Sunday, July 31, 2011

Finished: "Mississippi Vivian" by Bill Crider and Clyde Wilson

Finished: Mississippi Vivian by Bill Crider and Clyde Wilson, 2010, 9781594148743.

Good. The second Ted Stephens PI novel. Wilson died in 2008. I do not recall if Crider wrote whether this was finished before Wilson passed. I think it was.

Set in 1970. Stephens travels to Losgrove, MS to investigate an insurance company fraud. Several men from the small MS town had worked as longshoreman in Houston and claimed injuries. All claims went through the same attorney and the company is insurance.

Stephens gets only get one person to talk to him in the small town, Mississippi Vivian, a local waitress. Vivian is a lousy talker though. She talks in circles, asks questions in return, and does not volunteer information. Stephens asks about the longshoreman and finds one committed suicide. In a friend's house. Well, that's suspicious.

Stephens talks to the attorney who says he knows nothing of the checks that were addressed to his location. Well, that's suspicious, too.

The Sheriff is friendly until asked about the suicide. The Sheriff then tells Stephen to not ask around anymore about the dead guy. That is also suspicious. Steppehns says, Sure I'll leave it alone. But, he doesn't mean it.

Stephens digs. He asks questions, asks questions, and asks questions. One of the guy's claiming injury tries to beat Stephens up and fails. The same guy ends up dead with two gunshots through his chest. Stephens keeps digging and figures things out. Stephens heads back to Houston.

1. Good. Like usual. No surprise. I would have preferred a faster pace but this is not that kind of novel.
2. Realism (to a point). Stephens does not pack heat. Does not have cop friends on the inside. Does not have special computer skills and high-tech surveillance equipment. He asks questions and works the case. He (mostly) sticks to his mandate of insurance fraud.
3. Crider recurring motif: enjoyment of common food. Stephens often eats at the cafe Mississippi Vivian works at. He loves the meatloaf and catfish and drinks lots of iced tea.
4. When did crime scene tape come into use?
5. Small period references. At one point Stephens gets a can of soda: I prefer to drink straight from the can. All those stories about how you can catch some kind of disease from rat urine on drink cans are greatly exaggerated, if you ask me. I never heard that urban rumor.
6. No one likes Stephen's jokes. It is a recurring joke in itself. He is the wise cracking PI but no one catches on. Stephens comments on the misuse of apostrophe's.
7. Stephens often gets people saying things like, "You're the private investigator, you should know that."
8. This is all set in the MS. Stephens wife has just a couple brief appearances on phone conversations. The Clyde Wilson-style character from #1 does not appear.

Read: "Agents of Treachery" Edited by Otto Penzler

Read: Agents of Treachery edited by Otto Penzler, 2010, 9780307477514.

I was scanning the shelves for paperbacks to take on my trip.

Fourteen short stories by as many authors. I liked the ones by Andrew Klavan, Stephen Hunter, and John Weisman. I was disappointed in the Lee Child story. The best one was by John Lawton.

Klavan story: Sleeper cell of Soviet agents still lives in the U.S. Some cell members have had suspicious deaths since the break-up of the USSR. All cell members are about 60+ yrs old - or older - now. Told by one cell member who fears murder by the Americans or activation. He hears from another cell member, after a 20 year quiet, who is freaking out. Other guy thinks the Russians sold the cell to the Arabs for terrorism. Both men wish for their childhood home of Centerville. Centerville was made just for cell training. The members were raised as children in an idealized American small town set in the middle of Ukrainian prairie.

Hunter: A WWII story set in France and England. A US commando is part of a three man team sent to blow a bridge after D-Day. The local partisans are a communist group and do not want to deploy their machine guns. The partisans want to save the guns for political power after the war. The Brit commando calls a contact he knows is a commie. The commie gets word to Kremlin. Kremlin gets word to France. Machine guns are deployed. At the same time a Brit gal soldier hears of this. She is NKVD and the partisan group is being run by a competing Soviet intelligence service. She contacts NKVD bosses who get the machine guns, somehow, pulled. The American and Brit commando die after bridge is blown.

