Friday, May 29, 2015

Smoke - Donald Westlake

    1995; 439 pages.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Crime-Humor.  Overall Rating : 7½*/10.

    It seemed like it would be such an easy heist.  Break into the Loomis Heimhocker Research Facility after hours, and steal some easy-to-pawn items.  Except, who knew that the two scientists that worked there also lived in the upstairs loft of the lab?

    And so Freddie Urban Noon, a smalltime burglar, finds himself caught in the act by the scientists.  And when given the choice between being turned over to the police or “volunteering” to be a guinea pig in their cure-for-cancer research, the decision is really easy.  Particularly since they told him where the antidote was kept.  Freddie doesn’t plan to be a human lab rat for long.

    It turns out, however, that the scientists were fibbing.  What he was told was the antidote turns out to be another test solution for curing cancer.  And the combination of the two makes people see right through Freddie.


What’s To Like...
    In a nutshell, Smoke is Donald Westlake’s spin on the old H.G. Wells classic, “The Invisible Man”.   However, since Westlake is best known for his lighthearted-crime novels (the “Dortmunder” series), the protagonist becomes a likeable burglar, and the storyline is more humorous than sci-fi.

    It’s a lot of fun to watch Westlake explore the plusses and minuses of being an invisible burglar.  Getting in and out of a place is easy, and the store cameras are completely useless.  OTOH, Freddie has to work completely naked, which means no pockets, cold hands and feet, and trying to get away with merchandise that is very visible.  Everyday life is also difficult – you can’t drive a car, your girlfriend complains of no privacy, and even preparing a sandwich with invisible hands is a daunting challenge.

    Donald Westlake develops Freddie and his GF Peg quite fully, but most of the other characters are pretty stereotypical.  The break-ins get a bit repetitive, but Westlake sprinkles an adequate amount of humor (the funeral oration on pages 260-266 is hilarious!) and excitement (both the cops and the bad guys are trying to capture Freddie) into the plotline to keep the reader's attention.

    You’ll meet a group of gay guys, and Westlake’s portrayal of them is realistic and even-handed, which is surprising for a book written in the 1990’s.  Everything builds to an exciting ending, and although the epilogue leaves room for a sequel, Westlake never wrote one, which I personally think was the right decision.  This is a standalone novel, and like most Westlake tales, has some cussing in it.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Fershlugginer (adj.) : crazy; wacky; foolish.  (a Yiddishism)
Others : Suasion (n.); Gonif (n.); Slope (v.); Toby Jug (n., phrase); Contretemps (n.); Nibelung (n.).

    “Beer,” he said.
    “Yes, sir?”
    “Imported.  In a bottle.”
    “Any particular brand, sir?”
    “What’ve you got that’s from the farthest away?”
    The barman had to think about that.  He wrinkled his mustache briefly, then said, “That would be the one from China.”
    “Mainland China?  Where they have slave labor?”
    “Yes, sir.”
    “I’ll have that,” Barney decided, and as the barman turned away he gave Leethe his own bleak look and explained, “I like the idea that a lot of people worked long and hard, just for me.”  (pg. 194)

    “I would like to say a word about kidnapping.”
    That shut everybody up.  They all stared at Edmond, a bear-like man famous in his group for having more hair on his shoulders than on his head.  At last, William, an antiques dealer, said, “Edmond, this isn’t a kidnapping.  This is an invisible man!”
    Edmond spread his meaty hands.  “Hath an invisible man no rights?  Hath he not hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions, even if you can’t see them?  If you prick him, doth he not bleed?”
    “Not so’s you’d notice,” said Peter.  (pg. 360)

 It’s hard to look on the sunny side when you’re in a shitstorm.  (pg. 416
    Overall, the plotline felt a little looser than usual for a Westlake novel, and some of the characters, Michael Prendergast and George Clapp in particular, seemed underused.  Also, despite the humor, heists, and chases, things did drag once or twice.

