It's been a few months since I've bothered sharing anything (with my future-self, if we're being honest here). I've read a stack of books (and a small stack of virtual books) over the past few months, and I've been seriously lax in commenting on any of them. And now, being so far behind in my book-blathering, I'll probably just ignore all the passages that I wanted to share from each of them and just write up a short blurb that explains why I think they're worth your time to read. I'm a terrible disappointment (to myself, since nobody else reads this drivel), and this may signal the death knell of Badbartopia if even I can't be bothered to spend time on my own web site.
But before that bell tolls, here's a post about one of my favorite topics: books. And, to be honest, also one of my least favorite topics: eBooks.
Sept 1, 2019 update - I was out looking on Google for an almost-forgotten Mad magazine spoof of Quantum Leap (Quandry Heap) that I'd seen semi-recently in the garage amongst the piles of stuff I'd kept from childhood (I have Innovation Comics' Quantum Leap books hanging in the cubicle at work right now) and found the Beauty & The Feast Cracked magazine spoof I'd mentioned a while ago - and also saw a photo of a stack of un-reviewed books I'd read way back in 2011. And it was even taller than the current stack, so I'm nothing if not consistent. I suspect that many of those very worthy books from that 2011 photo never received a well-deserved mention in this backwater corner of the cyber-universe.
Apparently my Amazon reviews are good enough that authors are still finding me, despite my recent lack of book reviews. I've reviewed a bunch of non-book stuff recently, but sadly, no books - they take real effort, while a CD or pair of headphones just takes a few minutes to praise (or not, depending on my experience). Maciek Sasinowski read my review of the George RR Martin's Westeros "prequel" to the Game of Thrones novels, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, and figured his book would be right up my alley. And he wasn't totally wrong.
Heir of Ra (Blood of Ra Book One), Maciek Sasinowski
I don't claim a single genre as my favorite (though I'd guess that around eighty percent of the many books I've acquired fall into the Sci-Fi/Fantasy camp). You can see that the stack of read-and-un-reviewed books above contains a little bit of several different genres - non-fiction / essays, mystery / suspense / conspiracies, legal thrillers, historical fiction, and sci-fi / fantasy. I'd say Heir of Ra falls somewhere between Fantasy and Historical fiction. And it also falls squarely into another category: young-adult fiction.
The book's primary protagonist is a sixteen year-old girl who is very much like a younger, less-wealthy, Lara Croft (of the Tomb Raider game and movie franchise) named Alyssa. Alyssa's dad is a distracted archeologist (so now we also have an Indiana Jones, National Treasure, or maybe The Mummy vibe going) and her mom, another archeologist, died mysteriously when Alyssa was young. Alyssa is good at just about everything, exceptionally attractive, very intelligent, and just a wee bit rebellious.
"A dig in Masada," she said after a while. "A misunderstanding with the local authorities required a quick getaway." She chuckled. "I crashed our truck. Kade - my dad - and I spent two weeks in a detention facility before the U.S. consulate finally bailed us out. When we got home, he insisted on tactical driving lessons for me. He wasn't satisfied until I could do a four-wheel drift and J-turn on a dime... blindfolded."
In addition to tactical-driving, free-climbing, base-jumping, and leading a team of archaeology students, she's also apparently a kickboxer and an exceptional chess player.
Alyssa stood up. "A computer did beat me at chess once," she said, "but it was no match for me at kickboxing."
Paul stared at her for a moment then laughed. "I believe I'm detecting a pattern here. Should I be worried?"
"You should be safe - as long as you don't jam on me," she said. "But I may go ninja on your phone if it rings in the middle of the night."
Alyssa also digs 80's tunes, which I fully appreciate.
A-ha's Hunting High and Low blared from her earbuds
The dialogue/writing style of the book is unmistakably oriented to teen readers. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, it's just a thing. I've never read the Percy Jackson series (my kids have), but I've seen the films. And I'm guessing the novels read an awful lot like Heir of Ra. Which is a great thing, if you're a fan of those young adult novels. Here's a scene that's about as far from the supernatural elements of the book as possible, and doesn't even involve any kids. And I thing the target audience is pretty clear.
"Let me get this straight," he said, his voice strained. "We had our best London asset pitted against three kids." Tasha Mendeva regarded him in silence and swallowed. She forced her head up, meeting his glare. "Yet somehow, those pathetic nerds not only got away with the item from the site -" he took a deep breath - " but they sent our well-paid man to the hospital."