Weisman: Weisman writes one of his "capable commando foiled by bureaucrats and liberals" tales. 52 year old CIA paramilitary guy is hunting AQ in Iraq and has a line on kidnappers and victims. Matt Maupin is supposed to be held. 52 year old has to convince a young inexperienced, naive, and mostly incompetent superior to run an informant properly. Turns out the informant is a plant and the paramilitary was the target. Paramilitary was too effective and getting to AQ and is killed in operation.

When I heard Maupin's remains were found I was not surprised. He had been missing so long. Even expecting the worst I was no less sad to hear the news. The missing guys never got much press coverage but others were completely focused on finding them.

Lawton: Great story with a Brit Army officer in 1960's. Brit has led an unexciting career. Crappy assignments at cold and dingy English bases and a few years stuck in the Libyan desert. Officer learns Russian in hopes of getting into Intelligence. But, ends up in London and in charge of all supplies East of Suez. During a night of bar hopping he gets propositioned by whore. While getting undressed the door busts open and Russian takes his photo. Russian has mistaken Officer for a senior officer of the same name. Officer takes regular reports on skillet shipments, doctors them, sells the reports to Russian. Officer falls for the whore. Whore likes him, too. Things get hairy and they are able to frame-up the senior officer with same name (a dickhead). Whore kills the Russian. Whore also kills the Officer's older wife to be with him.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Listened to: "Forgotten Man" by Robert Crais

Listened to: Forgotten Man by Robert Crais. I'm on vacation, I'm not looking for the year. Downloaded from Overdrive.

Not sure where this fits in the order of Elvis Cole books.

Elvis is at home late at night, unable to sleep. He gets a call from LAPD detective asking him to come to a crime scene. Dead guy in alley was found by cop shortly before expiration and claimed Elvis was his son. Elvis shows up, does not know the guy, does not look like the guy. Elvis wants to know what was going on.

Reader finds out much more about Elvis as a child. His mom was mentally ill and would disappear for days or months at a time. On one return she shows up pregnant. Years later Elvis is a kid and asks who his dad is. Mom says dad was a human cannonball. Whenever young Elvis hears about a carnival or circus he skips town looking to see if their is a human cannonball and if it is his dad. Elvis is looking hard for a father. His mother is a mess and his grandfather and aunt do not take good care of him.

Contemporary Elvis digs around to identify the John Doe murder victim. Dead guy covered in religious tattoos. At the same time a colleague/employee/friend (we don't know) of the dead guy is trying to find dead guy. Dead guy went to LA and friend afraid dead guy will spill beans about "something".

Things happen. Elvis pulls the standard PI plot of getting his police pals, crime scene pals, and DMV pals to help him out. Elvis had left behind his need to find his father and now that need is pulling him again. Lady cop pines for Elvis. Elvis pines for girlfriend who left him. Pike pines for his Python. Elvis cracks the case. Elvis finds lady cop who found dead guy actually killed him. Elvis and lady cop ambushed by dead guy's pal. Pike arrives in nick of time. Elvis is in intensive care for a few weeks. Pike is all lovey-dovey by non-stop vigil at Elvis's bedside. Elvis visits his mother's grave.

1. Lady cop who killed guy was trying to set Cole up. Lady cop says (paraphrasing) "I made it up as I went along" Just like Crais with this novel.
2. Cole continues wisecracking.
3. Narrator narrates those wisecracks as wisecracks. But, you could read those Cole comments with a much darker subtext. Cole is a mostly content and happy person. But, he seems to work at being that way. Are his wise acre comments a push back against bad events or unpleasant people to maintain happiness?
4. I got started thinking about what I mention in #3. I then got off track and did not analyze it any more while listening. I cannot expand the thought.
5. Okay, here is one thought. Cole has no family besides Pike. He was forced to independence. Are wisecracks a way to keep personal demons of loneliness at bay? I don't know, I have not read that many of these novels nor do I remember them all that well. Pike, too, came from a crappy family.
6. Colt Python love.
7. Sig .45 love.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Read: "Reflections in a Golden Eye" by Carson McCullers

Read: Reflections in a Golden Eye by Carson McCullers, 1941 (2000 paperback), 0618084754.

