Welcome!! My name is Paul Lappen. I am in my early 50s, single, and live in Connecticut USA. This blog will consist of book reviews, written by me, on a wide variety of subjects. I specialize, as much as possible, in small press and self-published books, to give them whatever tiny bit of publicity help that I can. Other than that, I am willing to review nearly any genre, except poetry, romance, elementary-school children's books and (really bloody) horror.

I have another 800 reviews at my archive blog: http://www.deadtreesreviewarchive.blogspot.com (please visit).

I post my reviews to:

2 yahoo groups
Amazon and B&N (of course)
and on Twitter

I am always looking for more places to post my reviews.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Making Bank: The Personal Finance Lessons They Never Taught Us in School

Making Bank: The Personal Finance Lessons They Never Taught Us in School, Claudio M. Ghipsmann, Bridgeway Books, 2010

This book attempts to distill a subject like personal-finance into small, easy to read pieces. The author speaks as someone who learned personal-finance the hard way.

The first thing a person should do is to purchase, or free download, some sort of money management software like QuickBooks. Get in the habit of entering all of your income, and all of your expenses. After that is done, you can start printing reports, like a Balance Sheet and Profit and Loss, which will show you exactly where your money is going. Each month your expenses need to be less than your income. If that is not your situation, the sooner you start changing things, the better.

If you are thinking of getting into the investment world, have extra cash on hand, and pay off your credit cards first. Decide on your level of acceptable risk. Are you more interested in safe, conservative investments, or in high risk investments that could go through the roof, or crash and burn? There are, seemingly, 1 million places to invest, so research is needed ahead of time.

Paying off your credit cards, by itself, is a good way to put money in your pocket. Imagine a card with 20% interest, and you are carrying a $2000 balance. You are giving the credit card company $400 a year, for no reason. Pay off the card and that $400 will go in your pocket. Banks are getting rich on the everyday mistakes of their depositors. Use only your bank's ATM, and you will save that one or two dollar fee each time. Sign up for online access to your bank account, and check it often. When your balance gets low, you can transfer money from another account, or just not use that account for the time being. It will save you from an overdraft fee, and a bad check fee, which can be substantial. Get familiar with your 1040 form, so you can intelligently talk to your tax preparer, or do it yourself and save some money. The author also looks at insurance, real estate, and how to take care of your credit score.

This book does a very good job in taking the reader through the basics of personal-finance. Money management skills are rarely taught in high school, so even if the reader takes away one or two concepts from this book it will be a big help. Yes, this one is worth reading.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Graphics Essentials for Small Offices

Graphics Essentials for Small Offices, David Loeff, SciTrans, 2011

Graphics is an essential part of any small business, but it can be very difficult and confusing. This book aims to make it a little easier.

It is tempting to designate one of your employees as the "graphics person," instead of using an outside vendor; it's cheaper, right? Can other employees pick up the slack while the person is learning PhotoShop or InDesign? Will overtime be needed to keep up with the workload? If you do use an outside printer, make sure that they are aware of your budget. It helps no one if they deliver "champagne" graphics when all you have is a "beer" budget.

Come up with some sort of corporate identity manual, which includes your logo (with possible variations) and the colors and print font to be used in your documents. It's acceptable to re-visit the manual from time to time to do any necessary revising, but few things say "unprofessional" like constantly changing fonts and colors from one document to the next. You also need to decide what sort of text alignment will be used; left aligned, or justified. Don't use right aligned text unless absolutely necessary.

When you are designing your page, resist the temptation to get "creative" and fancy. Readability is most important. Use color sparingly. Put the headline right under the picture, and above the body text. Use a serif font instead of a sans-serif font (the book explores the differences between them) for body text. A reader's eyes travel from top to bottom and left to right. Don't try to make the eyes go in some other direction. Learn how to use, or not use, white space. The book also looks at working with images, and photo editing. If you are getting, for instance, an 8-page brochure ready to be professionally printed, the book shows just what the printer has to do to make it come out the right way.

The entire graphics process can be very frustrating for any small business. This book does an excellent job at explaining what should be going on, and will answer your questions before they are asked. It is short, and is well worth the time and money. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Musa Dagh

Musa Dagh, Edward Minasian, Cold Tree Press, 2007

This is the true story about a famous bit of early 20th century history, the Armenian Genocide. It is also about the suppression, with the help of the American government, of a movie based on a novel about that time.

In the early 1900s, Turkey was run by a government of younger activists who wanted to "cleanse" Turkey of all non-Muslims (sound vaguely familiar?). Starting in 1915, it became official policy to kill or deport all Armenians (who were Christian). The population of Armenians in Turkey dropped from approximately 2 million to its present number of less than 100,000. Several villages of Armenians, facing "relocation" to the Syrian desert, made their last stand at a place called Musa Dagh. It is in present-day southeatern Turkey, just north of the border with Syria. They held out for approximately 2 months against the Turkish Army, before being rescued by a French ship.

In 1934, a novel called "The Forty Days of Musa Dagh" by Franz Werfel was published to worldwide acclaim. The Armenian Genocide had become The Forgotten Genocide, so Armenians around the world were overjoyed. They were even more overjoyed when MGM announced, in 1935, that a major motion picture would be made based on the novel. Then the Turkish government got involved.

They exerted a lot of diplomatic pressure to stop the film from ever being made. Turkey threatened to ban all American films from Turkey. France, their long-time ally, was willing to go along. The American State Department took Turkey's side. To this day, the Turkish government strongly denies that anything like genocide ever took place. MGM was eventually convinced to shelve the film, but they refused to let anyone else make it, diligently renewing their rights to the film every few years.

In the years after World War II, a number of well-known Hollywood figures were interested in making the film. No less than 15 different scripts were written. To satisfy Turkey, it was suggested that the Turkish Ambassador in Washington read the script before production, or that the title or setting is changed, so that it has nothing to do with Turkey or Armenians. The Turkish response was that no amount of re-writing was sufficient. During the Cold War, the threatened closing of the NATO base at Incirlik, Turkey, provided a very good reason to not get Turkey upset over the film.

In the 1980s, rights to the film were acquired by an Armenian from California named John Kurkjian. He was very interested in making the film, but he had a huge time constraint. If the film was not "in the can" by a certain date, a few months away, all rights to the film would go to Anna Mahler, Werfel's widow. Kurkjian was forced to make the film in the Hollywood Hills, using unemployed Armenian actors and a second-rate director. He was a total newcomer to the world of "Hollywood," so he was unmercifully taken advantage of by everyone involved in the film. It was a rushed, low-budget film, and the final cut looked like it. Kurkjian made the deadline, but when the film was shown in front of Armenian audiences, words like "disappointing" and "tragic" were used (the film stunk). He was able to make back the money he spent on the film; the only good thing about the whole experience was that the permanent rights to the film were now held by an Armenian.

This is a fascinating and eye-opening book. It exposes a little-known piece of American film history and is highly recommended.    

Monday, December 26, 2011

Waiting for Pops: A Journey From Boy to Man

Waiting for Pops: A Journey From Boy to Man, John Philip Riffice, INDI Publishing Group, 2011

Told in reminiscences, this novel is one person's story of growing up in 1950s Chicago. It is not a very pretty picture.

Johnny Ryba was your average resident of post-war America. Dad worked long hours driving a forklift. He was offered lots of weekend hours, but refused them all, preferring to spend weekends at home. Mom stayed at home, and started drinking. An occasional beer turned into scotch every day. Being the sole care-giver for Rosie, his younger sister who was severely autistic, might have had something to do with it. The parents argued constantly, but always behind closed doors and at night.

One night, Dad dies in a car accident, and the body is immediately cremated. Mom is forced to put Rosie in an institution, where she spends the rest of her life. Mom continues drinking, and the yelling and emotional abuse against Johnny gets worse and worse. He takes care of all the cooking and cleaning, because Mom is usually passed out.

In high school, Johnny gets into a relationship with Holly. He puts off bringing her home to meet Mom for as long as possible. He doesn't know which Mom she will meet, the "happy" drunk or the "mean and rotten" drunk. Mom actually quits drinking for several months to impress Holly. Johnny is unable to tell anyone, including Holly, about his home life, even after learning that Holly is going away to college, because her home life is similar to Johnny's. Later in life, after Johnny is married, he learns some really unpleasant things about his sister, his mother and his "beloved" father.

This is a really well-done, and really interesting, piece of storytelling. Words like "sad," touching" and "poignant" also work very well. It is also recommended for anyone who over-indulges with alcohol, and thinks that their drinking does not affect their spouse or family. Read this book, then think again.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Versailles Conspiracy

The Versailles Conspiracy, Robert "Digger" Cartwright, Xlibris Corporation, 2010

This novel is set in present-day Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It is about a murder mystery that turns into a whole lot more.

Max Spalding is the local Building Inspector. He is also a member of the local commission dealing with a proposed addition to the local convention center. It is a very touchy subject among the local elite; any hint of scandal could destroy the whole project. One day, Max dies in a horrific car accident. As they investigate, Detectives Wickland and Graisco of the local police begin to realize that Max's death was not an accident.

His car had been tampered with just before his death. His last appointment was with Vladimir Stratavynski, owner of a local clothing and souvenir store. It had been raided by the police a number of times in the past for selling counterfeit goods, but the police could never put Stratavynski away for good. A former Russian oligarch who became "unpopular" when communism ended, he is part of a secret group looking to re-establish communist control in Russia.

Max was having an affair with Janet, his secretary. He had a huge conflict of interest concerning the convention center project. He had just returned from a week-long convention in Palm Springs, Florida. Why, during that week, did he suddenly fly to a very expensive resort in Quebec, and back again? In his safe deposit box, why did the police find over one hundred thousand dollars in cash, and a set of plans to the local water treatment plant? The police are also exposed to a Russian arms dealer, betrayal, the FARC rebels from Colombia, very large amounts of cocaine, and a local, extremely private, country club called the Versailles Country Club. It's the sort of place where, if you aren't a member, you shouldn't even bother walking through the front door.

