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This Is How It Should Be

This Is How It Should Be

Which, yes, means it doesn’t. But this is simple, and we can’t seem to pull it together enough to get the simple stuff like this right. It makes me worry. I see so many examples of the kind of things that make this list feel needed every day. It is, in fact, the main reason I would have dropped all social media, if I didn’t need it for work. Yes, it’s that bad. I can’t seem to grasp how this is so easy to ignore – and how many people insist on acting against the simple ‘duh’ level reality I am talking about.

So, here is my list of things it’s past time to realize:

If the other side does it, and you think it’s wrong, it’s wrong when your side does it too.

If your side does it, and you think it’s good, it’s good when the other side does it too.

Your side is not all saints.

The other side is not all sinners.

It is good, right, and just to call out those on your side who are bad actors.

No one is all of anything. Hitler was a decently talented artist, and loved his dogs.

You aren’t all of any one thing either…

Objective truths exist – wrong is wrong, regardless of who did it or why. Or to whom.

Speech is not violence. Violence is not speech.

Hold law enforcement to a strict standard, the same laws they hold us to.

Politicians are not heroes. Or stars. They are, at best, ineffective middle managers who have delusions of superiority. Stop lionizing them.

If you define everyone on one side as evil, expect some of them to become evil. If you make it clear your side thinks an entire demographic is stupid / uneducated / worthless / second class (or lower), you can expect them to hate you in return.

We used to at least try to get along, we should look at that again.

Give it a try…you might be shocked what happens.

Book Review: Organic

Book Review: Organic

Organic, Book 2 of the Kepler FilesAh, the sequel. This is the part of a series that is tricky – balancing the need to bridge the introduction to the climax. There is a reason that one assumes a sequel will just not be as good as the original. It’s hard to get that lightning in the bottle twice, after all.

Organic is the follow-up to Jadah McCoy’s debut novel ‘Artificial’, and has a case of the sophomore slump, that is undeniable. That is not to say this is a bad novel – because it isn’t. Since I have my guess as to where this is going, this book had to be what it is. That is to say, it needed to move the timeline forward, not kill anyone important, and establish a conflict that had to be overcome in the finale.

And it does all that fairly well. I wasn’t overjoyed to see the course it took, but I understand why it went where it did. The author, we are told, pitched the book as “Bladerunner meets Pitch Black”. I see that, and the parallels to Pitch Black are solidly there. Bladerunner…less so to me, but then I never much liked Bladerunner (gasp!). I did like the source material, so my geek cred isn’t totally shot. I think the idea of that being used in the pitch was to highlight the conflict between humans and androids, but here is just doesn’t work (didn’t in Bladerunner either – the replicants just wanted to invade Earth, and be left alone). The inter-personal conflicts are much more interesting than the inter-species(?) conflict. Especially as the androids have all the advantages here – literally.

On the interpersonal conflict front, we get Syl and Bastion trying to save her people from destruction at the hands of the androids. And deal with Syl’s unexpected transition to being an android herself. That was interesting – from her horror at the fact that she needs to power off (and the nightmares it inspires) to the challenge of dealing with vastly improved strength, without the inherited understanding that comes with normal android manufacture. These segments alone make this a good book – and had we been trekking across the world exploring this, I would have been a happy camper.

But we aren’t. We are saving the humans too, and that part is all over the place. From the hesitant acceptance of some to the outright hostility of others, the humans are…human. I just found the human villains to be nearly comic book level of over the top. They were all about the grandiose plans, but executed by morons. And that hurt the narrative – they never felt like a threat. The other androids didn’t factor in much, so no threat there either.

In fact, the main source of conflict was Syl herself. Whipsawing between emotional states, she alternately clings to and shoves away her only real friend in the world, Bastion.

I am not a woman, and I cannot (and do not) claim to understand how another person processes emotional states, much less someone (or a whole population) whose neurochemistry is so radically different from mine. I just have read too many of these sorts of books where the female lead is all over the place in regards to a male character. This is not a ‘he’s cute, but a jerk…I want to be with him, but not deal with the personality’…that I get. It is more of the ‘he is devoted and loyal, and I have to attack that quality, then demand it, then attack, then push away, then demand it again, and he can never say a word’. And the male characters in these tend to be…well, not all over the place. Either they are dedicated and devoted, or not. And that seems to never change. It just doesn’t click for me.

