Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Wildlife in the Neighborhood

Thought I’d take this opportunity to post a couple of pictures of wildlife in the neighborhood.

Wait, before you wear out that mouse or get carpal tunnel syndrome swiping phone and tablet screens, I didn’t mean that kind of wildlife.  I meant the hawks that have moved into the neighborhood.

I found two using a puddle on the sidewalk in front of my house as a birdbath.  They flew when I walked up, but after a few minutes on the porch, one returned to finish his grooming.  Of course, I knew they were in the area already, what with the sudden downturn in the rabbit population.  But other than occasionally seeing them flying overhead, this was my first close encounter.

And then, a day or two later walking a local park, I spotted this doe and three fawns.  Deer are quite common around town, but I’d never seen three fawns in one spot before.

Generally, I try to keep my posts related to books and writing, so this one’s going to be a bit of a challenge.  Let’s see?  I have it.

Soon to be released, Wildlife in the Neighborhood.  An erotic, romantic, comedy with John and Betty Hawke and their escapades with the Deer triplets – Josephine, Gertrude, and Babs.  

I’ll get to writing it straight away, as soon as I finish 10…no, 15…make that 20 more books in my chosen genre, Mystery/thriller/suspense. 

Happy writing,
BmP

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Book Review: Liberty’s Last Stand by Stephen Coonts

As a Story, It’s Great; As a Precautionary Note, It’s Muddled

In Liberty’s Last Stand, President Barry Saetoro’s uses the cover of terrorist attacks to declare martial law, adjourn Congress, suspend the constitution, and jail his detractors.  He wants to be dictator of the United States.  There’s also a political message in the book, a precautionary note about liberal, left-wing politics.  That message, however, becomes extremely muddled, significantly detracting from an otherwise outstanding thriller.

Politics aside (if you can do that), this is an extremely well written story.  It grabbed me in the opening scenes with good action and interesting characters, and it never let go.  Series figures Jake Grafton and Tommy Carmellini are featured and right in character.  But we’re also introduced to a host of new players, and Coonts does an admirable job developing them and making them feel real.   Plot twists and suspense aren’t highlights of this book; it’s clear where it’s going from the outset.  But Coonts keeps the tension building and uses a few, well-placed misdirects.  There is one plot flaw, at least for me.  It was much too convenient the way Grafton organizes resistance that appears after the coup but claims he couldn’t have done the same beforehand.  And he’s Director of the CIA?  Really?

With the rather consistent references to left-wing politics and their devastating effect on the country, the thriller aspect of the novel almost takes a back seat to the politicking.  That’s unfortunate, not so much because it occurs, as many authors decry a variety of excesses of that harm society.  But the problem with the politics in this book was that the message got quite muddled because Saetoro wasn’t a left-wing politician.  He was a fascist.  Even with the varying and conflicting meanings of left and right-wing, Saetoro was a right-wing wolf in left-wing sheep’s clothing, complete with delusions of absolute power and a chosen race.  His claims to typical left-wing causes were a ruse.  To him, climate change was a means to keep the masses under his rule, not a way to save the planet.  And because of that, all the diatribes in the prose and dialog about left-wing politics, all the attacks on Saetoro’s label rather than the man, became tedious sermonizing.

Overall, it was an extremely well written, political thriller, but in the end, trying to tie the condemnation of left-wing politics to someone who wasn’t left-wing became too tiring.

Monday, August 7, 2017

If you could travel to any fictional book world…

Goodreads recently pushed out their latest ‘Ask an Author’ question:  If you could travel to any fictional book world, where would you go and what would you do there?

I guess you should thank them.  This way you can hear my thoughts on something a bit more traditional than the future of human-machine romance (Ah, Those Realistic, Unreal Partners) or worry about my calculations for reading 110,000 books (You Gotta Love the Optimism).

But the question is a simple one for any author.  I’d go to one of my own fictional worlds.  Why?  Well, look at some of my recent reads.  1803 Ireland?  I wouldn’t last a day without the Internet.  Marooned on a space station with a serial killer?  Do I need to explain why I’d pass on that one?  And all the worlds with vampires and werewolves?  Those species seem sort of respectable now, but I bet they’d regress to the creepy, scary versions if I visited.  Besides, why take a chance on an unknown setting when I have all the inside knowledge on my fictional worlds?

