Saturday, December 10, 2011

Book Review: “1634: The Ram Rebellion”

This book is somewhere between a novel and an anthology. It began as groups of stories that could have gone into the Grantsville Gazette. However, Eric Flint saw that these stories could be pulled together to form something like a novel. This story is focused on the question of how the individuals, both uptimers and downtimers, would deal with the problems the Ring of Fire created.

It is divided into four sections. The first is a pair of stories by Gorg Huff and Paula Goodlet with bridge chapters by Eric Flint. It shows uptimer farmers integrating with downtime German farmers. The second section is from a collection of different authors and shows how the “Ram” story develops. The third section is a collection of stories, mostly by Virginia DeMarce, that shows how the Ram Rebellion comes into being along with the opening moves. The final section is a novella by Eric Flint and Virginia DeMarce that deals with the full blown peasant farmer revolt in Franconia against the local petty lords.

As a book it is probably best understood as an anthology and, like the Grantsville Gazette, it is not a good entry point into the history. Having said that, this is a good book for someone who has already read and enjoyed “1632” and “1633” at least. Moving forward events described in this book are obliquely mentioned in later books, like “1634: The Bavarian Crisis”.

Friday, December 9, 2011

“Dragonsdawn” by Anne McCaffrey

This is the origin story of the Pernese colony and the Dragonriders of Pern. Naturally it begins with the colony ships arriving at Pern. It shows the colony leaders, Admiral Paul Benden and Governor Emily Boll, leading the colonists in their initial exploration and settling in. Tensions are shown, Averil Bitra schemes, and fire lizards are discovered and impressed.

Then Thread falls for the first time. Admiral Benden and Governor Boll are recalled from their stakes to lead the colony in this crisis. The volcano at the main city, Landing, starts to smoke, they put tremendous strain on their resources, Averil Bitra steals the admiral’s gig and gets herself killed, the first dragons are created by Kit Ping Yung and impress the first riders, and Fort hold is founded.

The book ends with a swift reversal the beleaguered colonists are out of power for the flying sleds when the dragons arrive to defend Fort.

Overall this is a good story. There are clearly drawn characters and problems. However it is not the best introduction to the series. There are quite a few references that only make sense if you’ve read the first couple books Anne McCaffrey published in this setting.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

“Eulalia!” by Brian Jacques

Eulalia, the battle cry of the Badgers of Salamandastron is rather appropriate for this story. There are six badgers involved.

Two drop out early, they’re old farmers who drop out after their farm is attacked by sea rats. Gorath, the farmer’s grandson, has been taught by his grandfather to use the berserk rage of the Bloodwrath to do the really heavy farming work. Lord Asheye of Salamandastron is blind from wounds suffered while under the Bloodwrath and is waiting for his successor. Taboura is a wise old badger with a tremendous knowledge of herbs and the world. Taboura’s adoptive daughter, Salixa, travels with him.

Then there are the non-badger characters. Orkwil Prink, a hedgehog thief that eventually returns what he steals from people he likes. Mad Maudie, a champion boxing hare, cook with strong and particular views, that is nearly drummed out of the regiment of the Salamandastron fighting hares. These are joined by Rangval, the squirrel, a bunch of otters, the Guosim, and the inhabitants of Redwall Abbey.

There are two villains in this story. Gruntan Kurdley is the master of a brown rat horde. He sees the Guosim, with Mad Maudie, as they travel to Redwall. He demands that his horde capture the log boats of the Guosim. This demand gets modified to a demand to take Redwall and slay a badger. This demand is balanced against the demand that he be constantly supplied with hard boiled eggs.

The other villain is Vizka Longtooth. He is the captain of the searats that pillage Gorath’s grandparents farm. He tries to turn Gorath into a fighting machine as he leads his crew to attack Redwall.

Like most Redwall novels this one has strongly drawn characters, fast paced narrative with lots of action, a clear separation between the good guys and the bad guys, and feasts. Overall this is a solid and enjoyable book, though the good guys are mostly much less heroic than most of the other Redwall tales.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Red Lantern, Rolling Meadows, IL

This restaurant is located in a strip mall at 1655 Algonquin Rd, Rolling Meadows, IL 60008. The phone number is (847) 439-3380.

