Category Archives: Books, Poetry & Language


Partial Spoiler, Vessel by Andrew J. Morgan

First of all, I want to say that Vessel is a very good story – interesting, original, fast paced, good character development. A mysterious object appears near the International Space Station. The astronauts on board are unable to transmit any pictures or video of the object and eventually communications are cut off completely, then the astronauts begin to suffer mental breakdowns. Meanwhile on the ground, a journalist tries to find out what the government is covering up.

My only complaint about the book – and it’s a big one – is the ending. To be honest, I suppose it’s not a bad ending; it’s just not the kind of ending I like. The big question is never answered.


I just finished reading Neal Asher’s Owner trilogy: Zero Point, The Departure, and Jupiter War. I have mentioned before that Asher’s novels are weird, extremely violent, and have an extraordinarily high body count but they’re fun, which might make you wonder what kind of person I am to enjoy them but don’t worry, I wonder that myself sometimes so I’m probably okay.

The Owner trilogy is set in a different universe from Asher’s popular Polity series of novels. In this trilogy a future Earth is ruled by a ruthless, corrupt, and inhumane “Committee”. Brilliant scientist Alan Saul is in a crate on his way to the incinerators after having been tortured to the point where he barely remembers who he is. He is rescued by an AI that merges with his mind, thanks to some experimental hardware installed in his brain, and manages to escape, leave Earth, take over a large space station, and kill most of the Committee. He then begins converting the space station into a starship. Meanwhile one of the few surviving Committee members, a psychotic woman who makes Hitler look like a boy scout, takes over as dictator of Earth.

At first I thought I wasn’t going to like this story but I quickly got into it. It’s really a very interesting and complex story with well developed characters. If you lean “Green” politically you will likely be offended, as Earth’s psychotic dictator is clearly a parody of Green politics. She loves the Earth and wants to restore it to its natural state and people are just in the way. On the other hand if you have Libertarian sympathies you will love it. Me? I tend not to care much about the author’s politics as long as it’s a good story and this one definitely is.

I recently bought my own copy of Brass Man. I had read a borrowed copy of it before but I wanted my own. I am thrilled, by the way, that it is what Amazon calls a “mass market paperback,” what I call a standard paperback, which, tragically, seems to be a rapidly disappearing breed. I hate those heavy, oversize paperbacks. I have actually had to start wearing a wrist brace because of them.

Anyway, I was going to start reading Brass Man but the husband is almost finished with the book he’s reading so I thought I’d let him read it first if he wants, since I’ve read it before. Instead I started Vessel by Andrew Morgan, a book I found in the Kindle specials a month or two back. So far, two chapters in, I’m not really excited about it yet but it’s looking like it could be interesting. Sometimes it takes a while to orient oneself when going from one universe to another.

A Word For Where I Live

“Boondocks” is an interesting word. (Well, it’s interesting to me) When I was little kid there was a song, Down in the Boondocks. It has a line that says, “People put me down ’cause that’s the side of town I was born in.” The side of town. So I grew up with a vague idea of it being the bad or poor side of town, likely somewhere near the docks because it contained the word “docks”. I mentioned that I was just a little kid, right?

It wasn’t until I was in high school (or maybe junior high) that I started hearing people talk about “the boonies,” as in, “I live out in the boonies,” meaning far outside of town. At the time I thought the word had merely morphed into the “new” form and meaning, as words often do. But according to this usage is closer to the correct meaning of “boondocks”. “An uninhabited area with thick natural vegetation, as a backwoods or marsh” or “a remote rural area”. It comes from the Tagalog word “bundok,” meaning mountain.

I love words. And the Internet.

A Book About Football (NFL)

Several months ago Slow Getting Up: A Tale of NFL Survival From the Bottom of the Pile by Nate Jackson was on Amazon’s monthly “$3.99 or less” Kindle specials and since I watch football, and since the husband watches football and likes it somewhat more than I do (though I do sort of like it sometimes) I thought, “Why not?” I just, finally, a couple of weeks ago got around to reading it.