And then there was this. I don't know if this is teen slang or something that the author picked up from that 80s computer documentary, The Net.
"Probably a software flab"
Speaking of the supernatural elements of the book, there's plenty of that. We have Egyptian Gods (or do we?), Atlantis, cursed tombs, and also non-supernatural elements that add to the action: conspiracy theories, international espionage, possible alien technology...all kids of fun stuff. Much of the story takes place thousands of years ago.
I turn to him, straining to focus. His ageless eyes mirror the pain in my heart. His lined face speaks of hard life and labor. My breathing slows and my words now come in a whisper, yet each word strikes his ancient heart like a dagger. "The blame lies with you as it does with him. Was it not you who counseled peace between our people? They deserved death for killing our flesh and blood decades ago, yet you spoke of peace. They do not know the meaning of that word!"
He studies me with a distant stare. When he opens his mouth, his voice is trembling and quiet. "I have failed you, Horus, my grandson. I have failed to protect you and your kindred blood. The night we fled our home, I vowed to keep you and all whom you shall love safe from harm. Yet I failed you." His voice cracks as he remembers the night that will forever be engrained in our memories. "But my greatest failure is that I did not succeed in freeing you of your anguish - and hatred." He pauses, taking a deep, pained breath. "For that night I also vowed never to kill again or wage war."
The memories awaken once more in my head in agonizing detail. Once again, I am haunted by the bleeding faces of the men as they died, their screams piercing through the night air. I stare into the distance, wrestling the memories from my mind. I am Horus, son of Isis and Osiris. A welcome numbness spreads through my body. I shall know no fear.
Sadly, the book does contain a smattering of profanity. Including at least one F-bomb. So there's that to be aware of. If it wasn't a book intended for a younger audience, it might not have seemed so conspicuous. At least the writing is free of grammatical errors, is well-edited, and moves at a good pace. The story does seem to drag a little bit in some of the early way-back-flashbacks, but as you become more aware of what you're reading about, the pace of the story becomes even and really enjoyable.
I was tempted to take the lazy way out and just summarize parts of the plot, but I don't want to ruin the book for other readers, so I'll just say that Heir of Ra is an interesting combo of Egyptian mythology meets archeology-adventure meets The Matrix (didn't see that one coming, did you - The Matrix is a reference to the book's ending. Or maybe it's a Percy Jackson ending - if I'd read any of those novels, I might know). Either way, The Matrix II...er, Daughter of Ra (book 2) should be really interesting.
Oh, and one last comment - the "about the author" smiley-laced blurb was written by the author's teenage daughter (who, I'm guessing, was a major influence on the character of Alyssa). It's a lot of fun.
About the Author From the Point of View of his 15-year-old Daughter (that's me! :) Some say that M. Sasinowski writes until 4 am... fueled by a single cup of decaf coffee. Others say this Polish-born American hyper-nerd absorbs energy from late-night TV space shows. No matter the truth... he's my dad. He will never be cool. He loves archaeology, Star Wars/Trek, martial arts (especially women who kick butt), and impromptu father/daughter (that's me! :) science debates or music jam-sessions. He's kind of smart, I suppose (he has a physics PhD, and an MD, or whatever) and likes to build computers for fun. His teenage daughter (that's me! :) is occasionally a handful to deal with and also served as the inspiration for the main character in his debut young adult novel Heir of Ra. You may recognize him from his glorious hair or his tendency to do the "vacuum cleaner" dance to embarrass his daughter (that's me... :(. If you ever see this man, approach with care and greet him in a language he understands, like in Klingon or, better yet, in Wookie. Guurrghghgh!
A couple of months before I started Heir of Ra, I finished a few eBooks in one of my favorite book genres: post-apocalyptic survival stories.
I mentioned one of the books in this series about a year and a half ago, American Exodus. It was an enjoyable post-apocalyptic survival adventure so I had high expectations for the rest of the series.
Catalyst 1 Downward Cycle, J.K. Franks
Downward Cycle is a more detailed origin of the post-apocalyptic events of American Exodus and like American Exodus, Downward Cycle is also set in the southeastern United states. The events of this book closely mirror many of the events of American Exodus, but also provides a lot of the details that were missing from American Exodus and a whole different cast of characters. As with most eBooks I've read, there's no shortage of typographical errors, but if you can get past the errors, you're in for a well-executed post-apocalyptic adventure. Also in line with American Exodus, there's no shortage of profanity, so it's not a book I'd recommend for younger readers.