And I pick the Nevada desert in January from Mind in the Clouds (Mind in the Clouds).

It’s not even fictional.  I can snow-bird there.  OK, it’s not exactly tropical in January.  It’s even cold at night, but Nevada’s nights are all day in St. Louis.  

I just have to avoid a few square miles out on the Nevada Test and Training Range and I'll be just fine.  

What Goodreads?  I have to go to the exact setting of the book?  Forget it.  I’m staying on my laptop where all I have to worry about is carpal tunnel.

Image by Federal Aviation Administration, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3377026

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Book Review: A Case of Need by Michael Crichton

Not Crichton’s Best Work…Not Even Close

A Case of Need is the story of Dr. John Berry’s efforts to clear his fellow doctor and friend, Dr. Arthur Lee, after a teenager in his care dies from an illegal abortion.  My first thought for a title for this review was, ‘You’ll need a scorecard to follow all the characters in this somewhat preachy, meandering plot involving an obstinate doctor who wants to play detective but has no idea how the criminal justice system works.’  But that seemed a bit long.

As mentioned above, the story deals with abortion and the need to broaden/relax the laws.  So, depending on your political and religious leanings, you may find the story anywhere between contemporary and thought-provoking to depraved and immoral.  Be advised.

Beyond the ethical position it takes, there is a story here with some suspense and good pacing.  The suspense is provided by assembling a myriad of suspects and digging into the background of several witnesses, many of whom have their own secrets – drug use, infidelity, self-destructive behavior, deceitfulness.  And surprisingly, Berry, with no authority and only some vague background in the Military Police, unearths all of this information singlehandedly.  But after doing so, he doesn’t understand he has more than enough to raise reasonable doubt; then he doesn’t want to use this information because it’s too “dirty;” finally, he complains that the lawyer didn’t use it aggressively enough.  The only consistency I could find in Berry was that he always wanted to play it alone and as a result, the circumstances that pitted him against the world were of his own making.  That behavior doesn’t gain my empathy and tends to make my mind wander to other books I could be reading.

As a long-time Crichton fan, I thought I’d always be able to recommend one of his stories.  I was wrong.  My advice, look elsewhere for your reading entertainment.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Why the Muller-Lyer Illusion Disappears in the Future

Familiar with the Muller-Lyer Illusion?  Well, if not, here it is.  Many people perceive the line on the right to be longer than the one on the left.  Up to 20% longer, and it’s not.  It’s the same length.  Do we know what causes this illusion?  Well, maybe. 

I won’t bore you with the details (well, not all of them anyway), but one popular theory is that we ‘learn’ it from our experience in right-angle environments, the so-called ‘carpentered worlds.’  The line on the right looks like an inside corner – like the corner of a room, if you’re sitting in one.  The line on the left, an outside corner.  Since the inside corner is receding in distance, we perceive it to be longer than the outside corner that is sticking out toward you, even if physically (e.g., by a ruler) they are the same length.

Got that?  Amazing what our brains do, even if they fool us once and a while…or more.  But, the question for today:  what happens to the Muller-Lyer in the future?  I have my guess – it disappears.

It’s not that we stop carpentering our worlds in right angles.  I doubt that.  But our experience with depth becomes stunted.  Our friends and family don’t live down the block.  They live on our 2D phone and tablet surfaces.  Even film and game makers give up on 3D glasses and head-mounted displays.  The body’s sense that we aren't moving never lines up with 3D when it says we are.  And besides, who needs 3D when our heroes save the world from an alien invasion using their 2D, battle-command interface?  A 3D film to show a 2D screen…huh?

But what about just plain getting around in the future?  Between virtual work and every retailer dropping orders into your drone-delivery chute, it’s rare.  And when we do go out, the first thing we do in our self-driving car is turn all the windows into 2D displays.  Wouldn’t want to miss the latest 2D video of a dog chasing its tail.

So, I’m telling you this as a favor.  You see, the next time I’m in a fender-bender or even have a disagreement with a light pole, I’m telling the officer, “Sorry, but it’s not my fault.  See, I’m just ahead of my time in losing my depth perception.”


