Recommendation: Must Read
What I liked.
This is a personal story. One that explores the emotional turmoil that life’s challenges bring us. Darrow au Andromedus is an agent of change. A mole, a spy, a revolutionary, Darrow is innocence angered. Driven by anger, he finds torment in the wake created by his wrath, by his folly, by his force of will. In that wake, bystanders die; citizens, servants, slaves. His friends die, enemies are born, vengeance is carried out, blood feuds perpetuate, and duplicity devastates those who trust.
For Darrow, whose existence is a bold lie as an infiltrator of Gold society, cannot escape the irony that in order to find the truth that could create a better society, he must perpetuate the ultimate betrayal wrought by his dishonest manipulation. His friends do not know him, his true identity, nor his ultimate purpose: to destroy everything they believe in, and take the privilege they know to be their right.
We see the effect it has on Darrow because in him is not the sinister power hungry tyrant. We watch him wrestle more with the internal strife of how his actions cause others to suffer, than with the physical combat he engages in verses his external enemies personified. To a large extent this is a study in how lies can enslave those who perpetuate them as much as they control and manipulate those deceived. Honesty, loyalty, friendship, these are the themes given fair rendering by the author.
This is a personal story told about a public cause, for Darrow has been inspired by the actions of others. By Eo, by Ares, by Dancer, by Virginia, and perhaps most of all by Nero. The stakes could not be higher. His entire civilization, billions of lives, the future of generations, entire heritages, all hinge on who wins the struggle and at what cost. Passions run high right along with them. So as we read along we have the experience of some vicarious pleasure, without the risk to life, limb, and everyone dear to us.
What I didn’t like.
I did not enjoy seeing Darrow go through the emotional anguish that came with each dangerous liaison, each painful decision, each hurtful act. Perhaps I’m too sensitive. It is part of the story. It must be a reason why we say you have to take the good with the bad. Or should it be the bad with the good?
I found it hard to accept that Darrow would forget about Evey and Harmony so easily, because it goes against his character. I didn’t. The author apparently did. Along with the gift to Adrius.
What you should know.
Golden Son is part II of a trilogy and follows a few years after the conclusion of part I Red Rising. Read it before you read Golden Son. This is a balanced mixture of science fiction, suspense, war, and Shakespearean melodrama. In my opinion it bends the traditional attempts to pigeonhole it into just one genre per se. You wouldn’t enjoy this novel as much if you don’t find the fun in lines like this:
“If your heart beats like a drum,
and your leg’s a little wet,
it’s ’cause the Reaper’s come
to collect a little debt.”
Excerpt From: Brown, Pierce. “Golden Son.” Del Rey, 2015-07-07. iBooks.
Check out this book on the iBooks Store: https://itun.es/us/437DW.l
What I liked.
A visionary future with evolved humans creating civilzations on planets and moons in Earth’s solar system. A caste based class system of colored humans. The Gold class reigns at the top with intellect, fear, dominance, physical force, technology, and deception. The Red class populates the bottom with massive slave labor that sustains the wealth and power of the society. In between these two classes lies a myriad of colors whose genetic disposition and engineering match their respective roles in the hierarchy, from soldiers to law enforcers, entertainers, etc. This is a fairly well described and detailed conglomerate.
Within the grander tale are individual stories about well developed characters who struggle with the same issues we humans have for generations; love, hate, purpose, honor, dignity, pride, trust, selfish verses selfless, mercy, family, friendship. This is a shortlist. Not a simple story here.
The drama is engrossing, the characters are inspiring, their plights compelling. This book entertains on every level. It gives visceral justified violence while decrying the consequences to both the victors and the vanquished. It debates the alternatives with readers sharing the anguish inside conflicted protagonists. It gives, and it takes away. The passion runs high throughout the story and there are no lulls. The flawed main character Darrow is not your stereotypical reluctant hero. He is just a bit more than the everyman in us. We recognize his self doubts, his lack of ambition, his fear. We see him in all his human frailty accompanied by his unlimited potential.
Along Darrow’s journey we meet many a villain, those whom we at first classify and assume have but one dimension. When our first shallow impressions prove wrong, we are forced to rethink people we wrote off as wrong headed bad guys/girls. It is at this point when you can really begin to appreciate what Red Rising offers.
As a first book in a trilogy, there is payoff on every level. The climax is rewarding. The creation of a desire to read more is strong. The expectation that you will not be disappointed is high.