Downward Cycle starts out during the solar storm of 1859 - a storm that didn't have quite the same impact then as a solar storm of the same magnitude would now have. With almost no electronic devices in existence yet, most people didn't even notice anything was amiss other than a curious occurrence of the aurora borealis (in areas that don't see this light show normally) as the charged atomic particles slammed against all of Earth's the atmosphere, not just the poles.
The lights he had seen up north were pale compared to what he saw now. The brilliant ribbons of color shimmered and danced with highlights of bright pinks, reds, and vivid blues, before settling into a green which paraded out over the Gulf of Mexico like a ballet of light
The primary protagonist of Downward Cycle is, in my opinion, much more likeable than the car salesman from American Exodus. So that helped with my investment in the story.
Scott's mind began to race; the power was probably out due to a massive solar flare. Wasn't that one of the doomsday scenarios? He remembered reading several novels about a terrorist EMP blast leaving the world in perpetual darkness.
Grabbing the EDC bag out of the trunk, he headed back inside, beginning to feel like the man in the old Omega Man movie, wondering if he would be one of the last men left alive, wandering the planet in search of other survivors. Glancing up at the two bicycles on the wall, he thought that if he had to wander, it would probably be on two wheels.
As with all these stories, the bad guys band together and do their best to steal and kill their way across the countryside. To be honest, the events of this story aren't a whole lot different from One Second After by William Forstchen, but that doesn't make me like them any less. The pandemic angle and government conspiracy theory (which is shaping up to not just be a conspiracy in book two) are interesting detours from the collapse of the power grid/survival in a world full of fried electronics nd almost no electrical power generation.
Mobile County was home to over four hundred thousand people, with nearly twenty percent of those living below the poverty level. Ron said the city had been dealing with a growing gang presence, the ranks of which had now increased with the thousands of newly released prisoners. In the days after the CME, they appeared to be in a feeding frenzy. The addicts could no longer get drugs from dealers, so they were looting drugstores for prescription meds as well as from houses, hospitals. Food, drugs, fuel, ammo and even sex were the new commodities with any value. Fires raged around the city, and armed gangs patrolled the roads looking for hapless travelers. The law quickly had become irrelevant and now was non-existent. Those officers who were not killed or injured in the early hours of the crises simply had no more ammo or working patrol cars. They also had no place to put anyone arrested. Chaos and anarchy had become the rulers of this once proud southern port city.
The events of Catalyst book one lead right into book two, Kingdoms of Sorrow, which I quickly read after finishing Downward Cycle.
Catalyst 2 Kingdoms of Sorrow, J.K. Franks
Kingdoms of Sorrow wastes no time addressing one of Catalyst book one's barely-mentioned plot lines, an outbreak of a vicious pandemic somewhere in Europe/Asia that makes all the misery from the collapse of the grid just that much more miserable. We meet a whole new cast of characters, scientists and mercenaries who know a lot more about what's going on than the rest of the completely unprepared citizenry of the world. Though even they were not completely aware of what was going on.
He was on permanent assignment to Praetor, full name Praetor Paramilitary Battlegroup 9. No one used a real name or rank. He was simply Skybox-5: five for his rank, something close to a Captain in the Army, though any comparison to the normal military was irrelevant.
The ID documents they provided got him through every checkpoint without incident, and his compact go-bag included almost anything he could possibly need to move across both hostile and friendly territory with ease.
Another thought that kept creeping in was that someone at command had known the CME was imminent. The original instructions on the call had said as much by its specific travel instructions.
This disease spreading quickly becomes very familiar to fans of The Walking Dead - except the dead don't become slow, mindless shambling killing machines. They're more like the zombies of Z Nation or Zombieland.
The victims are only partially aware of themselves and their surroundings at this point. They appear to lack all ethical judgment and become filled with the desire to attack prey - an effective short-term method of spreading. The subjects experience acute rage, they attack violently . . . at times they kill, though more often it is simply to wound. Whatever, or whomever they attack are, of almost always infected in the process.