First of all, I must say I don’t think Mr. Jackson was expecting many female readers. Parts of the book contain crude language and TMI of the male sort. But, when I really think about it, there wasn’t a lot of that sort of thing so I made an effort to not be terribly offended.

Nothing in the book surprised me. I already had some idea of what goes on behind the scenes of NFL football but I think it was valuable to get a real inside human perspective on what it’s like to play in the NFL that you don’t get by listening to TV sports commentators casually talking about hamstring injuries and such. If you are a fan of NFL football you should read it.

A Book List!

The Guardian has a list of The 100 Best Novels Written in English. By blog tradition I should copy the whole list and bold the ones I’ve read or something like that but I’ve read so few of them I’m afraid that would look really sad if I did it that way. Besides, that’s too much work. So I’m just going to list the ones I’ve read with maybe a comment or two about them, then a second list of those I would most like to read.

Books I have read:

Gullivar’s Travels by Johnathan Swift – I had to read this one in high school. I have thought about reading it again.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – I have never been a fan of the Frankenstein movies but I was curious to know what the original story was like. As expected, it has very little in common with the popular culture image of Frankenstein.

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allen Poe – This was Poe’s only novel. I found it very interesting.

Moby Dick by Herman Mellville – I actually read this twice even though I wasn’t really impressed with it the first time. Actually, I think that’s the reason I read it again. It was a little better the second time around but still not one of my favorites.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde – Not much to say about this one. It was okay. And I mean that in a good way; it really was okay.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad – Did not care much for this one. One thing that seriously bugged me about this book was the description of the jungle at night as being absolutely silent. I have not been to Africa but I have been in my back yard at night and it is anything but silent. In the middle of the summer it’s actually quite loud and I’m sure Africa has it’s own insects and other night sounds. For me, that one detail made the whole novel ridiculous.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck – A lot of Oklahomans hate this novel. I wasn’t around in the 1930s, of course, but based on Oklahoma today I would say its depiction of “Okies” was probably spot on, but far from being a complete picture of the state and its culture.

Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell – This book and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World are depressingly real. The big question is, “Who is Big Brother?” I think we are – all of us. We are all Big Brother. Either that or Google is.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – Right now I’m not planning to read Lee’s other, recently released, book but I might read this one again.

Books on the list that I most want to read:

The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

Emma by Jane Austen – Mostly because I haven’t read anything by Jane Austen yet and I feel like I should

Kim by Rudyard Kipling

Call of the Wild by Jack London

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame – Ever want to read something just because you love the title?

Ulysses by James Joyce – I read somewhere that it is considered “difficult” therefore I want to read it.

A Passage to India by EM Forster – I’m rather fascinated by India. (Wait… Have I read this already or was that a different classic book about India? Hmmmm…)

Finally Getting Around to Scalzi

It has been in my mind for years that I want to read something by John Scalzi. I used to read his blog occasionally. As to why only “occasionally” and why “used to” I have no idea other than the fact that there are just too many blogs. Perhaps someday I will try to analyze the reasons why I read or don’t read particular blogs. Anyway, I also don’t know why I never got around to reading one of his books other than the fact that there are so many good books, but recently I saw Agent to the Stars in the Kindle $3.99 or less books (either that or my Recommendations; I can’t remember which) and I thought it would be a good opportunity to finally read Scalzi.

Agent to the Stars is different, weird, and amusing. Not what I generally consider “my thing” but I’m glad I read it. It was a fun little diversion and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys humorous science fiction. I was a little surprised when I got to the end and read the author’s afterword and found that this was what he considered a “practice novel”. How appropriate that the first book I read by John Scalzi was the first one he wrote. I will definitely read more. Any suggestions as to where I should go next?

Lots of Books

Oh, it’s been such a long time since I blogged about what I’m reading so I’ll just do one massive (or maybe not so massive) post about the last five or six. I feel that I’m not very good at reviewing books so I procrastinate.

I did mention A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. Bryson is one of my favorite non-fiction authors. In this book “everything” means the universe in general and the history of scientific discovery. A large portion of it is devoted to the mostly unknown discoverers of things that were later discovered by the more famous scientists we have all heard of. The history of scientific discovery is not as neat as we were taught in school. It is much messier and more interesting.

