Friday, December 06, 2019

The Lord of Opium

Matt returns to the land of Opium as the new "El Patron." He starts out as an idealistic 14 year old kid. He wants to feed the microchip enslaved workers. However, he discovers that it may be impossible. He also learns he must act like a ruler to be one. He starts to adopt some of the cruelty. (After all, he is genetically identical to the original leader.) He tries to free "waitress". He sees some small emotion come out, but she still remains a "zombie". He wants to spend time with his friends. However, he also is required to be involved in many big issues of running a drug empire.
He gradually learns more details about how people are "enslaved". He is never able to free waitress, but he does manage to stumble upon the way to free others, but with a sacrifice to a space station. The novel spends just a few paragraphs covering what would be the very difficult task of repatriating this zombies into society.
The characters in the book are all quite complex. It is not a case of clear-cut good guys vs. bad guys. Instead, there are different characters with different values. There are often trade offs with many problems not having a clear-cut best solution. There are also plenty of coincidences that are needed to make the book move along. The ending is almost too "happy". The drug empire was essentially a garden of eden for the rebirth of the ecosystem after the ravages of humanity elsewhere. Oh, we could dream.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

The Battle for Skandia: Ranger's Apprentice, Book 4

In the series, the author occasionally drifts into technical discussions about various phenomena or tactics. I wonder if he is knowledgeable in the specific fields, or is just making things up. I guess it really doesn't matter, since this is his fictional universe, and he can choose how things should be.
The book starts out with a number of different narratives that quickly intertwine. Holt and Horrace are trying to find Will and Evelyn. Evelyn gets kidnapped by another group and Will goes to find her. One of the Skandians goes out to collect taxes. Eventually they all join up and uncover a giant army set to invade Skandia. Holt contributes tactics to the Skandians and helps them to battle the invaders.
The story is action packed, though there are plenty of lucky breaks that occur in order to have things happen properly.
The different groups have parallels to historical groups. The Skandians are Scandinavian vikings. They invaders are Mongols. There were also French group.

The Last: Endling, Book 1

Endling takes place in a world of sentient animals. There are a few major species that can talk and do magic. The book centers on the adventures of the dairne Byx. They are dog-like creatures that can identify when people are lying. She sneaks off from her family to see the ocean. She encounters a poacher and saves a small creature. When she returns she discovers that her entire family has been destroyed. From there, she goes off with the "quest" with a tracker, and many other animals. They get involved with various palatial intrigue as she hopes to find others of her species.
Humans get a bad rap in this book. They are the cruelest of the many sentient species. They are cunning and purposely kill off other species. The dairne ability to identify lies is extremely dangerous for people in power. However, if only one group controlled them, they could be very valuable. Other animals also don't understand why women humans are limited in their roles in society. This book follows the typical fantasy pattern of a "group of different beings assemble together to go on a quest." However, it keeps magic to a minimum and is more accessible than typical fantasy.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

I Survived the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863: I Survived, Book 7

The I Survived series looks like it would be a blast to write. As an author, you research historical events, and try to experience them yourself. The characters need to survive the event, but also see all that takes place around them. For the Battle of Gettysburg, the story is of two runaway slaves who end up with the Union Army at the battle. I wonder how reasonable it was for former slaves to be that accepted by the Union. (Is there perhaps a little too much of a modern viewpoint in place?) The audiobook is short, and there is just about as much commentary as actual audio. There is plenty of discussion of the Gettysburg address and the "short", yet memorable speech that Lincoln had made.