Here is an excellent piece of writing. The plot might get a bit convoluted at times, but it has everything a good thriller story needs. This is very much worth the reader's time.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Murder at the Ocean Forest

Murder at The Ocean Forest, Robert "Digger" Cartwright, Xlibris Corporation, 2006

This is a murder mystery set in World War II-era South Carolina. It is about a husband and wife who would have been better off never getting married to each other.

Terence and Faye Underwood are traveling by train to the Ocean Forest, a very high-calss resort right on the shore. Faye thinks that Terence is a serial adulterer, constantly looking for women with which to have illicit affairs, despite his constant protestations to the contrary. They are both members of high society, so divorce, let alone raising their voices in argument where others might hear them, is simply not an option; the scandal would be overwhelming.

A few days later, Terence goes off by himself quail hunting, while Faye goes horseback riding along the beach. Several hours later, the horse returns without her. A diligent search along the beach is made, led by Feltus le Bon, the hotel detective. Faye's red scarf, along with some blood, is found near a patch of quicksand. The next day, terence is coerced into showing Feltus exactly where he was hunting. It turns out to be just a few yards from the quicksand. It would have been very easy for Terence to shoot Faye with the shotgun he was carrying, and dump her in the quicksand, freeing him to have as many illicit affairs as he can handle. Things get complicated the next morning when, serving an arrest warrant on Terence, Feltus finds him in bed, murdered.

Investigating further, Feltus focuses his attention on Preacher Cooper, a priest involved in illicit activities, Elizabeth Bascomb, an elderly, blind psychic, and Lord and Lady Ashburn, visiting from England, all of whom have very good reasons for wanting Terence Underwood dead. Feltus tries several ways to ratchet up the pressure, hoping that the guilty party will crack. While all this is going on, the area is battered by a major hurricane.

This is a really good mystery, but I thought that it moved too slowly. The first death does not occur until almost halfway into the book. I understand what the author was trying to do, and totally agree that not all murder mysteries have to move at breakneck speed. The author certainly knows what he is doing; I guess I would have liked it more if the first half of the story moved a little faster than it did.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Hidden Credit Repair Secrets

Hidden Credit Repair Secrets: That Can Repair Your Credit in 30 Days, Mark Clayborne, 2010

With the present-day tough economy, it is more important than ever for people to be familiar with their credit score, and how to improve it if needed. This book gives some simple ways to do it.

The first thing to do is to get a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus, and read it thoroughly. If there are any mistakes, and there probably are, it is up to you to write to the credit bureau, and ask for its removal. It could be something small, like an incorrect home address, or something much bigger, like a bill that you can prove has been paid in full, which is still listed as Collection. Addresses and sample letters are included in the book. The credit bureau is required to respond within 30 days. They will either send a revised credit report, with the offending item changed or removed, or they are supposed to investigate and verify that the item is legitimate, and, therefore, stays in your report. Don't be afraid to send a second, third, fourth or fifth letter (all the way up to a twelfth letter) if you don't get the answer you wish. Document everything, and send all letters Receipt Requested. If you have to sue the credit bureau, a paper trail is a very good thing.

For those whose credit is totally gone, and need to start over, or for students building credit for the first time, get a copy of your credit report and do any required cleaning up of it.Then you should apply for a secured or student credit card. They have low limits, and require a deposit as collateral, so the bank will get their money if you don't pay. Be sure to pay off the bill each month, in full, to show that you are reliable. Retail store cards are another possibility for those who want to build their credit. It will take at least two years of solid credit history before you can apply for a Visa or Mastercard.

If you feel that bankruptcy is a real possibility, talk to your creditors. Ask if they have some sort of monthly payment plan. Ask if they will accept a payment of, for example, 30 cents on the dollar in exchange for removing the item from your credit report. Document everything, to show that you are trying to get the bill paid. There are several things you can do to raise a low credit score. Pay your bills on time. Pay down your credit card debt so that it is no more than 30% of your credit limit. Keeping old cards active, and using them once or twice a year, is better for your credit score than closing them. Don't apply for a store credit card just to get the discount.

This book is written in a question-and-answer format, so it is very easy to read. For anyone considering bankruptcy, or using one of those credit repair services, read this book first. It will be a huge help, and could make your financial woes a lot less painful. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Launch Out Into the Deep!

Launch Out Into the Deep!, Acacia Slaton Beumer, 2011 (Kindle e-book)

The journey through daily life is not easy, especially in the 21st Century. This book may make that journey a little easier.

Daily life is supposed to be hard, with trials and challenges everywhere. Jesus never said, "Follow me, and you will have no problems or worries. I will take care of everything." How are you going to deal with grudges, resentment or really unpleasant people? There is nothing wrong with wanting to become rich or famous, until the point is reached where your moral upbringing and "soul" gets tossed in the garbage. Living water, through Jesus, is just as important as drinking water for survival.

Some people think that all that is needed to be a Christian is to obey the Ten Commandments, attend church on Sunday, or give to the poor. It's not that easy. A person has to confess to being a sinner, admit a real need for a savior and believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Having fewer, or "milder," sins than someone else does not make a person more righteous.

In today's society, it is very easy, especially for men, to get involved in sexual promiscuity. First, you need to confess your shortcomings to God and ask for His help to battle the temptation. Then, you need to avoid all types of pornographic images. The more you think about such things, the easier it is to go back to your old behavior. In this age of AIDS, many people still practice unsafe sex, convinced that it won't happen to them.

Life's trails and tribulations are necessary, though they may not seem necessary at the time, because they build character, strength and humility. Like the old saying says, "One day at a time." Don't worry about tomorrow until it arrives. To be a Christian, it is not always necessary to say "Hallelujah" or carry a Bible. Sometimes, the way you carry yourself and act around others will be enough to spread the "message."

This book is full of short essays and poems on various parts of daily life, and it is very much worth the reader's time. It is equally recommended for those who want a closer relationship with God, but don't know the route, and those who may need a spiritual jumpstart.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Woman

The Woman, David Bishop, 2011 (Kindle e-book)

This is a novel about an average woman caught in a web of mystery. Someone suddenly wants her dead.

Linda Darby is a resident of Sea Crest, Oregon, a get-away-from-it-all sort of place. She makes her money by day trading, and takes care of her sexual needs with a series of one-night stands. She is friends with an older woman named Cynthia Leclair, who works at a very strange place called Smith and Co. Cynthia perpetually declines to answer Linda's questions about her work, visitors are forbidden, there is no regular mail delivery, etc.

This is an absolute gem of a book. It has everything that a suspense thriller story needs; shadowy political/intelligence operatives, fake identities, lots of money and a bit of sex. The author shows throughout that he really does know what he is doing.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Not Waving, Drowning

Not Waving, Drowning, Linda Sands, 2011, (Kindle e-book)

This is the story of three generations of women in Savannah, Georgia.

Bobbie, from the early 1900s, sepnt time in the equivalent of the child welfare system. She is now a New York City newspaper reporter, in Savannah for a story, who is not above the occasional theft. As the years go on, she marries Sam, and they live in New York City. He is a good husband, except for his tendency to take off for a week or two, with no explanation as to where he is going or why. During World War I, she volunteers to write letters home for wounded soldiers who are unable to do it themselves. She and Sam slowly drift apart (he is dying from some sort of lung disease); in the 1930s, several of her newspaper columns are about Flora, the Waving Girl. Something of a Savannah tradition, she would wave to every ship that used Savannah's port; every ship, every day for many years.

Flora, from 1940, is the Waving Girl. She lived with her brother George, who took care of a local lighthouse (that is why she could wave to all those passing ships). She tells her story as an old woman, making arrangements for George's funeral. She also talks about the involvement of her brother, now a Monsignor, during the days of Prohibition and speakeasies. The city erected a bronze statue of her to acknowledge her service. A question that she is asked frequently is why she waved to all those passing ships for all those years. Was it unrequited love? Was she waiting for someone?

Maggie, from 2011, is an architectural photographer living in Philadelphia. She flies to Savannah after receiving a late-night phone call saying that her husband, David, is missing and presumed dead after a boating accident. Their marriage had also seen better days; David liked to go to Savannah alone. Maggie begins to realize that David had a whole other life in Savannah, of which she was not a part. She is told all about Flora, and sees the cottage where she and George lived, along with the lighthouse that he kept in operation. Maggie also starts to fall in love with a local lighthouse restorer.

This is a very "quiet" novel, all about feelings and finding yourself. It has a lot of excellent writing, but it is not a very optimistic story. The reader will not go wrong with this one.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sun, Sand and Rock n Roll

Sun, Sand and Rock n Roll, Nikhil Lakhani, 9ine Inc., 2011

This is the story of a man who seems to have it all. That is, until the day that it is taken away from him.

JB Strassenberger is the leader of a 4-piece rock band called Generation Rebel. Wherever they play, they gather more and more fans. Whatever that undefinable "it" is that distinguishes a great band from an average band, Generation Rebel is overflowing with "it." The sky seems to be the limit. During a mass audition for Atlantic Records, JB meets KG, a guitarist who is every bit JB's equal. After getting over his initial jealousy that he may not be the best guitarist in the world, JB arbitrarily invites KG to join Generation Rebel. As a 5-piece band, if anything, their rist to the top picks up speed. One day, they take a helicopter to Las Vagas to play some concerts. The helicopter crashes, and JB is thrown clear.

He wakes up several days later in an Indian village called Shaktipur. Located in an isolated bit of Nevada, it is behind some sort of mental barrier, so it is not accessible to the average person. JB is angry, sarcastic to everyone, and a little scared, especially when he is told that his was the only body at the crash site. There are several escape attempts, all unsuccessful. The people of Shaktipur welcome JB, despite his bad behavior, because of a prophecy that a white man will join their village.