I have read the first four books in the Scrapyard Ship series by Mark Wayne McGuinnis. These books were a fun read – an old-fashioned space adventure that starts, of all places, in a scrapyard where the protagonist, Jason Reynolds, finds a small alien sneaking around who leads him to a space ship that has been hidden underground for many years. Soon after this he is captain of a ship and in a fight to save Earth and other planets from invasion by an alien species that has already conquered a number of worlds.

I’ll be honest, by the time I got to the 4th book in the series I was getting a little burned out and almost quit in the middle. I did finish it but I decided to take a break before I finish the rest of the series, which continues from book to book. But it is good and I will read the remaining books.

Next, I read something completely different, Running for My Life: One Lost Boy’s Journey From the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games. It is the story of Lopez Lomong who was kidnapped by rebels in Sudan when he was six years old, escaped and ran to a refugee camp in Kenya with three older boys, and eventually came to the United States, became a citizen and ran in the Olympic Games. It is an amazing story and is well worth reading. Part of the profits from the book go to Lomong’s charitable foundation which provides clean water, medicine, and education to villages in South Sudan.

Currently, I am about halfway through a book by John Scalzi, my first by this author and it is great fun. More about this later. I’ll try not to wait six months before I blog about books again.

Oooo! Books!

23 Books That Everyone With Wanderlust Should Read – I do not have much wanderlust. I like to go and see places but I’m not fond of extended travel – the packing and worrying that I’ll forget something, the living out of a suitcase, the not sleeping in my own bed – bah humbug! But we’re talking about books here! So let’s have a look at the list. I’m just going to skip through it, to the ones that interest me.

There is one book on the list that I have read. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. It’s about hiking the Appalachian Trail and is both fascinating and funny. It was the first of Bryson’s books that I read and I immediately became a fan.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera – Honestly, I don’t know that I’m really interested in this one. I just like the title.

Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk – I definitely do want to read this one.

The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier – Maybe, but not high on my list of must reads.

The Blue Sky by Galsan Tschinag – Definitely.

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois – Balloons? Imaginary islands? Sounds like fun.

Crowfall by Shanta Gokhale – Maybe.

Shantaram: A Novel by Gregory David Roberts – Definitely.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel – We watched the movie recently and I liked it. Strangely, I don’t have any really strong desire to read the book but I’m going to call this a maybe.

Sea and Sardinia by D.H. Lawrence – Another maybe.

About a few of the ones I skipped: I almost put Richard Halliburton’s Complete Book of Marvels down as a maybe. Strangely, perhaps, I have never had any desire to read On the Road. I feel like I need to read something by Hemingway. I think I did read one of his books a long time ago but I can’t remember which one it was and I didn’t find it exactly thrilling. And The Sun Also Rises involves bullfighting. Not a turn-on. And finally, The Paris Wife doesn’t really sound like my kind of thing but for some reason I almost put it on my list as a maybe. Let’s say just a very slight maybe.

Words I Need to Remember

I actually did already know six of these 13 Useful Words You Didn’t Know Existed. I had seen “overmorrow” somewhere fairly recently but had forgotten about it. I want to remember to use that one. I really do. I also knew tintinnabulation, ferrule, philtrum, pooh-bah, and vamp. Seriously? Who doesn’t know those last two?

How do you pronounce eigengrau? It means, “The dark grey color seen by the eyes in perfect darkness, as a result of signals from the optic nerves.” That’s interesting because the color I see is not dark grey; it’s a color but I never can pin down exactly what color. Orange? Green? Teal? Mustard yellow? And it’s not that it changes. It’s strange and hard to explain. It’s a color that only exists in my eyes in the dark but it’s definitely not grey.

Other words that I like from the list: Eyesome. That sounds old fashioned (probably because it is) and you can immediately tell what it means. And, because most people haven’t heard of it, if you used it they would think you just made it up on the spot. Pandiculation. Come to think of it, I think I might have seen that one before. That’s a fun word.

Several of these words would be really fun to use but I probably never will due to my chronic lethologica, a truly frustrating condition. And by the way, the Firefox spellchecker did not know most of the words on the list.