What I didn’t like.
The story begins slowly, without much buildup. The science fiction has some nice twists of future and near future technologies, particularly bioengineering. The depth of the technological descriptions are, shall I say, Star Wars light. I had an off and on again struggle with how some aspects of human history and development are abandoned at the expense of others. The strong storytelling overshadows various intermittent flaws.
What you should know.
This is one of the most gender balanced fiction offerings you will find. Women and men are intellectually and physically parallel. They are evenly represented in the telling. You can have Game of Thrones. I’ll take my political intrigue with fancy weaponry and high tech gadgets any day over the fantasy of magic. And horses too!
Recommendation: Must Read
What I Liked:
Stanger has a very easy writing style that calls to mind sitting with your best friend while they tell the most salacious tale they’d just had the pleasure of experiencing and can’t resist watching you react as they spin one shocking reveal after another. Very readable. He also knows how to wield humor. The dialogue is funny. The characters are funny. The situations are funny times three. That is a refreshing reward especially for readers who are looking for a good dose of humor. Quick is a likable main character. The Indiana Jones of sports memorabilia.
I appreciated the efficient writing style. You don’t get wasted wordy passages that cause you to want to skip or wonder what the writer was trying to accomplish. Stanger says what he means and means what he says. You are brought into the world of baseball with appropriate descriptions that move the story along, not an easy task. It’s one that causes more than a few authors to stumble, not Stanger.
What I didn’t like:
I confess that I am very much a baseball guy. So I can’t criticize the baseball and memorabilia laden story. My guess is that from an impartial or non baseball point of view you might not have any interest at all in the subject matter and therefore you wouldn’t enjoy the story. That is a guess. I could be wrong. If you are open to the idea, try a few chapters and see for yourself.
This is a wild story. The wilder it got, the less I liked it. Why? I found the baseball story interesting, the drug story not so much. I rarely read stories about drug crimes, and when I do it isn’t because of the subject. I did not think it added to the book so it didn’t seem necessary.
What you should know:
The Fungo Society is a group of retired Major League Baseball players. They have a relationship with a baseball memorabilia dealer named Jonathan Quick. Quick is a 30 something bachelor with a penchant for trysts with random women who gravitates towards dangerous encounters. This is a baseball story. Memorabilia is featured in detail throughout the story. There are good guys, bad guys, not so good guys and not so bad guys. Nobody takes themselves too seriously. Think of it as the jock’s version of cozy mystery.
Recommendation: A Maybe Read
Let’s look beyond the message of Star Trek and see where it finds us. First I’ll argue that this is an entertaining blockbuster with mediocre aspirations as a science fiction standard bearer. Will you enjoy it as time and money well spent? Yes. Will you think twice about it as you leave the theater? No. If you accept the premise of mediocrity then ask me, why need we look further?
My answer takes the form of a postulated question. Did you hear the message that mankind is its own worst enemy?
SPOILER ALERT GALORE
ICYMI: Idris Elba aka Krall embodies the role of the villain as a human, albeit one who’s enhanced far beyond mortal man. You might say he’s kind of a cross between Frankenstein’s monster and scifi Dracula. My complements to the script makers. There’s nothing like mining the best, most often copied material for another bite at the apple, or the neck, or the box office. With the dollars at stake (2013’s Into Darkness more than $450 million in revenue- Beyond budget ~$185 million) would you risk original work when you can trot out tried and true formula?
And when our esteemed thespian, see Beasts of No Nation, asks as to his motivation, director Justin Lin’s reply; why you’re a disgruntled employee! Talk about going postal. And Krall delivers the mail with a rare combination. Can you say spider and bee fetish? His base of operations is a planet surrounded by nebula where spaceships maroon while their crews become entangled in a web-like comatose state which he uses to extract from them what he needs. The product here is not honey but hate. His forces, however, do swarm like no hive you’d ever want to stumble across. The Federation is nonplussed to wield any technology that can withstand Krall’s weaponry.
Here I suggest is where the message digs it’s foundation. When we lift the lid on his coffin we discover Krall was heretofore our model citizen, warrior, officer and gentleman. What happened was that the Federation took the highly trained and experienced combat veteran and gave him a civilian job, having ended all wars and the need for his old ways. It has been thirteen years since numbered American soldiers have faced a two front war; one in Iraq and another in the minds of those afflicted with PTSD and other related issues. Whether or not American combat veterans have experienced being more prone to violence once returned home, the message on screen was clear. Captain Edison struggled with the loss of his military identity. He faced a consequence of being rewarded for his sacrifice and bravery with being lost in space. He was left behind. Forgotten. Edison was ultimately left for dead with little or no sign that his employers cared about either him, his subordinates, or his service. As time passed his mental state deteriorated, eventually creating the fertile soil from which Krall emerged.
