Review: Dust

Dust by Hugh Howey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Excellent finish to the series! Howey's writing and structure has really progressed, and it shows here. The only disappointment I had with Shift was that there appeared to be too many pages dedicated to getting across a plot point. Dust is much tighter. The pacing and action are excellent.

That said, there are a number of elements that bother me. I've read them mentioned in other reviews, but I will voice my own here as well.

First, what happened to the rest of the world? In Shift we learn that getting folks into the silos was sparked by a false flag attack on Atlanta orchestrated by Thurman. What happens after is a complete mystery. We're left to assume that some sort of world war broke out, but how extensive was it? Was the earth wiped clean of people as Thurman hoped, or was it isolated to a region around Atlanta?

Next, the nanos themselves seem to have fluid rules. They are self-replicating, but somehow can't move beyond some unexplained barrier around the silos. They kill nearly instantly in high concentration, but the low concentrations outside can be balanced out with the "good" nanos. They don't stick to clothing at all, but if you are gassed on your way out as a cleaner they eat through immediately and kill you. They form a dome around the silos that the wind can't blow away and form a gray cloud in the sky...somehow. The nanos are tuned to human DNA, but also kill all of the wildlife and vegetation around the silos.

What about silo 40 and their kindred rebels? Donald bombed that area pretty extensively, but Anna and silo 40 appear to have infiltrated several silos. What happened there?

What about the other silos that were functioning as intended? With silo 1 gone are they all as good as dead? Permanently entombed? Immediately killed?

My wife kids me that being critical of this sort of stuff make a me a killjoy, that I should just suspend belief and enjoy the story. Fair enough, but it would still bug me if I didn't say it out loud (or write it).

If you've read the first two books, you definitely should read Dust. It is a great finish to the series. If you haven't read this series yet, start! I really enjoyed it, and would recommend it to anyone else who enjoys stories of the apocalypse.

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Review: The Lives of Tao

The Lives of Tao
The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted to enjoy this book more than I did. The premise was so absurd that I was hoping for a bit of campy humor. Unfortunately, while there is some light humor, it took itself too seriously. Maybe I had poor expectations going in. I did find it entertaining, and I feel this story would make a fine series on SyFy. The ending sets up very well for a lead in to a series of Roen Tan novels, but I am not sure I will be following them.

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Review: Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've been reading Stephen King books for a long time. Before I had my license I would beg my parents to take me to the library or the book store so I could get the latest from King, Koontz, or Clancy. Books like [b:The Dark Half|11597|The Dark Half|Stephen King||1316297] and [b:Selections from Skeleton Crew|666371|Selections from Skeleton Crew|Stephen King||652423] both terrified me and thrilled me.

Now that I'm an adult, I'm finding that King's stories have a much different impact on me. [b:Full Dark, No Stars|7912007|Full Dark, No Stars|Stephen King||11067830] was fantastic, but it wasn't a supernatural horror. As I was reading Doctor Sleep, I realized that it wasn't scaring me. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the book, because I did. Maybe it is a matter of maturity, or maybe I just can't believe in the fantasy, but Rose the Hat and her True Knot just didn't spook me. I'm glad I read this book, and I have to say that little Danny Torrance went through just the type of living hell you would expect after experiencing the trauma of the Overlook.

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Review: Shift Omnibus Edition

Shift Omnibus Edition
Shift Omnibus Edition by Hugh Howey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Are all middle acts dark by their nature, or is this just a recent trend? Shift enriches the world set forth by Wool, providing a back story of how we got here and the people involved. If you've read Wool and enjoyed it you should definitely go ahead and read Shift. I'll leave the rest in the spoiler tags below.

First, let's talk about Donald. Donnie is a schmuck. When he is first introduced I sort of saw him as the underdog hero, but the more I read the more I disliked him. By the end of the story I'm wondering whether he actually wanted to have the congressional seat he was elected to, or just took it because Anna manipulated him into having it. Donnie spends the first 1/3rd of the story whining that he doesn't think he is doing the right thing, but happy to self-medicate his worries away. He spends the next 1/3rd trying to check himself out, and the final third he finally finds some start killing people. Not a good guy!