Not zombies sir," Genghis replied. "They're not brainless. They're not slow. And they're not trying to eat us, although they certainly bite. If you shoot them, they will die. You need to shoot them someplace vital, but they will die. The agent that's driving them is primitive and efficient. It wants to grow, reproduce, and survive like any form of life. Think of it more like rabies, but amped-up a hundred times. Given enough time I think it may find a better way for replication . . . and that will be worse.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S. (the above events are taking place in the middle east), our intrepid survivors from book one are fighting off marauders and when not defending themselves, they're doing their best to survive in a world without clean water, refrigeration or a very ample supply of fuel for vehicles. Book two ends with another character who is only briefly mentioned for most of these first two books making his way from the smoldering ruins of the north-eastern U.S. to his friend Scott's bastion of survival. Thing are looking desperate for all the survivors as roving gangs of murderous bandits and a disease that wipes out entire populations is making waste of the few survivors.
Oh, and one last mention-worthy tidbit - there's a very brief Hitchhiker's Guide mention...
"Pretty sure the answer to life and the universe is forty-two," Scott retorted in amusement.
I wasted no time before starting book three, Ghost Country.
Catalyst 3 Ghost Country, J.K. Franks
Our beleaguered survivors are scrambling to develop a cure of the zombie virus, fight off hordes of bandits, and take down a secret faction of the US Government plotting against them. Multiple battles ensue, people die all over the place, plots get very twisty, and the story comes to a dramatic conclusion. I'm running out of gas, so I'm not going to share any quotes from this book (most of what I'd marked sounded too spoiler-ish, anyway).
If you read the first two books (or three, counting American Exodus), you won't need my encouragement to read this one. You'll tear through it.
I'm going to ramble on about some awesome musical-type purchases I've made over the past few months in the next few days (in theory), so that's it for now. Maybe I'll even get to my Grand Canyon adventure, concerts, or any of the zillions of other things I've been planning to mention here...one of these days.
We only had Cody, who was more often referred to as "Buddy," for the last couple of years of his too-short life. We adopted him well into his senior years (he was twelve years and a few months old) when we brought him home from a Yorkie Rescue organization. He had been rescued many years earlier from a terrible home (abused by small children which resulted in a broken leg set with a metal rod as a puppy). He was placed with an elderly woman who took good care of him for many years until she passed. He was then fostered in her daughter's home with three other adult Yorkies who were all larger than Cody and did what most animals do - they tormented him because they could. So he learned to be fearful of small children and other animals before we'd even met him. Fortunately for Cody, we had no small children or other pets in our home, so his anxiety eventually lessened.
Cody was hesitant with us initially, but learned to trust his new family and became a big snuggler. When his family was sitting on the couch watching TV he would jump up (he was far too small to get up himself) to let us know he needed to be up with us and then lie happily, on one of his many blankets, beside us. Often, he took his time getting the blankets just right before he would relax. He'd circle and circle, tugging the blanket this way and that, until it was just perfect.
Keli even taught him to sit and shake hands in his old age. He later added lying down to his repertoire. But we could only ever get him to do his new tricks if we gave him a treat. Or if the kids tricked him into thinking he was getting a treat.
He would wait to eat dinner until his family was eating, bringing mouthfuls of kibble into the dining room to eat one piece at a time. When we first brought Cody home, we tried letting him sleep alone in the kitchen or living room, but he wanted no part of that. He would cry until we brought him into our bedroom, where he slept happily through the night. So from that point on, he slept with us. Or at least in the same room. He always preferred sleeping at night in his crate to sleeping out in the open or on a bed. Even during the day, he would often make his way to the crate and get some private time.
We tried putting him in costumes at Halloween, but he was never a big fan of clothing. Socks, costumes - they would just make him freeze in confusion until someone extricated him from the weirdness. We got him a shark costume last year and he was so cute, with those big brown eyes looking up at you, but he barely moved once it was covering him. So we didn't make him wear it very long.
We tried giving Buddy many toys during his time with us. He had no interest in any balls, no matter the size or composition. Rope toys were of no interest and stuffed animals earned only his disdain. But then I found a tiny, little bear that was probably a cat toy. I brought it home to Buddy, hoping this tiny thing would be something he might want to play with. I don't think he paid much attention to it at first, but several times, when we weren't looking, he would throw it around, pounce on it, and just take it with him wherever he'd go. It was super cute.
Another of Buddy's favorite daily activities was lying in the sun (either in the house or outside, if it was warm enough). He loved just soaking up the warmth of the sun.