The movie version of this was mentioned in the comments for the Abbott-Gran blog post about Elizabeth Taylor. I'm not sure what drew me to reserve the novel, but the blog comment mentioned 1940s "pervs" and I'll bet that was it.

Southern Gothic set on an Army base in the South. There is a Captain and his wife, a Major and his wife, a Private. The Captain's wife is slightly retarded and carrying on an affair with the neighboring Major. The Major's wife is in very poor mental and physical health. The Captain is a closeted gay. This is not explicitly made clear. The Private is a weirdo who rarely talks. The Major is a bit of a self-involved doofus.

Captain has mixed love-hate feelings for the Private. His sexual urges seem so sublimated he tamps down what he really feels. The Private falls for the wife and stalks her. He enters the house and night and squats next to her bed to stare at her.

Captain knows about his wife and the Major having sex. He does not really care except for feeling that he should care. Major's wife also knows about the affair but unwilling to leave since she is mostly bedridden and without job skills. Things progress. People drink a lot. Late nights. Lots of hidden sexuality. Introspective looks at characters. Violent death at the end. "Passions and jealousies."

1. This was the second book in a row I have read that had nipples cut off.
2. This might be the only Southern Gothic I have read except for that Tomorrow River novel.
3. This was short at 127 pages.
4. This edition had an afterword by Tennessee Williams. I tried reading the afterword but decided I did not give a flying fuck.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Read: "Valley of Lights" by Stephen Gallagher

Read: Valley of Lights by Stephen Gallagher, 1987, 0450406644.

I saw new eBook edition of this promoted on Bill Crider's blog. I read that it had a Phoenix setting and got interested. Although I did not completely enjoy my years in the Valley I am still quite interested in what it was like before the massive building and population boom of the '90s and '00s.

As I was reading the first part of this I was thinking, "This is good, it's been a while since I read a police procedural - especially with a patrol cop as antagonist." Then I got to the horror part of the novel and thought, "Crap, this is just like that movie, The Fallen." Fortunately, it did not follow the exact same plot as the flick. I liked the flick.

Patrol Sergeant Alex Volchak is a workaholic for Phoenix PD. He takes a welfare call to a local motel where he finds three guys that seem comatose. He figures they are drugged. The guy who rented the room shows up, sees the cops, drops his bag full of baby food, Alex loses the guy in a foot chase. The guy must have been feeding the comatose people the baby food.

Alex is not a detective and does not pursue cases like this. But, since he wakes early and cannot get to sleep he heads to a place he figures the guy might be. Alex finds guy, guy takes off, guy falls off a truck bed. Alex asks guy why he ran, guy says, "I don't like questions," then dies. At approximately the same time one of the comatose, and diagnosed brain dead, guys walks out of the hospital.

Turns out the bad guy is a demon of sorts. Demon has lived a thousand years or so and likes to kill young people. Alex figures this out and is able to follow the latest body for the demon to inhabit. He tracks the latest body and is stopped from killing him. Things happen. Alex and female trailer-park-neighbor get hot and heavy. Alex explains his theory to her. Neighbor freaks and bolts. Demon runs neighbor off the road and kidnaps her daughter. Alex has to figure out how to stop demon and rescue girl.

1. I liked this. Alex was a good narrator. A workaholic since his wife died and able to figure things out.
2. Colt Detective Special love.
3. Jeep Renegade love.
4. Urban squalor of Phoenix love.
5. 1984 goodness: no cell phones, no freeways in Phoenix, still a lot of desert separating communities.
6. Well told and plotted. How will Alex catch the demon? He gets him once but the demon lucks out and finds a freshly dead person; Alex is then in another bind when demon starts to play with Alex.
7. I wonder if a producer bought the rights to this? IMDB had no listing for Gallagher or novel title under entry for Fallen. If not, did Gallagher sue? Scott Phillips said suing over a concept can cause more hurt than winning could help.