    Smoke is not part of the Dortmunder series.  Freddie Noon has certain similarities to John Dortmunder, but the invisibility aspect would’ve been a very awkward fit.   But it's still an enjoyable read, and Dortmunder devotees will not be disappointed.  It’s just that, for most readers, Smoke will never supplant the Dortmunder series as their favorite Donald Westlake book(s).

    7½ Stars.  Subtract 1 star if you work in the Tobacco Industry.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Whisper King - Wil Radcliffe

   2015; 245 pages.  Book 1 of The Whisper King series.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Dark Fantasy.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    For 7-year-old David Kinder, the creeping shadows on the bedroom wall at the orphanage are scary.  Of course, this is a common phobia for all young kids when they’re alone in the dark.  But these shadows seem to talk to David, saying something like “Cuthach turas Scath Sliabh bheith i seirbhis ag Cogar Ri.”

    Okay, David, let’s not panic.  It could be some mind game, or some ventriloquist throwing his voice.  But then a flash of lightning reveals that the shadows have grown fangs, claws, and tortured eyes.

    Okay, now it’s time to panic!

What’s To Like...
    For those readers who have already read Wil Radcliffe’s books, The Whisper King is a radical departure from his Noggle Stones series.  It’s set in a different world – Michigan, starting in the 1980’s - and the tone is much darker.  David Kinder is a troubled soul, which is also true of a lot of the characters you meet here.

    The opening quarter of the book will remind you of a Stephen King horror tale, but really this falls more into the Dark Fantasy genre.  There is a lot of cussing, some sex, and an allusion to pedophilia; but this is all balanced by Wil Radcliffe’s trademark wit, David Kinder’s sharp tongue, some romance, and a bunch of kewl references to things like Star Wars, hippies, Nietzsche, a dude named Johann Friedrich Bottger (yeah, I had to wiki him too), and a slew of 60’s-80’s classic rock bands.

    But the real strength of The Whisper King is the superb storytelling.  The world-building is “just right”, there are plenty of plot twists, and no slow spots.  All of the characters have roles to play in the plotline, and even our Ultimate Evil, The Whisper King, is at least a little “gray”.  He’s approachable, he can  laugh, and he has a grand plan.  But don’t fail him or betray his trust; he’s still predominantly “black”.

    The chapters are short, so there’s always a convenient place to stop.  It is written from the 1st-person (David’s) POV, as he grapples with why all this sh*t is happening to him.  I wouldn’t call this a standalone novel, but it ends at a logical place, and the teaser epilogue will leave you drooling for the sequel.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Baluster (n.) : a short pillar or column, typically decorative in design, in a series supporting a rail or balustrade.

    “Why is music forbidden?”
    “Cogar Ri has his reasons.”
    “Why are we being trained to fight?”
    “Cogar Ri has his reasons.”
    “Why does my ass itch?”
    “Cogar Ri has his reasons.” (pg. 64)

    So there I was, embracing a goddess.  Falling into a world of sweat and groans.  My body reacted to her every touch as if being reborn over and over.  I kept my eyes closed the entire time, fearing that if I opened them I might discover I’d merely been in a dream.
    Christ.  If that prose was any more purple they’d give it its own kids’ show on PBS.  (pg. 130)

 There’s no cure for stupid, but a good beating will treat the symptoms.  (pg. 209)
    To say that there is a lot of cussing in The Whisper King is an understatement.  There’s a slew of it, even when 7-year-old David is narrating.  I thought it helped set the tone of the book, but inevitably there will be some readers who will be turned off by it, especially if they were looking for another installment in the Noggle Stones series.

    I found TWK to be an unanticipated broadening of Wil Radcliffe’s literary repertoire.  I love to read Light Fantasy books, but I enjoy Stephen-King-esque Horror-Fantasy as well.  And, as with Jasper Fforde and (the late) Terry Pratchett, the more series an author starts, the more books we can expect from him.  Plus, I’m happy whenever any of my favorite authors refuses to be confined to just one genre.

    Bottom line – if you're a reader of Dark Fantasy, then unless you’re turned off by the plethora of cusswords, you will enjoy The Whisper King just as much any of the Noggle Stones stories.  The tone is of course completely different, but, as always, Radcliffe's storytelling is a real treat.