What about Anna, though? She's a tough character for me to believe. Attractive, intelligent, powerful....and somehow also an Overly Attached Girlfriend with a fixation on Donny. We never learn whether there was an affair between Donny and Anna, only that they had a relationship prior to Donny and Helen getting together. Yet Donny behaves as if any interaction with Anna is elicit. Anna, meanwhile, continues to manipulate any and every situation to put herself next to Donny and eliminate Helen. Why, though? Is it just the challenge of being denied something she wants, or is there something about Donny to be attracted to? I couldn't see it.

I really hope we get to see more of Mission in Dust. Otherwise, that was an awful lot of pages dedicated to exhibiting a plot element.

Learning more about Solo/Jimmy and how he arrived as one of the last survivors of Silo 17 was interesting to see.

Throughout the story I've had trouble keeping mental track of the timeline. Has it been 500 years since they went into the silos, or just 100? Perhaps the author intended to create this confusion, but I'm either misreading, or there are some inconsistencies in the description of the amount of time passing.

I'm also having trouble accepting that the US government went along with the idea to nuke Atlanta. For show. Maybe we'll learn in dust that there is some reality distortion field surrounding the silos, but if that is the case it makes the story even more difficult to swallow. Wouldn't someone wander into the silo area? Is it supposed to be some BioSphere type experiment with unwary participants? The final chapters seem to hint at that when the drone encounters blue skies and green grass after passing beyond a flight threshold. On the other hand, that could have been just another visual trap like the view created for the cleaners, but why?

The silos are peopled by the folks who attended the Democratic National Convention, with one silo per delegation. Just how many people attended this convention? Enough to populate all 50 silos? How many people are in each silo? I should go back and re-read, because I think this was covered, but even with a population of a few thousand it seems unrealistic.

Are these books a political statement from Howey? I hadn't thought so when reading through Wool, but now I'm not so sure. The environment of the silos could certainly be seen as the nightmare scenario Republicans accuse Democrats of wanting. They are socialist societies with the government exercising near total control in every facet of life. Thanks Obama!

Is the outside hostile or not? When Silo 1 gasses another silo, what is that supposed to do? Solo got gassed, but he's still walking around. Is that just a pre-cursor to mark the intended victim for the nanos outside, or is there some other purpose?

I have a lot more questions than answers after reading Shift. After a short break for some other reading, I'm definitely looking forward to diving into Dust.

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Review: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've never read a book and felt like highlighting lines or passages. That changed today.

Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of 'facts' they feel stuffed, but absolutely 'brilliant' with information. Then they'll feel they're thinking, they'll get a sense of motion without moving. And they'll be happy, because facts of that sort don't change. Don't give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy. Any man who can take a TV wall apart and put it back together again, and most men can, nowadays, is happier than any man who tries to slide rule, measure, and equate the universe, which just won't be measured or equated without making man feel bestial and lonely.

This, and the rest of the words from Beatty that surround it, hit me like a ton of bricks. How many times have I celebrated my own genius when I could find a clever solution to a coding problem? An elegant way to solve requirements from a customer? Yet never considered the full meaning of what I was doing? I think back on some of the projects I did after graduating college and how happy I was to be doing my job and doing it well, but never considering what it mean to be doing my job. I'm glad that I've learned to be more thoughtful since then, and here is a reminder to never become complacent.

That is just one facet, one viewpoint on this incredibly rich, yet brief portion of 451! I am in awe of Bradbury and his ability to find a collection of just a few words in a particular order that are able to convey multiple dimensions of ideas and emotions. When I flipped through the table of contents and saw that the story itself was contained in just 158 scant pages, I wondered to myself how this could be heralded as such an important work. It is! It is in no small part due to Bradbury's economy of words.

Is 451 relevant today? Very much so. In fact, it is frightening to see how much of the "family" found in 451's parlor are visible today in our daytime talk show television.

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Review: The Martian

The Martian
The Martian by Andy Weir

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is incredible. If you are an engineer, you will love this book. If you are fascinated by space exploration, you will love this book. If you enjoyed the movie Apollo 13, you will love this book. If you are will probably love this book.