Every day when I would come home from work, he would perk up when he heard my car alarm beep and would run to meet me at the door when I came into the house. The final two weeks of his life, he didn't have the energy to meet me at the door and near the end, didn't even look up when I'd come in. It was heartbreaking to watch his decline. It was heartbreaking to see him so bereft of energy that he couldn't even make it to the sun in his final days.
A week before he started to show the signs of Kidney failure, he was in Utah with Julie and Emeli. One of the days they were there, Cody wandered down the hall by himself, as he often sid, and disappeared. When Julie went looking for him, she found him curled up snoozing. In her suitcase. It was so cute. When she came in, he groggily looked up at her and then went right back to sleep. So cute.
Our awesome little buddy, Cody, went from a vivacious, playful little guy to a crippled old man within about a week. He was diagnosed with potential kidney problems a few weeks earlier, so we were adapting his diet to a more renal-friendly menu, but nothing we did made any difference. We had his blood tested a couple of weeks later and we were told he had stage-4 kidney failure. So the renal-friendly food was abandoned (he reused to eat it, anyway) and we let him eat whatever he wanted. Which was, for the most part, nothing at all. He drank a lot of water, but ate almost nothing.
In the end, Cody couldn't stand unassisted, he wasn't eating anything, he did nothing but sleep restlessly all day, and he didn't respond to anything except physical touch. He still showed some appreciation for a good scratch behind the ears or under his emaciated little chin, but he was quickly approaching a painful demise so we made the very difficult decision to take him to the vet to be put out of his misery. This is the second dog I've lost to kidney failure. The other was Benji, over 25 years earlier, and her death is still painfully etched into my memory.
We have a thousand pictures of our cute little guy, but here are a paltry few...
A few videos...
Cody didn't appreciate toys as big as he was.
Cody was quite the explorer in our little yard.
Cody never could quite get those blanket gophers.
Cody always had to ge the blanket "just right" before he'd lie down.
A trifecta of tricks for a treat.
Our last day with Buddy, he was too far gone to even lift his head. It was heartbreaking.
Another eBook and a Science Fiction Book Club rant
I was once again approached by an author who is looking for eyeballs and asked to read and review her new work of fiction (in eBook format, so it took me a lot longer to get through - I read several physical books in the same time-frame). It's a dystopian political thriller set almost thirty years in the future. And here we go...
Fire of Our Fathers
Fire of Our Fathers is a interesting take on a dystopian American future set in 2046 by an author who writes a lot of this kind of stuff, L.C. Champlin. But the United States isn't the only country suffering - though it is the focus of most of the events in this story - the whole world has succumbed to corruption and economic collapse.
Here's the author's own description of the story:
2046 -- Thirty years into the Great Decline, America and the world are mired deep in the swamp of corruption and despair...
Richmond Monroe has just finished the biggest antiques-hunting contract of his life - and taken out a few Somali pirates along the way. When he returns home to Panama, he learns he must risk his life and paycheck to rescue his town from destruction by the land-hungry rulers.
One man offers hope. His price? President George Washington's finest sword.
Richmond ventures into the highly restricted United States to track down the blade. Unrest and chaos are growing in the former Land of the Free, but the Glock-wielding historian is ready to tackle the challenge. He'll encounter powerful figures and uncover devastating secrets.
If he fails in his quest, America could sink permanently under the tyrants' oppression.
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
And here's a description of the current state of things in 2046 from the story's protagonist, Richmond Monroe.
The whole damn world looked this way now. The economic depression had lasted years, with banana republics and even hulking dictatorships squabbling for resources. Religious extremist groups murdered civilians, while drug cartels kept everyone too high to care.
After the US succumbed to its long-standing, long-festering corruption, the world rapidly followed. The Last Bastion of Hope had fallen. Now everyone bumbled on as best they could, as the human race always had. Two-hundred years, when you thought about it, amounted to nothing more than a flash in the pan.
"Constitutional republic," Richmond snorted. The American Dream - and America had woken up to cold reality.
Speaking of the United States being 200 (and a little more) years old, there's a hilarious quote in the Eric Idle sorta-biography I'm reading now about the bicentennial that's I'll be sharing later (along with way too many other quotes and scanned photos from that book).