    8½ Stars.  I received an Advance Uncorrected Proof version of The Whisper King for my reading enjoyment and feedback.  The book will be released at Amazon on July 17th.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Persona Non Grata - Ruth Downie

    2009; 400 pages.  Book #3 (out of 6) of the Medicus series.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Historical Fiction; Crime Mystery.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    “Lucius to Gaius. Come home, brother!”

    Well, Gaius Petreius Ruso would like to oblige, but he’s a member of a Roman legion in Britain, and all his relatives are in Gaul.  And the army doesn’t give am open-ended leave of absence just because your brother summons you.

    But when Ruso breaks his foot, an extended convalescence is needed anyway, so it’s an opportunity for him to make the long, arduous journey back to his home.  He can even take Tilla along, after all, she’s his wif.., his girlfr…, his serv…, well his companion of uncertain relationship.  Yeah, the family’s gonna love meeting a barbarian.

    So imagine his confusion when, upon his arrival, Lucius wants to know why he chose to return home now, and that the timing could not have been worse.

What’s To Like...
    The setting of Gaul for Persona Non Grata is unique.  All of the other books in the series (thus far) are set in various parts of Britannia.  The book is also unique in that, based on the evidence, Ruso is a prime suspect in the murder.  And if the investigators sent from Rome can’t determine the real killer, they’ll settle for arresting a convenient suspect, like Ruso), quickly followed by execution.  Roman justice is funny that way.

   Since we’re not in Britain (except for the very beginning), almost all the characters are new to the series.  Ruso and Tilla are the only familiar faces, but it’s fun to meet the rest of his family.  Up till now, we’ve only heard about them through letters from home.

    As always, Ruth Downie smoothly combines Historical Fiction with Murder Mystery.  There are the usual anachronisms (ladies’ underwear) and modern-day slang (“Bollocks” and “Blondie), but I’ve learned to accept that.  The murder doesn’t take place until 26%, but it is well-crafted, with lots of suspects, several twists, and a logical-yet-surprising (for me, at least) resolution.  IMO, this is the best Murder Mystery in the series.

   As always, among all the sleuthing and wit, Downie tackles some serious topics.  Here, Capital Punishment is examined and, to a lesser degree, Slavery.  This is a both a standalone novel and a part of a series.  There’s nothing R-rated about it, unless expressions like “Bollocks” offend you, and I pity you if that's the case.

Kewlest New Word...
Embrocation (n.) : a liquid used for rubbing on the body to relieve pain from sprains and strains; ointment; lotion; cream.

    The carriage rumbled to a halt and he found himself sitting no more than six feet away from its passenger.  A pair of perfectly made-up dark eyes gazed at him from an artificially pale face.  The reddened lips parted to emit the word, “Gaius!”
    “Claudia!”  Ruso was not sure how a man should address his former wife after three years of separation, but he was confident that you’ve put on weight and what have you done to your hair? were not appropriate.  (loc. 1218)

    “If you’re not buying, don’t interfere with the stock.”
    Tilla sighed.  “My people,” she said sadly, gazing out between the masts to where a lump of driftwood was swirling on the current.  “Always the same.”
    Cass said, “ What is the matter with your people?”
    “Nothing,” said Tilla, setting out once more along the wharf.  “They are clever and brave.  But when you offer them something good they can always find a reason why it will not work.”  (loc. 3868)

Kindle Details...
    Persona Non Grata sells for $9.59 at Amazon.  The other Medicus books range in price from $7.55 to $9.99.

“Gaius, you haven’t done something very silly, have you?”  “Frequently.”  (loc. 758)
    Persona Non Grata is unique in one other way – a lot of ink is spent on Tilla becoming a follower of “Christos”, including the requisite theology as the brethren (sisters, actually) educate her about this new God.  I always cringe a little when religion begins to creep into a book or series that previously had none, and I’ve been burnt once or twice in the past by authors trying to sneak their religious dogma into a novel of an unrelated genre.