This is a short(ish) story describing the events of a manned mission to Mars. It isn't the first mission, nor is it planned to be the last. After a handful of days on the surface, a large storm batters the crew and they are forced to abort the mission. Unfortunately, one member of the crew is swept away and presumed dead. He wasn't.

The book isn't available from any bookseller at the moment as it is being relaunched in February of next year. You can listen to the audio book on Audible. If you don't mind reading from your PC or tablet, you can pickup the e-book at this link:;topic=30393.0;attach=483981

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Review: Tuck Everlasting

Tuck Everlasting
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've been extremely busy, which is the only reason it took me so long to finish this book. I know it has been made into a movie, and I'm thinking this would be a rare case where filler would be needed. It was recommended reading for our oldest child, and I thought I would give it a read as well.

I enjoyed the imagery used in this story, but it isn't one that will stick with me. Whether or not everlasting life would be a blessing or a curse is a difficult and personal issue. The characters briefly express which they find it to be. Fitting for a YA story, but not enough meat for me.

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Review: The Wise Man's Fear

The Wise Man's Fear
The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kvothe matures quite a lot in this second book. After The Name of the Wind he is young, brash, and very talented. The events of Wise Man's Fear temper that brashness. Still, we are left with none of the larger questions answered. We know that Kvothe survives as he is narrating his own tale, but that doesn't completely eliminate the suspense as he tells it. One thing I'm glad to see from time to time throughout both of these books is for Kvothe to fail. Too often a hero is able to deftly snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Kvothe is extremely talented, but he is fallible as well.

I'll be eagerly looking forward to book three to see where this story goes.

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Review: The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm not usually one for medieval fantasy, so when Sword & Laser talked this book up I gave it a pass. Recently one of my friends impressed upon me just how good it was and that I really needed to give it a read. So with some trepidation I succumbed to the pressure and grabbed a copy on my nook. I'm so glad that I did.

I think back on [b:Shadow and Claw|40992|Shadow and Claw (The Book of the New Sun, #1-2)|Gene Wolfe||40575] and see that in Kvothe I have a compelling character who excels at telling his own story. If the story of Severian were told with even half the style that Rothfuss has shown here I might have continued reading the series. I really enjoyed the style, humor, and development of the story.

I highly recommend this book to any reader. It is the first book in a series, so don't look for any closure. However, the story itself is very worth it.

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Review: Necessary Evil

Necessary Evil
Necessary Evil by Ian Tregillis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fantastic end to the series! The second book in this series was so dark, so punishing, that I feared what I would find in the conclusion. Thankfully, I found that the tone from the second book is substantially changed as we see the Marsh of the original timeline get a chance to set right a timeline for the world and for the younger self of this new timeline. There is a lot of action here, which lead to a quick read on my part. I feel that this was the strongest book of the three. If you enjoyed the first book, definitely push your way through the second so you can enjoy this finale.

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Review: The Battle of the Labyrinth

The Battle of the Labyrinth
The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Themes of trust and choice cropped up several times in this episode. I have to say, this was the most engaging of the books so far. It has a darker tone, which may be why I found it more interesting. Overall, it does not deviate from the style of the first three books. There are several times where story elements are made overly obvious after being alluded to earlier. It is a young adult book, but I think some faith could be put in the reader. One final book to go to finish this series.

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Review: The Lightning Thief

The Lightning Thief
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

We watched The Lightning Thief when it came out on DVD, and my kids were instant fans. The books were beyond their reading level at the time, so we didn't get invested in them. Now that my oldest is comfortable with chapter books we picked up the series.

Having seen the movie, much is familiar here, but there are enough differences in the film that I still found it enjoyable and surprising at times. The writing style is geared toward the target audience, which is to say that the vocabulary is relatively simple, the characters one dimensional, and a lot of visualization. That's not a bad thing, and it leads to a very quick read. On the other hand, for an adult reader, I often found myself skimming more than actually reading.

I did enjoy some of the lessons in this book, and I think it is good guidance for my children. Percy is often faced with the choice of doing something rash that is immediately satisfying or taking a wiser approach that sacrifices his personal satisfaction. I hope my kids reflect on that and model it in their own lives.