Despite that annoying interpersonal thing, this is still a decently good book. Like I opened with, I get why Organic has to be what it is. I expect the third in the series will redeem this wholly, and also be a lot more ‘Pitch Black’, and a lot less ‘Bladerunner’. After all, the dark is coming…

Book Review: The Last Death Worm of the Apocalypse

Book Review: The Last Death Worm of the Apocalypse

Last Death Worm of the ApocalypseWith a title like that who can resist? I somewhat wish I did, but not much – this was a fun series, and a good capstone. If not satisfying.

So, this is the third book in the Kelly Driscoll Series. I honestly think that Amenity Tower Series would be more accurate, as the tower is more the focus than she is. Kelly is merely the protagonist. In the first two books (The Last Condo Board of the Apocalypse & The Last Donut Shop of the Apocalypse) we meet Kelly Driscoll, and the weird reflection of Chicago that is Pothole City. Bit on the nose there. The basic plot of all three books can be summed up as:

As the fallen angels take over the condo board, argue over who’s handling pizza delivery, and begin planning for a little shindig otherwise known as the apocalypse, Kelly must team up with an unlikely group of allies to find her target and keep the fallen angels at bay. In the process, she befriends a reluctant Angel of Destruction, gets tips from a persistent ferret, uncovers the mysteries behind Pothole City’s hottest snack food empire, and tries to prevent the end of the world.

Oddly, that is the best description for the books. Fallen angels try to leave Amenity Tower, where they are bound, and chaos ensues. Along with snack foods.

In this installment, the plot involves a new, competing, tower with more amenities, death worm pools, and a quest to figure out what exactly is happening. As with the previous books, an apocalypse does indeed begin, and…

You know, this is just weird enough that I can’t really describe it. So I’ll dance around it some. I loved the Pothole City concept. I completely get the tower itself, having contracted to a real estate office in Chicago’s Gold Coast (studio condos starting at $130.000. Studio…no bedroom). If anything, this downplays the way people in that part of the city act. The book is timely – with references to the airbag settlements among other things. That may work against the book in the long run, as in five years no one will remember the name of the company (Takata).

Where I truly found enjoyment was the concept of Single Purpose Angels – those celestial beings in charge of / responsible for a single thing. Like returning small birds to their owners. Or the 3AM hour. Or HVAC systems. That is an inspired bit of lunacy there. And the fact that they rely on Cluck Snack Products, in all their improbable variety, for life is equally inspired. Just the Cluck Snack names earn this a star. Not so much for the names themselves (P’nut Butt’r Koffee Eggs, Sparkling En’rgee Drink, with All-Natural Maple Syrup, Cheezy Flats Nacho Flav’r), but the parentheticals after the names. Like ‘Not For Hamsters or Chinchillas’, ‘For Kelly Driscoll, Not For Ferrets’, and so on. That was comic gold.

Overall, I expect that if you liked the first two books, you’ll enjoy this one. If you found the Cluck Snack segments to be your fav’rite, then I expect you’ll love this book.

Book Review: Muddy Waters

Book Review: Muddy Waters

Muddy Waters CoverAh, the supernatural.

That could be the whole of the review. Really. This isn’t a bad book, I actually enjoyed it. What this is is a lost book. There is a lot happening here, and it seems like the author is trying to cover all the ground possible, without quite landing on one spot.

Which can work – and almost does here. But this somehow just misses the mark. I think it is less the book, and more the plethora of similar themes currently in the market. Some newer, some older, but all just close enough to cloud this book.

So, in Muddy Waters, the world has been suddenly opened to magic and other dimensions of reality. In that suddenly magical world, there is a powerful family of witches that are mostly under the radar, but just powerful enough to attract the wrong sort of attention. They are all killed, and the last survivor, Tessa Reddick, pinned with their murder, sentenced to prison and monitoring by the federal magical watchdog division of the FBI. Not by that name, but still…

Once the murders seem to be starting back up, they pull her from prison, and put her to work solving the crimes. Of course, she is also trying to solve her family’s murder, and of course there is a connection. And a cute elf.