JB decides to totally change his attitude, and accept being in Shaktipur, after he meets a beautiful woman named Saraswati, the chief's daughter. Red Rage, his beloved guitar, thought to have been lost in the crash, is returned to him, so he is able to show the villagers what he is all about. One night, the village is attacked by a shakti, a four-legged carnivorous beast that is all teeth and claws (another good reason why no one leaves the village). There are many casualties. JB finds the lair, and, with a little help from his friends, does battle with the shakti, armed only with Red Rage. During JB and Saraswati's wedding celebration, a helicopter suddenly appears and lands. The guitar battle was heard many miles away, and the authorities were notified. Does JB return to "civilization" or does he stay in Shaktipur?

Here is a great piece of writing. For those who are any sort of rock music fan, the guitar battle with the Shakti deserves to be read more than once. For everyone else, this story also has heart and emotion. It is very highly recommended.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Global Warming for Beginners

Global Warming for Beginners, Dean Goodwin, For Beginners LLC, 2008

Global warming is a very important subject in the present day. This book attempts to explain how and why Earth's climate interacts with the atmosphere.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a group of several hundred climate scientists from all over the world. Their job is to look at all the scientific data on various aspects of climate change. In their latest reoprt, in 2007, they concluded that "warming of the climate system is unequivocal. . . many natural systems are being affected by regional climate changes. . . global greenhouse gas emissions due to human activities have grown since pre-industrial times, with an increase of 70% between 1970 and 2004."

Earth has experienced warming and cooling cycles in the past. Some people think that this is another of those warming cycles, and not really a cause for concern. Most sunlight is absorbed by the Earth's atmosphere, while the rest is reflected back into space. Water vaopr, methane and carbon dioxide, present in the atmosphere, are very good at absorbing infrared radiation. Some global warming is need to keep Earth from turning into a giant ice cube. But too much of a good thing is just as bad. To get an idea of what happens with high levels of carbon dioxide, look at Venus, with its runaway greenhouse effect.

The rapidly rising amount of burning fossil fuels leads to more carbon in the atmosphere. It has a positive feedback effect, raising the Earth's temperature. Deforestation that is happening all over the world reduces the level of photosynthesis, which reduces the amount of carbon being removed from the atmosphere. If the forest has been burned, which is usually the case, then the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere rises, and the amount of carbon removed by photosynthesis drops at the same time.

The book also looks at the consequences of global warming; we are witnessing some of the hottest years on record; snow cover on mountain ranges is decreasing; as ice melts, it raises sea levels worldwide; ocean currents could change; biodiversity could also be affected. It also lists simple things that anyone can do to help reduce the effects of global warming.

This book is easy to read, and tries to adopt a facts-only approach. To get away from the hype on both sides of the issue, start right here.

The Murder Diaries: Seven Times Over

The Murder Diaries: Seven Times Over, David Carter, Trackerdog Media, 2011

The northwestern England town of Chester (near the Welsh border) is being menaced by a serial killer. Inspector Walter Darriteau is on the case.

If there is such a thing as a "quiet" serial killer, that is the situation in Chester. There are no cases of multiple stab wounds, or blood all over the walls. A woman is drugged, and her head is completely wrapped in brown tape until she suffocates. Her body is stuffed in a suitcase, and dumped in an abandoned quarry. An old fisherman is pushed into a canal and drowns. An elderly woman is drugged and taken to a quiet patch of forest. The car is left running, and the exhaust is pointed back into the car with the windows rolled up. The police don't know if they are dealing with one or more killers, or their gender. There are the usual taunting letters, specifically intended for Darriteau. The killer/killers have a specific grudge against Darriteau, a native of Jamaica who is nearing retirement age, and wants him to suffer. A fellow member of the police department is attacked at the local race track. Is Darriteau next?

This is also the story of a boy named Armitage, more interested in singing, dancing and flower arranging than in the usual activities enjoyed by boys. Dad runs a failing car dealership, and Donna, his second wife, who handles the finances, has been embezzling thousands of pounds from the company. She also hates Armitage. When he is 11 years old, they are killed in a car accident. Armitage assumes that he will live with Mrs. Greenaway, the owner of the local florist shop, but she says that she does not have the space, or the desire, for Armitage. He spends the rest of his childhood in an orphanage. After he is released, he drifts from job to job. At one job, he crosses paths with Desiree, and falls instantly in love. She feels the same way.

Desiree is a brilliant student, and beautiful, who has been recruited to work at one of those super-secret research installations. She begins to have real doubts about her work, which involves experiments on live people. She starts bringing home samples of her work, and keeps a copy of her files off-site. Paranoia starts to set in. Desiree comes to an untimely demise.

Published in England, this is a kind of "quiet" novel, but a really good novel. The reader will stay interested until the end. Here is a first-rate piece of writing.

The Trillion-Dollar Conspiracy

The Trillion-Dollar Conspiracy: How the New World Order, Man-Made Diseases and Zombie Banks are Destroying America, Jim Marrs, William Morrow, 2010

This is a look at the world around us, and how America is being systematically destroyed, but not from the "usual" sources. It is not a pretty picture.

Anyone who takes vitamins or nutritional supplements needs to know about the Codex Alimentarius Commission. Under the auspices of the UN and the World Health Organization, it is an international commission whose aim is to ban the sale of all herbs, vitamins and minerals for therapeutic purposes, and to have all nutritional supplements available only through a doctor's prescription. Do an internet search for "National Security Strategy Memorandum 200." Written by Henry Kissinger, it became official US policy in 1975. It advocates the radical de-population of the Third World, and is in line with elite support of eugenics, to get rid of all those "useless eaters."

Politicians keep talking about how American schools will prepare students to thrive in the 21st Century. The problem is that American schools, based on the Prussian model, were never designed to prepare students for anything, except to be quiet drones, who are paid to work, and not think. Normal activities like taking pictures around town can get a person arrested by Homeland Security. Do you remember President Obama's 2009 speech to schoolchildren across America? According to some, it was political indoctrination that would turn America's young people into mindless, Obama-loving zombies.

All banks pay into an FDIC reserve fund, which is supposed to help banks in trouble. In 1981, the federal balance sheet said that there was $11 billion in the fund. One day, the FDIC Chairman called the Treasury Secretary and asked to visit and see the money. He was told that there is no money; it was all put into the general fund long ago. So if a bank is in trouble, the Treasury simply borrows the money. Simple, no?

This book touches on a whole host of other subjects, including FEMA camps, TSA airport body scans that are not deleted, the 2008 financial crisis, implanting people with microchips, and ways to not become a "zombie." As with nearly anything by Jim Marrs, this easily reaches the level of Wow. It has something to upset nearly everyone. It is very highly recommended.  

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Cursed Man

The Cursed Man, Keith Rommel, Sunbury Press, 2011

First of a series, this book is about a man who believes that Death has taken an unnatural interest in him, killing everyone with whom he comes in contact. Can he really be cursed, or is he just mentally ill?

Alister Kunkle is a patient at the Sunnyside Capable Care Mental Institution. For the past 25 years, he has been secluded from the staff, and the outside world, at his own request. He is convinced that anyone who communicates with him, in any way, is dead within a day, for Alister is Cursed.

His first exposure to death came when he was a child, and he attended the funeral of a beloved aunt. As a married man, Alister became convinced that Death had cursed him when he came home to find his wife and child dead. He rushed into the street, and laid down in the middle of the road, hoping that someone will put him out of his misery. A driver narrowly misses him, and rushes to Alister's aid, to see if he is alright. The driver suddenly keels over, dead from a heart attack. Taken to Sunnyside in an ambulance, Alister distinctly remembers a number of staff members, including big, muscular orderlies used to mental patients, dropping like flies. Looking out the window of his room, Alister sees a dry, dessicated landscape full of dead plants.

A psychiatrist named Anna Lee comes to the Institution, demanding to see Alister. The Director does his best to dissuade her, telling her about Alister's "situation," and showing her news articles as proof. She is not to be denied, so she enters Alister's room, talks with him for a while, then leaves, saying that she will be back the next day. Lo and behold, she returns the next day; she is not dead. Moving one step at a time, she takes Alister outside. The grounds are green and lush, not brown, dry and lifeless. She tells Alister that he is mentally ill, and not cursed. The beloved aunt, whose funeral Alister distinctly remembers, died several years before he was born. The mass deaths at the Institution on Alister's arrival never happened. Dr. Lee reveals that she is not exactly who she says she is. Then things get weird.

This is a very well-written book, with a little bit of Stephen King-like horror. It will keep the reader interested, and it is a gem of a story.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Ten Commandments for a Successful Retirement

The Ten Commandments for a Successful Retirement, Corine T. Norgaard, Wormwood Hill Press, 2010

You have just arrived back home from your retirement party. Now what do you do?

The first thing you do is to find productive ways to fill your time. Spending your days playing cards at the local Senior Center, or spending your days on the golf course, does not qualify. Possibilities include: getting a part-time job in your field or a different field, starting your own business, becoming an entrepreneur or volunteering your time.

If volunteering or giving to charity is not for you, there are things anyone can do to make the world a better place. Do at least one good deed per week. Smile and greet those that you meet during the day, and give at least one sincere compliment per day.

You need to take an active role concerning your health and well-being. No one else will do it for you. Keeping your brain in shape is just as important as keeping your body in shape. Be willing to stay current and learn new things. Keep your family relationships in perspective. Don't expect anyone else to provide you with a full and meaningful social life. Discussion, and coming to agreements, will be needed concerning spouse, children/grandchildren and nearby relatives.