Yay! Back to space opera for a while! I very much enjoyed Starhold by J. Alan Field. There is a brief description of what the story is about at that link so I will just say that this book has well-developed characters, adventure, mystery, space battles, political intrigue, and a touch of romance – everything I expect in good space opera. I am looking forward to the next book in this series.

(Sorry for such a short post. I guess I’m just not into this whole blogging thing right now.)

American History

The latest book I read was The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend. I highly recommend this book. Not solely about Red Cloud, it reveals a lot about the history of the American West that most people probably don’t know, and mentions a number of other American legends, such as Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, and Jim Bridger among others. It is factual and relatively unbiased. Slanted a bit in favor of Native Americans, as you probably expect, but not the usual “noble savages vs. evil Europeans” story. Atrocities, or what we today would call terrorism, were committed by both sides and is not glossed over. (Warning for the squeamish)

A lot of what we think we know about history is wrong or only partly true. I think too many of us get our knowledge of history from movies and TV dramas. The American Indians, the Sioux at least, which is who this book is mainly about, were both more politically sophisticated and more savage than most people believe. Ultimately, they were defeated not by the superior numbers and weapons of European Americans but by the loss of the buffalo, upon which they depended for food, clothing, and shelter.

A quote from the book:

Memory is like riding a trail at night with a lighted torch. The torch casts its light only so far, and beyond that is darkness. – Ancient Lakota saying


April is National Poetry Month and I haven’t posted a single poem! So, here’s one. Found here along with two more.

“Flower God, God of the Spring” by Robert Louis Stevenson

Flower god, god of the spring, beautiful, bountiful,
Cold-dyed shield in the sky, lover of versicles,
Here I wander in April
Cold, grey-headed; and still to my
Heart, Spring comes with a bound, Spring the deliverer,
Spring, song-leader in woods, chorally resonant;
Spring, flower-planter in meadows,
Child-conductor in willowy
Fields deep dotted with bloom, daisies and crocuses:
Here that child from his heart drinks of eternity:
O child, happy are children!
She still smiles on their innocence,
She, dear mother in God, fostering violets,
Fills earth full of her scents, voices and violins:
Thus one cunning in music
Wakes old chords in the memory:
Thus fair earth in the Spring leads her performances.
One more touch of the bow, smell of the virginal
Green – one more, and my bosom
Feels new life with an ecstasy.

Fiction and Truth

Many years ago I read The Wine of Violence by James Morrow. (I actually think I still have that book somewhere.) At the time it was the weirdest book I had ever read and I appreciated it for its weirdness even though, in general, I would have to say it was “not really my cup of tea.” Some years later I read The Continent of Lies. Again, weird but far from being one of my favorites.

A couple of days ago I finished reading Morrow’s novella, City of Truth. It is set in Veritas, a city (or perhaps a country?) in which no one is able to tell a lie and even metaphors are considered abhorrent. Every child is required, at about age 10, to undergo a horrific “treatment” that renders them permanently incapable of telling a lie. This makes for a very bleak society in which there is almost no art and everyone speaks the blunt, unvarnished truth, without even so much as a figure of speech. But there is a subversive group of people who have somehow learned to overcome their conditioning and are able to tell lies and create and enjoy art. One man is convinced by a member of this group that “lies” (specifically the psychological effect of a positive attitude) could save his terminally ill son.

The “What if everyone had to tell the truth?” question has been done to death in all kinds of fiction, but this somehow feels different, maybe because the story is, overall, very bleak. Morrow likes to explore questions of psychology and morality but he doesn’t come to any firm conclusions. Is it better to always tell the truth? Is it better to be able to lie and to at least conceal or soften some truths? If asked the first question without the second most people would probably agree that it is better to tell the truth, without thinking about the implications of complete truth. But the real world in which everyone is able to lie, usually undetected, has many problems. Obviously a balance would be best. Truth need not mean that we can’t have art and that we can’t be kind.

