A Classic

Captain BloodCaptain Blood by Rafael Sabatini

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Captain Blood

Rafael Sabatini

Peter Blood was an Irishman with a medical degree; however, he sailed as a mercenary for the French against the Spanish in the later seventeenth century. Later, he tended to the wounds of a man involved in the rebellion against King James II of England. For this, he was charged and convicted of treason and sentenced to hang. At the last minute, he was reprieved when James commuted the sentence to indentured servitude in the Caribbean. Blood was bought by a wealthy and well-connected planter on Barbados. The planter, Colonel Bishop, realized that Blood was worth more to him as a doctor than as a sugar cane cutter, so Blood was free to move about the island practicing his craft while Bishop collected the fees. An attack on Bridgetown by Spanish pirates gave Blood and a few other slaves the chance to make their escape by overpowering the scant guard left on the Spanish ship. Just before he made good his escape, he saved Bishop’s beautiful niece, Arabella, from the marauding Spaniards. Blood and his crew proved to be highly effective pirates, and he amassed a small fleet with which he plundered Spanish ships and colonies. His fame spread to England where James II decided to try to recruit him as a privateer, but Colonel Bishop couldn’t let go of his hatred for Blood, and Blood couldn’t let go of his infatuation with Arabella.

I was astounded to learn that Captain Blood was first published in 1921. The style and language are convincingly contemporaneous with the time setting. The story is told as the recounting of journals kept by one of Captain Blood’s lieutenants. I suspect that a modern editor would dismiss it out of hand, but it works quite well. Few books have sent me scurrying for the dictionary like this one. It also has some of the greatest epithets I’ve ever heard. Captain Blood is simply a great old-fashioned pirate tale. I loved it, and yes, in the end, he gets the girl.

View all my reviews

Raw Sewage

The Hooligans of KandaharThe Hooligans of Kandahar by Joseph J. Kassabian

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Joe has been in the Army for five years. At twenty-two, he is deployed to Afghanistan with a squad of misfits who he loves and hates. The living conditions are squalid, the Army can do nothing right, the Afghans want them dead, the Afghan police refuse to do anything, and his squad leader is insane. The summers are blisteringly hot, the winters are numbingly cold. The sanitation in camp is deplorable, and outside, it’s worse. Second Squad is sent on endless missions with no point but to stumble onto IEDs or draw the fire of the Taliban. Rules of engagement prevent them from even shooting back. To survive in the intolerable conditions with sleep deprivation and exhaustion, the soldiers steal, fight, brutalize civilians, and cause mayhem. They live on caffeine, nicotine, and sleeping pills. The only common denominator is the unwavering devotion they bear for each other.

The Hooligans of Kandahar belongs on the same shelf as M.A.S.H. and Catch-22. Joe Kassabian has penned a memoir that is raw, raunchy, gritty, profane, and brutally honest. His report of the conditions on the ground in Afghanistan resonates with truth. This paragraph struck me viscerally:

“Unless we captured Mullah Omar himself, nothing we did on the ground would ever really matter. There would always be some other inbred, bomb-making asshole to take the last one’s place. Our only hope was to make it home before one of those guys found his mark.”

Mr. Kassabian’s prose is brutal, solid, and wonderfully readable. It will offend many, but they should read it anyway to experience if only vicariously, the nightmare of all the American and Allied troops who have been deployed in the hellholes of the Middle East. This is more than a great book. Buy it, read it, get used to it. There is a problem out there that needs to be solved.

View all my reviews

Review of “Half Life” by Scott Skipper

Thanks, Marcha!

Marcha's Two-Cents Worth

HalfLifeCvr

The premise of this story is that a brutal earthquake and tsunami, similar to what happened to Japan a few years back, strikes California, causing a meltdown at a decommissioned nuclear plant. Due to various political stalemates, the fuel rods had been left on-site rather than being transported to a permanent storage location, causing considerable havoc as radiation saturates the populated area around Los Angeles. The credibility of such an occurrence is so high, that I can’t help but wonder how much of this book will turn out to be prophetic.

