Book Review: Freehold - Michael Z. Williamson (2004)

by fwhagen Mon, 21 December 2009

Well, I am not afraid to admit that the only reason I picked up this book was because it was a free ebook on Baen’s website.  I think.  It was a long time ago.  I read a recommendation of it somewhere, probably on John Scalzi’s Whatever weblog site, and decided I had nothing to lose.  Besides, I was looking for a well-formatted ebook to try out on my PDA using MobiReader.

Freehold is old-school Science Fiction in the vein of Heinlein and Drake.  It follows the desperate escape from Earth of Sergeant Kendra Pacelli of the UN Military after being framed in an embezzlement scheme.  She finds herself on Freehold after seeking asylum at their Earth-side embassy and is overwhelmed by extreme culture shock.  What seems to me to be the ultimate Libertarian Utopia, is a unrestricted nightmare for someone who grew up in the authoritarian, politically correct, dystopian future that the modern world seems to be trending toward.  We get to follow her adjustment to a personally responsible, high-technology life on a world devoted to the freedom of the individual. 

It is difficult to preview this book without giving much away, so I won’t go into it much.  While it seems that it could be rather proselytizing, it really is able to keep it down to a minimum.  As I am a big fan of smaller government, the concept of Freehold, an individuals’ liberty and government minimization greatly appealed to me, and was essential to the storyline, but only was used that far and not to bludgeon the reader with political badgering.  The only major problem I had with the book was its length.  Because it was so long, it took awhile for anything to really get going.  I read this on my PDA, but read something on the order of 10 other books in the meantime, going back over a year.  Not that it was boring, but just a bit slow in the beginning.  But not to worry, it really picks up at the end and I ended up with a few really late nights to finish it.  A good read made great by its availability, and it served it’s purpose:  I will pick up more from this author in the future.

Keywords:

Filed Under: Books

Book Review: Alas, Babylon - Pat Frank (1959)

by fwhagen Fri, 25 September 2009

Ok, last review was a little over the top.  I should have called it:  The 21st Century's Alas, Babylon.  This book is credited as inspiration to One Second After and with good reason.  Having never read it, I thought it was time.

"The Day" is the one when the bombs fall.  Although we meet our hero Randy Bragg, native of Central Florida (just north of Orlando), and his brother Mark, who serves in Intelligence for SAC, a few weeks before.  Mark warns Randy of an impending attack and sends his wife and kids to stay with him to weather the threat, giving them all some time to prepare.  The threat is realized when the morning skies are lit up in the direction of Tampa, then less so from Daytona and Miami.  And all doubt is erased when the nuclear strike on Orlando itself and the resulting mushroom cloud is unmistakable.  The rest of the book is the story of a small community fighting for survival in the Florida "Contaminated Zone".

Set in the late '50s, it has an interesting perspective for me, knowing Orlando 30 years later.  The references to McCoy Air Force Base (now Orlando International Airport), Pinecastle and the St. John's River are enjoyable and interesting landmarks.  This is also a well thought out and written book, although not as grim as One Second After, and the characters seemed a bit flat to me as well.  Both these comments, though, are to be expected for a book written 50 years ago.  I found some details, such as the abundance of food, and the town rallying behind the leadership of a man all felt previously to be a amusing playboy, to be disappointing.  But it was a very enjoyable read and was significant for its times, if not so much today.

Keywords:

Filed Under: Books

Book Review: One Second After - William R. Forstchen (2009)

by fwhagen Thu, 24 September 2009

And now, the book heralded across the Internet as a must read.  One that eclipses most other novels, and tainted my perception of previous reads (Sorry J.F.Lewis).  It was referenced by Techo-geeks, Military writers and SciFi fans.  How could I not read it?  I ended up getting a copy from the local library and consumed it in little over a week.

One Second After actually starts a couple days before.  Then suddenly, the power goes out, most cars stop, and all electronics go dead. And nobody knows why.  Retired USArmy Colonel John Matherson has a pretty good suspicion having to do with high-altitude EMP burst attacks over the United States, but with no communications with anyone in earshot, who can tell?  What follows is a chillingly realistic look at how devastating the total disruption of electricity would be to our country.  The entire novel is set around the people in a small North Carolina community struggling to survive in conditions 100 years gone.

This is one of the most disturbing book I have ever read.  At the same time, it was very well written and executed.  I felt for the characters, identified with them, feared for them.  I will be buying this book for myself later, it was so good.  I have recommended it to everyone into technology and anyone who feels "safe" from foreign threats.  This is "Red Dawn" of the 21st Century.

Keywords:

Filed Under: Books

Book Review: ReVamped - J. F. Lewis (2009)

by fwhagen Wed, 23 September 2009

I've gotten way behind and am having a hard time remembering what I've read. First up, though, is the sequel to Staked. Again, I bought this for the wife, but since I enjoyed it so much, I wanted to read ReVamped too.