Friday, July 22, 2011

"Read": "The Poisoner's Handbook" by Deborah Blum

"Read": The Poisoner's Hanbook: murder and the birth of forensic medicine in the Jazz Age in New York, by Deborah Blum, 2010, 9781594202438.

Of course I read this. I was on the committee wasn't I? I wouldn't skip out halfway through. I read every last word. Yes, the definition of "last word" is arguable.

Good book. Lots of research by Blum who neatly wrapped facts into narrative. Following the trailblazing forensic work of the coroner's office in New York City. The Office had to fight against underfunding and political shenanigans but started rigorous scientific work to develop tests to detect poisons and other substances.

I was very interested in the fact that the coroner, and Blum, repeatedly would rail against the deadly effects of illegal liquor. The liquor was often denatured with all sorts of poisonous and deadly substances. The government passed requirements that grain alcohol substitutes used by bootleggers be poisoned as a means of deterring usage. It didn't work; bootleggers used the stuff and people died like flies.

Most illegal booze in the U.S. and NYC was scuzzy poison swill, very little of illegal booze was distilled in the U.S. or smuggled from the Caribbean or Canada.

Sure I read the whole thing. I wouldn't make that up. See, here is the last sentence "I keep asking myself, have I done everything right?"

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Listened to: "Brotherhood of the Rose" by David Morrell

Listened to: Brotherhood of the Rose by David Morrell, 1984 (1985 for audio version), downloaded from Overdrive.

I am currently reading a book of espionage short stories Agents of Treachery. Morrell has a story Agents and his author bio mentions that Brotherhood was made into a miniseries. News to me.

In 1938 a group of espionage bosses created the Abelard Sanction to create safe houses around the world for any spy, from any country, for any crime.

Chris and Saul were raised in an military boys school - an orphanage. Their foster father, of sorts, Elliott, is a big wig in the CIA. The boys were taught an intensive martial art for years, joined the Army, joined the Special Forces, served in Vietnam, joined the CIA, took jobs as highly skilled assassins and spies.

Saul is tasked by Elliott to murder a group of billionaires negotiating an oil deal with the arab countries. Saul is betrayed by Elliott who set him up as the fall man and then tries to have him killed. Chris is in Bangkok to commit suicide when he kills a Soviet agent in a sanction house. Murder inside a sanction house is grounds for immediate execution by any available agent from any country.

Chris and Saul meet up and try to figure out what is going on. The 1938 espionage summit by espionage bosses still continues as Elliott and others manipulate politics and actions behind the scenes. Chris and Elliott discover this while also teaming up with an Israeli spy Saul used to date.

Chris and Saul set out to get Elliott. Chris is killed. Saul is out for revenge and tracks Elliott to a sanction safe house. Elliott and Saul clash and both are evicted. Saul does not want to kill Elliott in the end but Elliott betrays him once more and Saul shoots him.

1. This was pretty decent. The second half was better with more action and danger to protagonists. Elliott turns out to have been an incredibly manipulative and awful person.
2. This was done in 1984 and Morrell has to explain how computers and modems work.
3. How dated is the spycraft? No worries over cell phones but most everything is done in cash to avoid notice. Easy for them to break into the Def Int Agency computer system after interrogating a computer guy for pass codes.
4. This must predate the techno-info method of throwing military acronyms at the reader; piling on detail about vehicles and weapons and equipment. Even Barry Eisler who will list name brands and models. I wonder if Morrell currently follows that path? He mentions Berettas and UZIs but only because they are supposed to be unique identifiers of the Mossad and used by bad guys to create confusion.
5. Saul is described as "a tall Jew" by a stranger. Huh?
6. NoveList has the publication dates for Morrell's novels all screwed up. They will list a later edition's date rather than the original pub date. For instance, First Blood is listed as 2000 but the review source is KIRKUS from 1972.
7. First Blood is Morrell's first novel and KIRKUS gave it a slam bang review. I wonder if KIRKUS was as picky then as they are - notoriously - now.
8. Elliott had several pairs of "foster" sons he used up. At the end of the book only Saul and two others exist. It would have been interesting to have had Saul and those other two interact directly. The other two are still completely devoted to their "dad".