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Board Game Session Report: Illuminati

Steve Jackson's Illuminati Box Art
Steve Jackson's Illuminati is a game of secret societies and their attempts to influence other cults to combine powers with their own.  The first society to meet either the common win condition (controlling 9 groups) or their special win condition, which varies by primary group, wins the game.

I didn't really care for this game. It took a really long time for what was a game that did not have much going for it.  Perhaps it was just too late at night to start picking this up, but it really felt like math homework more than a fun game.  Each player has a primary group that they control.  The group offers an income, power, and transfer power.  The power of the group can be used to attack another group, either in the interest of control, neutralization, or destruction.  I missed the early note that you could perform any of these against any group in the game, not just those that were in the common pool in the center of the table, so I had a bit of a misplay.  Still, the mechanics are the same whichever route is taken: determine the power of the attacking group, subtract the resistance of the defending target, apply any transfer power desired for the attacker to increase the value, defender may spend money to decrease the value, attacker may spend money to increase the value.  Once all of this arithmetic is complete, the attacker rolls 2d6 and if his roll is less than the sum and not equal to 11 or 12 he wins.  Of course, there are some modifiers as well.  Each group has descriptors such as Government or Communist, Weird or Straight.  If you attack same you get a bonus, opposite a penalty.  Unless of course you are attacking to destroy, in which case the bonus/penalty is reversed (and you subtract the power of the defender, not the resistance).  There is a bonus applied to defense depending on how close to the center of your network the defending group is. Money spent from the defending group counts double value.  Attempting to neutralize gives the attacker a 6 point bonus.  I'm not even getting into the modifiers that groups might have, such as bonuses against particular types of groups.

Doing this math problem with six players for two hours was just not fun.  It felt very much like munchkin (and no surprise there, this is an early Steve Jackson game) in that each player raced to their win condition quickly, and then the game stalled as we all sniped each other.  At the end I was ready to simply throw the game for it to be over.  I think part of the problem was that we had too many players.  If this game were a 30 minute rapid romp, I could see enjoying it from time to time.  At two hours plus, I wouldn't want to get involved.  The humor touches in the game were nice and produced a few chuckles, but nothing that would draw me back.

Review: The Wind Through the Keyhole: A Dark Tower Novel

The Wind Through the Keyhole: A Dark Tower Novel
The Wind Through the Keyhole: A Dark Tower Novel by Stephen King

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It has been a while since I finished reading through the dark tower series. I even read a few of the graphic novels that followed. I enjoyed all of it, and I enjoyed this book as well, but I agree with much of the criticism that it shouldn't be considered part of the series. It is hard to create suspense when I already know that the characters must survive since I've already read the following books. This entry in the series includes a brief look at Roland, Eddie, Jake, Susannah, and Oy as they travel along the path of the beam, but then shifts to a story of young Roland on a mission to find a skin-man. This story then leads to young Roland telling a boy a fairy tale that his mother had told him. In the end, we get a bit more detail on Roland's character, but overall it does not add to the DT story arc. Many have commented that this would have been better suited as part of a Tales of the Beam collection of stories detailing other characters in the Dark Tower universe without being considered part of the Dark Tower series itself. I did enjoy this read, and I would recommend it to other DT fans, but with the warning that you won't be filling in any gaps.

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The Wasteland that is the Modern Arcade

What has happened to the arcade?  I love games.  I love board games, video games, card games...pretty much any kind of game.  When I was young I would look forward to trips to the mall so I could head to the arcade with my friends and playing Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and more!  We would spend hours feeding quarters (actual quarters!) into these machines and having a great time.  A birthday party at Showbiz Pizza meant playing skeeball, basketball, pac-man, and enjoying the animatronic show.