The story's dark future bears a pretty strong resemblance to the stories of D.W. Ulsterman1 that I've mentioned briefly here a couple of times. As with Ulsterman's dystopian future, there's no William Forstchen-like EMP that took down the grid, no Zombie-inducing virus that wipes out humanity, no John Barnes-esque plastic eating bacteria to bring all tech to a halt, no S.M. Stirling-like change that reduces mankind to 17th century technology - there's just political upheaval leading to a collapsed economy and end of true representational government (which was ended a long time ago, to be honest).
We meet several people trapped in the declining United States (the protagonist has expatriated to Panama) throughout the story's events. One of these tells the protagonist her story that describes her experiences as an immigrant to the United States who arrived near the end of the era of possibility and watched as opportunities disappeared and a government too much like the one she'd escaped took over.
"We came to this land of opportunity and freedom. People here valued life. We worked very hard here. We learned the language, we made a business, and we gave back to the community. It was the happiest ten years of our life. Coming here was like getting a new life. I was thirty. But over time, after 2016, the Great Decline began. Then it was more and more like living in China. China also was allowed to buy more and more land and companies in America." She sighed. "I'm glad my children and grandchildren are not in China, but I wish they could know America as I knew it."
I was probably most attracted to the promise of actual historical references being interwoven throughout the story, a la Umberto Eco/Dan Brown/Michael Crichton/Brad Meltzer. And while there were a few historical references throughout the story (to George Washington and his swords, and a little from the Civil War era), they weren't really as tightly interwoven as the historical references in the aforementioned authors' books. So that was a little disappointing.
There were quite a few passages in the text that felt out of place. Here are a three (taken out of context, so they may not seem as odd to you). The last one wasn't weird because of the non-flowing prose, like the others, but it was a surprise that the protagonist would bring a Tolkien fantasy element into the story (the only time this happened).
"I'm trying to let you fellows get out with your dignity," Richmond admonished. "You ought to be thanking me."
He kept the front area decked out with smaller, cheaper, but expensive-appearing finds. Jackie's desk took center stage; he maintained an office behind her. In the warehouse proper, beyond the office area, Jackie oversaw a strict filing system. She must have a psychological compulsion for orderliness.
He accepted the manila envelope. Everything important came in manila envelopes. To do otherwise would break a universal law.
"They halted in what a hobbit might consider a clearing"
Also noteworthy is the unusual chapter naming. Each chapter was named with either an Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, or Marilyn Manson song title. Though a little weird, I can understand the Elvis and Johnny Cash references, but One of these things is not like the other.... Not that chapters names really impacted the story in any way (though it can be nice to have a chapter name that does a little foreshadowing). But there is an explanation for the chapter headers within the story itself - a conversation between our protagonist, Richmond, and the more interesting, but secondary, character, Myles Fremont. It's a weak argument in my opinion, but music is a subjective thing so I may be in the minority there.
quote title="from 'Blue Moon - Elvis Presley'"
Richmond cleared his throat. "What about you and Marilyn Manson?" Since Myles had asked his question honestly, no disdain went into Richmond's, either.
"Ah, Manson," Myles breathed, settling back in his seat like an old warrior preparing to tell a yarn of derring-do. "When Marilyn Manson - his real name was Brian Hugh Warner - exploded onto the Heavy Metal scene, no one had heard anything quite like it. People thought his music would make kids violent. Of course, it didn't. People are already violent. Society wrote him off as just another crazed, makeup-caked rocker. And he was a little crazy. But I doubt you can be a true freethinker without bucking the norms to the point where much of the population thinks you've gone mad." Myles smirked. "He kept playing and experimenting. He influenced an entire generation of musicians, not to mention listeners. He was serious about freedom."
Richmond met Myles's earnest gaze. "Freedom. They both fought for it and sacrificed for what they felt driven to do. They changed the world and inspired countless people."
Myles nodded. "In a way, Manson comes from Elvis."
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
As with most dystopian stories, the government that evolves is thuggish and corrupt. Here's a brief description of the TSA of the future (which doesn't sound much different from the TSA of today).
The TSA thugs wore blue uniforms, carried submachine guns, and had riot cuffs on their duty belts. They looked like the security of every other third world country.
And the local militarized police force sounds a lot like the police we have now - just a little further to the dark side.
Though the legalization of all substances had occurred over a decade ago, dealers still undercut the system, providing as much of a black market as ever. Rather than take on the dangerous and thriving gangs, the cops preferred to beat down law-abiding citizens who thought or said the wrong thing. Namely, the truth."
And the best part of the story is the totally unexpected hero. I won't tell you who he is, but here are some clues (there are five non-concurrent quotes excerpts - it's not meant to be a continuous quote).