Get involved in activities that keep you in contact with your freinds and expose you to new people. Join a group activity, reach out to new people and don't forget your relatives. Come up with an "elevator speech." It's a short statement that tells people something about you. For instance, say "I'm Joe, and I'm involved with . . ." Don't say "I'm Mary, and I'm retired." Look for chances to interact with people covering a wide age range. Resist the temptation to start your sentences with phrases like "Back in my day." Doing so will get you branded as an old fogey who can be ignored so fast you won't know what hit you. When you look for new adventures, it can be something as small as attending an event in your hometown that you have never before attended.

This book is short, very easy to read, and is full of useful information. For anyone even near retirement age, reading this book is time very well spent.

The Rise of the Einix

The Rise of the Einix, Tina D. Miller, Black Rose Writing, 2010

This is a tale of individualism and identity. It takes place in the small town of Baldric, where sexual acts are bartered for goods and services.

Einar and Trixie are twins who have been kept confined by Lola, their mother, all their lives. Lola's funeral brings out people like alcoholic Aunt Evelyn, and Eleanor, their next-door neighbor, who has had a long-running dispute with Lola concerning a willow tree. The reading of Lola's will is practically the social event of the year, because Lola sent out over 100 invitations before her untimely demise. The twins are allowed to stay in their house, as long as they procure employment. Joining in the Baldric "tradition" of sex as payment is not possible for them.

Loki Kluge, local attorney and administrator of Lola's estate, offers a number of options. The least impossible oprion is to become part of a musical production of the film Modern Times with marionnettes, at a local theater. Run by a hermaphrodite named Gertrude, the other member of the cast is Morton, an African-American dwarf. After several days of long hours for little pay, the three go on strike. Gertrude totally ignores the strike, and orders them back to work. When they refuse to back down, Gertrude closes down the whole production, and absconds with the money, leaving the three high and dry.

They return to Loki Kluge, who, among his other business interests, owns the Kluge Traveling Circus. Seeing dollars signs around the twins, he gives each of them a spot in the circus. Morton becomes a clown, while Einar and Trixie are placed in a giant clear plastic tube. They can dance, or cavort, or do whatever they want, as long as the customers keep paying their quarters. Financially, it is a good night, but, for Trixie especially, it is not a good night. After the circus closes for the night, things get very serious. The reason that the twins are such a curiosity in Baldric, and why they are kept confined for their whole lives, is not mentioned until late in the book.

Einar talks in a very stilted, or formal way, which is different, if nothing else. This book is short, it is interesting and the author does a very good job with it. This is well worth reading.

Profileactics: A Guide for the Prevention of Ill-Conceived Personal Ads

Profileactics: A Guide for the Prevention of Ill-Conceived Personal Ads (Baby Boomer Edition), Donna F. Ferber, Purple Lotus Press, 2009

This book looks at the world of online personal ads from the perspective of how not to do it. There are a distressingly large number of examples from which to choose.

Why is this the Baby Boomer Edition? Genxers and Millennials are entering the dating world for the first time. They are looking for someone to settle down with and start a life together. Baby Boomers have Been There, Done That. They have been through divorce; they have experienced the pain of losing a loved one through death; they have children that must be part of the equation.

The first rule of online personal ads (if there is such a thing) is Use Spellcheck. Nothing says "Delete Me" like misspelled words. The second rule is Leave Out the Bitterness. A potential date is not interested in how big of a jerk is your ex. It is perfectly reasonable to mention "deal breakers" in your ad (like smoking or being a "cat person"), but there is no need to be mean and sarcastic about it. Creativity in your ad is good, but don't overdo it.

Men are well known for objectifying women, insisting that they look good in heels and a black dress. Women can be just as bad, insisting that he not have a comb over. There are some men who work out a lot, or look younger than their chronological age, and are not afraid to let everyone know it. Self-confidence is good, arrogance and conceit is bad. Women, on the other hand, tend to play down their looks. The sooner men stop looking for a Little Mermaid (or some other female Disney character), and the sooner women stop looking for Prince Charming to sweep them off their feet, the better. Leave your deceased spouse out of the ad; no one wants to be considered a "replacement." Also, leave the "(insert pet peeve here) need not apply" out of your ad. Tell people what you want in an ad, not what you don't want. Last, but not least, if you have not yet found out what you want out of life, or don't know what you are looking for in a relationship, then why on earth are you submitting a personal ad? The only one who can find whatever it is you are lacking in your life is staring at you in the mirror.

The overwhelming feeling after reading this book is: What Were These People Thinking? This is a fascinating and easy to read book, and, yes, it does look at what should be in a personal ad. It's recommended for anyone who has ever submitted a personal ad, or for those who just want to snicker and shake their heads in disbelief.

The Skinny On the Art of Persuasion

The Skinny On the Art of Persuasion, Jim Randel, Rand MediaCo, 2010

Why are some people so good at persuading others to buy their product or service? How are some people able to (as the saying goes) sell ice to eskimoes? Here is the answer.

Once again, the characters are Billy and Beth. Billy is a real estate broker who is not doing so well. Mary, one of his co-workers, gets all the phone calls, and is selling many more houses. Billy thinks of Mary as an insincere flatterer who simply tells people what they want to hear, so she is "cheating," right? Billy doesn't know that the first step in fixing your frustration is to look in the mirror. You can't control other people, only yourself. Beth is a paralegal going to law school at night. She invites Billy to attend a session of a course on persuasion taught by Jim Randel, the book's narrator.

The book also explains the rules of persuasion. People are persuaded by people they "like." Find some common ground with the person you are trying to persuade. Consider adopting the vocabulary and speech patterns of the other person; it helps put them at ease. Effective persuasion does not just happen; preparation is vital. Learn to listen to the other person (put another way, know when to shut up). A good way to be "liked" by the other person is to listen to them. You might also pick up clues to what the other person is thinking, and how they can be persuaded. Try very hard for consistency with past commitments and statements. To make decisions, some people tend to use shortcuts. People follow celcbrities, crowdsm and authorities. Logic is rarely used in making decisions. Learn how to access people's emotions. Integrity is very important in persuasion.

Perusasiveness can be learned, without needing to resort to manipulation. Understand the rule of repicrocity; people don't like to feel indebted. Do not overdo it; subtlety works equally well.

This is part of a series that distills a large subject (like how to be persuasive) into a short and easy to read book that is made for busy people. It saves the reader from having to read many books on the topic. This book (along with the rest of the series) is very highly recommended.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Michael Jackson Code

The Michael Jackson Code, Ares Einstein, 2011, ISBN 978-606-92278-5-5

Michael Jackson was murdered because he refused to go along with the Illuminati's control of the music business. This book gives the details.

For most of his career, Jackson was willing to sing the sort of songs that the Illuminati wanted. In the later part of his career, Jackson began to rebel, both in his songs and in his public statements. This the Illuminati could not tolerate.

Jackson wasn't the only artist to mention the Illuminati in his songs. Other artists included Bob Marley, 2Pac, LL Cool J, Eminem and the Black Eyed Peas. Jackson found himself on the Illuminati "blacklist." His songs were no longer played on the radio, and he was constantly characterized in the media as a homosexual, a child molester or being deeply in debt. His skin didn't turn white because he supposedly hated being black, but because he was infected with a skin condition called vitiligo. It affects African-Americans, and turns patches of their skin white.

A documentary was made by Martin Bashir around the time of his child molestation trial (another Illuminati attempt to "get rid" of Jackson). Intended as a sympathetic behind-the-scenes look at Jackson's Neverland Ranch, what was shown was very un-sympathetic (terms like "hatchet job" come to mind). Jackson's accuser in the trial was a young boy named Gavin. Suffering from Stage 4 cancer, Gavin wanted to meet Jackson, who was happy to oblige. Gavin and his family stayed at Neverland a number of times, even when Jackson was not there, and totally abused the privilege. They ran throughout the house, even the parts that were off limits, abused the staff, and racked up thousands of dollars in bills that Jackson paid. Gavin's parents give the strong impression of being the sort of people who have no problem with coaching their children on what to say in public, or exploiting Gavin's illness for monetary gain. Jackson was guilty of being naive and much too trusting for far too long, but he was not guilty of child molestation.

Throughout all his troubles, the mainstream news media was no help, being very willing to repeat the various accusations about Jackson's personal life, regardless of their accuracy.

The last part of this book is a summary of another book, "Trust Us, We're Experts!" by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton. It does a very good job at helping the reader to see through the lies, manipulation and general nonsense that comes from the mainstream news media.

This book is not available in America (it really should be), so a visit to http://www.einstein24.de/ is needed to get a copy. It is also a really good idea, because this book is written with a lot of passion and heart. It is recommended for all MJ fans, and even for those (like yours truly) who are neutral or ambivalent about the King of Pop.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Jesus Potter Harry Christ

Jesus Potter Harry Christ: The Fascinating Parallels Between Two of the World's Most Popular Literary Characters, Derek Murphy, Holy Blasphemy, 2011

The parallels between Jesus Christ and Harry Potter are actually closer than most people may realize. The book also looks at where Jesus in the Bible came from, an actual person, or a collection of stories?

When the first Harry Potter book was released, does anyone remember the uproar from the religious community? The lawsuits and book burnings came about because the book supposedly promoted witchcraft. By the time the last book was released, the attitude was very different because of the Christ-like images and things that happened to Harry. Many people considered Harry as a Christ-like figure (which J.K. Rowling freely acknowledges).

The assertion that Jesus, as a historical figure, never existed is hardly new; the claim has been made all through out history. A central question to ask is: Which Jesus are we seeking? Are we looking for someone who was born of a virgin, died, rose again and ascended to Heaven? Are we looking for a rebel leader during a time of occupation?

