Saturday, May 31, 2014

Columbus : Flight - J.C. Rainier




    2012; 270 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Book #1 of the Project Columbus series.  Genre : Science Fiction; “Hard” Sci-Fi.  Overall Rating : 7*/10.

    It’s the near future (2014; the book was published in 2012), and the Columbus Project embarks on a voyage reminiscent of its namesake.  Three ships set sail, bound for a brave new world.

    Their distance will be a bit farther, though – approximately 45 light years.  And there’s no guarantee that when they reach their destination – a planet dubbed Demeter – that it will in fact be inhabitable.

    Of course, there’s always a possibility that things could go amiss during the flight itself.  But what are the odds of that?

What’s To Like...
    The book reminded me of old “hard Sci-Fi” James P. Hogan novels, and that's a plus.  The emphasis is more on the scientific and technological plausibility than on rock-em/sock-em action.  Indeed, other than the very beginning and very end of Columbus: Flight, there’s not a lot of action.  Still, it kept me turning the pages.

    J.C. Rainier finds an innovative solution to the “can’t go faster than the speed of light” dilemma – suspended animation, aka "stasis" here.  But tweaks to the flight plan are needed every so often, so select crew members are awakened once every five years, for a week at a time.  They make the needed adjustments, check the vital signs of the 6,000 or so colonists, then go back to sleep.  There is very little aging while one is in stasis.

    Rainier has a lot of fun detailing life in zero-gravity.  Things like crying, sneezing, barfing, and exercising on gym machines are noticeably different.  He explores psychological issues as well, including dreaming while in stasis and something he calls Hibernation Psychosis.

   As the title implies, Columbus: Flight basically covers the 45 years it takes to get to the target planet.  It ends at an appropriate place – the arrival at Demeter – but there really isn’t any conclusion to any of the storylines.  I wouldn’t call it a cliffhanger ending, but it’s obvious the author wants to hook you into reading the whole series.  I’m not keen on this, but hey, S.M. Stirling and Harry Turtledove do it all the time, so I can’t call it amateurish.

    There’s a small amount of cussing, but nothing you wouldn’t expect to hear in a military setting.  There’s a poopload of characters to follow, but each chapter is told from a single person’s POV, and the ship they’re on is listed as well.  You quickly remember who’s hanging out with who, and on which ship.

Excerpts...
    “What about the cargo pods?”
    Hunter smiled broadly.  “You caught that, didn’t you.  They detach too, but they come down differently.  Josephson?”
    She cleared her throat and looked around.  “Aerodynamic freefall and parachutes.  And if all else fails, litho braking.”
    “I’m sorry, lithawhat?” asked Cal.
    “It means they smash into the ground and we pray they don’t crater,” replied Hunter.  (loc. 2051)

    The doppelganger ignored him.  “You were learning a skill.  No, make that two skills.  But hey, you’ve thrown that away too just to go hide in a hole.”
    “That wasn’t a skill.  Doctor Taylor was just using me to make her job easier.  Any monkey could learn to do that.  As for the book, I just got bored.”
    “Bull,” it spat as it crossed back into Cal’s line of vision.  “Nobody has ever read a chemistry book because they were bored.”  (loc. 3397)

Kindle Details...
    Columbus: Flight sells for $0.99 at Amazon, which is an inexpensive way to see if the series is for you.  The rest of the books in the series (there are four others) sell for $2.99 apiece. 

”Heroes get themselves killed; didn’t anyone ever tell you that?”  (loc. 115)
    There are some intriguing issues in Columbus: Flight, among which are a captain “freezing” at a critical time, unexplained computer program glitches, Cal being woke up early, and hibernation casualties.  Not only aren’t they resolved, but the reader isn’t even given a clue as to what’s causing them.  Presumably, this is addressed in the sequels.

   I had a big continuity problem with the demented Colonel Fox.  Where did she pass the 45 years?  In stasis?  If so, security is kinda lax.  Hiding in the ship?  If so, wouldn’t some effort be made to track her down?  And she’d be quite the doddering geezer by the time the ship arrives at Demeter.  Was I just sleep-reading these parts, or did the beta-readers do a sh*tty job?  And we won’t even discuss the underlying premise for the flight – China invading the USA.  Visions of Red Dawn were dancing in my head.