This is an Asian/Chinese sit down restaurant. There was a large lazy susan in the middle of the table, so that it is easy to share food around the table. Not being Asian we were given the menus in English. Appetizers were avocado spring rolls and crab rangoons. Both of which were quite tasty. I ordered the Orange Beef, which was easily big enough for two people. I enjoyed it very much. For desert I ordered the crispy banana rolls. This is a pair of bananas wrapped like an egg roll and fried with honey drizzled over all. This tasted good, though the banana was rather mushy. It was best eaten like a normal egg roll.

Unlike the last several places we’ve been, the prices are much more reasonable.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Stoney River, Deer Park, IL

This restaurant is located at 20504 North Rand Rd, Deer Park, IL 60010. The phone number is (847) 719-1596.
We arrived shortly before 6 o’clock and were shown to a side room. It had three large round tables down the middle and booths around the sides. The wall between this room and the bar helped to cut down the noise, which was appreciated since it allowed us to talk across the table.

The lights were set at a restful level and the customers looked to be dressed in business casual or a bit nicer.

The waitress was attentive, regularly coming past the table to check to see that we had everything we needed. There were a few points that could have been improved on; she put the desert silverware in the center of the table where it was a little hard to reach. Overall the service was good.

This is a restaurant that specializes in steak, and it shows. I had an excellent steak, and Jim said that the prime rib he got was one of the best he’s ever had. They have other dishes, like the salmon that Frank got, which are also good.

After everyone had ordered baskets of fried biscuits with sweet butter were brought. These were so good that I had to consciously resist the urge to eat the entire basketful.

Each steak came with an order of potatoes, which could be changed to a vegetable for a small charge. There were around eight options on the potatoes including baked potato, baked sweet potato, fries, mashed potatoes with caramelized onions, and au gratin potatoes. There were a number of vegetable options. All of the potato options tried tasted good. I had the fries and felt that they were nothing special, but they were pretty good fries. The au gratin potatoes were interesting. They were made with parmesan rather than cheddar, and came out looking like a grayish white brick. Apparently it was a good tasting brick, but Jim said the shape and color made it look rather like a urinal cake. Outside of that unfortunate visual the food was excellent and looked good.

We also got an order of asparagus with the meal. It was a generous serving of cooked asparagus. It was good, though not anything extraordinary.

Desert was a dish with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream between two large cookies made of almond slices. It was sweet and not too heavy, making it an excellent desert.

Prices are rather on the high side. The cuts of meat are good cuts of meat well prepared, which the prices reflect. The other dishes were reasonably priced for their size.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Seasons 52, Schaumburg, IL

This restaurant at 1770 E Higgins Road, Schaumburg, IL 60173. The phone number is (847) 517-5252. Seasons 52 has a seasonal menu, which naturally changes four times a year, and a weekly list of specials. None of the items on the menu is more than 475 calories. It also has a wine list and full bar.

We arrived at 4:45 and, after a gathering in the piano bar we were taken to the Chef's table. This is a table seating up to ten people that has a decorative wall between it and the main dining room.

The restaurant and bar are dark wood. The diners were mostly wearing casual to business casual clothing. The noise level at the Chef's table was very comfortable level for conversation. In the main dining room it was somewhat louder, though not too bad for a group smaller than eight.

The server came by at regular intervals. She checked whether we needed anything without being pushy about it. They weren't perfect but the server looked like she was doing her best. The most noticeable example of imperfection was when one of the eight sets of silverware didn't make it to the table with the entrees.

Since we were at the Chef's table a small free appetizer was presented by the chef. This was goat cheese on artichoke heart with wild arugula and half a grape tomato. This was quite tasty.

For appetizers the Baked Stuffed Mushrooms and the Ripe Plum Tomato Flatbread. The flatbread was crispy and pleasantly seasoned with garlic and cheese. It reminded me of a fancy thin crust pizza. The mushrooms were stuffed with crab meat and had a shrimp to cap the mushroom and nearly the whole plate was covered with Parmesan cheese. Each mushroom was in its own well on the plate.

I ordered a spicy black bean soup to arrive before dinner, which it did. It was a decent black bean soup, though nothing extraordinary.

I got the Cedar Plank Salmon for dinner. It came with whole roasted carrots, asparagus, and red potatoes. The salmon was good and the vegetables were excellent. They didn't need any further seasoning.

The deserts come in shot glasses. I got the Meyer Lemon Cake. A deliciously lemony desert with whipped cream on top.