Monday, July 18, 2011

Finished: "Guild" by Ed Gorman

Finished: Guild by Ed Gorman, 2009 (reprint of 1987 copyright), 9780843962307.

I bought this at the Twice is Nice store in Jefferson for $0.50. I liked it.

Years ago Guild was judged not guilty of murdering an eight year old girl. He did shoot the girl but was found not guilty of murder. Since then Guild has kept bounty hunting and carrying the guilt and grief of the girl's death.

Guild rides into the Dakota Territory town of Danton with a prisoner. He turns the prisoner over and gets a room. He runs across a very small but threatening and drunk gambler. A local man is killed while Guild is out on the town. A mob is searching for the killer. Killer is suspected of being the drunken gambler. Guild meets the sheriff, Baines, who was a platoon mate of Guild's in the Army.

The town is under control of the Cord family. Cord wants the killer found. Cord controls the sheriff. Guild is asked by the gambler's female companion to help. Guild agrees. Things happen: Gambler found hung in cell and judged a suicide. Companion vows revenge. Guild helps her out. Guild investigates. Cord plans more deadly action and uses relatives and friends for the dirty work. Guild has boner for companion. Other characters introduced. Other characters killed.

Cord plans to split town because the initial killing was done by him to hide embezzlement from the Cord family bank. Cord plans to split town; after firing the sheriff Cord hires some goons as deputies to keep people out of his hair before Cord can split town with the bank's cash.

Guild and Baines escape town and sneak back in. Cord kills companion. Guild chases after Cord. Guild shoots Cord.

1. This is the second Iowa author I have read in a row.
2. Guild and Baines are fun together. Baines is older and getting arthritic. At one point he says he is getting too old for gun play. Guild gets annoyed and reminds Baines they are the same age.
3. Guild and Baines do not play out the friends turned enemies cliche. Guild calls Baines out on Baines lack of honor and ethics by kowtowing to the Cords. Baines admits to it, he needs the job.
4. Other things seem to start on cliched routes but turn off. Older newspaperwoman and a possible romance with a witness. Baines switching sides. Cord feeling guilty, but only for a very brief time. Female companion being killed rather than riding off with Guild.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Finished: "Last Quarry" by Max Allan Collins

Finished: The Last Quarry by Max Allan Collins, 2006 (? or 2005), 0843955937.

Very Good. Another Hard Case Crime success. I'm glad they are getting printed again. I like the Quarry novels. He's a stone cold killer but he has a sense of humor and a weakness for women.

Collins's afterword details more about how the novel came about. The first chapter was an often anthologized short story. (I'm proud of myself for recognizing that before reading the afterword.) The short story had been made into a short film and the director was looking to expand the story into a feature length flick. Charles Ardai was looking for a novel so Collins produced this. I have checked out the library's DVD version of that full-length film, Last Lullaby, more than once. I have the movie downstairs right now. I have yet to watch the dang picture.

Quarry is now fully retired. He ran into an old Army buddy who gave him a job managing a north woods resort in Minnesota. But, Quarry can't sleep. In the middle of the night he goes to a convenience store and recognizes another customer as a button man from Chicago. The gay button man is buying tampons. Quarry gets curious. Quarry follows. Quarry finds the button man and his boyfriend kidnapped a socialite and are holding her for ransom. Quarry kills the two kidnappers. Drunken slut socialite is overjoyed for the rescue. Quarry calls the socialite's dad and asks for $250,000 ransom. End of short story and chapter one.

Quarry decided to take the risk and have some excitement by acting in his own backyard. That backfires when the rich dad tracks him down and offers $500,000 for a kill. Quarry is going to have to up and leave anyway after being found. May as well take the job and the money.