These questions seem to me, rather silly. Most of us know the difference between a truly bad lie and a merely kind or courteous lie. In between these are “lies of convenience” (I was stuck in traffic. The check is in the mail.) that we know are wrong but that somehow don’t seem so bad. There are, of course, people who push the limits, people who tell lies in order to sell us stuff, to sway us to their cause, or to get elected. We must expose and punish liars but this leads to finger pointing, witch hunts, and better, more careful liars. What more can anyone say? We are an imperfect species. Trying to get rid of our imperfections is like killing bacteria. The strongest bacteria survive and multiply but we can’t stop trying or the bacteria will wipe us out.


I am generally not a fan of military science fiction but Embedded by Dan Abnett was a Kindle monthly special a while back and that’s really all the incentive I need. Science fiction novel? $3.99 or less? Why not?

This book, however, aside from the shooting, the bleeding, and heads being blown off, actually is a pretty interesting story and is very well-written. An aging, cynical journalist investigates a conflict that the government is trying to cover up or downplay. It’s not a war or a conflict; it’s merely a “dispute” and no one will say what it is really about. Unable to get any straight answers, he gets himself “embedded” into the mind of a soldier.

The ending, though it resolves most of the major questions, leaves things wide open for a sequel, which I will definitely read. I was disappointed to find that it is not out yet.

English History

It has always bothered me that I know very little of the early history of England. In U.S. public schools all we get is maybe a paragraph briefly explaining what feudalism was and a mention of the Battle of Hastings without saying why it was important. Never mind; just remember that it happened in 1066. That’s all you need to know. So, when The Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England by Marc Morris showed up in the Kindle monthly specials list I pounced on it like a kitten on a catnip-filled toy mouse.

The book covers nearly the entire 11th century and I was surprised at how much detail is actually known about this period in English history. Apparently just about everyone who could write (and that wasn’t very many people at that time) was writing a book or chronicle or something about what was happening in the world right then. Of course these writers were as likely to be biased and revisionist as political writers today but Morris compares sources – where they agree and where they disagree – and comes up with a pretty good picture of events and life in 11th century England.

I can see how a lot of people might find this period in history extremely tedious – the battles, the brother and cousin murders, the land grabs, and so on – but in this book it is well told and filled with dry humor. For example:

If we had to sum this new society up in a single word, we might describe it as feudal – but only if we were prepared for an outbreak of fainting fits among medieval historians.

I consider this book a great find and there are a couple more books by the same author that I intend to read.

Aliens and Spaceships and Bombs! Oh My!

The 5th book I have read this year is My Other Car Is a Spaceship by Mark Terence Chapman.* Present Day retired U.S. Air Force pilot Hal Nellis is kidnapped by aliens and offered the choice of either returning home to a peaceful retirement or training to pilot a starship and fighting pirates. No points for guessing which option he chooses. This book is full of action from beginning to end – lots of shooting and bombs and destruction but also an interesting plot with surprises and intrigue. Pure fun and escapism. I highly recommend it to any space opera fans out there.

* I read the Kindle edition.

Different and Interesting

I finished reading the Extinction Point trilogy by Paul Antony Jones. I’m having a hard time getting started on this “review”. It was definitely good, definitely interesting. I read it in what was, for me, record time. But the ending was a disappointment. So what can I say about the ending without it being a spoiler? Perhaps, nothing? It wasn’t terrible, I suppose. Perhaps someone else would think it is the perfect ending?

So, let’s start at the beginning. A mysterious red rain falls, destroying almost all life on Earth. Emily Baxter, a journalist for a NYC newspaper heads off on a cross-country trip to find other survivors. (And I have another small quibble. Emily is from Iowa. Is it just me or does it seem like young women who move to New York are always from Iowa? More bothersome is the fact that she does not know how to drive. If she was from Iowa and moved to New York City as an adult she would at least know how to drive. She might not own a car and might not have got a license in NY but she would know how to drive.)

Anyway… I don’t want to be too negative. Overall it was a very interesting story and I do recommend it to anyone who reads science fiction. The characters were well developed and interesting. The alien life was original – different from anything I’ve ever come across in other books or in movies. The story itself, the action, was compelling and made all three of the books unputdownable.

Mr. Jones says that there will be at least one more book in the series and there is a short story about one of the characters in the series and, yes, I will read those and likely other books by this author.