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Review: Dragon’s Kin by Anne McCaffrey

September 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Dragon’s Kin is one of the more recent (relatively speaking) Dragonriders of Pern novels.  This book was coauthored by Anne McCaffrey’s son, Todd McCaffrey.

The focus on this book is the watch wher, the somewhat failed “cousin” to the magnificent dragons of Pern.  Set much earlier than the 6th Pass of the core “Dragonriders of Pern” novels, during an interval between passes of thread.

Kindan is the young son of a miner / watch wher handler.  Watch whers, who are able to see clearly in near dark, are being used in mines to detect “bad air” and to help locate miners who become trapped in cave-ins, almost a reptilian St. Bernard. If the mining camp can prove itself, a new Holding may be in the offing, but accidents and set-backs continue to plague it.

When Kindan’s father is killed in a mining accident along with his bonded wher, Kindan is assigned to the Masterharper. Ultimately, he must choose between his heart’s desire (to become a harper himself) and the needs of the community.

In my opinion, watch whers receive a bit of reconning treatment.  They are portrayed less like the ugly, twisted creatures of the earlier books — granted, however, their extreme loyalty to their Holders is admirable (recall the loyalty of the Ruatha Hold wher to Lessa) — and more like sturdy, likeable companions to their bondmates.  In this reconning, the authors demonstrate that whers can fly with their stunted wings, go between, and communicate telepathically.  The latter talent is greater than that of the fire lizards, but much less structured, intelligent, and self aware than the dragons themselves.

The companionship and the raising of a new wher is touching, however.  While I’m not sure that there is a whole story here, I found the book compelling and an interesting companion to the more dragon-centric novels.

4 1/2  out of 5 stars (finished August 31, 2011)

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Currently reading:  The Myriad by R.M. Meluch

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Review: The Skies of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

August 23, 2011 1 comment

The Skies of Pern is the last Dragonriders of Pern novel chronologically, a direct sequel to All the Weyrs of Pern and The Dolphins of Pern.  As such, Anne McCaffrey had to tie up some loose ends and provide a satisfactory yet open ended conclusion to the 2500+ year history:

  • What will the dragons and dragonriders do once thread no longer falls on Pern?
  • How will the technological advances offered by AIVAS be integrated into Pern society without losing the uniqueness of the colony?
  • How will the author treat F’lar and Lessa’s lives through the end of the current Pass?

All told, the book is satisfying, although I’d argue that the plot thread of the Abominators was rather weak and fizzled toward the end. Very anti-climatic.

I found that the fate of F’lessan and Golanth was one of the most moving of the series (along with the end of Moreta’s ride and the passing of Robinton and his fire lizard).  I thought it was dealt with very well and was somewhat overdue (the roles of the dragonriders are dangerous!).

I’m now curious to read the books that Anne McCaffrey and her son Todd McCaffrey wrote about the earlier Passes and Intervals. I think they’ll be interesting because I’ve now seen the dawn of the dragons in the early years of Pern’s colonization and the latter years when thread is eradicated; how effective can the writing be if the results have little to no impact on the future?

4  out of 5 stars (finished August 23, 2011)

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Currently reading:  The Clones of Mawcett by Thomas DePrima

Audible iPhone app

download

— added several screen shots 8/18/2011 from version 1.6.1 —

I started a subscription to Audible.com in August 2004 and have downloaded my 2 audiobooks each month since that time. I usually choose novels or books on history that either (1) I have read before and would likely re-read again and again or (2) books that I’d like to read, but might not have the time to do so.

I’ve now read about 150 books this way while driving between work and home, doing outside chores (mowing the lawn or blowing snow), or other household tasks.

In October 2010, I downloaded Audible’s iPhone/iPod app and having been using it exclusively ever since.  Rather than synching my iPhone via iTunes, I can download audiobooks wirelessly (not over 3G, however, since the app restricts this method over a specific size) and delete them from the device on the fly.

Great Features

  • Wireless download
  • The application maintains statistics of listening time (today, daily over the past week, monthly, and all time).  I really like this feature since it gives me a good sense of magnitude from month-to-month.

    Monthly stats

  • There is a “button-free” option which replaces the normal play screen similar to iTunes with a simpler version. Touch the screen to start and stop play, swipe left to rewind 30 seconds, right to move forward 30 seconds, and down to add a bookmark.  This is a great mode for listening in the car.
  • Early versions did not have a narration speed option, but the current one can change the speed of narration to .5X, 1.5X, 2X and 3X.  Very similar to iTunes audiobook options.

    badges

  • If you are into badges like Foursquare, the app offers those, too.  Examples:  weekend warrior, all nighter, binge listener, and 7-day stretch.