    I haven’t been reading this series in order, and since this is Book Three in a currently 6-book series, I’ve read the three novels that follow it.  And I am happy to report that the series does not veer into religious drivel.  Tilla adds Christos to her various other deities, and Ruso continues to be skeptical of the value of any of them.  Oh, he’ll offer a sacrifice when it is prudent, but mostly it’s a pragmatic CYA gesture.

    It’s taken me about a year to read all the books in this series, and I’m happy to say it hasn’t become stale at all.  Hopefully, there’s a Book 7 in the works.

    8½ Stars.  FWIW, my local digital library used to offer every book in this series except this one.  But last December I discovered you could make recommendations for further e-books, and so I suggested Persona Non Grata.  About a month later they sent me an e-mail notifying me that they had acquired PNG.  There are other dedicated Ruth Downie fans here in Phoenix, and it wasn’t until now that I found it available.  The point is:  if your local digital library doesn’t carry a book you want, and lets you make suggestions, by all means, do it!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Cold Storage, Alaska - John Straley

    2014; 300 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Contemporary Fiction.  Overall Rating : 7½*/10.

    The year is 2000, and Clive McCahon has just finished his 7-year stint for drug-dealing in the McNeil Federal Prison in Washington.  He plans to head back to his hometown, a small, out-in-the-boonies town called Cold Storage, Alaska.  But first he needs to pick up his dog and a little bit of cash.

    Meanwhile, in Cold Storage, his younger brother, Miles McCahon, is resisting the temptation to leave this god-forsaken spot in the wilderness for someplace more civilized.  But he has their aged mother to tend to, as well as being Cold Storage’s only medic, shrink, and purveyor of sage advice.

    You better watch your back, Clive, because a couple people plan on following you to Cold Storage.  One’s a cop who’s convinced Clive’s going to re-start his drug operation there and has vowed to put him in behind bars again.  The other’s a former business associate of Clive's who thinks Clive’s cash is rightfully his.

    Duffel bags full of hundred dollars bills tend to attract more than one claimant.

What’s To Like...
    If you like stories set in Alaska, you’re gonna love this book.  John Straley spends a lot of time “painting” the scenery, and it works here.  You’ll also enjoy meeting a bunch of characters, including most of the local townspeople, although, frankly, there aren’t that many of them.  I especially liked how the author developed the bad guys, Jake in particular.

    A lot of the supporting cast have their own storylines, including one who wants to go kayaking to meet the Dalai Lama.  These disparate plotlines have their charm, but make the tale-telling somewhat unfocused, and I was left wondering what the main storyline was.  Fortunately, Straley anticipates this and enlightens the reader about halfway through the book: this is a story of two brothers coming to grips with their roles in life, and with each other as well.  Despite its dark moments, this is mostly a “feel good” novel.

    There are a ton of music references, including a number of obscure groups, which I liked.  There’s enough action scattered throughout the book to keep you from becoming bored with life in Cold Storage, and everything builds to a satisfying ending.  Those diverse and meandering supporting character storylines all get tied up in a clever “Months and Years Later” epilogue.  There’s some cussing and sex, but they help give the setting a “real” feel.  This is a standalone novel.

Kewlest New Word...
Mook (n.) : a stupid or incompetent person; a loser  (an Yankeeism)
Others : Gamelan (n.); Tenebrous (adj.).

    In 1935, the town got an infusion of energy when a battered logger, a woman Wobbly, and her little girl with glasses fled the mine strike in Juneau in a leaky dory and made the place their home.  The logger was named Slippery Wilson.  The woman was named Ellie Hobbes.  She was a pilot and a committed anarchist.  The little girl with the thick glasses was Annabelle.  When Slip and Ellie built the first store, the old fishermen complained that the town was growing too fast.  But when Elie turned the store into a bar a few years later, the complaining stopped.   (loc. 209)

    “Did you want to talk to me, Miles”” she asked.
    “Well, not really.  I don’t know how I got into this really, but Billy wanted me to talk to you.
    “About what?”  She took a half step toward him, her forehead furrowed.
    “Well,” he said, “it’s kind of hard to explain, but he wants to break up with you because you saved his life and you remind him of Ed McMahon.”  (loc. 3199)

Kindle Details...
    Cold Storage, Alaska sells for $9.99 at Amazon.  The other two e-books that John Straley has available for the Kindle there sell for $7.59 and $9.99.