From time to time, an archaeological discovery is made which references a person or place mentioned in the Bible. That would seem to increase the possibility that the Bible is true, since there is now independent evidence that the person or place referenced really existed. Right? Using that line of reasoning, books like The DaVinci Code or the Harry Potter books are just as real as the Bible, because they also mention places that really exist. Another assertion is that Jesus invented ethics and morality; before Him, there was nothing. Really? The various civilizations that existed before Christianity, ranging from Sumeria to Egypt to China, might have something to say about that.

The life of Jesus has supposedly been thoroughly discussed and analyzed in the writings of other historians, including Pliny, Tacitus, and especially Flavius Josephus. The problem is that the total analysis of Jesus amounts to just a couple of paragraphs per author. There has been much controversy over the centuries as to whether or not those paragraphs are real or fakes. The similarities between the life of Jesus and those of people like Dionysus, Asclepius, Mithras and Pythagoras (who was known for a lot more than just his mathematical Theorem) are more than just coincidence.

Large parts of the Bible were taken, or otherwise re-interpreted, from ancient pagan myths and stories. The Great Flood, for instance, came from the Epic of Gilgamesh. The idea of a flood that covered the whole world will mean a lot more to a people who live between two great rivers, like the Tigris and Euphrates, than to residents of an arid place like Palestine.

Why did all the ancient religions, including Christianity, seem to use the same images and shapes? Observations of the constellations in the sky led people to construct myths about them, which truned into stories and eventually became religion.

 This is a very fascinating and eye-opening book. It is full of footnotes, so this is more than just some anti-Catholic rant. Those who treat the Bible as a group of stories and parables about the right way to live should not have their faith damaged by this book. It is very much worth the reader's time. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Upgrade to Free

Upgrade to Free: The Best Free and Low-Cost Online Tools and Apps, Beth Ziesenis, TSTC Publishing, 2011

Everyone loves free, or really inexpensive, tools for their computer or smartphone. This book has lots of them, with website and QR code included.

The well-known computer tools, like Skype, Twitter and OpenOffice are here. There are tools here for web meetings and presentations, tools to share information, tools to convery Word files into pdfs, and convert pdfs into Word files, along with IT and security tools to help keep your computer running smoothly.

WorkTime is a tool that will track every activity on your computer, so you will know just how long you have spent being unproductive. To get a group of people to decide on a convenient day and time for a meeting, consider using WhichDateWorks. If Photoshop is too confusing for editing of pictures, try Picnik or FotoFlexer.

Emailing a screencapture of a whole page to someone else, and having them understand what you are talking about is difficult at best. Jing allows the screencapturing of just part of the page. If you want to add some music or movement to your presentation or website, pay a visit to animoto, ispringfree or ispeech.

Small business owners can use freshbooks to manage their billing online, xpenser to keep track of their expenses, or logomyway for ideas to spruce up their old logo. For those who want to start their own blog or website, there is snappages for quick websites, and wordpress for quick blogs. How are you on writing to-do lists and reminders? Sites like rememberthemilk, doitdoitdone!, teuxdeux and toodledo can make it a lot easier.

Whether you are a computer professional, or someone who can barely send an email, this book is very highly recommended. There is something here for everyone. There is no need to download everything in this book; pick just a few tools and go from there. It may just turn a technophobe into a technophile.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Nancy Spellman and the Forest of Fear

Nancy Spellman and the Forest of Fear, P.J. Tye, 2011 (Kindle e-book)

First in a series, this book is about your average British schoolgirl thrust into a very strange situation. The fate of an entire world rests on the shoulders of her and her friend.

Nancy Spellman has decent, normal parents, and an older brother who has discovered the female gender. She has been reading a fantasy book bought by her mother about a planet called Hooth. It includes pictures of a giant half-horse/half-dinosaur named Rascal. After several nights of strange, troubled dreams, Nancy wakes up one night at midnight. Looking out her window toward the woods across the street, she sees Rascal, in the flesh.

The next morning, Nancy's friend Mary comes over and hears the whole story about the book, and the sighting. They immediately head for the woods to investigate and find hoofprints that are bigger and deeper than normal hoofprints. Going farther into the woods, they are suddenly caught in a force-field, surrounded by twinkling lights, and find themselves on Hooth.

Meeting Gretchen, Matgrin and Satgrin (all wizards), the girls are told that another wizard, a well-meaning bungler of a wizard named Albert, has accidentally brought three Earth children to Hooth. They are being held prisoner in a heavily guarded castle. It is guarded by creatures called spigworts, prowlers and dragonbirds, all with very nasty dispositions, who have been enslaving the human population. The magic of the wizards goes only so far, so Nancy and Mary, helped by invisicloaks, have to rescue the children by themselves. Things go bad pretty quickly, but everyone makes it out in one piece. The three children are returned to Earth, with that part of their memories conveniently erased.

Nancy and Mary also return to Earth, only to find that Mary's book has changed. It was titled The Forest of Fear, and now it is called Hooth and Hope, including pictures of their adventures. They are returned to Hooth, and told that much activity has been going on inside the castle, which is very bad news for the rest of Hooth's inhabitants. It is up to Nancy and Mary to find out just what is going on, and, if possible, throw a spanner into the works.

Any young person who is looking for something to read after Harry Potter would do very well to look here. It is easy to read, and just weird enough and it is really worth the reader's time.

Funny Animals

Funny Animals, Maria Skrebtsova, Lulu, 2009

Here is a group of short tales for children. But, these are not your average cute stories; they let children know that all problems have solutions, and that nothing is completely good or bad.

An abandoned blind puppy is adopted by a cat who brings the puppy home to her children and started to feed him milk. The puppy quickly grew bigger than the cat, but continued to obey the cat. One day, a huge dog enters the garden where the animals live. It darts towards the cat with a fierce growl, who leaps over the fence. It sniffs the puppy and says that they should chase the cat, since they are of the same breed. What does the puppy do in response?

A bear and her cub live together in a mountain cave. When the cub is grown up, mother takes him to a clearing in the woods, where he sees trees and the sun for the first time in his life. The cub has to be reassured that there is no reason for panic. In the afternoon, the sun sinks behind a mountain, who says that it will take the sun away forever. Mama has to explain that even the highest mountain can't put out the sun. Did the sun return the next morning? What did the mountain say?

A hare and a squirrel were friends. When the hare returned from trips to the vegetable garden, looking for carrots, he always shared with the squirrel. The said he would reciprocate when winter came. One winter day, the hungry hare stopped by, looking for a bite to eat. The squirrel said that he was worried that he wouldn't have enough food to last the winter, so he said no. The hare survived the winter, and when summer came again, the hare refused to share his carrots with squirrel. Why? Was the hare justified?

These tales are very easy to read, and they are only a couple of pages long, so they are made for a child's attention span. They do a good job of starting to introduce concepts like right and wrong, being considerate of others and finding solutions to problems. The fact that the stories are about animals certainly helps. Yes, this book is worth your child's time. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Elpis: Terico's Revenge

Elpis: Terico's Revenge, Aaron McGowan, Lulu, 2011

This is a fantasy story about a young man who has lost everything in his life. It's also about the lengths to which he will go to exact revenge.

Terico is your average young man, living with his parents in the village of Edellerston. Suddenly, the village is under attack by warriors of the Shire Brotherhood, the sort of people who seem to enjoy killing. Everyone in the village is murdered, including Terico's parents. Terico's best friend, Turan, is taken prisoner by the Brotherhood, and Suran, Terico's girlfriend, is missing. After Terico single-handedly buries everyone in the village, he meets Jujor, who is a lot more than just the town drunk.

Jujor tells Terico that Delkol Shire, the leader of the Brotherhood, and the man who killed his parents, is looking for pieces of the Elpis stone. It's a stone of immeasurable power. A millennia ago, it was broken into four pieces, specifically to keep any one person from having that much power. Jujor leads Terico to one of the pieces, in an underground city under Edellerston. Terico gathers a rather interesting group of people around him in his quest for the rest of the stone. Areo is a teenage vampire, Borely is a ship's captain without a ship and Kitoh, a young boy, is able to turn into a giant dragon. Terico acquires another piece of the stone, and is informed that Delkol Shire has the other two pieces.

By the thousands, Brotherhood forces mass for an attack on Setar, the capital of the Fiefs Kingdom (the good guys). Shire says that he just wants the rest of the Elpis stone, and will not attack Setar. Even if he gets it, everyone knows that Setar will be wiped off the map. Terico is the only one, with his half of the stone, with any chance of stopping Delkol Shire. Is he successful? What happened to Turan and Suran?

This is an excellent piece of storytelling. It has plenty of action (maybe a little too much action), it also has heart, and intelligence, and some first-rate writing. (And the author is only 23 years old!) First of a series, this one deserves a much wider exposure.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Taliban Shuffle

The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Kim Barker, Doubleday, 2011

This is one person's chronicle of life as a newspaper reoprter in present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan. Evidently, even today, war has its humorous moments

The author was a total newbie, when, in 2004, she became the South Asia Bureau Chief of the Chicago Tribune. She spent much of her time in Afghanistan, when the world's attention was focused on Iraq. Everyone knew that they were fighting the "other war," so they tended to relax. Everyone, that is, except the Taliban, who spent the time quietly regrouping. President Hamid Karzai has been called "The Myor of Kabul," because his influence extends only that far. According to Barker, even that description might be too generous.

Afghanistan is run by warlords, and is a place where your tribe or clan, and your language, is taken very seriously, especially if you find yourself in the "wrong" part of the country. Barker attends a training session of the Afghan National Police, the people who are supposed to take over after America leaves. Descriptions like "travesty" and "fiasco" come to mind. There is little, or no, coordination of aid, so the chances of aid getting to those who need it the most are tiny.

In Pakistan, the city of Islamabad is not just a sleepy, quiet city; one person described it as "twice as dead as Arlington National Cemetery." Barker is romantically pursued by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who offers to play matchmaker, and wants to be her "friend" (which has a very different meaning in Asia). Vacations in Europe or America are few and far between, and are usually cut short by some major happening in South Asia. For Barker, in both countries, there are a couple of attempts at romance, which don't end well. She meets a constantly changing group of journalistic colleagues, aid workers, military people and various kinds of adrenaline junkies.