Quarry travels to Colorado and shadows the mark. Quarry has gotten soft. Quarry is hot for the 30 yr. victim to be. Quarry pounds on the abusive boyfriend. Quarry bangs the mark. The mark brings out feelings that Quarry had long submerged. Things happen. Relationships discovered. Quarry kills many people at a funeral.

1. Hi-Power love.
2. Quarry is socially capable but refuses to follow along. He's a killer and has separated himself from polite manners. He does not care what others think and is just as likely to kill them. Quarry does not have sex, make love, sleep with, etc. He fucks. He does not have relationships. It sounds like his dead wife was chosen for her cluelessness as much as anything.
3. Collins wrote before how Vietnam vet Quarry was partly based on the PTSD riddled Audie Murphy.
4. Quarry loves Coca-Cola. Even Diet Coke.
5. I did not realize they were so few Quarry books. I thought there were at least a dozen or so.
6. Collins bebopped his way over to this blog. He is scheduled to attend Bouchercon this year. Maybe I'll see him and act like a suck-up.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Read: "Tales From Deadwood" by Mike Jameson (James Reasoner)

Read: Tales From Deadwood by Mike Jameson (James Reasoner), 2005, 0425206750.

I would not have known about this Reasoner novel but for a plug by Bill Crider. Reasoner has so many damn books under other names.

This novel could be alternately titled Western Whores and the Gunmen Who Loved Them. Reasoner novels always seem to have a mix of hokey dialogue and realistic sex. The characters speak to one another without shyness and reveal feelings of gratitude, admiration, love, and other things that strangers would often keep quiet. The characters acknowledge their confusion over other people.

Anyway. Not all that much happens. Wild Bill Hickok decides to follow some friends out to Deadwood where the friends plan to start a mail and suttler business. Dan Ryan is a former cavalryman scouting a small wagon train of miners to Deadwood. Along for the story are: Calamity Jane trying to get Hickok to have sex with her. A pal of Hickok falling for a young hooker. Dan Ryan's mining partner falling and moving in with another hooker. A few Deadwood locals doing local things.

Not a whole lot happens until a shoot out in the end. But, this is a Reasoner novel and he always keeps me interested in the characters. Ryan's partner who fled his oppressively religious upbringing and falls for the hooker; his attempts to remold himself into a gunslinger. Dan's romantic interest for a former slave. Hickok's dual enjoyment and distaste for his celebrity.

1. Hickok is still guilt ridden from mistakenly killing his pal in Abilene several years ago. It seems like Abilene had a historical marker for that event. Maybe I'm just remembering where that location in town. I would like to go back to the greyhound museum.
2. Jane is a dumpy gal dressed in a man's buckskins.
3. Dan is a more honest and timid man than would be expected from a veteran of the Civil War and Indian campaigns.
4. Even the afterword is signed with the pen name.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Read: "The Warlord" by Richard H. Dickinson.

Read: The Warlord by Richard H. Dickinson, 2004, 9781590710173.

Disappointing after Dickinson's first novel. That one, The Silent Men, was just that good. The thing is, I don't read many modern-day politico related shoot'em ups. Of the ones I have read this is much better. I found the characters more fully realized and without the political posturing and didacticism of other novels.

The main character from Silent appears 40 years later as an Army General. Monroe is now one of David Hackworth's "perfumed princes" of the Pentagon. Monroe is concerned with his Pentagon career: his looks, his reputation, ability to manipulate bureaucracy, etc. Monroe is in favor of a Congressional bill to, effectively, do away with SOCOM. Monroe travels to Afghanistan on a fact-finding mission prior to testifying before Congressional committee regarding the bill.

While in Afgh. Monroe demands to travel to a conference of regional warlords in NE Afgh. A Green Beret A-team is tasked to travel with him but Monroe halves the team in his own misguided, know-it-all, anti-SOCOM way. Monroe continues to act like an ass with the A-team. Monroe refuses to recognize local customs and politics. Monroe is the archetype of the clueless but powerful general bulling around the china shop.