    There is a Peter F. Hamilton feel to this book, and I like that.  The lack of action will be off-putting to some, but if you think back the movie 2001 : A Space Odyssey, you’ll find that thrills and spills were sparse there as well.  They are not “musts” for a good Sci-Fi story.  The main thing to do when reading Columbus: Flight is to decide whether you want to commit to another four books in a series.

    7 Stars.  Subtract 1 star if space travel without wormholes and warp drives doesn’t float your starship.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins



   2009; 391 pages. Book Two of the “Hunger Games” trilogy.  New Author? : No.  Genre : YA; Dystopian Thriller.  Laurels : Publishers Weekly : Best Book of 2009; Time Magazine : #4 on its "Top Fiction Books of 2009"; People Magazine : 8th best book of 2009.  Overall Rating : 9*/10.

    It’s going to be a busy year for Katniss Everdeen.  There’s the victory tour (since she co-won the Hunger Games) through all the Districts, followed by a gala celebration in the Capitol itself.  After that, it’ll be time to prep and preen for attending next year’s Hunger Games.  But at least Katniss will be a spectator this time, or even a mentor.

    But that tournament, the 75th one, will be something special.  Every 25 years, the games are called the “Quarter Quells”, and the rules get bent in some novel way.  Last time (#50), each district had to supply twice as many participants.

    I wonder what twist President Snow has planned for this Quell.

What’s To Like...
     Catching Fire is, of course, the second book in Suzanne Collins’ megahit series, The Hunger Games.  I‘ve read the first book; it is reviewed here.  There is no gap in the storyline; CF begins immediately after THG ends, with Katniss back in her home District resting and recuperating.

    The writing and storytelling are once again superb.  Suzanne Collins breaks the book into three more-or-less equally-long sections : The Spark, The Quell, and The Enemy.  Think of them as “Home”, “Prep”, and “Fight”.

    All your favorite (surviving) characters are back – Haymitch, Peeta, Gale, Cinna, etc.  And the resourceful Head Gamemaker with the fantastic name of Plutarch Heavensbee, plays a larger part here.  But Collins also introduces you to some new folks – Finnick, Johanna, Twill, Bonnie, and my personal favorite, Beetee.  They are all developed nicely, and you'll enjoy meeting them..

    The backstory is fleshed out a bit more this time around.  Details about the origin of the Mockingjay, the catastrophe in District 13, and short bios of some of the past winners of the Hunger Games are added.  The terrain for this year’s tournament is much more complex, which is fitting for a Quarter Quell.  Katniss’ “love triangle” is not resolved; indeed it morphs into a “love quadrilateral”.

    The ending is great and completes Book 2’s main storyline.  Collins closes with a nice “hook” for Book 3.  As if anyone needed incentive to read the concluding book.

Excerpts...
    “This tour will be your only chance to turn things around.”
    “I know.  I will.  I’ll convince everyone in the districts that I wasn’t defying the Capitol, that I was crazy with love,” I say.
    President Snow rises and dabs his puffy lips with a napkin.  “Aim higher in case you fall short.”
    “What do you mean?  How can I aim higher? I ask.
    “Convince me,” he says.  (pg. 29)

    There’s someone behind me.  I’m alerted by, I don’t know, a soft shift of sand or maybe just a change in the air currents.  I pull an arrow from the sheath that’s still wedged in the pile and arm my bow as I turn.
    Finnick, glistening and gorgeous, stands a few yards away, with a trident poised to attack.  A net dangles from his other hand.  He’s smiling a little, but the muscles in his upper body are rigid in anticipation.  “You can swim, too,” he says.  “Where did you learn that in District Twelve?”
    “We have a big bathtub,” I answer.  (pg. 269)

 I really can’t think about kissing when I’ve got a rebellion to incite.  (pg.  125-126)
    There is no letdown from Book 1 to Book 2 in this series.  To mix metaphors, if you hungered for more after reading the first book, this one is going to be your cup of tea.  Katniss is still the star, but Catching Fire puts a bit more focus on the rebellion itself.

    My only quibble is that the book’s structure is identical to what was used in The Hunger Games – “Home, Prep, Fight”.  The first time around, it was a fantastic page-turning device.  This time, I could anticipate what was going to happen next.

     But that doesn’t mean Catching Fire isn’t still one heckuva fantastic read.   Hey, (as of today) 14,330 people took the time to review it at Amazon.  And since, inexplicably, Mockingjay is not on my TBR shelf, it appears I am going to have to make a trip to the bookstore this weekend. 