“Arguing with Lester was like arguing with the weather.”  (loc. 450)
    John Straley is apparently an established Mystery writer, and my local e-library listed Cold Storage, Alaska as being one.  It is not.  The author blends in a bunch of genres – humor (actually, more witty than out-and-out funny), action, drama, and even some romance.  There was also a smidgen of fantasy, in the form of some talking animals, though that was an awkward fit, and why Straley mixed that in is beyond me.

    Overall, this book reminded me very much of Norman Maclean’s critically-acclaimed A River Runs Through It, which I read years ago and is reviewed here.  Maclean’s book bored me to tears, but in fairness, this genre – let’s call it “warm and fuzzy lifestyles” is not my cup of tea.  Personally, I think Cold Storage, Alaska is a much better effort in this genre.

    7½ Stars.  Add 1 star if you live in, have visited, or are enchanted by America’s last frontier, Alaska.  Add another 1 star if you liked the book, A River Runs Through It.  I don’t know whether to pity you or be jealous.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Proof - The Science of Booze - Adam Rogers

    2014; 212 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Laurels : Best Science Book of 2014 – Amazon, Wired, The Guardian, NBC; 2014 Gourmand Award – Best Spirits Book in the USA.  It kicked butt in the 2014 Awards, man.  Genre : Non-Fiction; Science; Alcohol.  Overall Rating : 9½*/10.

    Ah, booze.  It is truly a gift from God to Mankind.  There’s proof (pun intended) of that: fruits like grapes undergo fermentation naturally to create alcohols, and there is archaeological evidence humans have been enjoying the fruits (pun intended once again)of this metamorphosis, possibly as far back as 10,000 years ago.

    There is a bit of a drawback though.  The alcohol content in those fermented grapes is rather low.  So it was necessary for some thirsty humans (the Romans, probably) to invent a process called distillation, which enabled them to concentrate the alcohol and thereby greatly speed up catching a buzz and/or a drunken stupor.

    But it’s 2 millennia after the Romans now, and surely we can use Modern Science to analyze the steps to make booze, and then quickly reproduce the process in a lab.  After all, who wants to wait a couple years for Whiskey to age, or Wine to mature?  It’ll be easy, right?

    Wrong.  Not easy at all.

What’s To Like...
    Adam Rogers does a remarkable job of combining history, science, in-the-field research, and wit to educate the reader all about how we get from the field (there are lots of plants besides grapes that can be converted to alcohol) to booze.  You may think there’s a big difference between whiskey, champagne, vodka, beer, and wine – and for the imbiber, there is - but the process to make each one is pretty much the same.

    Proof – The Science of Booze is laid out in an admirably logical manner: each chapter takes you step-by-step through the process.  The chapters (and brief synopses) are:

0.) Intro – Yay Booze!
1.) Yeast – Lose your yeast; lose your business.
2.) Sugar – Yeast + Sugar = Alcohol.
3.) Fermentation – If a grape can do it, how hard can it be?
4.) Distillation – Better (stronger, actually) solutions through Chemistry!
5.) Aging – Ewww.  What is that black mold, anyway?
6.) Smell & Taste – Can you objectively quantify sensory input?
7.) Body & Brain – The chemistry of catching a buzz.
8.) Hangover – What causes them?  What can you do about them?

    Despite the short length of the book (212 pages, not including the “Notes”, “Index”, and “Bibliography” sections which I didn’t bother with), this was a slow read because of all the technical information imparted.  Wit and humor abound, but Science comes first and foremost.  Yet they are not mutually exclusive.  For instance, there’s the clinical study titled Effect of Dilute Alcohol Given by Rectal Injection During Sleep” (pg 164).  No, I’m not volunteering for that one, but somebody did.