Price: The dinners were reasonably priced. So were the soup and the deserts, deserts were $2.50. The appetizer was somewhat less reasonable, though not unreasonable.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

“1632” by Eric Flint

This is the story that started all the stories in the 163X or Assiti Shard series, including dozens of issues of the Grantville Gazette. It can be read online for free on the Baen Free Library

A natural event, technically solipsistic alien art, sends the town of Grantville, WV back in time from the year 2000 to 1631. This includes an area 6 miles in diameter and includes a fair chunk of coal and natural gas. After a brief foray into the surrounding territory turns up a small band of “mercenaries” raping a farm girl, and torturing her father the mineworkers get a glimpse of the world they’re in. It doesn’t take much after that to lead the town, under the president of the local UMWA, to decide to attempt to start the “American Revolution” early.

This excellent novel takes a light approach to the many problems that come up during the nearly two years of the story. For example, culture shock is shown, most obviously when two of the Abrabanel representatives come to town, but it is shown quickly and the focus moves on. Similarly, the characters are strongly and vibrantly drawn and that vibrancy contributes to drowning out the complexities that the later books delve into.

Monday, March 28, 2011

McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant, Schaumburg, IL

This location is no longer listed on the McCormick & Schmick's site, and appeared to be closed when I drove past on 4/30/11.

This restaurant is at 1140 East Higgins Road in Schaumburg, IL. The phone number is 847-517-116.

The atmosphere in the restaurant was nice, relatively quiet and relaxed. The dress tended towards business casual or casual for the other diners I saw.

We arrived at 5 pm, the restaurant was quiet and the server checked on us regularly. As the evening wore on and the restaurant got moderately busy the server quit checking regularly, and became less attentive when he did check in. Towards the end of the evening he became confused over the coffee order, bringing an extra decaf instead of the list of coffee drinks with Frau Angelico that was requested. He also messed up the bill when it came time to split it. He accidentally put one of our deserts on a different bill. He corrected it when the error was pointed out and tried to pass it over with a comment about how difficult it is to split up a bill. It is true that this can be difficult, particularly if the server doesn't properly attach the order to the seat as looked to have happened in this case.

I ordered the California Roll as an appetizer and the Sea Scallops with Mushroom and Asparagus Risotto for the entree. The California Roll came out on a dish with wasabi, pickled ginger, a spicy red sauce, and a very small bowl of soy sauce. It is good that it came with the spices because the roll itself was pretty tasteless. Unfortunately, it didn't come with a dish to mix the sauces in.

There is a story to go with the Scallops with Risotto. I had intended to order the Scallops sauteed with tomatoes, mushrooms, and crostini. When I was ordering I pointed to the Scallops sauteed and said I'd like the Sea Scallops with tomato and mushroom. The waiter said, "The Risotto?" and I made the mistake of saying yes. So I got the Sea Scallops with Mushroom and Asparagus Risotto. A side note, pay attention when you order as the waiter might confuse a less expensive dish with a more expensive dish. The scallops were tasty and so was the risotto. There was something strewn over the risotto. It seemed to be toasted sprouts. They didn't add anything to the dish as far as I was concerned.

All in all, I suggest not going here. The service was mediocre. The food was good, but not extraordinary. The only thing it really has going for it is a better wine list than Red Lobster and a fancier selection than either Dover Straits or Red Lobster.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

“Rakkety Tam” by Brian Jacques

This is another story of Mossflower country and Redwall. It has all the expected elements feasting, stories, riddles, a badger, hares, otters, squirrels, watervoles, shrews, mice, and moles. In this case the riddle is much less central to the story, though it ends up solved by the Redwallers.

Rakkety Tam is a Borderer squirrel and mercenary in service to a fool of a squirrel king. Gulo the Savage is a terrible violent wolverine roving in search of his brother Askar and the “Walking Stone”, which Askar stole. In his pursuit Gulo hears of Redwall and decides to take it, but finds that he cannot.

All in all this story is one of the more enjoyable of the Redwall novels. The story is as solid as ever, the characters are vivid and colorful, and the hares provide more than one comic ballad.