    9 Stars.  Add  ½-1 star if you think “Home-Prep-Fight” is a perfectly fine repeat performance, thank you very much.  And for the record, 21,116 people have left reviews of The Hunger Games at Amazon, with 15,779 of them doing the same for Mockingjay.  Wowza.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Bad Move - Linwood Barclay




    2004; 416 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Book 1 (of four) in the Zack Walker series.  Genre : Crime-Humor.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    Science Fiction writer Zack Walker is tired of living in the city, what with its druggies, hookers, and street hoodlums.  So he sells his house and moves his family (wife, two teenage kids) to a place called Oakwood, in the ‘burbs.  To a development with the impressive name of Valley Forest Estates.

    It’s a quiet place, a perfect environment for finishing his next novel.  A pleasant little Eden.  Well, except for the leaking plumbing in his new home.  And the Mississauga Salamander in Willow Creek.  And the body he finds there.

What’s To Like...
    There’s plenty of thrills and even a couple of spills.  After a slow start (the first 10% or so), the plot moves along at a fast pace.  But really, the story plays second fiddle to the wit and antics.  The action and plot-twists are often over-the-top, but that’s in keeping with the tone of the book.

    I liked Zack Walker.  He’s not the brightest bulb in the candelabra (in fact, he may well be the dimmest), but he’s funny and means well.  He cares about his family, although his OCD nature often makes him a PITA for others to tolerate.  Most of his “plans” go amiss, and most of his mental conclusions are wrong.

    With one exception, the rest of the characters are black and white.  You easily fathom out all the baddies, but figuring out which ones did which bits of evilness is a fun challenge.

    Cusswords are commonplace, but not excessive.  There is some sex.  This is a light read for adults, but probably shouldn’t be given out to the kiddies.

    All the threads get tied up, and this leads to a stutter-step ending.  The main issue is resolved around 90%, and I kept wondering what the last 10% was going to deal with.  Bad Move is a standalone novel, but also part of a series.

Excerpts...
    “It’s not that big of a job.  I might be able to do it myself.”
    “You’re joking.”
    “I could take a shot at it.  I’ve got the caulking gun.  I could put some stuff in the corners of the shower, see if that took care of the problem.”
    “I’ve seen what you can do with a caulking gun.  There should be a three-day waiting period before people like you are allowed to own one.”  (loc. 750)

    As we drove to General Mart, I found myself looking in the rear-view mirror more than I usually do.  I figured someone would be after me.  Someone should be after me.
    I had, after all, stolen something.  But I was not, I told myself, a purse snatcher.  Not technically.  A purse snatcher was someone who ripped handbags from the clutches of their owners, usually little old ladies who didn’t have the strength to hang on to them and who got knocked down in the process, suffering a broken hip.  I had broken no little old hips.  (loc. 1738)

Kindle Details...
    Bad Move sells for $5.99 at Amazon.  The other three books (so far) in the series sell for the same price.  Linwood Barclay has another dozen or so books available.  Most seem to be more serious-toned crime novels, but there are a couple of humor books, including the hilariously titled Mike Harris Made Me Eat My Dog.  I borrowed the Kindle version of Bad Move from my local library.

”How many times have we told you not to pretend you’ve killed yourself?”  (loc. 850)
    Bad Move seems to have carved out a niche of its own, genre-wise.  It’s not a whodunit; you don’t “solve” the case alongside Zack.  Nor is it a Murder-Mystery, since the perp of one of the killings is revealed early on.

    I list it as a “Crime-Humor” story; but it’s different from a Carl Hiaasen or Donald Westlake offering.  The best comparison I can make is it’s kinda like the old television series Kolchak, but with the main character resembling Monk.

    Once I got the genre issue straightened out, Bad Move became a page-turner for me.  I will probably read some more in the series, since the library has them available as e-books.

    8 Stars.  Full disclosure.  This book was recommended to me by my cousin Janet, and I have yet to be steered wrong by her.  It helps to have someone close by with excellent literary tastes.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Medieval Underpants And Other Blunders - Susanne Alleyn



    2013; 242 pages.  Full Title : Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders : A Writer’s Guide To Keeping Historical Fiction Free of Common Anachronisms, Errors, and Myths [Second Edition].  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Non-Fiction; Research Guide.  Overall Rating : 9*/10.