After several years of American money, effort and lives, why are Afghanistan and Pakistan still so messed up (for lack of a better term)? This book does a fine job at giving the answer. This is not meant to be a sober political analysis of both countries, but one person's subjective chronicle. It is very much recommended.

The Vertical Farm

The Vertical Farm, Dr. Dickson Despommier, Thomas Dunne Books, 2009

The current method of human agriculture is in bad shape, and is ultimately unsustainable. This book provides an alternative.

Agriculture as we know it has worked for many thousands of years, but the system is breaking down. If there is such a thing as The Chronicle of Farm Life in the 20th Century, it is "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck. Three things that had a huge impact on agriculture were the internal combustion engine, and the discoveries of oil and dynamite. When irrigating fields, runoff is created that is full of chenicals and fertilizers applied to those fields. During floods, runoff gets even worse, because that chemical-filled water gets into the rivers, which empty into the ocean, creating aquatic "dead zones." In less developed countries, there is little or no attempt to filter or treat the water, and since fecal matter (human and animal) is frequently used as fertilizer, that just spreads lots of intestinal parasites. In many places, a 55-gallon drum of clean water is now more valuable than oil.

Greenhouse gases are turning the world's oceans more acidic; the time will come when calcium carbonate, a central component of coral and mollusk shells, cannot form. Various bugs and plant diseases can also do immense damage to a wide area of crops. As agriculture becomes more commercialized, and farm sizes grow, food safety becomes a huge concern. Corporations want to cut costs wherever they can (like food inspection), and consumers have made it clear that food safety is at the top of the list.

Imagine stacking several high-tech greenhouses on top of each other. Hydroponic gardening, which uses one-third the water of regular agriculture, is well known. Aeroponic gardening, where the roots are misted at the right times, uses one-third the water of hydroponics. The water can be treated and recycled so that it can be used over and over. No artificial chemicals would be needed. Such a vertical farm can be built in the city, vastly increasing the availability of fruits and vegetable for inner-city residents. The outer walls would be a type of clear, hard plastic, which is lighter than glass, to let in every available bit of sunlight. The corresponding amount of farmland would be allowed to turn back into whatever it was, usually hardwood forest, before it became farmland.

Of course, theory is easy, while turning the theory into reality is much harder. This a fascinating book, even though it is light on the reality of what a vertical farm would look like. If it does nothing more than get people thinking about other methods of agriculture, this is a gem of a book.  

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Crochet Rag Rugs Basic Pattern Collection

Crochet Rag Rugs Basic Pattern Collection, Sarah Holmes, CreateSpace, 2009

This short book, which includes patterns and pictures, is all about crocheting rugs using rags, not yarn. Crocheting with yarn is very well-known, but I have never heard of crocheting with rags. It sounds like a good way to get rid of excess fabric.

It talks about how to attach the 1-inch wide strips of fabric together, in order to make longer strips. Before you even start cutting your fabric strips, it might be good to estimate just how much will be needed; the book covers it. Another important point to remember is making sure that the rug will stay flat when it goes on the floor.

The book shows pictures of different kinds of rugs. There is a basic round rug, a rectangular rug (where it's OK to change colors every few rows), the well-known oval rug, a heart-shaped rug, a slice rag rug (that looks like a round rug that has been cut in half) and a harvest rug. Instructions are included with each picture, instructions that are written in Crochet, not in English.

Those who know how to use a crochet needle could do a lot worse than buy this book. The patterns and instructions seem like they are easy-to-follow. It is very much worth considering.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Red Serpent: The Elemental King

Red Serpent: The Elemental King, Delson Armstrong, 9ine Inc., 2011

This is Part 3 of a projected 10-part series about humanity dealing with an invasion of Earth by a race of humanoid vampires. Things are not going well; what is left of humanity has been pushed onto a giant space station called the Regnum.

In this book, the Regnum is being evacuated. Everyone knows that a vampire attack is coming, and that the Regnum will be the first target. Humanity is moving, not without fighting amongst themselves, to the Moon where living quarters have already been constructed. A number of people resent John Howe having taken dictatorial control over humanity. He feels that the survival of humanity is more important then democracy. Alex, his nephew, is The Falsifier, the one who is destined to lead humanity to ultimate victory over the vampires.

The vampires really want Alex, for a number of reasons. There are several human armies trapped on Earth, numbering over a million men each, so an agreement is reached between the two sides. In exchange for Alex, one of the human armies will be allowed safe passage off the Earth (of course, it's not that simple). They do go to war on a grand scale, with thousands of ships on both sides, and millions of men. The humans have an immense cannon on the Moon that shoots an energy beam at the Earth which laces the atmosphere with silver (vampires and silver do not mix). A person could be forgiven for thinking that the Earth itself has had enough; suddenly, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes are everywhere, killing millions more vampires. The vampires have a secret weapon of their own, called the Hydra Project. For every vampire who is turned into ashes by an energy weapon or silver sword, those ashes instantly re-constitute themselves into two fully functioning warriors. The death toll on both sides is huge.

Meantime, humanity is in open revolt, with strikes and bombings happening all over the Moon. More than once, John Howe has to speak to the people and practically plead with them to stick together. Things get interesting when the planet Migra, the vampire homeworld, suddenly shows up on Earth's doorstep. Along with Migra comes Anaxagoras, the Supreme Leader of the vampires; he is also Alex's grandfather. Alex is the only one with any chance of stopping Anaxagoras.

This is another really good novel. There is plenty of action, and Armstrong does a fine job from beginning to end.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Vincent Hobbes Presents: The Endlands

Vincent Hobbes Presents: The Endlands, Vincent Hobbes (ed.), Hobbes End Publishing LLC, 2010

Imagine a place just a little removed from reality, a place where nothing is as it seems, and where anything could be just around the corner. Imagine no more: The Endlands is here.

The birth of a baby in the average hospital becomes distinctly un-average when the woman gives birth to a baby with large, black eyes, bat-like ears and a form of telepathy. Thousands of such births are happening all over the world at the same time, as if God is introducing the newest species of mankind.

A trucker picks up a hitchhiker who takes him to an out-of-the-way place with the best barbeque ever. Waking up after being drugged, the trucker finds himself in a barrel of barbeque sauce. A sign on the wall says that all meat must marinate for 24 hours, before being cooked and served to the public.

A soldier has been taught, nearly from birth, that his homeland has been overrun with demons and vampires, who engage in all kinds of unholy rituals. Most of them have been liquidated, but not all. The soldier is going to a certain house to investigate a report of such activities. He bursts in, and kills the family inside, including children and a baby. Only then does he realize that they were human all along, and the only thing they had going against them was being Jewish.

In a seacoast town, whales suddenly start rising out of the water, like giant zeppelins. At first, it is very cool, attracting the world's media. It becomes un-cool when the whales swoop down on people and feed on them.

Charlie is one of those who is chronically early for everything. He has received his summons from the government, one with severe penalties for non-compliance. It seems as if the world is conspiring to make him late; the traffic is heavier than usual, he has a hard time finding a parking space and he must wait at the front desk to be checked in. Finally, he gets to the right room, and sits there alone, when the gas is turned on.

These are not specifically science fiction, or fantasy, or horror stories, but the sort of stories that could easily be made into episodes of "The Twilight Zone"  TV show. In fact, the book is dedicated to Rod Serling. These stories will give the reader a kick in the psyche, and they are very good. 

Those Who Fight Monsters

Those Who Fight Monsters: Tales of Occult Detectives, Justin Gustainis (ed.), Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2011

These days, urban fantasy stories are big business (in literary terms). This anthology presents new stories of demon hunters by today's most popular writers.

Kate Connor is your average suburban soccer mom, who just happens to work for a super-secret branch of the Vatican. Allie, her teenage daughter, is a demon-hunter in training, but is not yet ready to join Kate on patrol (a never-ending source of sulking and whining on Allie's part). Allie sneaks off to a fancy party in a huge mansion owned by a demon who needs human sacrifices.

Quincey Morris is an occult investigator in Austin, Texas. His latest client is a man whose dot-com went out of business. Contemplating suicide, he signed over his soul in exchange for ten years of success. The ten years are up in a few hours, and the man is terrified that he is going to Hell. Can Morris do anything about it?

Petunia "Pete" Caldecott is a former Inspector with the London Metropolitan Police. Sitting in a bar one night, wanting to be alone, she is approached by an inhabitant of the land of Faery. The prince of Faery has been murdered, which is totally foreign to Faery, and human eyes are needed to find the murderer.

Tony Giodone is a former hitman who has been turned into a werewolf. He now works for the police force of the Sazi Council (they are the good guys). His latest case involves Carmine, a mob boss, who has snuck into Calgary, Alberta, because there are people who want a certain thing very badly. They have no problem with killing anyone who gets in their way. It involves a vial of a very sophisticated virus, and what looks like a photo of a brick wall.

These stories will certainly keep the reader interested. For non-horror readers (like yours truly), the horror part is not overwhelming. Urban fantasy readers will love this book, and it is a first-rate group of stories.

Gift From the Stars

Gift From the Stars, James Gunn, BenBella Books, 2005

First Contact with an alien species can happen in a grand moment of scientific discovery, like in the film "Contact." It can also happen in a much more mundane and accidental manner.

Adrian Mast is an aeronautical engineer (and frustrated astronaut). Browsing in a local bookstore, he picks up a remaindered book on UFOs. In the Appendix, Adrian finds what look like a legitimate set of plans for an interstellar spaceship. With help from Frances Farmstead, the bookstore's owner, Adrian tracks down the publisher, who nrevously denies that they ever published the book, even though their name is on it. Peter Cavendish, the author, is in a mental hospital in the Midwest, afraid that the government, or the aliens, is out to get him. Somone has gone to a lot of trouble to suppress the book. Adrian and Frances get the plans spread out to the scientific community, before someone "suppresses" them.