The other man wore a knowing smile. "So you recognize me." Myles lifted his chin.
"You are the Baron."
The Baron? Now and then a news report mentioned the Baron, a man who operated in numerous markets across the world. His holdings ranged from tech companies to real estate, but his passion lay in restructuring failing corporations.
"My father also loved this country. He thought he could make the US great again."
Myles cleared his throat. "In 2016, the Baron's father ran for president of the United States as the Republican Party candidate."
Of course! Richmond hadn't bothered to keep close track of the Rights' Last, Best Hope's five offspring. "He was rock-star popular with his base, if I remember. But before the election, his 727 went down in flames, him included."
Eyes narrowed, the Baron shook his head. "He was murdered. His enemies knew he would win the election. If he did, he would be the first outsider in generations to take the presidency. He'd made it abundantly clear that he would make sweeping policy changes. His opponents couldn't tolerate that. When they saw they couldn't win against him, they took the easy route and eliminated the competition. With him out of the running and little time left for his vice president to campaign, the Democratic challenger had no trouble winning the election."
"The beginning of the Great Decline," Richmond supplied. The familiar sense of awful disappointment came over him. It felt as if he had reached for a friend as they slipped over a cliff, but he'd moved a second too late.
The Baron nodded. "My father wanted to make America great again. He believed in the American Dream, just like his father - my grandfather - did. They lived the American Dream. They rose from nothing to be among the rich and powerful"
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
This story must have been written before the father of the Baron moved into the White House, as he didn't go down in a fiery plane crash in our own timeline. So...the moral of the story is this: "If you enjoy dystopian political fiction with a right-leaning bent and don't mind an uneven writing style, you'll likely enjoy this book. I noticed that the eBook price is only around a buck on Amazon, so you've gotta like that.
The Science Fiction (and now other genres) Book Club
I've been a member of the Science Fiction Book Club off and on2 since I was in my late teens. Way back then, the draw was getting several hardcover sci-fi and fantasy books for basically the cost of shipping with a commitment to buy a few more books over the next couple of years at full price. So the average cost of the books was less than buying the same number of paperbacks, which sounds like a great deal. But there were a couple of drawbacks: #1, the books were dimensionally all about 3/4 scale of the publisher hardcovers. So I have a great many miniature hardcovers in library that insult my OCD when they're all on the same shelf with the full-sized hardcovers (now all in bin, so they're not as annoying). And #2, you had to send a card back every month through the mail or you get the book of the month auto-mailed to you. You could do a return-to-sender and return it easily enough, but that was a hassle I didn't enjoy.
At some point, I decided that the affordability of the tiny books wasn't enough to offset the discomfort of having books that looked out of place on the shelf, so I abandoned the SFBC for many years. But a few years ago I decided that cheap was more important than big and joined back up. I was pleasantly surprised when the books arrived and were full-sized hardcovers. And also happy to learn that the card in the mail had been replaced by an online response, so it was much easier to decline the unwanted books of the month. Also a nice improvement was the wishlist feature to save books you may want to order in the future. And maybe best of all, each month you can buy two credits for $14.99/each to later buy any two books at a reduced price (lower than Amazon or Costco, even). So that's pretty cool.
Over the past few years I've more than fulfilled my commitment and am still a member, though I've been a little disappointed that every hardcover hasn't been a full-sized edition (most are). A couple of other comments and/or complaints: the book club is now more of a Generic Book Club that sells just about every genre of book (I've wandered outside the Sci-Fi/Fantasy boundary a couple of times since I've been a member again) and books are often dropped quickly from the club so the availability of Sci-Fi/Fantasy titles is a little less than it once was (and WishList books can quickly become unavailable if you don't pull the trigger fast enough). But my biggest complaint about the good ol' SFBC is this:
THEY SENT ME A BOOK WITH A RIPPED DUST JACKET!!
I don't know if it happened in transit (it wasn't very well packaged - there wasn't any packing material to hold the book in place) or before being packed, but either way, I'm not happy. That hasn't stopped me from buying other books from the SFBC and none of the others have been ripped, but still...
1 L.C., D.W., S.M....each of these authors uses a pen name with two initials followed by a surname. Coincidence? I THINK NOT!!
2 Once your commitment is fulfilled, you quit and rejoin and get 5 more tiny free-ish books. Genius!