ReVamped continues where Staked left off. Eric, a newly undead but powerful vampire with a bit of a memory problem, struggles to overcome the "Problems" incurred at the end of the first book and find answers to who and what he is. And find out who is responsible and exact some revenge. Definitely a fun story!

I was really impressed by Book 1, but not so much by this one. It's not that it wasn't good, because it was. Just not great. I came away feeling that it was a continuation of an ongoing story and didn't really resolve anything important. Maybe it was me and I had too high expectations. We'll see how the wife likes it...

Keywords:

Filed Under: Books

Book Review: Rules of Prey - John Sandford (1989)

by fwhagen Wed, 03 June 2009

Some time ago, I came across my old friend Tom Cavanagh online and discovered he is a writer. I read his first 2 books and really enjoyed them both. I don't usually enjoy crime novels, but someone lent me this book, and because I enjoyed Tom's books so well, and because Sandford is the pseudonym of the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Roswell Camp, I tried it out.

Lucas Davenport is a celebrated police detective in the Minneapolis area who is renowned for using his intellect and game building skills to crack cases. He is brought in to solve a series of seemingly unconnected murders that have all been "signed" by a single killer's messages to the cops. Davenport is forced to out-think a killer who obviously is familiar with forensics and police procedure in order to bring the killer in. What results is a good, rarely predictable investigation that pits mind against mind in a struggle to be top game master.

Ok, I'm still not a fan of crime novels. But I did enjoy this one. It was a mix of the TV shows CSI, Criminal Minds, and Psych. Actually, I couldn't get the image of Lassiter from Psych out of my mind during passages about Davenport, although his actions were more James Bond than Lassy. This was a good diversion, if not a great book. It remains to be seen if I read more of the series (19 books!).

Keywords:

Filed Under: Books

Book Review: Heechee Rendezvous - Frederik Pohl (1984)

by fwhagen Wed, 03 June 2009

Heechee Rendezvous is book 3 of the classic Heechee Saga of Frederik Pohl.  While Gateway is a very different read, the second of the saga was more mainstream than its predecessor.  And HR is good solid modern Science Fiction.

Again, we join Robinette Broadhead, the even richer billionaire of the Gateway saga. But this time, right from the start, we learn of the alien race known to the humans as Heechee. The main storyline begins with a down-and-out pilot on one of the Gateway planets who decides to work his way back to Earth on a transport ship after his young wife leaves him to go exploring with the castway Han from the 2nd book. On the voyage home, he discovers evidence that the Heechee are still around and can be found, so his plans change to confront Broadhead with a plan to do so. Meanwhile, Han has found the black hole that changed Robin's life so dramatically in the first book and rescued Robin's lost love as a consequence. Both these actions alert and trigger the emergence of the Heechee into Human space, along with a warning of the Assassins who may be awakened to return and destroy all life in the universe.

Final answers in the Heechee Saga are not answered here. We are obviously led up to a conclusion in the final book Annals of the Heechee. This was a good read and Pohl's grasp of science and technology is, again, very refreshing, especially this volumes examination of Artificial Intelligences and the question of storage of human intellect.  I am really enjoying reading this series and look forward to the final book.

Keywords:

Filed Under: Books

Book Review: To Fly & Fight -- Memoirs of a Triple Ace - Clarence E. Anderson (1990)

by fwhagen Mon, 01 June 2009

I finished this book some time ago, but delayed the review of it because I was not sure how to do it properly.  Every once in a long while, I will read a book that is so good, so meaningful, that it can change perceptions.  This may very well be one of those books.  While watching an episode of Dogfights on the History Channel, I learned of Bud Anderson who flew the famous Old Crow P-51 Mustang in Europe during WWII.  So I looked him up online and discovered he had written a book.

I grew up believing, and well into adulthood, that Chuck Yeager was probably the greatest (American) pilot of all time.  But Yeager himself disagrees:  He names Bud Anderson that pilot.  He is the only combat pilot in WWII to achieve triple ace (17 kills) and never get hit.  His tour of Europe never included a scrubbed mission due to his ability or aircraft.  He was incredibly lucky and extremely skilled.  The story of Clarence E. "Bud" Anderson reads like a novel but yet contains great technical and tactical data.  He grew up a poor farmer, joined up at the opening of the war, flew combat in Europe with one the first squadrons to be outfitted with the Mustang, was a wingman of Chuck Yeager and flight leader as well, a test pilot during the glory days at Edwards, and even flew combat during Vietnam in F-105s.  The man is a hero, deserves to be a legend, and still lives today.