The alien machines built from the plans radically change Earth, bringing about an era of really free energy. Adrian and Frances put together a group of people to build a spaceship based on the plans. They get permission from the Energy Board. Cannibalizing an old space station, the ship is finally ready for launch. Mankind still has no idea who the aliens are, where they are or why they sent the spaceship plans. On its maiden voyage, the ship suddenly starts traveling in a very different direction. Before he left the ship, back at Earth, Peter Cavendish programmed the ship's computer to take the ship to the aliens.

The ship enters a wormhole, where the laws of time and space are turned upside down. There is no way to tell how long the wormhole is, or if the ship is even moving. The crew remembers events that haven't yet happened. The ship eventually leaves the wormhole, and reaches a planet with hundreds of spaceships in orbit, of all shapes and sizes. Evidently, humanity was not the only civilization to hear from the aliens. After months of waiting for a reception committee, which never happens, members of the crew land on the surface, find their way into underground tunnels, and get some answers to their questions.

This one is very plausible and rational, and it has believable characters. It is interesting from start to finish, and is very much worth the time.

Immortal Quest: The Trouble With Mages

Immortal Quest: The Trouble With Mages, Alexandra MacKenzie, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2010

This is a fantasy story about a relationship that has lasted for several centuries. It is also about the potential end of the world.

Nick Wright is a present-day London detective who, one night, is interrogating a burglary suspect named Marlen. He tells Nick that they have known each other for 500 years, and that Nick is on his eleventh lifetime. As a mage, Marlen is immortal. Nick is skeptical, to say the least. Marlen tells Nick things about himself that no one can possibly know. Nick slowly begins to beleive that maybe Marlen is not totally nuts.

Marlen attempted a spell to get Nick to remember the old days of partying all over Europe. Not only does it not work, but Marlen accidentally releases a powerful mage named Vere from her 700-year imprisonment. She wanted to bring the gift of immortality to all people, and was supposedly working on the ultimate spell. She infused three items, a cup, a ring and a stone with magical power, now hidden in widely different parts of Britain. If she ever got hold of those items, and completed her spell, the whole world would be in danger. At least, that is according to Duncan Phipps, head of the Immortal Society of Mages, who wants the three items for his own megalomaniacal purposes.

Meantime, Nick has gotten a job with DI6, Britain's domestic intelligence service. But, he has been shunted into the last place he wants to work with DI6, the PIS, or Paranormal Investigative Service. Nick would much rather investigate terrorists than Elvis sightings. His uncle Brianm who runs the PIS, tells Nick to stick with Marlen. The PIS has been investigating the Mages for years, and they need a real magical object to study. The relationship between Nick and Marlen is volatile, at best. Marlen tries, perhaps too hard, to get the "old Nick" back. Nick becomes fond of Marlen, but does not want to get into a relationship with him. Nick has tried very hard to suppress his homosexual past. Everything climaxes at an isolated castle in Scotland. Is Vere really as mean as her reputation says? Does Vere or Duncan get "eliminated?" Do Marlen and Nick come to any sort of understanding about their relationship?

This might be a rather quiet relationship story, but it's a good one. It is marketed as an LGBT novel, but the homosexuality is pretty subtle. It's recommended.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

State of Mind

State of Mind, Sven Michael Davison, Bedouin Press, 2011

This book is set in 2030 Los Angeles. It is about government mind control, and one man's attempts to fight back.

Jake Travissi was thrown off the police force for upsetting the wrong people. He is let back on the force after he is implanted with a P-Chip. It lets a person do practically anything with their mind; access the Web, see things through the eyes of another P-Chip recipient, record video on to a computer hard drive and talk to other P-Chip recipients telepathically. A person can even regulate their metabolism so that they can eat and drink whatever they want and not gain weight. Jake is part of a three-man squad working for Homeland Security.

Their first case is to investigate the very public murder of Dr. Veloso, a co-creator of the P-Chip. The shooter's eyes, teeth and fingerprints have been removed, making identification nearly impossible. While Jake is there, he has split-second flashes of his hands destroying the evidence. On another raid, taking out an alleged terrorist cell, Jake has more flashes of he and his colleagues doing very illegal things. He also hears voices in his head, which are the God Heads.

Sandoval, the Director of Homeland Security, who commands the three-man squad (the Enhanced Unit), also runs a super-secret squad of P-Chip hackers. It is possible to take a person "offline," to shut down their higher brain functions, controlling them to do or say whatever you want, then plant false memories to make up for it. Jake begins to push back against the God Heads, killing one of them. In retaliation, Jake is kept offline for several weeks, and controlled to resign from the Enhanced Unit. He is constantly filled with feelings of depression and suicide by the God Heads. He is also turned into something of a donut addict, becoming a fat, lazy parody of a cop. Sandoval's intention in pushing the skyrocketing popularity of P-Chips is to become one of the elite who actually rule the world, while everyone else is kept happy in some artificial P-Chip world. With help from Dr. Morris, the P-Chip's other co-creator, Jake is able to do a lot more pushing back against Sandoval and the God Heads.

This one is very plausible, it's more than a little spooky and it's really good. How long will it be before a cell phone, or Web browser, can be miniaturized enough to fit inside a human brain?

GENeration eXtraTERrestrial

GENeration eXtraTERrestrial, Aurelio O'Brien, Bad Attitude Books, 2010

Many novels have been written about aliens coming to Earth. What happens after they become part of society, and the media spotlight moves elsewhere?

Grace Brown is a serious scientist in the field of extraterrestrial life. Her boss blackmails her into working with Diane and Tab, a photographer and writer for a tabloid newspaper. The three travel throughout America, meeting people who say that they were impregnated by extraterrestrials ("Knocked Up By An Alien!"). Their stories are not as easy to dismiss as Grace had hoped. To get back at her boss, Grace brings them all back to her employer, where they happen to give birth all at the same time.

Born to a male farmer from Kansas, Brock looks like a walking plant who eats rocks. It's how he gets his daily minerals. Gray looks like your average alien (gray skin and big eyes) who needs a drink of alcohol every day, the way that humans need water every day. He also has a hydraulic skeleton; his arm and leg bones slide inside each other, so he can make them longer or shorter at will. The triplets, Flora, Fauna and Manfred, have wings and hatch from eggs laid by a New York socialite. Alpha looks like an average child, except for the thrid eye in the middle of her forehead that allows her to see auras. Charlie is a super-genius with a full head of hair and set of teeth, right out of the womb. Realizing that his mother has died in childbirth, Charlie crawls to her head and hugs her while he weeps.

After the media circus fades, the Genxters deal with the usual growing-up issues. There's alcoholism, gender issues and making their way through school. Gray becomes a natural athlete; he is cut from his high school football team when the other teams refuse to play with him on the team. One day, the metabolisms of the triplets go into overdrive. They can't eat enough, and they gain a lot of weight. They spend the next couple of years each encased in a chrysalis, from which they eventually emerge. They each lose their wings because of a certain adolescent rite of passage. Charlie dresses like he just stepped out of a book on Edwardian attire. He starts a website so that the group can stay in touch. He becomes very interested in finding out where he, and the rest of the group, come from, so he scrutinizes signals from the stars, looking for any signs of intelligence.

This is a really interesting novel, but it is not just a novel. There are several websites mentioned in this book that really exist. Yes, it is very much worth reading. 

Go, Mutants!

Go, Mutants!, Larry Doyle, Ecco Books, 2010

Earth has survived numerous invasions by aliens and attacks by ancient monsters brought back to life. Some of these aliens are in high school.

J!m Anderson is your typical sullen, brooding teenager at Manhattan High School. Well, maybe he's not so typical, because he has a large, megacephalic head, and oily, blue skin which he occasionally sheds like a snake. Along with Johnny, a motorcycle-riding radioactive ape, and Larry, a gelatinous mass playing the role of the "fat kid" (Son of the Blob), J!m really does have a hard time making his way through the world of high school. Maybe people really are out to get him; after all, his father is the one who led the alien invasion of Earth.

The Harvest Dance is coming, and J!m is supposed to ask Marie Rand if she would like to go with him. Her father is the school's biology teacher, and one of those people who likes to tinker in his garage. Mrs. Rand is a disembodied head who is constantly nagging Mr. Rand to find a body to which to attach her head. The body she was using is no longer viable, but it's kept in a freezer for posterity. Despite numerous opportunities, J!m never gets around to asking Maries to the dance, so she goes with Russ, J!m's bitter enemy.

J!m has a permanent exemption from showering after gym class, for anatomical reasons that are forcefully revealed by the local bullies, led by Russ, at the local drive-in. Later, during another Russ-led attempt to get rid of J!m, once and for all, J!m catches on fire, is severely burned, and dies. But not really, because he recovers in a couple of days, and is now a solar-powered being with skin as hard as diamonds (puberty rears its ugly head).

Larry is thrown into an animal cage during a field trip. Approximately a cupful of his mass is retrieved. Mr. Rand is able to do something about that, with help from some jumper cables and a car battery. Later comes the climactic scene, where Russ forces Marie into his atomic-powered car, with J!m in hot pursuit. Just before the car goes over a cliff, Marie is thrown from the car, and severely injured. Does Marie survive? Does J!m learn the truth about his father? Can Larry be resurrected?

This is an absolute gem of a book. As a former writer for "The Simpsons," Doyle certainly knows how to do satire. It's got everything a 1950s teen story needs: a sullen, rebellious main character, bullies, a chase scene and a drive-in. This is very highly recommended. 

Pock's World

Pock's World, Dave Duncan, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2010

This science fiction adventure story is set on a planet facing a dire future. As usual, nothing is as it appears.