The story takes place during a gubernatorial election year and the political issues associated with this disaster are paramount. One thing potential readers need to know about Scott’s books is that they are extremely political incorrect. If telling it like it is bothers you, then don’t even try reading one of his books. It will just piss you off…

View original post 414 more words

Super Galactic

dadfcab8b3e4f6ada44444017733c0c72d3136fe.jpg

Emma is the only human on the planet-sized Violet Enforcer starship. She receives a mysterious message from her lover taunting her to retrieve a gift that he left on the exterior of the ship. Intrigued, she goes outside only to have her spacesuit try to kill her. An investigation into the true source of the message leads to the discovery of a bomb planted in the ships propulsion system. An identical bomb on another starship is not found in time, and thousands of humans, including Emma’s fiancé, are killed along with thousands of members of other species that comprise the galactic police force, Concord. At the same time, unmanned buoys that monitor the activities of species that Concord does not permit to leave their star systems are disabled. All the evidence points to Earth.

 

Concord: Sabotage is a story of nearly infinite scale. Chris Mason has invented whole universes and done it very plausibly, then he populated the galaxy with scores of fantastic creatures. He even invented pronouns for the unisex species, which smacks a little of the gender identity issues promulgated on universities these days. Nevertheless, Mr. Mason has done a fine job with Concord, as he always does. I must say that the numerous creatures with whom Emma shares the spaceship that is the size of Pluto challenged me to remember who had feathers and who had two heads, but his gentle reminders brought me back on track. The hard science has tremendous verisimilitude, and the mythology is intriguing. Chris Mason’s prose never disappoints. Buy a copy, and read Concord: Sabotage. You won’t regret it.

Across the Multiverse

The Battles Of HastingsThe Battles Of Hastings by Steph Bennion

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jane finds herself playing possum amid the dismembered carcasses on the field after the Battle of Hastings but which Battle of Hastings? A local in period garb is plundering the dead. When he approaches Jane, she grabs an abandoned bow and threatens to put an arrow through his genitals. As it happens, he is a fellow time traveler from an era farther in the future than Jane’s time. Alex reunites Jane with her team leader Darius, and introduces her to Catherine, a time traveler from yet another period. Each has a unique and conflicting opinion of the outcome of the Battle of Hastings. It seems there is someone tampering with history.

The Battles of Hastings is a clever and intelligent novella. Ms. Bennion has an advanced understanding of the theory of the multiverse or parallel universes. Being a multiverse fan myself, I was delighted by this little tale of tinkering with the past. It is extremely well written and offers some of the science behind the real possibility of time travel. Do yourself a favor, spend an afternoon with Duke William at Hastings in 1066.

View all my reviews

The Naiad’s Tale

Naiads Cover

Ears—the fennec cub was a ball of puppy fur with enormous ears and a long, pointed nose. Cyrene cuddled him to her breast as the little fox squirmed to get free. She nuzzled him with her cheek and got the end of her nose nipped. “Damon, that was bad. What am I going to do with you?” She set him on the moss-covered ground, and he began tugging at the hem of her filmy gown. “Damon, stop that. Now, it’s time for a nap. Be still.” She laid her head on the soft tuft of velvety moss, closed her eyes, and let the sound of gently falling water lull her to sleep. The body of the little animal felt warm against her side.

The harsh scream of a hawk woke her in a panic. Feeling for Damon and not finding him, she leapt to her feet and called his name. The hawk screeched again, and she saw that there was nothing in those wicked talons. She began a frantic search for her precious pet before the sharp-eye raptor spotted him first. Following the stream against the flow of the diaphanous water, she called his name desperately.

“Gaia, have you seen my Damon?” she asked the dryad of the oak grove.

“It’s not my job to keep track of your suitors,” the haughty tree nymph retorted.

“No, Damon is a baby fox that Aeolus gave me at the Dionysia on the full moon last.”

Gaia laughed cruelly. “What sense does it make to give a water nymph a fox? He should have given you an otter.”

Cyrene contorted her elfin face. “Go suck an acorn.”

“Give yourself a thrill, Cyrene, douche with tadpoles.”

“Oh, go back in your knothole.” Cyrene stamped her foot and continued up the stream calling her dear pet’s name.