    Mrs. Julius Caesar wiped the crumbs from her toga, speared the last cherry tomato with her fork, waved the utensil at her husband, and said, “Jules, darling.  You really need to do something about those hookers on our street.  They're a bad influence for Dominique and Maria.”

    Gaius Julius Caesar pushed back his plate of Caesar salad (his own invention), took out a cigar rolled from the finest Tuscan tobacco, and paused before replying.

    “Don’t get your panties in a ruffle, my dear.  Our two daughters don’t even notice the streetwalkers.  They are totally focused on their latest ‘cause’ - Women’s Suffrage.”

What’s To Like...
    If you’d rather listen to fingernails on a chalkboard than read the above vignette again; then you are undoubtedly a reader of Historical Fiction, and a stickler for accuracy.  I crammed enough howlers (13 or so) into those three paragraphs to annoy anyone who prefers their settings historically realistic.  And you will probably also enjoy Susanne Alleyn’s captivating book (and hereafter abbreviated simply as :) Medieval Underpants.

    The book is intended to be a handy reference for aspiring Historical Fiction writers.  I do not fall into that category (I’m a reader, not a writer), but I am a history buff, so this was a thoroughly captivating read for me.  It is by no means a comprehensive treatise on historical oopsies, but it wasn’t meant to be.  I felt it was the optimum reading length for the subject.

    The writing style is “Sarah Vowell-ish”; witty and interesting, but still fact-filled and thought-provoking.  The author cites the bloopers in a number of works by other writers, including one of my faves, Anne Perry.  This might come off as borderline snarky, but Alleyn also points out errors in her own works, including the first edition of Medieval Underpants.

    I liked the Kindle version structuring of the book.  There’s a Table of Contents at the beginning, with links to each chapter.  There are also links for every note in each chapter, then a link from that note back to the point where you stopped in that chapter.  You don’t have that kind of convenience in a regular book.

    The highlight topic is, naturally, the chapter on Medieval underwear.  My other favorite topics were Servants, Lighting, Hygiene, and Death-&-Burial.  Your high spots may well be different.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Prochronism (n.) : A chronological error in which a person, event, etc., is assigned a date earlier than the actual one.

Excerpts...
    Recall the plot of A Tale of Two Cities: Sydney Carton, determined to saves Charles Darnay from the guillotine, goes to the apothecary’s shop and buys a mysterious substance with which he’ll drug Charles into unconsciousness.  (We won’t even go into the original big honking anachronism in the novel that many literary critics have pointed out over the decades, that Mr. Dickens, in a story set in the 1780s/90s, was clearly referring to chloroform – which wasn’t discovered until the 1830s and wasn’t commonly used until the 1850s.  Once again, Do Not Borrow Your Period Information From Other People’s Historical Novels and Movies, not even Great Literary Classics.)  (loc. 1586)

    Bathing, in the Dark Ages, was too closely linked in people’s memories with that decadent pagan Roman society that had once persecuted good Christians; fanatical Christians believed that dirt and illness, like everything else, were all God’s creations, and those who impiously tried to remove the grime that had collected on their bodies (let alone practiced medicine!) were therefore deliberately going against God’s will; and they also believed that “mortification of the body” – denying oneself fleshly pleasures like cleanliness and smelling nice – was good for the soul.  (loc. 2315)

Kindle Details...
    I bought Medieval Underpants for $4.98 at Amazon.  Susanne Alleyn has 14 other books available for the Kindle, ranging from $0.99 to $7.59.  They are of various genres (including Historical Fiction), sometimes have co-authors, and range in length from Novellas to full-sized Novels.

Oui, mon dieu, c’est un blague, n’est-pas?  (sic, sic, sic, etc.)  (loc. 620)
    The quibbles are minor.  I don’t recall the book mentioning anything being said about candles back in Roman times (there weren’t any).  And I think every reader would love a chapter on “cusswords through the ages”.  But perhaps such vocabulary has been lost in the mists of time.

    The two chapters on Money and Aristocratic Titles were a bit of a slog for me.  But any writer planning to be the next Jane Austen would find them to be indispensable.

    I was motivated to buy this book after recently reading a novel set in 2nd-century Roman-occupied Britain (reviewed here), and which contained a bunch of historical boo-boos.  I still enjoyed that book; it was a delight to read.  But oh, how those gaffes got under my skin.  Historical Fiction is so much more rewarding when everything in it feels "real”. 
   