Friday, March 11, 2011

“Ring of Fire II” Edited by Eric Flint

This is another anthology set in the world with the Ring of Fire. Eric notes in the preface that these stories are similar to the Grantville Gazette, an online magazine with some issues in print. The main difference is that the stories in both this anthology and the earlier “Ring of Fire” are a little more closely associated with the novels and there aren’t any technical documents included.

This anthology varies in time and location more than the previous anthology, but the quality remains good.

The first 6 stories can be read free on the Baen Free Library.

Here are some brief comments on the 15 stories in the anthology.

“Horse Thieves” by Karen Bergstralh
This is a story of horse traders taking their purchases from France to Grantville. Along the way they run into a group of bandits or soldiers. Five of the horse traders are ex-mercenaries with uptime weapons with an uptimer along for the ride. The uptimer gets cocky and dead. Then the story closes with five ex-mercs against 20 uptime bigots.

“Second Issue?” by Bradley H. Sinor
Yuri, an émigré Russian and reporter, noticed that Papenheim was Santa Claus at the Christmas party. He wrote a story with plenty of speculation and tries to sell it to the “Times”. The editor of the “Times”, Paul, demands proof and together they go looking for it. After Paul gets caught Mike convinces him to sit on the story. They still have to find a way to prevent Yuri from selling the story. Paul comes up with an idea. The only question after that is “When is the second issue coming out?”

“Diving Belle” by Gunnar Dahlin and Dave Freer
Ginny Cochran has left the library in Grantville to work as a secretary to the American Ambassador in Stockholm. While she’s there she enlists a quartet of young men in her plan to prevent a cunning fraud from fleecing the Swedish nobility with a plan to raise the warship, Vasa. The plan is to raise the ship herself… using the frauds money.

“A Gift from the Duchess” by Virginia DeMarce
The Duchess of Tyrol has a gift for the people of the plague stricken city of Kronach. A trio of skilled doctors trained in Padua. The three of them along with Matt Trelli get into Kronach to help control the plague outbreak. After that is wrapped up, also the Ram Rebellion, the doctors get flown to Bernhard. The Duchess has political schemes that are described only broadly.

“Lucky at Cards” by Andrew Dennis
Guilo Mazarini, now Jules Mazarin, has taken service with Cardinal Richelieu and switched to being a French citizen. This little tale revolves around the card table and shows the edges of the struggle between Richelieu’s party and that of Gaston, Duc D’Orleans. It also hints at a developing friendship between Mazarin and Anne of Austria.

“A Trip to Amsterdam” by Gorg Huff & Paula Goodlett
This is a story about David Bartley and OPM. When Don Fernando begins the siege of Amsterdam the Dutch guilder starts to fall like a rock. The USE government wants it propped up so they give David a secure loan. He and Prince Karl Eusebius von Lichtenstein buy quite a lot of guilders, saving the day. Then the decision is reached that Don Fernando needs to be spoken to or it will all be for naught. After long negotiations all return home happy.

“This’ll Be the Day…” by Walt Boyes
This story advances a little further the story of Fredrich von Spee. It covers the day he died in our timeline.

“Command Performance” by David Carrico
This story of Franz Sylwester and Marla Linder advances the story of that group of downtime and uptime musicians. In this tale Mary Simpson has arranged a performance by the group, particularly Marla, for the high notables of the USE.

“Ellis Island” by Russ Rittgers
This very short story blends a remembrance of Ellis Island with the brief story of three refugees striving to reach Grantville.

“Malungu Seed” by Jonathan Cresswell-Jones
This is the story of an ex-Jesuit come across the sea from Brazil. He brings James Nichols cinchona seeds. Quinine can be extracted from them and that prevents malaria. However, there is a problem. It is impossible to verify that he is who he says he is, it is impossible to verify that the seeds are what he says they are, and he’s asking for a great deal of money to fund a trip to plant half of those seeds in Africa.

“Trials” by Jay Robison
This story continues the tale of Artemisia Gentileschi and her daughter Prudentia. After Artemisia moves herself and family to Grantville she gets involved in the trial of a soldier accused of raping a woman in Grantville. She becomes friends with the woman, Sherry Murray.

“The Chase” by Iver P. Cooper
This story of the Barbie Consortium brings William Cavendish, a young Englishman on the Grand Tour, and his tutor Thomas Hobbes to Grantville for a time. The girls are rather taken with him and Heather tries to get a date with him. In the end Judy is the one to win his attention. Then the war with France, Denmark, and England begins and William has to return home.

