absurd random thought I had on a particular Tuesday, so I jokingly posted it on Facebook.  When the first cases started turning up in the hospitals, I quickly removed it, but the MiBs apparently have copies of the internet on their hard-drives that they don’t tell anyone about. That’s how I spent the last week of July staring at either bright white walls or really unfriendly faces, repeatedly begging people to believe me when I told them I was a complete ignoramus.

Fortunately, or rather unfortunately, the problem became worse and circumstances devolved to a point where my ignorance was proven beyond a shadow of doubt. The plan was too complex and too well executed to have any real connection to me. So, I got sent home to wait out the apocalypse with all the other huddling masses. This was actually lucky for me as I was never exposed until the vaccine was developed.

I remember watching the news (from the internet, of course… where else can you find unbiased truth! #sarcasm) as the ‘officials’ scrambled to create the most convincing ‘don’t panic’ lie while having them disproved almost immediately online. The conspiracy theorists got it right this time though. The Pokémon GO craze that erupted right at the end of summer had all the kiddos out walking the streets looking to boost their Gymkhana scores.  All the while, the PokéStops were being used as high exposure points for some custom virus. They tracked those back after the CDC finally realized they could use social media as a free think-tank. The idea was finally investigated (too late, of course) and they found a few that hadn’t fully expended their payloads, shutting them down.  Most were already dry, having already entered the population in a massive way.

The incubation period was just long enough that the first symptoms didn’t start showing until the new school year (in the U.S.) was well under way. For kids, if you weren’t into Pokémon GO, you would be, or be socially shunned.  This ensured all the infected kids with the most captured e-critters were the ‘it crowd’, especially when the ‘trade feature’ in-app purchase was released.  Now to trade, all you had to do was be buddies and swap air-space with that cool infected kid who had the moka-frappa-latte-izard! And so, teens and pre-teens became the delivery vehicle for the worst plague in recent human history.

And then, the digital back-stab happened. By the time the ‘officials’ realized what was happening and forced the app to be shut down, the DigiMon Virus had infected over ninety-three percent of all digital devices in the world. The only thing that was ever noticed was some e-mail breach thing they said they fixed.  Whoever hacked this code was much better than the code-monkeys at Nintendo, for sure! The Poképlague was roaring through the first world by this point. The death toll was growing increasingly large, which served as a huge distraction from the largest data-hack in the history of electrons. Who pays attention to the fact that their bank accounts are slowly being drained when little Timmy is bleeding from his eyes, and mommy’s not feeling so good herself, right?

So, all these people are dying – so many that the CDC says stay at home, shelter in place – and we end up with Marshall Law. Food stops getting delivered, power plant workers stop showing up to fix the lights, the cops stay home to keep looters out of their own living rooms, everything quickly goes to hell. No one notices the bad guys are now pillaging the digital credits of the dead, dying and distracted and funneling it into zillions of fake accounts under those same dead people’s names.

The terrorists are now super-rich. (and have enough voters on the roles to elect whomever they want, BTW, but that’s another conspiracy altogether). The Feds in the U.S. or internationally can’t find them because they don’t even know who’s alive or dead anymore.  Assuming said Feds are even at work themselves.  Pokémon don’t discriminate.  They choose you.

And here we are, our population ravaged, our fiscal infrastructure destroyed. The third world is starving because the farms we used to have don’t have living farmers anymore and can’t provide the hand-outs that were keeping them alive. How’s that working out for you Mr. Terrorist guy?

Anyway, that’s the way my tale goes, and how I remember it. There are millions out there who can’t tell theirs. We may never find out who was responsible, but at least we still have the internet and our freedom. We will recover. We will rebuild.

That’s all for today’s blog folks. I’m off to the doctor myself. I have got to get this stupid implant chip re-positioned… AGAIN! I know it keeps my identity safe, but why do these damn things have to make your forehead itch like fire! I think I’m going to move it to my arm.  Hey! There’s an idea for a poll… Where do you have your chip and what are the pros/cons to it! Let me know in the comments! Later peeps!

Review: One Second After

One Second After
One Second After by William R. Forstchen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book did two things for me. First, it scared the crap out of me, and secondly, it scared the give-a-crap out of me. What do I mean by such a redundantly crappy statement, you ask? Allow me to expound….

If we ever do experience a large scale EMP attack like the one described in this book… well, this little clip sums it up nicely.

[click here if can’t see the clip below]

Yeah, the book is written as a propaganda piece to an extent. I see that. I’m not stupid. I also realize that it is written to scare and to motivate (mostly to yell at your congress-critters, I suppose, but also to be prepared for survival). Well, it did scare me, but I’m afraid it demotivated me. I am fan of apocalyptic fiction, and have read a lot of it. I personally like to be prepared for natural disasters that might cause difficult times. I mean, Katrina did happen. Other things do happen locally. The events in this book though… all of the U.S. shut-down in an instant with no electric power (permanently for the most part), no working transportation (well, a bit, but not much), and for an extended period of time so that no food gets moved where it’s needed… Nope. I am not prepared. I cannot be prepared. I live in the wrong place, so if this happens, no matter how hard I try, I will only be postponing the inevitable. Thus, the demotivated give-a-crap-ectomy that I got from this book.


Now, don’t get me wrong, dear review reader, this book was a good book. It had a few foibles in the writing style that I had to forgive and grow accustomed to (yes, that’s a split infinitive, but I like it that way, so deal with it); however, the story was good. It was very emotional and sucked me in really quickly. It is already a bit dated, and the patriotic theme is layered on pretty thick. The main character is a retired colonel cum military history professor who is the only participating Yankee in a southern town’s Civil War reenactment group, so yes, he’s going to be pro Republic, and it’s going to show up. The characters are well developed, the plot and pacing are awesome, and I confess that twice the waterworks threatened. So if you like to be on the edge of your seat, have a good emotional pounding, and don’t mind your patriotic strings being played upon (if a bit out of tune), then you will find this book to be a page turner like I did.

That is why I give this one four stars and call it a Double-Edged Read.

Happy Reading!

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