The local leader of the mujaheddin is assassinated. Monroe and friends blamed and attacked. Monroe and friends board two helicopters. One helicopter is downed, the other helicopter, low on fuel, crashes. Monroe and friends captured and escape. Monroe and friends survive through knowledge and skill of A-team's Captain Salam. Monroe seething at Salam's ability versus Monroe's inability and lack of leadership.

Things happen. People shot. Non-infantry struggle to adapt. Monroe acts foolishly. Lots of shooting. Travel across the desert. Monroe redeems himself.

1. You have to swallow the nonsense of a three star general attending a dangerous conference with only a six guy security team.
2. Novel is a love letter to SOCOM.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Listened: "Command Decision" by Elizabeth Moon

Listened: Command Decision by Elizabeth Moon, 2007 (print), downloaded from Overdrive.

Fourth in the Vatta's War series. The books have gotten better with more action and less blah, blah, blah.

I've never much cared for science fiction as a fun house mirror of our own society. I prefer reading how an author advances a society in time, and what they come up with. That is what Moon does in the "Vatta universe". The universe is composed of planets and solar systems that were colonized a thousand or so years ago.

One thing I don't like is how each planet seems to be homogenous in it's culture. One planet is ruthless traders. Another planet is hu-mods (humans modified by electronics). Another planet is focused on courtesy and politeness. Diversity finds its own way and would do so on each planet.

Kylara "Ky" Vatta is still commanding a force of three ships that joined together to fight a well-organized and supplied group of interstellar pirates. Some smaller ships join up. Her cousin Stella is running the family business of interstellar shipping services. Her aunt is in the government on their home planet. Rafe Dunbarger - pronounced wrath by the narrator - is back at ISC. Thing happen. Ky fights a space battle and a space station with a thieving government. Rafe has to rescue is kidnapped and tortured family. ISC has trouble with embezzlement and sabotage. People die. Things blow up.

1. The plot revolves around communication. Ansible service from planet to planet and system to system is down. Ansibles provide instantaneous communications across space. Commercial transactions and businesses spread over several systems are dependent upon the ansibles. Ansibles are controlled by ISC which has it's own fleet of warships to defend the technology and service. Kind of like the East Indian Company who had their own ships and infantry and could wage war.
2. Ansibles go down across the universe. Wouldn't ISC have a massive drop in income with service down for a year or so in some areas? The service is down for many months and I would think income would drop precipitously. This is not really addressed by the ISC characters.
3. New technology allowing mobile and ship-borne Ansibles threatens the wealth and power of ISC. Kind of like replacing telegraph machines with cell phones.
4. Communications and mis-communications among the Vatta family is also as a key part of the story. Deception and avoidance are often analyzed by the main characters. What is someone else thinking? What is the enemy planning? A character wanting to say something but holding back for different reasons.
5. Space battles were interesting to listen to. The issues of instantaneous ansible sped versus the light speed used by some ships. The lag in time for light speed communication causes trouble. The "scan time" of seeing something happen versus real time.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Looked At: "Otto Dix" edited by Otto Conzelman

Looked At: Otto Dix edited by Otto Conzelman, 1959, published by Fackeltrager-Verlag.

This is written in German. Completely in German. I do not know German. A book from West Bend PL.

I know about Dix from his post-World War I paintings. I was thinking about him after that last WWI book I read and reserved this. Having the introduction or biography or whatever in German would not have been so bad but almost all the prints are in black white. Some of Dix's work translates very well into black and white. Most pieces do not.

The works shown are mainly from the '20s and '30s. Lost of post-war German poverty. Whores, mangled veterans begging on the streets, a parade of veterans with crude prosthetics, gruesome anarchy of the battlefield. Mixed in are skilled, but stylized, portraits. Some scenes of parties and finely clothed people

A few color plates I liked were Madchenkopf (1928) which is a simple line drawn portrait of a gal. The color used was just a little shading of her face, neck and jaw. Der Krieg (1929/1932) is also in color. Der Krieg has what seems to be a Dix motif: corpses are hung or stuck in skeletal trees or the frames of bombed out buildings. He also fits in rotting and putrefied corpses in the ground around trenches.