“Eddie and the King’s Daughter” by K.D. Wentworth
This is the amusing story of how Eddie Cantrell begins his romance with King Christian’s daughter Anne Catherine. They get into a certain amount of trouble and get her fiancé thrown in prison for bragging about giving the Swedes fine ships. There are also the extended negotiations where King Christian attempts to get technology from Grantville in exchange for Eddie. This story feeds into “1634: The Baltic War”.

“Second Thoughts” by Virginia DeMarce
In which Noelle Murphy learns a great deal more of her family history than she expected. This story begins when Noelle returns to Grantville from Franconia. She is dealing with the fallout of her mother and natural father, Dennis Stull, being declared as married. She is also working full time to catch corrupt members of the government in there corruption. By the end of the story her name is Noelle Stull.

“The Austro-Hungarian Connection” by Eric Flint
King Ferdinand III of Austria has gotten himself a nice car now that his father has died. He wants more technology so he sends one of his most trusted cavalry officers, Janos Drugoth, to see to bringing the party from Grantville. Some of these are being pursued by Noelle Stull on account of corruption. When she catches up to the party Janos takes her and Eddie Junkers prisoner until they are about to pass into Bohemia. Noelle isn’t willing to leave things there. She realizes that they must pass through Regensburg. Noelle makes it there in time to see them passing down the river. Then she shoots at Janos. After that is the beginning of an official courtship between Noelle and Janos.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

“Ring of Fire” Edited by Eric Flint

This is an anthology put together by Eric Flint. It takes place in the same universe as his novel “1632”. The stories are all set in the two or three years after the Ring of Fire occurred.

One rather interesting thing about this anthology is how important several of these stories are. “To Dye For” by Mercedes Lackey helps set the stage for “The Galileo Affair”, and Mercedes Lackey isn’t a coauthor for any of the novels. This anthology deliberately shows the important work done by people other than the main characters in “1632”. As Eric Flint puts it near the end of his introduction to this anthology,

“In the nature of things, fictional series – like biographies – tend to give the illusion that history marches more-or-less lockstep with the actions of the main characters of the story. That’s almost inevitable, given the very nature of narrative. But it is an illusion, and I wanted to avoid it as much as possible in the unfolding 1632 series.”

The overall work is interesting both for that reason and because of the way it fits in with the unfolding alternate history. It can be read online in the Baen Free Library.

Here are some brief comments on each of the stories.

“In the Navy” by David Weber
This short story shows how Mike gives John Simpson command of the new Navy. It also shows how Eddie becomes attached to Simpson. It also humanizes Simpson, compared to his portrayal in “1632”.

“To Dye For” by Mercedes Lackey
This short story shows more about Tom Stone. It shows his marijuana and medical herbs. It also shows his unwillingness to make a profit off his medicines. Then the main part of the story shows how he gets approval to wed Magda. This helps a little bit when he shows up rich with a German wife in “1634: The Galileo Affair”.

“A Lineman for the Country” by Dave Freer
This story introduces Ellie Anderson, Len Tanner, and Dougal Lawrie. Ellie and Len are uptime experts with phone technology. Dougal is a downtime Scotsman and dispatch rider. Together they decide to create a telecommunications company. They show up in later stories in Prague helping Wallenstein setup a phone network.

“Between the Armies” by Andrew Dennis
Here is the first time the reader meets Mazarini and Gus Heinzerling. This longer story shows how Gus Heinzerling came to be the curate of the Catholic Church in Grantville, St Mary’s. It also describes Father Mazzare’s transition from being quiet about the changes since the 1600’s to giving Mazarini the text of documents of the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992 ed), and an authorized English translation of the Bible. This is an interesting story in part because it sets up relationships that matter in later stories, most notably in “1634: The Galileo Affair”.

“Biting Time” by Virginia DeMarce
This is the story of Veronica Richter, Gretchen’s grandmother. It winds along through Ronnie getting a set of dentures, to the courtship of Henry Dreeson, to the opening of the first of her St. Veronica’s Preparatory Schools.

“Power to the People” by Loren K. Jones
This is the story of events at the power station when the Ring of Fire occurred. It follows a pair of workers at the power station that lose their families by the event.