The direct line conclusion from the path laid out by Beyond is that societies bare the risks associated with placing soldiers in harms way. The results could reveal themselves long after the damage has been done.
I, or shall I say the filmmakers, offer you more messages than these.
The story’s overall theme that is revisited throughout hammers home one mantra. Families and friends who commit to unite will strive together and reach their potential to overcome whatever obstacles arise.
The danger that often occurs is when we forget this belief and sabotage it through self destructive decisions. Chris Pine’s Kirk does just that when the unending, unconquerable, infinite space defeats his sense of adventure, his desire to be challenged, and his dream of achievement. The subject of his failure: purpose. Zachary Quinto’s Spock takes a different route to reach the same end. Grief, perhaps the strongest manifestation of what causes us to question ourselves, to the point we completely derail, is this half human’s Achilles heel as well. He chooses to abandon his celestial family to serve what he thinks is his ethnic responsibility to the fatherland, or what’s left of it.
The biggest reason why 13 films and 37 years of the Star Trek saga resonate with moviegoers is the bond that built the original Gene Roddenberry TV creation. Beyond is on target with this piece and Karl Urban’s McCoy delivers the glue gun. The series explored not outer space so much as it did the relationship between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Their journey through the ups and downs of complex and conflicted emotions had more to do with their survival than any technological techniques they mastered.
McCoy reminds Spock why they mean so much to each other and why it matters. When they bring that message back to Kirk, he takes his exercise of trust, inspiration, and leadership to another level seeing Uhura, Scott, Sulu and Chekov prove once again that their place is on the Enterprise and his home is with them.
This is the best part of the science fiction Beyond offers. There is nothing new here. That is the basis for my grade of C. Star Trek gets a pass from me because it is a production that keeps the genre alive though it falls short of advancing it. I hail science fiction because I see it as the best genre for bringing together the moral and ethical dilemmas within the human condition as they intersect with apocalyptic aspects of advanced technology. The more we role play these hypothetical scenarios the more time we will have to consider them before we have to deal with them in our reality. Are we ready to face global warming?
So I salute Star Trek Beyond. Beyond’s success bridges the gap between great science fiction movies of the past…Blade Runner, 12 Monkeys, The Matrix…and the next great scifi story which will take a rightful place in cinematic history. As for the Star Trek franchise I offer only these words: Live long and prosper.
What I liked.
The writing is top notch. An interesting story about interesting people told in a very interesting fashion. What more could one ask for? There are so many things to like about the main character Josie Tucker. This is an important aspect for me in most novels. It is paramount for me in the mystery genre. I have to care about the people involved if I’m going to spend any time with them. I need to care most about the protagonist if I’m going to identify with him or her. So I was all in with Josie.
What I didn’t like.
To say that Josie treats herself in a less than healthy way is a major understatement. This is a character flaw that defies the instinct of self preservation. I’d describe her as practicing the virtue of self denial like a Tibetan monk. She has the career planning of a compulsive gambler in Vegas, and combines that with the health maintenance planning of Evel Knievel. Let’s hope that her palm shows such a long lifeline that she’ll be around for many books to come.
What you should know.
Recommendation. A must read.
Someone you know may face a condition like MS. We can’t know how they feel. But we can listen. Here is something you might hear if you chose to listen. After reading this story, if you are curious to learn more, try positivelivingwithms.com
You and your arithmetic, you’ll probably go far.
Inchworm, inchworm, measuring the marigolds
Seems to me you’d stop and see how beautiful they are.
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‘looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…’ Hebrews 12:2
Here are some tips that you can choose to apply to your writing. Decide for yourself.
Write so that your product will provide consumers with joy. Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Write what is in your heart. Don’t write what you think people will like or to please other people. Follow your heart when you write and be true to who you are and what you want to say. Luke 6:45 A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.
Believe in your vision for what you want to write. The Apostle John was directed in writing the book of Revelation to “Therefore write what you have seen, what is, and what will take place after this.” Revelation 1:19
Learn the art of writing. Practice the discipline of writing. Proverbs 23:12 Apply yourself to discipline and listen to words of knowledge.