    9 Stars.  Highly recommended.  The book delivers what the title promises.  Add ½-star if you know who Sarah Vowell is and enjoy her books as well.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Fool Moon - Jim Butcher



   2001; 342 pages. Book Two (out of 14; soon to be 15) of the “Dresden Files” series.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Urban Fantasy; Murder-Mystery.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    Something has crashed through a window, assaulted an armed thug, ripped out his entrails, tore his face off, and given him nasty, claw-marked contusions all over what remained of his body.  Needless to say, the armed thug is not in a position to say anything about it.

    The curious thing is that the assailant also left some huge dog-like paw prints in the blood and gore.  And I suppose the police could start looking for a poodle on steroids, except there is also a full moon tonight.

    I wonder if that has anything to do with things.

What’s To Like...
     You’ll likely find Fool Moon in the Horror or Science Fiction section of your library/bookstore, but really, at its core, it’s a Murder-Mystery.  Jim Butcher mixes all sorts of paranormal critters and events into his stories, but Harry is still being called in to tell the Chicago PD what sort of unnatural beast killed some unfortunate victim.

    Here, rather obviously, la bête du jour is the werewolf.  But Butcher creates a whole genus of werewolves – Hexenwolves, Werewolves, Lycanthropes, and the baddest-of-the-bad, the Loup-Garou.  What a great set of lupine theriomorphs to read about, with each one requiring a different way to combat it.

    The story is well-written, with wit aplenty.  There are lots of plot twists, and they didn’t feel forced or arbitrary.  And just when things are winding down, Butcher throws one last unexpected-and-exquisite twist in the Epilogue regarding Tera.  I love those extra little nuances in a story.

    Dresden’s resident spirit, Bob, is back; that’s always a plus.  So is his cat “Mister”, as well as his police-buddy, the tough-as-nails Karrin Murphy.  There’s lots of action, the pacing is brisk, and everything builds nicely to an exciting ending.  Some good guys get killed; some beasties get away.  Harry isn’t always right, and he doesn’t win every fight he gets into. I like that.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Mince (v.)  :  To walk with an affected delicacy or fastidiousness, typically with short, quick steps.

Excerpts...
    “I want you to learn more,” I told him.  “Go out and see what else you can round up on werewolves.”
    Bob snorted “Fat chance, Harry.  I’m a spirit of intellect, not an errand boy.”  But when I said the word “out,” Bob’s eyes glittered.
    “I’ll pick you up some new romance novels, Bob,” I offered.
    Bob’s teeth clicked a couple of times.  “Give me a twenty-four-hour pass,” he said.
    I shook my head.  “Forget it.  The last time I let you out, you invaded a party over at Loyola and set off an orgy.”
    Bob sniffed.  “I didn’t do anything to anyone that a keg wouldn’t have done.”  (pg. 64)

    “Very well, wizard,” Tera said.  “I will show you the nearest camera and help you over the wall.  Do not move from where you land.  We do not know who is on the other side of the wall, or where.”
    “Don’t worry about me,” I said.  “Worry about yourself.  If there’s a good way through the wall, Denton might show up there, too, to go in.  Or MacFinn might.”
    “MacFinn,” Tera said, traces of pride in her voice and fear in her eyes, “will not even notice that the wall got in his way.”  (pg. 279)

 “Don’t mess with a wizard when he’s wizarding!”  (pg.  184)
    There’s a slew of werewolf stories out there.  What impressed me with Fool Moon is how Jim Butcher steers away from the stereotyped werewolf character, and the banal “please help me, I’m a monster” plotline.  To boot, there is usually just one werewolf in a story in this genre, and it’s often pretty obvious who the human/lupine is.  Here, Chicago seems to be infested with the beasts, so Dresden’s task isn’t so much finding one, as it is sorting through a slew of them and trying to find out which ones did the killing, and why.

    Fool Moon was my third book in the series.  I’ve read #1, #6, and #2, in that order.  They are all standalone stories, but I can definitely see where it is a richer experience to read them in order.
  