“A Matter of Consultation” by S.L. Viehl
In this story Anne Jefferson and Sharon Nichols begin by trying to make contact with the best of the local herbalists, Tibelda. Things go downhill when Tibelda and Anne are grabbed by some local farmers looking for help treating another local farmer with a heart problem. Unfortunately an English doctor, Dr. Harvey, brought the unwell farmer to the village. When Tibelda gives the farmer a potion Harvey accuses both she and Anne of poisoning the farmer. Adam Olearius arrives with Sharon, Balthazar, Hans, and Grechen, which saves Anne and Tibelda from being burned as witches. Adam begins his courtship of Anne and Harvey gets a brief copy of the history of Charles I of England.

“Family Faith” by Anette M. Pedersen
Here is the story of an ex-Jesuit, Johannes, trained in drawing and painting. He spends time recovering from a nasty cough talking with an old friend, the son of his father’s Reeve, who now runs his family’s estate. He speaks of the terrible things he saw in the war and of his nephew, now lost in the chaos. After he gets better Johannes travels to Grantsville following the last clue to his nephew’s whereabouts.

“When the Chips are Down” by Jonathan Cresswell & Scott Washburn
This is an amusing little story about how Larry Wilds endeavors to create a recipe for potato chips.

“American Past Time” by Deann Allen & Mike Turner
This story focuses on Billy and Conrad. Billy is an uptime kid that was planning on going into Major League Baseball. Conrad is a downtime German with a talent for batting. As Billy tries to come to grips with the Ring of Fire by playing baseball with whoever will play he finds that more and more of the downtimers are able to hit his pitches.

“Skeletons” by Greg Donahue
This is the story of how a downtimer that served in Tilly’s army deals with some of the skeletons in his past. He also deals with a trio of murderous ex-mercs.

“A Witch to Live” by Walt Boyes
This is a rather simple story of a woman accused of witchcraft. Fredrich von Spee makes an appearance as her defense attorney. It quietly explains how von Spee ends up in Grantville.

“The Three R’s” by Jody Dorsett
This story serves as an introduction to Bishop Comenius, Deacon Jan, and Red Sybolt. It also sets the stage for the events in Prague in later stories. Other than that it isn’t all that interesting.

“Here Comes Santa Claus” by K.D. Wentworth
This is a thoroughly amusing story as General Pappenheim is conscripted to play Santa in Julie Mackey’s Christmas event. It also serves to set up Prague.

“The Wallenstein Gambit” by Eric Flint
This novella by Eric Flint describes how Wallenstein defects from the Austrian Habsburgs. Wallenstein seizes Prague with the help of the Roths, Ellie and Len, Red Sybolt, and a young and eager Abrabanel.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Book Review: “Here There Be Dragons” by John Peel

This is one of the many Star Trek books. It follows the crew of the Enterprise (Next Generation) as they work studying a nebula. In the process they discover a Preserver world and a mostly incompetent group of poachers, thieves, and con men.

It reads rather like an episode of Star Trek. The plot is predictable and the characters don’t develop at all, but the interactions and the action are enjoyable.

If you’re looking for a generic sci-fi book to take on an airplane this is a decent book. If you aren’t… well, there are a great many higher quality books.

For those Trekkers interested in the chronology this story takes place before the sixth season episode, “Rascals”.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Book Review:”Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie

This Hercule Poirot mystery from the 1930’s is one of Agatha Christie’s most famous mysteries.

It begins with Poirot having just solved a very difficult case for the French Army in Syria. From there he travels to Istanbul (Stamboul) on the Taurus Express. On that train he encounters Mary Debenham and Colonel Arbuthnot.

He arrives in Istanbul and discovers that he must change his plans. He intended to stay some days in Istanbul, but now he must get on the very next train to Calais, the Istanbul-Calais coach, part of the Simplon Orient Express.

Unfortunately there are no sleeping rooms available on the train. Fortunately his friend, M. Bouc, forces the conductor to give Poirot the only berth where the passenger has not yet arrived.

The full train sets off for Calais. On the second day out Mr. Ratchett approaches Poirot and asks for his protection. Poirot refuses on the grounds that he does not like Ratchett’s face. The next day Poirot awakes to discover that the train has been stopped by a snowdrift. Shortly thereafter he learns from M. Bouc that Ratchett is dead, stabbed in his berth, and it is worse. The murderer is still on the train.

