Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Codex

Lev Grossman

Loved The Magician series by Grossman. This was OK. Maybe I was expecting magic. Instead, this is a pretty good mystery. Investment banker Edward is on a two week vacation before his promotion/transfer to London kicks in. He uses the time to get entangled in a wealthy clients search for a ancient text. Turns out, things just get weird. The book is somehow related to a super-realistic computer game he has just began playing. And a stuffy, Columbia grad student, expert in medieval literature becomes his unlikely partner in the search. Moving along at a quick pace to make sure we are never bored, but not enthralling like I want a mystery to be. Maybe if I hadn't been expecting magic...
Wait

Monday, June 27, 2016

Redshirts

John Scalzi

Fast, fun sci-fi. Scalzi introduces us to characters aboard the Universal Union's flagship spacecraft The Intrepid. Turns out to be remarkably similar to a bad version of the original Star Trek series. The redshirts of the title refers to the "expendable" crew member that always seems to accompany Kirk, Spock, Bones, etc. on an away team, and our protagonists are all redshirts. This is a fun novel that plays on the oft-discussed cheesy plot lines and ridiculous non-science that pops up in supposedly science fiction. Scalzi is able to integrate reminiscing about our favorite first sci-fi show with a story that actually capitalizes on both the good and bad of those shows. There is (probably intentionally) no serious depth of character here, but the story is clever. And while talking about breaking the 4th wall, Scalzi takes it one step further by breaking the 4th wall while talking about breaking the 4th wall. All very meta...
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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Morning Star

Pierce Brown
Book 3 of the Red Rising Trilogy

Darrow is imprisoned. Held and tortured for a year. The Rising is alive, but fractured. Darrow is sprung free while preparing to transit to Luna and the Rising is re-energized with the return of their leader. I will leave the details of the plot to you as a reader. What is particularly interesting is the struggle that the characters voice with revolution. Is there an alternate way? Is violence necessary? Or does "death beget death beget death..." as Sevro says? Brown takes some risks here in showing some thinking about the role of violence in any society and how to begin thinking about a new way. This is a serious struggle for the characters, and it is simultaneously subtle. I can imagine many readers not really interested in the motivations of the characters. But these motivations, and the ability of the characters to fundamentally change their world view, makes these strong characters, and gives serious weight to their struggles.

The second, less central but still telling theme, is the purported ideal foundation for society and government. Quicksilver makes a speech in the first third that suggests the only way to govern without defaulting to tyranny is to hold to pure capitalism. End of story. Nothing else is said and not discussion or alternative is laid out. And we (in the real world) know that pure capitalism and tyranny/empire by no means exclusive. So maybe a completely boring, action free fourth book in the series is needed in order to demonstrate how this pure capitalism/tyranny free society develops. What are the pre-requisites to create this sort of system? Free energy? Social safety net? Even making those suggestions are already outside the realm of pure capitalism.

Overall, this is a fabulous series, raising lines of thinking that make it fun to read science fiction.

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One Shot

A Jack Reacher Novel
Lee Child

This book opens with a setup of a seemingly random sniper shooting in a public square somewhere in central Indiana. The police are on the scene quickly, find the forensic clues and arrest a suspect within a few hours. Their physical evidence is indisputable. The suspect only says "You got the wrong man" and "Get me Jack Reacher". Then promptly gets beat up in jail and put into a coma. But Jack Reacher is already on his way, having seen the news of the event and having prior history with the suspect. Specifically, he had caught him having completed the near exact shooting spree over 14 years early as an army Sniper in Kuwait City. So Reacher came into town to make sure this guy was convicted for good. Begin mystery...

Just as a side note, I know that these are not great literature, but I think Lee Child knows this too. And still he has a way of communicating in a fun way. This sample particularly highlighted for me why I enjoy this writing style
He had more coffee and an English muffin filled with a round piece of ham and something that might have once been egg, first dried and powdered and then reconstituted. His threshold of culinary acceptability was very low, but right then he felt he might be pushing at the bottom edge of his personal envelope.
Brilliant. This was also the book that was the basis for the film Jack Reacher. I had not read any of the Reacher novels then, but having read many now, how did Tom Cruise get cast? Not even close.

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Friday, May 20, 2016

The Hard Way

A Jack Reacher Novel
Lee Child

Reacher is sitting at a street table at a NY city coffee shop. He sees a guy cross the street, get in a car and drive away. An hour later a guy comes in to ask questions about what he saw. Now he is involved in a kidnap/ransom for a leader of a black-ops paramilitary organization. Reacher needs to find the truth of what is going on. With all the former military (US and British) on site, who can he trust, what is the purpose of this ultra-secretive group, and why does Reacher feel like he has to stick around to help. The helpless girl of course. It is the leaders wife and daughter who are kidnapped and something doesn't seem right. And Reacher gets his customary hot,former FBI, detective assistant to covertly work the case with him. The hard way of the title refers to the investigative method that is needed in this case. No big breaks, no electronic or computer solutions to generate them. So every little bit of information or clue seems to be dug out of hard work and effort, piecing things together one bit at a time. Old School.

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Monday, May 16, 2016

Wicked Appetite

Janet Evanovich

A new series by Evanovich. I liked the Fox & O'Hare series, and now reading this, I can see how it is also in her style, but more extreme. Set in Salem Massachusetts, a young woman (Lizzy) is approached and told that she has a special ability to find things. She is asked to help her new friend (Diesel) find some charms that will lead to finding one of seven stones that represent the seven deadly sins. The catch is that when Lizzy finds one and is near it, she starts taking on those characteristics. Hence the Wicked Appetite title when searching for the gluttony stone. Not a bad premise, but I am not the target audience for this series based on the tone. Not sure what the genre is for books, but I would characterize this as Slapstick. Goofy, wacky language, just a bit too silly to the point of being annoying... to me.
Skip

Monday, May 9, 2016

Bad Luck and Trouble

A Jack Reacher Novel
Lee Child

Reacher is in the Northwest when he gets a call from one of his former team members to meet him in California. The old gang is getting together. It is nearly a decade since he left the Army and his unit of MP Special Investigators. But that unit was a tight knit group who developed trust over their two years of working together. This novel is telling of a present day crisis, but really it gives more background on Reachers history with the 110th MP and who he is than a flashback novel would. We see the mutual respect of each of his team for him and for each other. We see the old habits come back as they work together, picking up as if the decade hadn't passed. What brings the group together, unfortunately, is the murder of some of their unit. So the rest of the unit comes in (or is pulled in) to investigate. No one messes with the Special Investigators. And of course, add in a little bit of international terrorism in the post 9/11 world to keep things interesting.

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