The House of the Scorpion

It took me a little while to figure out what was going on in The House of the Scorpion. The protagonist, Matt, gradually finds out more about his existence. He lives in the world of opium fields between the United States and Mexico. The inhabitants here are a motley bunch, including "eejits" who are laborers that have their intelligence removed (and are treated like as less than human) and a security patrol consisting mostly of men wanted for crimes in other countries. This land of Opium is ruled as an independent country by the ancient "El Patron", who is many decades past his 100th birthday. He likes to consider himself a near diety, similar to ancient Egyptian Pharaohs. We discover that Matt is actually a clone of "El Patron". We later learn that the purpose of these clones is to harvest organs for El Patron. (This is how he has lived to be so old.)
Matt hits puberty as El Patron has heart issues. As he is about to become an unwilling donor, one of his caretakers mentions that she has been feeding him just enough arsenic to make his heart useless for El Patron. This is too much for El Patron, and he dies. In the commotion, some of Matt's friends help him to escape. Matt sneaks across the border and then joins up with a group of other orphans forced to live in a pseudo-Marxist work camp of "the Keapers". He helps expose some hypocrisy of the organization and gets out. He is able to reach the convent where his "girlfriend" is staying. They are able to bust the keepers and then he is sent back to help find out what is wrong with his homeland. He discovers that El Patron had plotted to have the leadership die when he died. The land is in chaos, leaving things set up for a sequel.
There is an elaborate world created in the novel. Alas, the pieces we see don't give us a clear picture. What is the purpose of the "keepers"? Why do people let them exist, while despising them? And why are they busted for drug use, while at the same time El Patron's drug empire is allowed to thrive? What do regular people do? If people can have their intelligence removed to become "dumb laborers", why would regular jobs remain? Could a clone really be made to have the same fingerprints and other identifying markings? (If a clone is such an accurate identical copy, shouldn't we be concerned that Matt will be a megalomaniac dictator like El Patron?)

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Gunner Skale: An Eye of Minds Story: The Mortality Doctrine

Gunner Skale is a short story that introduces us to "super gamer" Gunner Skale and the birth of the mortality doctrine. Gunner is the best gamer around. However, he regrets publicizing this. He is mobbed whenever he goes out in public. He also feels he can't game with his significant other because it will district from his prestige. In spite of this, he is fairly content with his life. He spends his non-gaming hours working with sponsors and others who desire his name for their cause. One group he encounters has created the "mortality doctrine". They are old school and use VR goggles instead of immersive "coffins" to show the experience. He feels misgivings upon meeting them, however, he becomes enthralled with it and really want to meet in the "coffin" virtual world. He goes there and lose their life and the mortality doctrine to rouge AIs.
This story opens up more questions than it answers. Who were these people that created the "mortality doctrine"? How did the virtual world know that it was something valuable that could be taken? How could virtual creations so easily "kill" real world creations? You wonder if the author had some ideas for the background but just couldn't quite flush them out.

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Icebound Land: Ranger's Apprentice, Book 3

Book three of Ranger's Apprentice picks off where book one left off. Will and the King's daughter are sailing away with some mercenaries. They are not treated poorly, and in fact get fairly free run of things once they meet landfall. (Though they don't know she is the King's daughter yet.) Holt goes to extreme measures to try to find Will. Since the King will not let him go, he starts bad-mouthing the king in public, resulting in him being sentenced to banishment. This is not the first time in the series he has used a passive aggressive approach to get what he wants. Some times he seems to be nearly "perfect", while at others he falls into passive aggressiveness.
The book bifurcates into two stories.
One is about Holt and Horrace as they try to reach Will. They encounter a land of rent seeking knights. They defeat many of the "bridge knights", but are caught in the ambush of a very cruel boss knight. This knight showcases his cruelty, putting people in cages to die. They eventually defeat him and later (from a distance) see his castle go up in flames.
The other story follows Will and Evelyn. They try to escape, but are caught. They then become slaves. He is forced to take drugs and becomes addicted. A kind Skandian helps set them free. The trudge in a snow storm to freedom as she tries to ween him off the drug.
The novel is a "middle book" for people interested in the story. There are a few interesting arcs, but they are all part of a much larger story line.