    8½ Stars.  There’s nothing “epic” about The Dresden Files series, but I think Jim Butcher fully succeeds at writing both a good Murder-Mystery and a Tale of the Paranormal.  I was entertained the whole way through.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Templar Concordat - Terrence O'Brien



    2010; 412 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Action-Intrigue.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    The Knights Templar were never wiped own.  They are alive and well, headquartered in Zurich, and running a number of lucrative business fronts and ventures – including several Swiss banks - from there.  But they are still a secret society, and that’s why no one knows they still exist.

    Another of their functions is to supply mercenary “muscle” and agents to carry out black-ops missions such as eliminating persons the Templar views as undesirables.  And they have an on-again, off-again arrangement with the Papacy to supply such services via a contract that’s been around for 600+ years.

    It’s called the Templar Concordat.

What’s To Like...
    The above hypothesis may sound far-fetched (historically, the Church was the prime destroyer of the Templars), but Terrence O’Brien somehow makes it all seem quite plausible.  There’s a nice balance of Action (thrills-&-kills) and Intrigue (talking-&-revealing), with the latter done well enough to where it didn’t feel like an Info Dump and/or boring filler.

    Character-development is a mixed-bag.  The baddies are your stereotypical Arab terrorists, with the usual flavors – ruthless manipulators, religiously-phony operatives, or decent-but-naïve guys being duped or blackmailed.  The good guys are a better blend – the heroes have some flaws, and there’s a certain ruthlessness to the Templars.  Curiously, two of the main white-hats (Marie and Jean) are developed extensively, only to fade into the background in the second half of the book.  Perhaps they will have more prominent parts in a sequel.

    The main protagonist is a Templar agent named Sean Callahan, for whom the Templar adage “pray for luck” is a fervent wish.  My favorite character was the new Pope.  He drinks beer (in moderation), cusses every once in a while, doesn’t stand on protocol, and wears jeans and cowboy boots.  Some stodgy Catholics will probably find this portrayal off-putting, but in a way it presages the 2013 ascension of Pope Francis.  FWIW, The Templar Concrdat was published in 2010.

     Plotwise, everything builds nicely to a climax that is both exciting and satisfying, if somewhat predictable.  Still, the author does throw one nifty little twist into the final resolution to keep you on your toes.  And there are a couple smidgens of subtle humor tossed in as well, such as a news correspondent named Bear Donner.  I’ll let you figure that one out.

Excerpts...
    “Humph, I’ve never seen a Pope before.  The man’s a lunatic.  We came all the way from Zurich to make a deal with a madman?”
    “We did, indeed.  The Pope’s the Pope.”  He pointed up to the castle window.  “And that’s why they call him the Mad Pope.  Doesn’t matter if he’s lost his mind.  That’s not a requirement for Popes or kings.  What he can do is bind the Church and every Pope who comes after him if he says this is what God wants.”  He grinned at the Marshall.  “Think I’m going to argue the fine points like sanity?”  (loc. 172)

    “Berrera and the Church saved my life.  I owe them everything.  Let’s not waste our time.  I spent ten years with the Philippine Marine Corps special operations units.  We hunted people in the south.  Brought the war to them in ways they never imagined.  Then government security services recruited me and I did the same things, just without a uniform, and without a good reason.  Then I started working for myself, doing the same things for even less reason.”  (loc. 6020)

Kindle Details...
    The Templar Concordat sells for $2.99 at Amazon.  This appears to be Terrence O’Brien’s only offering for now, but the Amazon blurb indicates he’s working on a sequel.

”...any problem can be solved by the proper application of high explosives.”  (loc. 4872)
    The Templar Concordat kept my interest throughout, and in an age when there’s a plethora of Templar-themed novels and Dan Brown wannabes, the author finds a fresh new angle to explore.  I do have two main quibbles (is that an oxymoron?), and they both concern the underlying theological premises.

    First, there’s the deep, dark secret that we don’t want the Muslim world to know – that the Church and the West are out to exterminate Islam.  Ya think?  We’ve staged 7 major Crusades against them, used the bulk of Palestine to create Israel, and invaded and occupied two Muslim countries – Iraq and Afghanistan – for no valid reasons.  I’m thinking most Muslims are already convinced we’re out to get them.

    Second, Papal Infallibility.  It simply wouldn’t apply here, just as it doesn’t apply to any of the Papal-endorsed Crusades.  Papal Infallibility has a narrow application, and seems to be used mostly when the Vatican wants to keep the Faithful from questioning one of their theological positions.  If the Pope declares the Virgin Birth a miracle, his stance will be viewed as infallible.  If he declares Vladimir Putin to be a twit, that’s just his opinion.  If he declares war on the Protestants, he will be checked for dementia.