Near the place where the brook bubbled from the rocks, she spied a blur of reddish brown. The little beast’s ears perked at the sound of his name, and he looked at the willowy girl who ran to catch him. Damon turned and darted into the grotto.

“I’ve got you now,” Cyrene said laughing. She picked her way across the stepping-stones cool and slick beneath her bare feet. The joyful water frolicked from the fountain in the center of the brooding cavern. Little Damon taunted her from the wet stone floor at the back of the smallish hollow. “You can’t get away from me now,” she giggled as she splashed through the last few steps in the pool.

But Damon wasn’t finished with the game. His tiny paws thumped on the damp floor as he vanished behind a boulder. Cyrene sprinted after her playmate. To her dismay, he vanished into the blackness of a hidden chasm there.

“Damon, you come out of there this instant. If I have to come get you, I’ll bump my head on the low ceiling or fall into some bottomless pit.”

The little fox made no sound.

With a sigh, the girl flipped her golden tresses behind her shoulders and started into the Stygian darkness feeling her way along the humid walls. She focused her mind on her sisters of the stagnant waters. She sent a plea to the fens and marshes, cupped her hands, and opened them to release the faerie light. A bluish ball of cool light danced on her palm. It barely vanquished the gloom but offered enough illumination to spare her cracking her skull on the jagged ceiling.

The flickering orb of light also made Damon’s beady eyes glow. “I see you,” she tittered, and the tiny fox turned again to flee deeper into the inky labyrinth. Cyrene followed by the glow the cold fire, but it rolled from her hand and bounced along the floor. Blue became green. It flared and subsided to blue again with perhaps some orange. In the brief flash of brightness, she saw it—a face, creased and leering. “Oh,” she gasped, “who are you?”

“Are we lost, little girl?” a disembodied voice asked from the darkness.

“I’m looking for my baby fennec, Damon.”

The marsh light twinkled to life and floated around her head. She could see nothing beyond its feeble glow.

“Are we lost, I say?” the voice had an unpleasant edge of mirth.

“I don’t think so. As soon as I catch Damon, I’ll go back the way I came.”

“Did you come this way?” The will-o‘-the-wisp swished sidewise as if thrown by an unseen hand. “Or that way?” The purplish fire blazed in front of her in the opposite direction. At each end of the arc, she saw the gaping maw of a divergent tunnel.

“I don’t think I came from either of those passages.” She felt confused and frightened.

“Are we lost then, little girl?” the voice in the darkness cackled.

“Again, I don’t think so, but if you might help me catch Damon, I’ll be out of your way.”

“If we catch the little beast, we eats it.”

“No,” Cyrene wailed. “He’s hardly got a morsel of flesh on his tiny body.” She tried to capture the shimmering constellation of light. Her hand went right through it. Shadowy palms reached from obscurity, engulfed, and extinguished it. The naiad sent her prayers back to her sisters of the stagnant pools, and again the magic fire kindled in her hands. “Damon, Damon,” she called, and heedless of the scarcely seen menace, resumed her pursuit of the impish canine. Her fen fire flared once more, pulsing yellow and revealing the malign features.

“Your precious tidbit did not come this way, little girl.”

“Well, which way did he go then?” She stood rigid feeling her imperious side return.

“Which way will you go, little girl?”

“Stop calling me little girl. I’ll have you know, I am the daughter of a king.”

“Doesn’t make you any less of a little girl, and now you’re a lost little girl who cannot even find my supper.”

“I’ll not hear any more of this. Damon is simply not edible. And who are you anyway?”

The murky countenance faded into the gloom. Cyrene tried to thrust the globe of light toward it, but the bauble of blue morphed green and pink and tumbled from her tenuous grasp. She followed the feeble source of light if only to stay in its comforting sphere.

A plaintive yip froze her. She swatted at the glowing cluster and succeeded in swishing it in the direction of the sound. Tiny eyes burned in the umbra and the diminutive cub cowered on the cold stone. Scooping him into her arms, she embraced his soggy fur while he squirmed and kissed her chin.

“Ah, we have found our victuals, have we?”

“I have found nothing of the sort, whoever you are,” Cyrene tried to sound bigger than she felt.

“Give us a taste.”

“Don’t be absurd. Damon is safe now, and we’re going home, thank you.”