I liked the nudes.

I don't know what Dix did during WWII. I imagine he was a very unhappy camper. Dix's work railed against war and its aftermath; I presume he would not have been been sucked into the '30s hysteria of nationalism and warring. Since this was in German I guess I will have to reserve a different book to find out.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Finished: "The Gun" by C.J. Chivers

Finished: The Gun by C.J. Chivers, 2010, 9780743270762.

I lost my damn notes. I was keeping track of a few specific things Chivers wrote and I lost the damn bookmark those notes were kept on. Freaking typical.

This book is listed as a history of the AK47. Not really so. There are other firearm books that go into in-depth technical descriptions with measurements, ballistics, manufacturing history, factory listings, factory outputs, etc. Chivers ends up covering four different areas. 1. the history of rapid firing weapons. 2. Development of the AK. 3. U.S. reaction to the AK and negligent development of the M-16. 4. Political use and after effects of the AK.

Chivers work here is very impressive. I did not refer to each of his hundreds of footnotes but he pulled information from archives and interviews and his own work going back several years.

By topic issued above.
1. History. Chivers covers from Gatling through Maxim and into the auto rifles of WWII that led into the AK. Chivers covers the stubbornness and stupidity of military authorities who refused to see the value of automatic weapons in warfare and develop tactics in their use. Interesting historical fact: Hiram Maxim was an asshole.
2. AK development. Soviet propaganda pushed Kalishnikov as the proletariat designer who developed the AK by himself for the Motherland. Not so. Kalishnikov worked with a design group. I think K.'s genius is impressive but Chivers goes into how K. was promoted and praised as the designer of the AK.
3. The M16 was not selected with specific specifications and testing requirements. It was pushed through '60s DOD of whiz kids without proper development. Corrosion and poor ammo caused massive weapons failures. M16/AR histories will often clash on this topic. Some take the DOD defense of the time that the complaints were over-blown and troops were not cleaning the rifles. Other histories - like Chivers - list the unchromed bores, wrong ammo selection, and lack of cleaning kits.
Chivers spends most of his time looking at the piss-poor selection and testing process. No specs were drawn up and posted for manufacturers to develop a weapon. The DOD only looked at the AR, AK and M14 and "tested" them against one another.
4. Political use. The AK was a weapon of policy. Rifles and rifle manufacturing technology were distributed to Soviet allies. Factory output during the cold war was massive. Massive stockpiles of 7.62 rifles are still around and the original 1953 stamped rifles still function.
Chivers has a brief discussion related to arms control. Post-WWII Ballistic missiles and chemical weapons have never been used by the Soviets and U.S. but are the focus of arms talks. AKs have killed millions(?) but are never talked about. The main reason is money. Those stockpiles are translatable into cash.

1. Caliber wars discussed by Chivers have been going on for the last 100+ years. The manly .30 caliber versus the poodle shooters of 5.56mm. Reality and practicality of modern warfare be damned.
2. I read before - maybe it was Ian Hogg - how many studies and developments have shown that a .270 caliber round is the ideal infantry cartridge. But, no military seems happy with that and chooses something else.
3. Kalishnikov was a tool of the Soviets. His design was, without any doubt, very impressive and paradigm changing. After that initial development K. became a symbol more than an engineer. K. was a Soviet symbol and salesman, even if his own written autobiographies were still mired in the lies and bullshit of the official Soviet story.

p. 231 "The Field of firearms ballistics, like many applied sciences, is populated by unscrupulous practitioners and passionate quacks. At time is can be difficult to tell the types apart. "

Tradition over sound analysis. Same today with reference to "poodle shooters" and many cartridges and "real men love recoil". rather than analysis of ability and logiitics. Weight of ammo and rifle, true look at a target distance. Those arguments are responded by with claims of "bean counters!"

The tradition of the rifleman versus reality of massed fire. Marksmanship is important but the emphasis on it ignored current and future realities. .30 rifles measuring 40 inches long are not needed.