Citadel by John Ringo (2011)

April 23, 2011 at 6:48 pm (military SF, science fiction)

So I peered into the Bag o’ Library Books and noticed the new John Ringo that I’d passed up a few minutes before.  I looked at my spouse:  “You got the John Ringo?”

“Sure,” he said.  “Why not?”

“I’ve read some of his stuff.  It has … explosions.”

He laughed, and I laughed, and later on I read the book, because sometimes explosions are just what a person’s in the mood for.

Actually, you have to wait a while for the explosions in this one, but they do turn up.  This book is a big chewy lump of Golden Age style military SF, with the added bonus of modern gender roles.

Squid-like hostile aliens?  Check.

High-tech friendly/neutral aliens?  Check.  (I think these guys are furry, but I’m not sure; Ringo forgot to describe them for those of us arriving late to the party.)

Lizard-like hostile aliens?  Check.

Key role played by a major techno-entrepreneur?  Check.

U.S.A. leads the way?  Check.

Major world cities bombed into oblivion?  Check.  (Actually, it seems that most of this happened in the first volume, called … wait for it … Live Free or Die, but there is some).

Imported alien technology including artificial gravity, working artificial intelligence, fabricators, and instantaneous travel-gates?  Check, check, check, check.

Humans adapt to and improve on all this incredibly (from alien perspective) fast?  Check.

Gigantic battle station built into an asteroid?  Check.

Human society incomprehensible to aliens?  Check.

Oh, and I almost forgot the huge solar mining/defense system.  Heh.

Mostly, the story follows the rising careers of (1) a brand-new (and highly talented) female Navy engineer/pilot, and (2) a brand-new (and highly talented) male space construction worker.  For plot-following purposes, there are jumps to the points of view of the lizardly aliens, the technological tycoon, and the President of the US.

If you’ve been reading SF for longer than five years, you have read this book before – possibly several times.  This iteration is pretty fun, though.  And there’s noticeably more room for characters in this one, than in some of Ringo’s other work that I’ve read.

I have one complaint about the worldbuilding, though.  Apparently one of the things that happened during or before Live Free or Die was a series of plagues inflicted on the Earth by the enemy.  One of them, either deliberately or as an unanticipated side effect, apparently has the effect of revving up female libido to at least equivalent to that of hormonally-afflicted teenage males.  For some reason, it appears that birth control doesn’t work on them any more, either (unless that’s an oversight by the author … I don’t know, the explanation’s in the earlier book, it seems).   This is seriously weird, and I’m baffled as to why the author thought it was a good idea.  [ETA:  Now that I’ve read Live Free or Die, it makes sense from the enemy’s twisted point of view.]

ALSO, this affliction, and the resultant permanent state of pregnancy/childrearing, appears to be strongly biased toward blonde white women.   So where, I want to know, are all the brown and black American women who would be moving into the vacuum?  All we seem to see are white women who are “of course” pregnant, and white women who are in the military and have had the disease cured.

And why hasn’t the disease been cured across the whole population, I’d like to know?  They can build all this marvelous tech but can’t clean up the genome of the population?  Maybe that’s all in the first book, but it still doesn’t explain why after 17 years the Navy and civilian sides are not crammed with those black and brown women.  [ETA: Yes, the shortage of cure is explained in the first book; they’re working on it, but it takes time.   Still no explanation for the main problem, though.]

But, that aside, it’s a good old-fashioned space navy romp, and there are non-white characters; just not any major point-of-view ones.  And not enough female ones.

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The Ninth Daughter by Barbara Hamilton (2009)

April 19, 2011 at 10:23 pm (historical mystery, mystery)

Boston, 1773:  Abigail Adams, wife of anti-British activist John Adams, discovers a brutally murdered woman in the kitchen of a friend’s house.  Since this is a mystery novel, she winds up trying to find out who killed this stranger, along with where her friend has disappeared to, because the British authorities seem determined to pin the crime on her husband.

Fortunately, she finds an unexpected ally in the fact-oriented British Lieutenant Coldstone, and uses her extensive social and political connections to ferret out details, connections, and eventually solve the crime.

The author clearly has read the Adams correspondence, and intensively researched the social, legal, religious, and material culture of Revolutionary Massachusetts, but none of that gets in the way of the story.   The novel is full of beautifully woven-in historical detail, with vivid characters in Abigail, John, and other historical figures (as well as those that I presume are invented), and I adored it.

It’s written very much from Abigail’s point of view, with her running mental commentary on politics, religion, race, class, domestic life, and so forth.  I found her completely engaging, the plot carefully constructed around the peculiar advantages and disadvantages of Abigail’s social and political status, and the climax marvelously fraught and satisfying.

I’m already partway through the second of the series, A Marked Man.

By the way, “Hamilton” is a pseudonym for Barbara Hambly, and I highly recommend her Benjamin January series (set in early 19th century New Orleans) as well.

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The Power of the Sea by Bruce Parker (2010)

April 16, 2011 at 7:01 pm (Nonfiction - science)

This is a really good book, and I don’t say that lightly about nonfiction.  The subtitle is “Tsunamis, Storm Surges, Rogue Waves, and Our Quest to Predict Disasters.”

The good news is, modern technology makes it possible to predict or identify a variety of threats from the sea.

The bad news is, it isn’t always enough, and may never be.  Witness the recent earthquake-and-tsunami in Japan.  The book talks at length about the December 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean – which you may recalled killed an estimated 300,000 people.

Parker presents his material in a partly chronological and partly topical format, beginning with the development of tide predictions, and the often rather odd theories developed to explain them in the ancient and medieval worlds.  And I mean “worlds”: he also deals with Chinese civilization’s efforts in this and other areas, in a worthy nod to the fact that there have always been thinking beings in the East as well as the West.

Did you know that “rogue waves” out in the ocean can top 90 feet and do in anything from an oil tanker or a luxury ocean liner on down?  Not to mention occasionally demolishing lighthouses.  For a long time, it seems, scientists didn’t even believe in them.  And there’s currently no way to predict those.

The author nicely balances genuine and well-explained scientific information with fascinating, terrifying, and horrifying examples from history.  Obviously he had to choose from among a plethora of actual or potential disasters, but I think he does a good job.

You should read this book if you actually want to understand how dangerous the sea can be, and how important modern (computerized!) research on the ocean really is.  And Parker also delves into the problem of climate change, if you want to know more about that, discussing some of the credible potential effects (meaning, rising ocean levels) and hammering home the importance of maintaining the extensive monitoring of ocean data that has been developing for the last few decades.

Maybe not a book you want to invest $28.00 in, but I got it from the library – and I’m sure you can, too.  And I know I’m a lot more educated now than I was before I read it.

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