Friday, November 22, 2019


Partials is yet another YA post apocalyptic novel. Humans created "partials" to help fight wars. These part-human/part robot creatures eventually turned on their human overlords. They unleashed a virus that wiped out much of the population. The novel centers on a society based in Long Island that thinks of itself as the last remnant of human civilization. They require every woman over the age of 18 to be perpetually pregnant in hopes of birthing a baby immune to the virus. Alas, the babies rarely live more than a few days. We follow the trail of a young medic and her friends who seek to find a partial in order to discover a cure. They eventually get the partial. She studies it and she (of course) becomes friends with him. However, they discover that they were pawns in a power grab by the controlling Senate. They see this as a great opportunity to declare martial law. Our heroes then escape and team with the partial to cure the virus. Only they discover a few more things in the process. The novel ties things up with peace, but leaves a large number of open threads for the sequel.

Here it is a virus connected to androids that were released for a war. In Maze Runner, it was a virus unleashed by the government after a climate catastrophe. It looks like there is a lot of concern with man manipulating viruses. This novel does seem to have a somewhat more idealistic version of the "last man standing". People just occupy whatever building they find convenient, and scavenge from the resources available. They seem to have some bits of technology remaining, and have coerced into a civilization. Though, alas, it is one that veered into totalitarianism and spawned a resistance. The resistance, however, ends up being much different than expected.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

MILA 2.0: Renegade

At the end of the first Mila book, she escaped from the government compound with her "mother", only to have "mom" get killed. (With the way the government goons were portrayed you ahve to wonder why they would be creating a an android girl.) In this book, she is on the run. She calls her friend Hunter. He is crazy enough to drive from Minnesota to Virginia Beach to see her. (You have to wonder what is up with that?) She doesn't tell him the truth, and suspects that something may be up with him. Perhaps he is a spy? You feel that she is overreacting just a little too much. You just wish she would be a little more truthful. IT feels that he is innocent. Her "mom" seems to have led her on a random "quest" to find more information about herself by following a random adventure. In the quest she learns that there is a part of a real human in her. She also discovers that the bad guys might actually be good guys, or perhaps they are really bad guys. People she trusts are pawns in the actions of others. She doesn't trust the right people enough, but trusts the wrong people too much. How do you know who best to trust? Being a teenager is tough. It is even tougher when you are an android.

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl

The dust bowl is scary in that it happened in relatively recent history and we have learned very little from it. The southern plains of the US were some of the last areas settled. The region was though of as the great American desert, and not very suitable for residents or agriculture. However, it was the last "open land" and was finally gobbled up in the early 20th century. Alas, a combination of factors led to rapid environmental destruction. A boom in grain prices and a adequate precipitation led to farmers plowing everything in site. The excess grain helped, coupled with the onset of the great depression caused prices to tumble. The immediate response was to plow even more land, further depressing prices. With prices so low, many farmers abandoned their fields altogether. And then a drought struck. The land that had once been covered with native grasses had been denuded and just blew away, causing the massive dust storms that spread dust across the country. Meanwhile, the economy was stuck with low grain prices and excess grain nobody wanted to buy. We still see similar aspects repeat. Dotcom and housing bubbles followed a similar economic trap. There is still great tendency to "outsmart" the environment.
The book spends much of the time covering Dalhart, Texas and Boise City, Oklahoma, two cities in the panhandles of their states. Boise City was started as a fraud, falsely advertised by prospectors that didn't even have title to the land. They went to jail, but the city grew. Dalhart sprouted up close to the huge XIT cattle ranch.
Some of the environmental conditions are hard to fathom. The dust was omnipresent, causing dust pneumonia. The big dust storms would bury houses and completely block vision. Grasshopper swarms would later come through and eat everything, even wooden handles of farm implements. There were also the extremes of heat and cold (but those were more "normal"). There was a reason it was called no-man's land. It was amazing how quickly people were able to cause so much damage.
The people living there prided themselves with being self-reliant. However, once things got bad, they were eagerly begging the government to help them get themselves out of the mess. A combination of over-plowing and under planting caused a huge ecological catastrophe that could not be easily repaired individually. (In somewhat ironic twist, when President Roosevelt visited Amarillo, it was pouring down rain.)
The book follows a few people that lived in the area, including the founder of the "last man" club, who ended up decamping to a job in another town. Some others toughed it out longer, but most ended up with pretty much nothing at the end.