    8 Stars.  I found The Templar Concordat to be an entertaining read, and who cares if the theology is a bit shaky?  The whole Templar/Vatican relationship is innovative enough to be developed into a series, and here’s hoping that Sean, Marie, Jean, Pope Dominic, and the archivist Patrick all have recurring roles.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Faust Among Equals - Tom Holt




   1994; 292 pages.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Mythopoeia; Humorous Fantasy.  Overall Rating : 7*/10.

    “Lucky” George Faustus has done something unprecedented.  He’s escaped from Hell.  They want him back, but because of his deal with the minions there, they can’t touch him.

    Ah, but the Devil’s in the details.  He may be off limits to the fiendish hordes, but there’s nothing stopping them from posting a reward and letting bounty hunters do their work for them.

    Kurt “Mad Dog” Lundqvist is the best bounty hunter ever.  He does it for the money, he does it for the thrill of the chase, and he does it cuz he’s mean.  And once he decides to go after George, there is going to be Hell to pay.

What’s To Like...
    Faust Among Equals is Tom Holt’s light-hearted musings on what might have happened to the character in German legends after his soul has been confined to Hell.  This is not to be confused with Goethe’s (version of) Faust, who has a happier fate.

    It has the usual Holt zaniness, as Lundqvist chases George hither, thither, and yon.  Along the way, we meet a host of secondary characters.  Some are famous – Sitting Bull, “Lenny” da Vinci, Helen of Troy, Don Juan.  Some are not – Links Jotapian, the three Spectral Warriors, and Larry & Mike.  The latter are a hoot.  Well actually, they’re more of a squawk.

    The chase is global, including the Australian Outback, which also figured significantly in a recent book I read (the review is here).  But the geographical highlight is a Theme Park called EuroBosch, designed and built by one Hieronymus “Ronnie” Bosch.  Hey, I’d pay good money to gain entry into that amusement park.

    The characters aren’t deep, but they are certainly interesting.  For all his ruthlessness, I kind of warmed up to Lundqvist.  He doesn’t have access to magic like George does, so he has to rely on his own wits and meanness.  I inherently root for the underdog.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Boffin (n.)  :  a person engaged in scientific or technical research.  (a Britishism)

Excerpts...
    Engineers are like mountain-climbers; not in the sense of having bushy beards and no toes because of frostbite, but because the one thing they really can’t resist is a challenge.  Ask an engineer to change the washer on a leaking tap and he’ll tell you to get lost.  Show him a design for making water roll uphill without pressure and drive a flywheel and ask him if he thinks it might work, and before you know it he’s reaching for his Vernier calipers and his slide rule, and all you’ve got to do is decide whether you want the flywheel in pale fawn or avocado.  (pg. 189)

    “You do realize,” she said huffily, “that this is a gun I’m-“
    “Yeah,” Lundqvist sighed, “sure.  To be precise, it’s a .25 Bauer, chrome finish, early seventies at a guess, pearl grips and machine engraving on the rear of the slide.  I imagine you chose it to go with your earrings.”
    Helen was impressed.  “You can tell all that from feeling it in your ear?”
    “Lady,” Lundqvist replied with dignity, “I’ve had more pieces shoved up my ear than you’ve had men.  The difference is, I can tell them apart in the dark.”
    “Pig.”  (pg. 278)

 Idiots rush in where demons fear to tread.  (pg.  254)
    For all of its plusses – good writing, humor, thrills and spills, Faust Among Equals lacks one critical thing – a compelling plotline.  At its heart, FAE is really just a book-long chase.  Now I admit, if I have to read a 300-page chase, I want the author to be Tom Holt.  But without a good story to accompany it, you can’t really call it a masterpiece.  Remember the old Steve McQueen movie, Bullitt?  With that fantastic chase scene up and down the hills of San Francisco.  But what was the movie’s plotline?  Yeah, I don’t remember either.

    Don’t get me wrong, Faust Among Equals was still an entertaining read.  But when I think back on my favorite Tom Holt books, this isn’t going to jump to the forefront.

    7 Stars.  Add 1 star if you think storylines just get in the way of the exciting parts of a book.  Add another ½ star if you actually do remember the plotline to Bullitt.