Saturday, June 04, 2011

Review: A TRACE OF SMOKE, Rebecca Cantrell

A Trace of Smoke (Hannah Vogel, #1)A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In 1931 Berlin, crime reporter Hannah Vogel discovers her brother's photograph in the police station's Hall of the Unnamed Dead. Her brother, a homosexual, cross-dressing lounge singer, had a number of shady connections and numerous liasons with powerful and dangerous men, and when Hannah sets off to find his killer, she runs afoul of one of the scariest real-life figures of the days before Hitler's rise to power.

This is a great historical mystery. I especially liked the contrasts between the supposedly public morality of late Weimar Germany and the decadence of the underworld in which its movers and shakers played, often openly. The plot moves along well, with unexpected twists and turns and a nail-biting ending. Hannah is an engaging character, tough when she has to be, yet soft-hearted. The bad guys are truly three-dimensional and well-drawn, and even more frightening because at least one of them actually existed (try to imagine a guy that actually worried Hitler).

A fine debut. Can't wait to read the next one.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Review: ARMOR, by John Steakley

ArmorArmor by John Steakley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

About a week ago, a friend of mine walked up to me and handed me this book, saying "you ought to read this, it's not what you'd expect." Since this was someone whose opinion I generally respect, I took the book home with me.'s an interesting book, and no, not what you'd expect from the cover art or the back cover description. It starts off looking like a military sci-fi novel in the mold of Robert A. Heinlein's STARSHIP TROOPERS, but without all the military cheerleading (or as I call it, the RAH rah-rah).

Then, suddenly, we're someplace completely different with a completely different protagonist, the cynical space pirate Jack Crow. Crow's arrived on the planet Sanction with a mission of his own, one he's not completely happy with, but he's got debts to pay.

The story eventually gets tied together when Crow and Sanction's project director start delving into the secrets of the original protagonist's armored battle suit. There are some surprises and reversals right at the end.

The book drags quite a bit in the middle, and the prose gets a more than a bit overheated and melodramatic, but on the whole, I liked it. Didn't love it, but liked it.

View all my reviews

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Darn - The World Didn't End

Latest Newspaper Column:

Well, they did it to me again.

You may remember how bummed I was back in 2000 when the Y2K bug didn’t cause the complete collapse of civilization. I wrote at the time that I’d been getting all psyched up to grab my assault rifle and engage in a grim, bloody fight for survival in the smoldering ruins of civilization. After gearing up for that, it was kind of an anticlimax to just have to go in to work on Monday.

So you’d think I’d know better than to get all psyched up again for the end of the world as predicted by Harold Camping.

In case you missed the story, Camping is a California radio preacher who predicted that the world was going to end last Saturday promptly at 6 p.m. (Pacific Daylight Time). Specifically, at that time, all good Christians were going to be taken up to heaven.

Immediately following this event, we’d have massive worldwide earthquakes that would make the recent Japanese temblors look wimpy, and the entire planet would be plunged into chaos (even more than it usually is), with everything culminating in the destruction of this world, the triumphal return of Jesus Christ, and the establishment of a new heaven and Earth on Oct. 21.
Camping claims to have backed this up with biblical passages, combined with actual math. The math part may explain why I found his theory incomprehensible.

Although Camping had previously (and, it appears, incorrectly) predicted the end of the world back in 1994, a startling number of people bought into the prophecy. Some quit their jobs. Some sold everything they owned and gave away their pets. One deranged woman even tried to slit her own throat and the throats of her daughters to keep them from having to live though the “coming tribulation.” Fortunately, the kids survived.

Well, 6 p.m. came and went, as did 7, 8, 9, and so on. Everybody stayed put. No earthquakes, no seas turning to blood, no Four Horsemen, none of the stuff that you’d expect to see after even a cursory skimming of the book of Revelations or a few Grade-B horror movies.

Once again, I felt a little let down. I didn’t totally believe Camping, of course. And let’s face it, it’s not that I, heathen that I am, was expecting to get taken away Saturday if the whole thing was true. But there was a part of me that was looking forward to a lot of free stuff lying around.
When the Final Hoedown didn’t begin as scheduled, you’d expect the “prophet” who originally predicted said Apocalypse to mumble some vague excuse, grab the collection box and hop a plane to someplace with no extradition treaties. This is not, however, how a pro like Camping plays the game of big-time preaching. When he gets caught, he doubles down.

After some time in hiding — sorry, meditation — Camping announced that the Day of Judgment actually had come and gone on the 21st, but it was a “spiritual judgment,” unseen by humanity, and performed, as it were, behind closed doors. The end would still come as scheduled on Oct. 21. Perhaps more time was needed for all the heavenly department heads to sign off on the final paperwork or something.

I’m sure Pastor Camping has read the Bible more times that I have. I’ve only read it cover to cover twice (I know, that surprises a lot of people). Well, I confess, I cheated a little and skipped all the “begats” the second time. Which is why I’m somewhat bemused to find that I apparently know some Scripture that the good minister seems to have missed.

Passages such as Matthew 25:13: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of Man comes.” Or this one, from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians: “For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.” And then there’s this, from Matthew 24:11: “And many false prophets shall arise and lead many astray.”

But perhaps the most appropriate quote comes from the Book of (P.T.) Barnum: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”