Bugs / Incomplete Features

  • The app is still a little buggy.  On occasion (too often, actually), the audiobook just stops and I have to restart the app.  I think this might occur when notifications are received from other iPhone apps.  Generally, however, the Audible app has saved my place so I only had to repeat 30-60 seconds at most.
  • The app doesn’t have functionality to store statistics on the Audible server, so if you have multiple devices or upgrade a device, you’ll lose your stats.

Since October 2010, I have listened for a total of 13 days, 17 hours, and 38 minutes.  Wow.

My monthly stats here.

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Review: Citadel by John Ringo


Ringo continues his Troy Rising trilogy in this direct sequel to Live Free or Die.

In Citadel, the reader is introduced to two new POV characters:  Dana “Comet” Parker , an engineer turned shuttle pilot, and “Butch” Allen, a space-vacuum welder. While some readers may be put off by two seemingly irrelevant protagonists, I found it rather refreshing. In many space opera series, the authors often concentrate too heavily on the high profile strategists and charismatic action figures (like Vernon Tyler in the first book) with all of the many talented officers, engineers, construction workers, military grunts, etc. as mere bit players…if mentioned at all. But here, Ringo can answer the reader’s questions about null-G training, construction complications, and hazards of “the dark of space” without resorting to info dumps.  And while Vernon is definitely the moving hand and mind behind the defense of Earth, he couldn’t do it without these people. It’s similar to my enjoyment of the Star Wars X-Wing and Wraith Squadron novels rather than Jedi story after Jedi story.

For those who miss the Tyler character, he makes a strong presence in the second half of the book.

After finally forcing Earth’s erstwhile benefactors, the Glatun, to support Earth against the Horvath who were menacing the planet and demanding tribute in exchange for not dropping devastating missiles on major cities, a new alien race turns its eyes on Earth. It’s a race against time whether Earth can rebuild it’s defenses, complete several battlestations, and develop a new source for energy after an embargo. The Glatun had clandestinely released much of their technological plans to Earth (having determined that the Sol system might ultimately be their salvation since the Rangora/Horvath alliance would target them first), but it is all up to Earth including Vernon Tyler’s companies, the US led defense department, and the civil government.

Some other thoughts:

  • This book is a lot less hard science than the previous one, which was a relief to me, and much more character driven. I did find the military and corporate acronyms to be a bit annoying. I swear there were whole sentences of nothing but random letters.
  • I did enjoy a peek of the Rangora strategy, both militarily and bureaucratically. Although perhaps not alien per se, these kind of machinations are always fun to me.
  • I liked the discussion about Rangora confusion about Earth wars.  Why are certain battles (the last stand at Thermopylae and the Alamo) celebrated when the battles themselves were lost?  Why don’t Terran “tribes” utterly destroy their enemies (World Wars) and even rebuild them (US and Japan)?

The series concludes with recently released The Hot Gate.

4 out of 5 stars (finished June 19, 2011)

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Currently reading: Dragonsdawn by Anne McCaffrey & Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

Review: Live Free or Die by John Ringo

I picked up Live Free or Die by John Ringo on a whim, partially because of the ancient Greek references in the name of the Series (Troy Rising) and the final book, The Hot Gate, (a reference, I presume, to the Battle of Thermopylae).

This first book introduces first contact by an alien culture who essentially parks a wormhole-type gate in the Sol system, stating that other alien races can now visit Earth with impunity, however and whenever they want.  Humans must carve out their place among the other races (1) whose technology is much in advance of our own and (2) who see limited value in the resources that Earth can supply.  With limited to no trade goods, Earth may be condemned to remain a technological backwater and subject to extortion and tyrrany.

Typically, the Earth’s governments have difficulty dealing with the new normal, so it is up to a down-on-his-luck IT analyst and science fiction web cartoonist, Tyler Vernon, to find a way out of the mess.  Vernon plays the trade economics game better than others:  he uses his intergalactic fame with one alien trader to identify an unlikely trade good, negotiates good terms and organizes Terran corporations to parlay his new wealth into a viable enterprise, and develops a multi-year strategy to throw off the yoke of alien extortionist so that humankind can be the authors of their own destiny, in spite of ourselves.

Vernon is smart, creative, and visionary, and has the guts to back up his work.  He doesn’t suffer bureaucracy lightly, whether that be a government agency, the president of the United States, or corporate big-wigs.  The one issue I had is that Vernon is almost too competent.  Ringo explains some of Vernon’s vision and quick-reading ofa situation through his work on his comic book work, where he had to work out how alien races might trade among themselves.  But it’s difficult to buy that he’s instantly an expert economist, merchant, entrepreneur, asteroid miner, hard scientist, etc.  Regardless, it’s pleasurable to read.