Ok, that was a bit of unfairness. All accurate, but not fair. Tessa is traumatized by the murders and time served, and that comes through fairly well. The elf is alien enough to work, with some of the obvious scenes about human/elf attraction tossed in, almost as much because the author wants to as because the audience expects it.

Over the course of this book, I was entertained, but never engrossed. There were too many aspects that I couldn’t get into, and too much that I think could have been better developed. By no means is this a bad book – should I review one of those, you’ll know. But this just wasn’t able to keep me ‘in’ the book.

Book Review: A Dangerous Year

Book Review: A Dangerous Year

A Dangerous Year CoverThis was one of those books that, when offered an advance copy for a review, I read the blurb and thought ‘interesting’, and the book lived to the hype.

The publication has been pushed back repeatedly, and that makes adding this to Amazon in a timely fashion difficult. Sad, as this is a great late-YA / New Adult beach-type book. It isn’t too in depth, too heavy, or too cliff-hanger-centric. What this book is is good – at every level.

The main character, as the cover shows, is one Riley Collins, daughter of the widower American Ambassador to Pakistan, who was raised as much by his bodyguard as him (not neglect, reality of a career diplomat) to be independent, confident, and at home in some fairly hostile places. I usually look at ‘teen girl who is also a perfectlybeautifulninjaassassinhackerrockstarcommando’ with a skeptical eye, then put them back on the real or digital store shelf, and move on. This one seemed to not go there – I mean it does, but not so baldly, based on the blurb. Aside to publishers: better blurbs = better sales, really. Anyway, that is explained well in the background, and kept both fairly realistic and limited by some obvious bounds. Guns and fighting, yes. Hacking and ninja stuff, no. Cultures and languages, yes. Mistress of disguise and superspy, no.

So, we have Riley, in Pakistan, being a fairly stereotypical American conservative / libertarian (that is, not allowing the fallacy of cultural relativism to stop her from doing the right thing), which leads to her having a minor death mark on her head. Enter the State Department, who needs her to protect the daughter of a Bill Gates / Steve Jobs / Elon Musk sort of computer genius. Seems he developed a new system that allows any security anywhere to be broken. And his daughter has been the subject of threats in order to make him send the software to the bad guys.

Of course, the spoiled rich girl is at the most exclusive prep / boarding school ever, and our heroine (with little formal schooling, and no interest in prep stuff) has to fit in, and become friends. This is a lot of the conflict setup from ‘Mean Girls’, and the book is fully aware of this – referring to the movie in a nice bit of sly breakage of the 4th wall. The reader is thus brought into the reality where the author is fully aware that the reader is thinking ‘Mean Girls’, and the obvious complaint is sidestepped.

From here, we get some obvious awkward fish-out-of-water scenes, insta-crushes, evil girls, and evil boys. The usual.  This is, I suspect, stock YA fare, and it is handled well. The characters are a bit less fleshed out that I tend to like, but that’s me. They are far from cardboard, and only blend when they need to – that is, when they blend to the main character, they do to me as well. I like that, as there are people in the real world that blend into one person to me, so I completely get how that happens.

As one expects, the obvious isn’t, and the actual enemy is almost a total blindside – I think I saw it a few pages early, but that may be me comforting myself. Other aspects of the villain’s story come totally out of nowhere – and those hit perfectly. This really is very well done, and does manage to both humanize the characters that could easily have come from Central Casting, and keep the surprises a surprise.

Complaints…huh. Honestly, the fairly reckless actions early on seem off – the child of a career diplomat, born and always living on assignment, probably would not act that way. But then again, they might. It is tricky to call. The obvious one of not sending an untrained, totally unprepared, novice onto an incredibly high stakes assignment was the freebie (that is a sci-fi thing – in sci-fi the tradition was that you got one ‘freebie’ magical technology – like hyperdrives – that you didn’t need to explain or justify with any science). It is not realistic, but is the driver for the plot, so you let it go.

This should be on most teen’s reading lists. There is some violence and adult themes, which is expected. But the message is overpowering – do the right thing, and trust your friends to be there.

This looks to be a series, and I am already wanting the next one!