To Fly and Fight is written in a humble voice, quick to give credit where due, not afraid to call it like he saw it, and reluctant to believe he is the great hero that he so evidently is.  The problem with writing a review of a book such as this, is not to come off sounding ridiculous, but that is a difficult feat.  I truly enjoyed this book, and have made it part of my permanent collection.

Keywords:

Filed Under: Books

Book Review: Beyond the Blue Event Horizon - Frederick Pohl (1980)

by fwhagen Wed, 28 January 2009

Sometimes I think this site is turning into a Book Review site instead of a technical site.  And in support of that concern is Beyond the Blue Event Horizon, book 2 of the classic Heechee Saga of Frederick Pohl.  While Gateway is a very different read, the second of the saga promises to be a bit odd, but more mainstream than its predecessor.  And is just so.

We join Robinette Broadhead again, but only as one of the primary players in the story.  More closely we follow the expedition to another artifact dubbed the Food Factory located in the Oort Cloud.  The expedition indeed finds a food processing facility but cannot get it to move closer to inhabited space.  They also find a surprising inhabitant:  A teenaged boy stranded there since birth.  Or rather stranded there and at another location they call Heechee Heaven.  And there the surprises are even greater.

The Heechee Saga is nearly as important to Science Fiction as the Foundation Trilogy and 2001 and its sequels.  If you read Dune and the Ringworld stories, you should read these.  But having said that, the books really are not that great to read.  The stories and the ideas in them certainly are, however, and has shaped much of modern SciFi.  At least in my mind.  Even 30 years later, I still think the AI entities in the books as pretty accurately modeled.  And his treatment of the vast distances within our own solar system is very refreshing.  I am really enjoying re-reading the series, although, I don't believe I have ever read the remaining books.  I am doing so now, but have also picked up some other material as well, so it may be awhile.

UPDATE: When writing up the sequel, I noticed I posted the wrong title for this book. It is now corrected.

Keywords:

Filed Under: Books

Book Review: Gateway - Frederick Pohl (1977)

by fwhagen Thu, 11 December 2008

Ah, the classics.  Occasionally, I will go back and re-read a book I haven't picked up in decades.  Gateway is such a book.  It has been so long, I couldn't even remember the plot.  Oh, I remembered the premise alright, but the details of the plot were lost to me.  This classic of Sci/Fi has spawned sequels, imitations and a pretty decent (1992) computer game. 

Gateway is the story of a reluctant explorer in the hunt for Heechee artifacts.  The Heechee were a race of ancients that left a space station, dubbed Gateway, complete with several hundred FTL ships.  Once discovered, they were quickly experimented with to find that although no one could figure out how to program them, random combinations of the controls would send a ship out and return to Gateway automatically.  Untold riches awaited volunteers who could ride the ships and return with more artifacts, if any are to be found.  Of course, many dangerous and fatal things were on the other end of the trips, and chnaging the controls mid-flight meant certain death.  Our hero is one of the volunteers who must overcome his very reasonable fears and make some trips out.

Gateway is told from a split perspective.  We know that the protagonist is ultimately successful, as he is very wealthy and undergoing therapy, the primary vehicle of the plot.  However, the therapy hints at horrible trauma and the deaths on his conscience.  The well executed plot leads to a suspected, yet surprising ending that is very satisfying.  There are many reasons why this is a classic, and well justified.

Keywords:

Filed Under: Books

Book Review: Zoe's Tale - John Scalzi (2008)

by fwhagen Fri, 14 November 2008

This is a novel approach:  Take your last book, which was really quite good, and retell it from the perspective of a supporting character.  Scalzi's latest book, Zoe's Tale, does just that.  What's more, the supporting character is the sarcastic teenaged daughter of the protagonists in The Last Colony.  Of course, being Scalzi, I ordered and read it in hardcover.

This is the parallel of the last book in the John Perry storyline.  Zoe is the adopted teenaged daughter of John Perry and his ex-SpecialOps wife Jane Sagan who are asked to be the administrators of a new colony.  She must leave behind everything she has known, again, because the colony, named Roanoke, will be hidden, or lost, from everyone.  She must survive with the rest of the colony as the Conclave of Worlds comes after the colonists to destroy them for violating their non-compete edicts.  Oh, and also needs to deal with an entire race of aliens who hold her in the highest reverence for the acts of her biological father.

If you have not read The Lost Colony, do not read this book.  I could only imagine what it must seem like to a non-fan.  It does stand alone, but is not the voice of John Scalzi at his best.  It is, however, extremely entertaining to one familiar with the storyline.  Zoe is sarcastic, cynical, cruel in a teenage-girl way, and very funny.  She is a very endearing character to someone who appreciates some of those qualities.  This may be a fan-service book, but I am very happy to have it in my collection.

Keywords:

Filed Under: Books

TextBox

RecentPosts