I found the first half or so of the book extremely readable, out-trading the professional traders, ignoring or using the government, and playing one powerful alien race against the other.  The last portion of the book was much more hard science, however, so some of the techno-babble and acronyms began to bog down the plot and characterization.

Another facet that many may find difficult to stomach is Vernon’s political bent; while he has no love of corporate nonsense, he espouses a very conservative political attitude.  I found the several “lectures” fascinating, especially as a reaction to the requirements of the time — for example, when the world is under immediate threat of destruction, should environmental regulations be loosened?  Many readers will be turned off.

I’m very interested to find out what happens next.  The second book is Citadel.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars (finished June 9, 2011)

Review: Starship: Rebel by Mike Resnick

Mike Resnick’s penultimate book in his Starship series is Rebel.  In the previous books, Cole and the crewmembers of the Teddy R are somewhat fooling around, trying out different roles in the Inner Frontier.  In this book, he has to take a serious stance after his best friend and alien first officer, Forrice, is captured and then tortured by a captain of the Republic Navy.  This brutal treatment and the dawning realization that his Navy is preying on colony worlds, merchant ships, and business “men”, leads Captain Cole to begin building a larger fleet (from one ship to forty to over a thousand!).  Its mission: keep the Navy out of the Frontier worlds — let these worlds live in peace.

Rebel is a more grim book in tone than its predecessors.  Now there is a larger goal.  Now Cole must use his notoriety and charisma to enlist the aid of quasi-military, quasi-shady ships and crew to deny the Navy any foothold in the Frontier.

One quibble with the writing — and I suppose it might be more obvious with having listened to the audiobooks in quick succession — is the frequent recapping of prior events and re-using many of the same lines and gags.  For example, Resnick overuses the word “sardonic”, repeats Cole’s mantra that wars are not about being willing to die for a cause but making sure that the enemy dies for his, and re-uses some banter lines between Cole and his security chief a few too many times.

All-in-all, the pace remains furious and there are enough ship battles and moments of strategic insight to satisfy any fan of space opera.

The series:

  1. Mutiny
  2. Pirate
  3. Mercenary
  4. Rebel
  5. Flagship

4 out of 5 stars (finished March 6, 2011)

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Currently reading:  Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom, Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris,  Darkspell by Katherine Kerr, & Starship:  Flagship by Mike Resnick

 

Review: Starship: Mercenary by Mike Resnick

After precipitating a Mutiny and then trying out the life of a Pirate, Wilson Cole and the crew of the Theodore Roosevelt take up the mantle of Mercenary in this third adventure of Mike Resnick’s Starship series.

One of my peeves from the second book was that Captain Cole exposed himself to danger too often rather than using his officers and crew to take the lead on various missions.  This lessens a bit in this book as several of the officer-level crew point this out.  While Cole is still obviously in control, he doesn’t have to be the center of attention for every incident.

Another miscellaneous item:  I really like Cole’s nonchalance during crises.  When a battle or a deadline is soon, but not imminent, the author has Captain Cole head to the mess hall for a quick bite or coffee, or to the rest room (after the coffee!).  This suggests a man who has fought in many battles before, but who (1) wants to put his crew at ease and (2) realizes that one can plan and plan but in the hours before a battle, one must recharge his batteries.

Another interesting incident is that one of the Republic’s enemy fleet captains, disenchanted with his government, military, and the war in general, joins up with the Teddy R.  It was refreshing for the author to comment that the enemy can be noble and true — sometimes it is difficult to tell who is really in the right (if anyone) — but moral, ethical behavior can transcend nations at war.

In this book, the Teddy R must face its biggest challenge to date.  After taking on a number of mercenary contracts (each of which is vetted to ensure that they don’t violate Cole’s sense of ethics), he must defend a giant space station / floating city using only five ships.  In revenge for being permanently barred from the station due to a drunken rage where he destroys property, a warlord decides that no being will ever use the station again.  In addition, Cole’s protégé Val (for Valkyrie) joins up with the warlord.  Can Cole find a way to save thousands of lives and redeem Val?

This series continues to be a fast read, with interesting characters and situations, some humor, fast action, and a nice bit of brain power over brawn.

The series:

  1. Mutiny
  2. Pirate
  3. Mercenary
  4. Rebel
  5. Flagship

4 1/2 out of 5 stars (finished March 1, 2011)

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Currently reading:  Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom, Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris,  Darkspell by Katherine Kerr, & Starship:  Rebel by Mike Resnick