Image by Twincinema at sv.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Book Review: The Killdeer Connection (Lawyer David Thompson Series Book 1) by Tom Swyers

A Shaky Plot and Somewhat Preachy Dialog Limits this Book’s Appeal

The Killdeer Connection is the story of lawyer David Thompson’s struggle to clear his name after he is falsely accused of killing an acquaintance, Harold Salar.  And when a possible link to terrorism comes up, Thompson is fighting for his life.  One of his main clues?  A cryptic message in Salar’s will that says, ‘always follow the killdeer’ – a message that has a host of meanings, both symbolic and literal.

Swyer is an excellent writer – one who is particularly adept at creating visual descriptions that convey the underlying psychology of a situation, as well as the physical scene.  The initial meeting at Baxter & Chadwick, lawyers for the oil industry, and at the oil field in Williston, North Dakota, are particularly good examples.  If there is a flaw in these descriptions, it’s that they do tend to be overly long and in some cases, misplaced.  The scene where Thompson and a friend, Jim, are watching dust particles, until Jim chases them away with a hand is an example of the latter issue.  I had a hard time picturing why anyone would be doing that.

Thompson as the protagonist was cast as the man who tried to do it all himself, tending toward sarcasm and deceit as his tools.  When he wasn’t making excuses or telling half-truths to everyone from his wife to the FBI, he was preaching about the dangers of transporting oil by rail – complete with statistics.  True, it is dangerous, but he wasn’t comparing its pros and cons against pipelines or alternative energy.  He was sermonizing and those sections became ponderous.  By the end, Thompson was transformed by his experiences…maybe.  But even at the conclusion, he was grandstanding and reveling in his moral stands.  I never came around to liking him.

One of my biggest concerns, however, was that the plot was shaky.  For example, physical evidence links Thompson to the murder scene when he clears a spot and sits down near the body.  While that is odd enough, at least two later scenes have him running into the apartment holding his breath because the smell is so bad, even though the body has been removed.  The notion that the FBI would consider Thompson a terrorist based on the evidence they had seemed ludicrous.  That they would even think terrorism was a motive given the nature of the crimes was not believable to start with.  How could Salar have left the clues he supposedly did when he was being accosted?  Why did Salar put Thompson in such an awkward position when his objectives could have been accomplished many other ways?  Etc.

The author has some reveals at the conclusion that tie up some loose ends, but several of the apparent twists involve revelations that have little to do with the story.  Many other questions that are germane, however, remain unanswered.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Book Review: Repository by Ela Lond

A Near-Future YA/Cozy Mystery with A Somewhat Predictable End

Set one hundred years in the future, Repository is the story of Maya Bell, an eighteen-year-old university student who stumbles across an apparent murder.  Teaming with a classmate from high school who’s now a policeman-in-training, Damien Cain, they pursue the case as it grows from an isolated incident to a major conspiracy built on a heinous disregard of life.

Repository has the feel of a young adult or cozy mystery even if it’s not classified that way (it’s in the Mystery/Thriller, women and amateur sleuth genre on Amazon).  That feel suits the story well, as much of the excitement comes from the optimism and enthusiasm of youth.  Why call in backup or carefully stake out a potential crime scene when you can rush in unprepared?  But that feel also dampens some of the emotion when its needed.  On discovering the atrocious nature of the crime they were investigating, the comment was that it’s “…horrible and really disgusting.”

Maya was easy to like as the over-achieving, guilt-ridden student turned sleuth.  And other than the immaturity that seemed extreme in places, Damien was as well.  Pacing was good, although there seemed some unnecessary repetition.  Overall, the plot was somewhat predictable; it was fairly clear from about the middle of the book what was happening and how it would end.  The details getting there, of course, were unknown and the author does an admirable job keeping the reader immersed to the end.

As a story set one-hundred years in the future, Repository provided a somewhat ‘mixed bag’ of future technology.  One gadget that was featured was wearable computing in the form of glasses – a tech novelty that may have already come and gone.  And a lot of the technology seemed 2017 era – emails and dishwashers – or not as far along as you might expect, e.g., androids could be distinguished from humans because of their unsynchronized lip movement.  In 100 years, really?  But there were androids and an Artificial Intelligence with a personality chip, the latter being a lot of fun.

So, if you’re a fan of well-written, YA/cozy mysteries and don’t mind a somewhat predictable finale, you’ll enjoy Repository.