The story is told wonderfully and the solution is a classic. The entire story is impossible, as both M. Bouc and the Greek doctor declare several times. Despite that while reading the story it is easy to forget just how absurd it is. The interactions, the series of clues, the way each clue comes in without being forced in all combine to give the mystery a magnificent force.

Well worth reading for anyone that enjoys mysteries or interesting characters. Not for those that can’t abide stereotypes. Also not for those that want something more active than talk, which is just about all folks can do without getting off the train when it is stuck in a snowdrift.

Book Review: “Lyon’s Pride” by Anne McCaffrey

This is the fourth book after “The Rowan” and occurs shortly after the events in “Damia’s Children”.

The story starts with Rojer and the Genesee. His brother Isthian is on the way to relieve him. Their sister Laria is now serving as Clarf Prime helping the Mrdini and providing FT&T service. Zara, another sister, is finishing up her studies as a healing Prime with Elizara. The book follows these four threads as the pursuit of the Hiver ships continues.

This is quite likely one of Anne McCaffrey’s better “airport” books. The dialogue is enjoyable, the character interaction interesting, and the plot is both simple and transparent. The characters themselves are seldom more than mildly engaging, which is good as there are highs and lows in this book that could have been overpowering with more engaging characters.

Book Review: “Crisis on Doona” by Anne McCaffrey and Jody Lynn Nye

This is a sequel to Anne McCaffrey’s “Decision on Doona”. It takes place 25 years after the events of the first book and was written almost as many years after that book.

The treaty agreed upon at the end of “Decision on Doona” is reaching its expiration date. Todd and Hrriss have grown up and are working to get the treaty turned into a perpetual treaty. Unfortunately, the xenophobic nationalists on both sides are engaged in covert efforts to have the treaty voided. Admiral Landreau’s plot has reached fruition and early in the book Todd and Hrriss face many charges of smuggling and other treaty violations.

This book is inoffensive rather than interesting. The character interactions are enjoyable, but the plot is flaccid. The opponents are routinely foolish, the necessary plot points turn up at the predictable points, and in the end the hero(s) get the(ir) girl(s). It is a story that barely matters in the third book.

Readers that particularly enjoy McCaffrey’s style might enjoy this book, but it is neither important to the series nor memorable itself.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Book Review: “The Oresteia Trilogy” by Aeschylus, Dover Thrift Editions

This book contains three plays by Aeschylus, “Agamemnon”, “The Libation-Bearers”, and “The Furies”. “Agamemnon” is the famous tale relating the death of Agamemnon at the hand of his wife Clytemnestra. “The Libation-Bearers” is the well known tale of the death of Clytemnestra at the hands of her son Orestes. “The Furies” is less well known. It relates the criminal trial of Orestes for the murder of his mother.

As with all the Dover Thrift Editions books this one is an excellent choice for those that don’t know if they will like the work or want it available at a low cost. Furthermore the translation by Morshead scans fairly well for a modern reader.

All three of these plays have more talking and less action than modern plays. I thought these were rather interesting particularly “The Furies”. The challenge there is how to regard a matricide that is also the required vengeance for the murder of the father. The back and forth between arguments for the prosecution and the arguments for the defense is an interesting setting for the philosophical arguments, while the conclusion, with Orestes found not guilty and the criminal trials being devoted to the Furies, ably demonstrates the fundamental ambiguity found where a series of crimes are committed.

I place “Agamemnon” next as it is almost as interesting as “The Furies”. The interest here comes from Clytemnestra’s deceptions, Agamemnon’s poetic appreciation for his home, and Cassandra’s grim foretelling.

The least interesting is “The Libation-Bearers”. It is little more than two people nerving each other up and then plotting the murder of their mother. Because she wronged them.

Book Review: “The White Gryphon” by Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon

This is the second book in the Mage Wars series. It takes place about ten years after the Mage Wars are over. It is set in the same world, Velgarth, as the tales of Valdemar. It is part of the ancient history of that world.

The k’Leshya are building a new home on the coast of the sea when the local Haighlei Emperor sends emissaries to expel them from his territory. In the process of diplomatically gaining recognition as junior allies Skandranon, Zhaneel, Amberdrake, and Winterhart get dragged into some less than diplomatic murderous plots. Making things more interesting there is a time limit. Everything must be cleared up and decided at the Eclipse ceremony.

Overall, this is an enjoyable book, though it isn’t better than the average.