    Adam Rogers also blends in a bunch of anecdotes (particularly from all the experts in booze-making that he visits and interviews) and statistics; and it all works.  The author prefers whiskey to wine, which is the opposite of me, but it’s all good reading.  There’s a lot of chemistry here – things like azeotropic limit, fractional distillation, Erlenmeyer flasks, wood chemistry, H2S, etc.  I’m a chemist by trade, so I was in geek heaven, but if you’re not scientifically inclined, this may get a bit tedious.  Non-techies are allowed to skip the “sciency” stuff.

 Kewlest New Word ...
Hagiographies (n., plural) : biographies that idolize their subjects
Others : Apotheosis (n.); Qualia (n.); Ur-Dram (n.; I never did find a definition for this)

    Some archaeologists and anthropologists have argued that the production of beer induced human beings to settle down and develop permanent agriculture – to literally put down roots and cultivate grains instead of roam nomadically.  The manufacture of alcohol was, arguably, the social and economic revolution that allowed Homo sapiens to become civilized human beings.  It’s the apotheosis of human life on earth.  It’s a miracle.  (pg. 5)

    When you take a sip of wine, you’re tasting a lot.  The tongue is covered in taste cells – clustered into onion-shaped structures that we call taste buds.  At the top of those cells are receptor molecules, chains of protein that sense external conditions.  When the right molecule hits, the cell goes through all kinds of internal mechanics that lead up to giving adjacent nerve fibers a little squirt of  chemicals called neurotransmitters, basically saying, “Hey, I got a taste here – let the brain know, wouldja?”  (pg. 142)

 “Booze is civilization in a glass.”  (pg. 7 )
    You would think that the whole booze-making process has been completely figured out, but that’s not the case.  Historically, we don’t know when Man first started doing his own fermenting, let alone when he first started deliberately partaking of alcohol.  Science-wise, we don’t know how the yeast does its thing, let alone how to get consistent-tasting results, year after year, when aging the liquor.  Heck, we can’t even objectively quantify smells and tastes.

    And despite all the hangovers we’ve had, no one knows exactly what causes them, or, sadly, how to reliably cure them.  So if you’re an aspiring archaeologist or chemist, there is still a lot of research to be done.

    9½ Stars.  Highly recommended, although it helps if you are both a scientist and a partaker of booze.  Subtract 1 star (each) if you don’t fall into those categories.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Old Man's War - John Scalzi

     2007; 306 pages.  Book 1 (out of soon-to-be 6) in the Old Man’s War series.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Science Fiction; Military Sci-Fi.  Overall Rating : 9½*/10.

    It really is an enticing proposal that the CDF (Colonial Defense Forces) offers to old folks.  At age 75, you sign an “Intent To Join” form.  Then you have 10 years (assuming you don’t die along the way) to actually enlist.  You have to serve for at least two years, and the Army has the option to keep you for an additional eight.  After that you can retire to a colony of your choice, the only stipulation being that you can never return to Earth.

    For 85-year old John Perry, the time to join up is now.  His wife, Kathy, died several years back, and there’s really nothing holding him to this life of geezerhood.  Besides, there’s a rumor that the CDF has some sort of rejuvenation process that de-ages you back to being a 20-year-old.  Which makes sense, since you wouldn’t want to be fighting galactic baddies with a bunch of senior citizens.

    Death is a distinct possibility whenever one enlists in an army at war, but it was a certainty back on Earth; and new worlds, new adventures, and a new life await all the new (well, “old”) recruits.

    But first, there’s Boot Camp.

What’s To Like...
    For Military Sci-Fi enthusiasts, there’s lots of blood and gore, kewl weapons, and a fair amount of strategy and tactics.  Bad guys get killed; good guys get killed; it’s the nature of war.  For “Hard” Sci-Fi enthusiasts, there are multiverses tachyons, nanobots, and a fascinating “beanstalk” that inspires a provocative contemplation of the mechanics needed to build it.  But the fighting and physics never overshadow a well-crafted storyline that kept me reading “just one more chapter” late at night.