To communicate a message understand what you are saying. Be sincere, have a clear conscience, and seek to find the purist form in your words. Avoid abstract, vague, confusing language. The Apostle Paul uses this advice when sharing with Timothy how he should stay true to the message they are supposed to be teaching. 1 Timothy 1:5-7 Now the goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. 6 Some have deviated from these and turned aside to fruitless discussion. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, although they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on.
Think of your writing as a sacrificial gift to others, and expect to be paid what it is worth. Acts 20:35 includes part of the Apostle Paul’s direction to the church elders in Ephesus. In it he states “In every way I’ve shown you that by laboring like this, it is necessary to help the weak and to keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus, for He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”. Likewise when Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia he advised them similarly “For each person will have to carry his own load. 6 The one who is taught the message must share all his good things with the teacher. 7 Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows he will also reap,” Galatians 6:5-7a.
Apply careful investigation to what you write. The Gospel attributed to Luke begins with this explanation: “Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed them down to us. 3 It also seemed good to me, since I have carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in an orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed.” Luke 1:1-4
Have a clear and specific purpose for everything you write. Joshua 18:4 Provide for yourselves three men from each tribe that I may send them, and that they may arise and walk through the land and write a description of it according to their inheritance; then they shall return to me.
Write when you find yourself most challenged. Write when it seems like it’s the last thing you should do. When in doubt, write. No matter what excuse you have not to write, write anyway. Here in John 8:6 is an example of what Jesus did: “They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.”
Write for a higher standard. 1 Corinthians 4:3-5 “It is of little importance to me that I should be evaluated by you or by any human court. In fact, I don’t even evaluate myself. 4 For I am not conscious of anything against myself, but I am not justified by this. The One who evaluates me is the Lord.”
Foreign Agent: A Thriller (Scot Harvath) by Brad Thor
What I liked:
The best of the genre is exemplified by a driving force of will. There you experience a relentless pace of action, conflict, and contest. The NBA Championship finals just concluded. LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers over a potentially historic Golden State Warriors team in a Game 7 nail biter that wasn’t settled until a series of dramatic plays in the final moments. What we sports fans relish about this only pure form of reality television is the back and forth cage match that brings out both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Not much else compares. What Foreign Agent does so well is reproduce like emotions in scripted form. Kudos.
The adrenaline rush that runs constant throughout the story is a rare treat. This is a modern war story. Violent political conflict across the globe is a threat to American safety as the Untied States’ superpower influence becomes a pawn in the chess match that is power politics on steroids. As is true about most great chess games, this one involves Russians. Scot Harvath, as a deep cover operative, is the point man for the home team. A tribute to the superlative quality of this book is in part owed to Harvath’s character. He isn’t just cunning and highly competent. He also demonstrates an intellect generally presumed to be possessed by more refined, less violent members of the male species. So yes, readers get to have their beefcake and eat it too.
In a review of the preceding book in the series (see Code of Conduct), I criticized it’s lack of balance. Where was the romance in Harvath’s life? Is he little more than Batman redux? Well shut my mouth, because Harvath has come home. The dilemmas he faces, though serious, credible, and not simple to resolve, are none the less dealt with in satisfactory fashion.
What I didn’t like:
Did you ever witness one of the nagging complaints about professional boxing? How champion fighters too often scheduled miss matches with less than capable opponents in order to pad their paychecks while protecting their posteriors. I’m talking about patsies. Well Russia appears to be playing patsy here. Is Thor paying homage to the dozens of Russian heavy weights over the years who took the dive for the George Foremans, the Joe Fraziers, and the late Muhammad Ali? As the story proceeds, Russia seems incapable of state of the art technical espionage or classic trade craft, that is until the plot calls for it. But hey I’m being too picky. You can’t have it both ways. Or can you?
What you should know:
The rules of engagement include torture. Enhanced interrogation techniques are used. The warning sign reads: Squeamish individuals will enter at their own risk. I find that there are distinct messages in Thor prose. One such message here is that the use of extreme measures are a necessary aspect of winning fights where the alternatives are not palatable. Brad Thor may or may not be right. What he does is force readers to consider the issues. That is one quality I respect in an author.
A real Good Read
Worldwide known cyber security company CrowdStrike announced that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) servers had been hacked by “sophisticated” hacker groups.I’m very pleas…