While much is the same, much has changed.  I have children of my own now, and they also want to go to the arcade and have pizza birthday parties.  My children are getting a much different experience, however.  A walk into a modern arcade will confront you with bank upon bank of skill crane and chance games intended to eat tokens for the scant chance of a payout in tickets.  There may be two skeeball machines tucked in a corner, but chances are good they are down for maintenance.  Worse, my kids (and their friends) aren't even interested in the rare game we might find.  Instead they simply look for who can turn their tokens into the most tickets the most quickly.  I haven't even walked away from feeding my $20 into the token machine when the first child is back with an empty token cup and a small handful of tickets.  In no time we've run through $60 and the kids are anxiously caching out for stickers, plastic rings, and cheap candy that will probably get lost in the seat cushions on the ride home.

Unfortunately, the only thing that has remained constant about my arcade experience is the quality of the food, which has been consistently and universally bad.  We do have a Dave & Busters nearby, and on the one occasion when I took my oldest son we did have a good time challenging each other to top scores in Galaga, Ms. Pac-Man, and Centipede.  This was all on a small, multi-game unit tucked away in a corner.  Walking around there were plenty of flashing lights and cool graphics on display, but the machines could hardly be considered games.  There was a Star Wars AT-AT simulator (cool, but it was more of an experience than a game).  There was an immersive 'ride' that had fans and hydraulics to augment the image on the screen.  There were dance pads, guitars, and lots and lots of guns in various shapes, sizes and colors. Joysticks, on the other hand, were in short supply.  The days of button mashing appear to be behind us.

Of course, I do realize that there are a number of factors that have lead to the sad state of today's arcade.  The home gaming console really hurt the small arcade in the mall or the unit at the local pizza shop.  Why make the effort to get to an arcade and pump quarters into a machine when you can have the same experience in the comfort of your home?  With fewer people coming through the doors arcades had to either close their doors or find an alternative to survive.  Enter the skill crane.  Cheap to maintain and impossible for a child to avoid.  So when a game unit needs repair, just replace it with the crane.  Too many cranes?  Install some ticket vendors and a small booth full of cheap tchotchkes to help parents turn those $20s into ten cent toys.  Some, like Dave & Busters, have made an effort to install modern games, but they feel compelled to offer something you can't get at home.  Either a simulator or giant apparatus that you couldn't have at home on your console.

The arcade could be so much more. Sure, I could have my friends over to play games on my home console with graphics that rival anything you might find in the arcade.  I could play online with millions of strangers.  The arcade is the perfect environment to meet new people face to face.  To see the look in their eye as you pummel them, or to stand at the side and learn from a master.  It doesn't matter if I could play the same game at home, it is the social element that really makes the arcade appealing.  Surprisingly, it is the friendly local game store that has taken over this opportunity from the arcade.  My local shop has a weekly game night where the public is invited in to try the latest in table top games and meet other people who enjoy gaming.  It is a blast!  I look forward to these nights each week.  I'm sad that arcades have become the wasteland that they are today, but I'm glad to have an oasis in my local game store.

Review: Shadow and Claw

Shadow and Claw
Shadow and Claw by Gene Wolfe

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

What. a. slog. I was turned on to this book by The Sword and Laser podcast. The description of a dying earth that contains the remnants of technology that people have largely forgotten or spurned really interested me. What I found in the first two volumes of this series was a pretty aimless fantasy tale. I think it was a good move to merge both of these volumes into a single paperback as I would not have been interested enough after The Shadow of the Torturer to pickup The Claw of the Conciliator.

It is not that the book is written poorly. In fact, the imagery is very good. I'm just not interested in Severian and his adventures. He is a wholly unlikable main character. There is very little plot to speak of. Instead, it feels like a quilted patchwork of scenes with no common design. One of Severian's traveling mates even goes so far as to wonder at what his goal is when he has so many goals at once, yet appears to be chasing none of them.

I don't think I'm going to pickup the next two books in the series. I fear that there is some twist in volume three that will change my opinion (this series has a tremendous amount of praise) but I'm just not willing to spend any more time on it.

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Review: Pump Six and Other Stories

Pump Six and Other Stories
Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow, these are some dark stories. As far as my reading goes, Bacigalupi is unique in that he paints his dystopias not as places where we kill ourselves with guns and missiles but instead with what we eat. I really enjoyed The Windup Girl which is what prompted me to pick up this book, and I wasn't disappointed. Fair warning however: these are dark stories without much hint of hope.

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Jade Mason