    John Perry is dry-humored, resourceful, and down-to-earth (pun intended), with just enough of a rebellious streak to make him a great protagonist.  There’s a fascinating supporting cast to get to know as well., including the irrepressible Quantum Physics whiz Harry Wilson, and the guy with the kewlest title, Private Senator Ambassador Secretary Bender.  Just be careful not to get too attached to anybody in the CDF; the attrition rate in galactic warfare is steep.

    Old Man’s War is divided into three roughly equal-in-length sections.  Part One is about the CDF Recruitment program and offers some pithy thoughts about old age and dying.  Part Two focuses on Boot Camp and Fighting, and gives you food for thought about war, sacrifice, and alien mindsets.  Part Three concerns the Ghost Brigade, and to detail its themes would involve spoilers.

    There’s quite a bit of cussing lots of violence, and some sex; but hey, it’s the Army; what would you expect?!  Balancing all this is a stream of wit and humor and just further enhances the storytelling.  The Special Forces troops all have surnames honoring science nerds – Dalton, Hawking, Bohr, Sagan, Fermi, etc.  How geekily kewl is that!?  And the recounting of the meeting with the Consu (83% Kindle) will have you chuckling out loud.

  The story is told from John Perry’s first-person POV, which works wonderfully here.  This is the first book in a series, but it’s also a standalone novel.  The ending is well-constructed and poignant.

Kewlest New Word...
Tachyon (n.) : a hypothetical particle that travels faster than light.  (See the Wikipedia article on this)
Others : Phoneme (n.); Supernumerary (n., although it can also be an adjective); Anthropophagous (adj.)

    “Anyway, you’re going to join an organization you’ve never met.  Doesn’t that bother you?”
    “No,” I admitted.  “I’m old, my wife is dead and there’s not much reason to stay here anymore.  Are you going to join when the time comes?”
    She shrugged.  “I don’t mind getting old.”
    “I didn’t mind getting old when I was young, either,” I said.  “It’s the being old now that’s getting to me.”  (loc. 212)

    “You may refer to me as Ambassador, unworthy though I am of the title,” the Consu said.  “I am a criminal, having disgraced myself in battle on Pahnshu, and therefore am made to speak to you in your tongue.  For this shame I crave death and a term of just punishment before my rebirth.  It is my hope that as a result of these proceedings I will be viewed as somewhat less unworthy, and will thus be released to death.  It is why I soil myself by speaking to you.”
    “It’s nice to meet you, too,” I said.  (loc. 3678)

Kindle Details...
    Old Man’s War sells for $2.99 at Amazon right now, which is a really good deal for a full-length novel from a currently red-hot Sci-Fi author.  The other books in the series are priced in the $5.99-$8.99 range.  John Scalzi’s novels outside this series are in the $7.99-$11.99 range, including a Little Fuzzy book that I will search high and low to find.  He also has a number of short stories and novellas for the Kindle, appropriately lesser-priced.

(H)ow comfortable can you really be with a race that sees you as a nutritious part of a complete breakfast?  (loc. 2750)
    John Scalzi acknowledges in the Afterword the Robert Heinlein influence on Old Man’s War, and indeed, Heinlein’s Starship Troopers will spring quickly to mind if you’ve read or watched it.  Some trademark Heinlein motifs are present, such as women being equally good soldiers as their male counterparts (and no one making a big deal about that).

    But Scalzi doesn’t merely rehash Heinlein themes; he expands upon them.  The alien cultures here are much more detailed and varied, as are the unforeseen and potentially-lethal dangers one inevitably encounters when touching down in a new, far-flung, alien world.  Indeed, one of the real delights in reading this book was seeing just how many surprising variations the author could come up with in these areas.

    This was my first John Scalzi book, and it is always a treat to discover a great new author who has a bunch of other books available.  Alas, there’s quite a waiting list for both his e-books and “book books” at my local library.  So it may be time for a field trip to my local used-book stores this weekend.

    9½ Stars.  Subtract 1 star if you thought Starship Troopers was a stupid movie.  I happen to think it was brilliant.