Pock's World, long settled by humans, has been infected by humanoid aliens. STARS, the consortium that "runs" the star sector, takes this very seriously. Pock's has been quarantined, and may have to be sterilized, which would mean the murder of over 650 million inhabitants. In the past, STARS has done this to other planets.

A group of people are sent to Pock's to examine the evidence. Father Andre has a wide ruthless streak, and visited Pock's a long time in the past. Ratty Turnsole is a muckraking reoprter. Millie Backet is a bureaucrat who, somehow, manages to turn this into the Backet Commission. Athena Fimble is an ambitious politician, and sleazy tycoon Linn Lazuline has a physical relationship going with Fimble. Of course, they all have their own agendas.

Finally reaching Pock's, a place with a barely tolerable climate, the group meets the humanoid alien prisoner. He has been tortured by the guards, but is able to handle pain better than humans. He also claims to be able to impregante men and women pretty easily. Coming from a planet in another sector, if he should be killed, there are millions more where he came from. Think "the next stage in human evolution." Turnsole falls for, and becomes the consort of, Joy, one of the four human incarnations of Mother, the planet's goddess. It seems like it might be pretty easy to build a religion involving a gas giant planet that takes up one-sixth of your sky every day.

The group is stunned to learn that STARS has intentionally disabled an orbiting probe and sent it into a decaying orbit. It will hit and destroy Pock's in four days, and was disabled before the group ever reached Pock's World. It is a geologically unstable world, with earthquakes and volcanoes everywhere. The probe doesn't have to actually destroy the planet; all it has to do is punch a big enough hole in the crust, and the planet's geological instability will do the rest. Another of Mother's human incarnations assures the people that nothing is going to happen. Do allo the members of the group leave Pock's World in time? Do all of them even want to leave?

This is a strong, well-done piece of storytelling. Duncan, a prolific writer, does a very good job with the characters and the society-building. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo, Michael J. Martineck, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2010

This is the story of present-day Earth that is changed forever. It happens in the blink of an eye.

At approximately 10:20 PM on May 5, all 6 billion people on Earth get a blinding headache for a second-and-a-half. In that instant, everyone gets another person implanted in their brain; different thoughts, different memories. Person A gets Person B's thoughts and memories, and Person B gets Person A's thoughts and memories. There is no rhyme or reason about who gets whom.

Alastair is a transit worker from Chicago who exchanges memories with John McCorely, the head of the Aryan Brotherhood, and currently an inmate in the Pelican Bay Supermax prison. His wife, Valerie, starts speaking Chinese, and their two-year-old daughter suddenly speaks German. Alastair knows that McCorely will not let anyone live who knows his "secrets," so he feels that his only alternative is to leave his family behind and head for parts unknown.

Cinsy is able to leave her abusive husband with "help" from a member of the Swiss National Police. Niven is a Manhattan ad executive on the verge of a Great Ad Idea, until Ming, a blind railway worker from China, is planted in his brain. Susan is a senior scientist with the National Institutes of Health, part of the group trying to figure out just what happened; her Other is a shaman from South America. A playboy from Abu Dhabi travels to India to rescue his Other, a young boy trapped in the world of human slavery. There are some tense moments at a Long Island middle school. The other of one of the teachers is a man from North Korea who goes to great lengths to find, or buy, enough food to keep his family alive for one more day. The Other of one of the students is an official from the North Korean government who really wants that person's name.

What happens in a world where there are no more secrets? There are huge amounts of cancellations of bank and credit card accounts. Now that someone else knows your account numbers and passwords, what is to prevent them from taking advantage? Phone lines are jammed for days, as people attempt to call their Others.

This one is very much worth reading. It takes one thing, or one event, and turns it on its side to see what will happen. It's very plausible, the characters feel like real peopleand it will give the reader something to consider.  

Other Dimensions

Other Dimensions, Clark Ashton Smith, Arkham House, 1970

The stories in this collection are a mixture of science fiction, fantasy and horror. Published mainly between 1910 and 1935, they represent a very different time in American fantastic fiction.

"Marooned in Andromeda" is about a trio of human mutineers kicked off a spaceship onto a semi-habitable planet. There, they have to survive in an unearthly landscape full of carnivorous beings who are far beyond the description of "strange." In "An Adventure in Futurity," Conrad Elkins looks like your average human, except for the fact that he comes from Earth of the year 15,000 A.D. Future Earth is dying, so Elkins has come to attempt to find some answers. He must return, and he takes the narrator with him. Earth has been importing slaves from Venus for hundreds of years, and the Venusians have had enough. They are rebelling, and winning. A microbe is released that changes Earth's atmosphere into the equivalent of the atmosphere of Venus. Of course, the Venusians are immune, but the humans that are left suffocate by the thousands.

Other stories take place on Earth. Explorers find an invisible city in the middle of a desert. An American rocket plane, chasing a Japanese plane, suddenly finds itself inside a strange cloud where physical laws are not the same. Once again, Earth is under attack from Venus, changing its climate into something acceptable for Venusians. Several stories take place in India, which, in the early 20th century, was the closest thing Earth had to an alien landscape. A man goes through a lot of research and preparation to kill a man who had wronged him a number of times over the years. He lures the man to his laboratory, gives him an undetectable poison and watches him die right in front of him. He then gets a call from the man's wife saying that he has just dies of heart attack at home, several miles away. The murderer rushes over there to examine the other corpse. Insanity begins to rear its head when the murderer realizes that he has two real corpses of the same man.

Smith was best known as a poet; these stories feel like poetry. Sometimes a person just needs to lose themself in a good old fashioned macabre/adventure story. If you can find a copy, start right here. These stories are different, and they are really, really good.

The Ashes of Worlds

The Ashes of Worlds, Kevin J. Anderson, Orbit Books, 2008

Last of a seven-book series, this is space opera on a grand scale. Galactic empires clash, and elemental beings wipe out entire star systems.

The Klikiss are an insectoid, hive-mind race who were thought to have been extinct for the past several thousand years. Well, they're not extinct, and they want their old colony planets back. The Klikiss are the sort of beings who don't take No for an answer. They are also in the middle of a major "civil war" to see which hive, or breedex, will dominate. With a death toll in the tens of thousands, new genetic material is needed to replenish the ranks, like from slaughtered human colonists on one planet .

Basil Wenceslas is Chairman of the Terran Hanseatic League (Emperor of Earth). He is increasingly isolated and psychotic. King Peter and Queen Estarra are able to flee Earth for the planet Theroc, where they set up a rival Confederation. Many human colony planets switch their allegiance to the Confederation, so Wenceslas sends the Earth Defense Forces to make an example of several colonies. The Ildiran Empire (another humanoid race) establishes an alliance with the Confederation, reducing the number of the Chairman's allies to near zero. The Chairman kidnaps the Ildiran Mage-Imperator, the Ildiran leader, and takes him to an EDF base on Earth's moon until he reconsiders the alliance. Ildirans have a sort of telepathic connection between all members of the race. If any Ildiran is cut off from that connection for any length of time, permanent insanity is a major concern.

Chairman Wenceslas comes up with the idea for an alliance with the Klikiss. He sends one of his senior Generals to negotiate a treaty. The General does not go out of loyalty; he goes because the Chairman does not think twice about holding hostage family members of his senior officers. The general discovers, to his horror, that the Klikiss have no interest in an alliance with anyone. Later, a Klikiss battle group shows up in Earth orbit, with enough firepower to turn Earth into a burned-out cinder. They want to talk to the Chairman, in person, now. He still thinks that he can get whatever he wants, whenever he wants.

This is what good space opera is all about. There is a helpful summary of the rest of the series, so the reader does not have to read it all to understand this book. But it's a very good idea, because the writing is that good. Separately or together, this is very much recommended.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Textile Planet

The Textile Planet, Sue Lange, Book View Cafe, 2010

Marla Gershe is a middle-level supervisor on the Textile Planet, an entire world devoted to textiles and the making of clothes. It's a high-stress job; Marla has daily production quotas that must be met. One day, Marla's boss takes away half of her staff to put them on another project, but Marla still has to make her daily production quota. Marla has had enough, and organizes a strike among the employees. In the confucion, Marla is shot in the stomach, and is rushed to the hospital.

Wherever Marla is, it is not exactly a hospital. She undergoes several months of experiments, like someone is doing psychological warfare on her. BAC, the consortium that runs the Textile Planet, would very much like Marla back at work, but Marla would rather be anywhere else. She gets out of the hospital, and immediately hops a spaceship to the most distant planet, a place called Ansonia.

Ansonia is said to be the "end of the line." Think of an 1800s American frontier town. It's a planet with a severe employment shortage; as long as you have two arms, two legs and a semi-functioning brain, you're hired. Marla finds herself doing data entry, locked into a cubicle for several hours a day, entering rows of numbers that come to her off of pieces of paper that come out of a chute. Marla has no idea what the numbers mean. At lunch, her fellow workers talk about the usual lunchtime topics, and about much deeper subjects, like the roles of men and women. After a year, Meko, Marla's boss, tells her that people have been asking about her, so a fast departure is a very good idea.

Marka ends up on an unexplored, desolate rock called XKJ-10. If Ansonia is the end of the line, XKJ-10 is much farther out than that. Marla meets Sam, a human who has been living on the planet for several months. He has a beard down to his waist, he has quite a mansion (made up of a number of different tents) and he claims that he can talk to the local ants. A major scientific discovery is made several million miles away (next door in astronomical terms), so XKJ-10 goes from being a desolate planet in the middle of nowhere to the most popular spot in the galaxy. Marla and Sam plan all sorts of construction, including a spaceport and hotel, to take advantage of all those scientists who will be coming their way.

Here is an interesting story that moves very quickly, perhaps too quickly. It's well done, and it will keep the reader's attention.