“We are going home, are we? Do we know where home is?”

“We’ll find our way. You needn’t worry.”

“Did you say you came from this way?” As before, the wraith contained the nebulous swamp light and shone it on the entry of a passageway, then swung it toward another. “Or this way?”

“We came from the way we came. I shall simply retrace my steps.”

“Oh, really?” The cluster of scintillating blue pinpricks swept around her colliding with a blank wall. They slid to the floor and recoalesced. “Did you say you came from that way?”

Cyrene’s bluff wilted. “Which way did I come?”

“Little girl is lost. Now we shall have her precious, and we shall have our dinner.”

“No,” she pleaded. “Which way did I come?”

“Little dog first.”

“He’s not a dog, and you shan’t have him. I’ll find my way.” She attempted to gather the recalcitrant ghost-light. It flowed over her hand while she clutched tiny, wriggling Damon with the other.

Invisible fingers pinched her curvaceous haunch. “Succulent. Perhaps we let the bony beast be and dine on the lost little girl.”

The ghostly thumb and finger made her leap and cry, “You don’t know who you’re dealing with. I shall no more let you eat me than Damon.”

Cackling, the hideous visage thrust toward her face barely perceptible in the meager radiance. “She won’t let us? However does she plan to stop us?”

“You don’t know who you’re dealing with.”

“We heard that before—daughter of a king. All the more toothsome it sounds.”

Cyrene forced her mind to calm. She let her energy flow with the current sending her will to the fountain that frothed in the grotto spilling gentle water into the brook that was her domain. With her naiad’s will, she bent the course of the obedient fluid. She heard the trickle increase to a torrent, and then to a rapid. The first wave curled around her dainty feet and quickly floated her sheer garment to her thighs. In heartbeats, the surge wafted her on its sacred bosom deeper into the bowels of the earth while sweeping the dreadful mountain nymph with it.

The column of water carrying Cyrene and her beloved, but drenched, fennec pup rose through a rocky chimney while leaving the drowned shell of her nemesis far below. Sweet sunlight warmed her face as the sheltering deluge emerged from the netherworld placing her and her charge gently onto the sandy bottom of a limpid pool. The naiad gracefully unfolded her silky legs, swept her flowing locks from her eyes, and adjusted her transparent gown before taking poor, soaked Damon to the grassy bank where he shook the water from his downy coat. He shivered and supplicated her to take him to her breast. She embraced the fickle little beast that licked her face and once more nipped her nose.

Some Really Weird Ideas

False Steps: The Space Race as It Might Have BeenFalse Steps: The Space Race as It Might Have Been by Paul Drye

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Nazis had a plan to put a huge mirror in orbit that could focus sunlight on military targets and boil ocean water to generate electricity in peaceful times. During the war, the Nazis also had plans for a space plane that they intended to use to bomb New York. In the fifties, the British had a space program that they abandoned. The US Army planned to build a base on the moon and keep a permanent detachment of soldiers there. Their launch site was to be on Christmas Island. The Soviets’ premier rocket designers worked from a forced labor camp. The Japanese had a space program. There was an American proposal to create a spacesuit that would allow stricken astronauts to parachute from orbit. As a precautionary measure for the Apollo moon landing, a design was proposed for stranded astronauts to blast off the moon’s surface in a rocket-powered chair.

Paul Drye recounts over fifty space flight schemes that worked, failed, or were laughed off the drawing board. All of the spacefaring nations and some that you never expected to fall into that category are represented here. False Steps is an intriguing collection of space trivia that will fascinate space enthusiasts, engineers, and nerds in general. The remarkable depth of research the author has done is nothing less than astounding. I was delighted to learn that on a proposed long-term mission to Venus, astronauts were to be allowed to take two kilograms of movies and one and a half kilograms of recorded music. Using kilos as a unit of measure for music and movies had not previously occurred to me; although, in retrospect, I can think of plenty of music that ought to be judged in kilograms. Mr. Drye’s writing style is crisp and clear if necessarily burdened by acronyms and initials—he is, after all, recounting military and governmental jargon. False Steps captivated me from start to finish. Anyone interested in space and technology will love it.

View all my reviews