My Review of Butterfly Stomp

Butterfly Stomp by Michael Warren Lucas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is a short novella that is essentially the beginning chapters of the novel Butterfly Stomp Waltz, but it is a complete story so you shouldn’t be put off by that. It is an introduction to a series that Lucas has written involving a heroine who is like Mission: Impossible. The action ramps up from the beginning and never stops. Since this is available for free as an e-book from the usual places (I got it from Amazon), it is painless way to try out a new series. I’d say you should give it a try, you just might like it. I certainly didn’t put it down once I started.



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My Review of A History of Webcomics

A History of Web Comics, V 1.0: The Golden Age: 1993-2005 by T. Campbell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This does exactly what the title says it does: it covers the history of Webcomics from 1993-2005. Now, that is a pretty specialized topic, I will grant, but as it happens I like Webcomics and have a group of them I read every day, and I was interested in exploring this history in more detail, and maybe even picking up a few leads on ones I might want to add to my daily reading. Sadly, that didn’t work out because all of the ones that piqued my interest had either stopped producing or were already in my list. Ones that have stopped include, for instance, the wonderful User Friendly, which I miss, and Realm of Atland. Some of the ones covered, like Penny Arcade, I tried and decided were not to my interest. But the book still was enjoyable. I would say this is not a compulsive page turner, but a book to read a little from time to time as the mood takes you.



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My Review of Treacherous Moon

Treacherous Moon by Stephen Goldin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


This is the second book in the series, and once again it pretty closely follows the original from the previous Family D’Alembert series (see my review of Tsar Wars for the details on that). Suffice it to say, this is a pleasant enough romp, but I didn’t see any substantial changes over the original. I don’t mind that exactly, but it gave me no reason for a higher rating. The first book managed to improve on the original in some respects, whereas this one simply filed off the serial numbers and changed the names. I read it on a plane and it was a perfectly good way to kill time, but not a lot of meat on these bones.



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My Review of Tsar Wars

Tsar Wars by Stephen Goldin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


So, once upon a time E.E. “Doc” Smith had an idea for a series involving the Family D’Alembert and their service to an interstellar empire headed by a Tsarist government of Russian origin. But Smith didn’t do much more than write an initial novella, and then it was turned over to Stephen Goldin, who turned the novella into a novel and then wrote 9 more novels to finish out the series. Dune it ain’t, but I enjoyed the series, and I generally enjoy Goldin’s writing. Well. that series had Smith’s name all over it, and Goldin was barely acknowledged even though he wrote almost all of it. And that might be why he decided to redo it as his own series, so he “wrote” another ten novels exactly redoing the original ten, just changing the names and a few minor plot points. Instead of a French circus family, it is now a Jewish Vaudeville family. The two lead characters are not acrobats, but dancers. In some ways, I am finding this new version a bit more interesting. The whole subplot about getting the Tsaritsa back to Earth alive was refreshing. Generally, I would call this a pleasant diversion. I read it while on an airplane, but it could be a beach read just as easily.



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My Review of Louis XIV: A Royal Life

Louis XIV: A Royal Life by Olivier Bernier

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is a good book about a remarkable man. So while it is in some respects a hagiography, there is at least some justification for that. This covers the life and times of The Sun King from birth to death, and he did live a long and eventful life. The way he tamed the French nobility was masterful, and he did have a good grasp of international politics. But I think that he did best when he had advisors he listened to, such as Colbert. It looks like by the end he started believing his own press and was convinced he knew better than everyone else, and that is not always the case. Was the War of Spanish Succession really a net positive for France? I think you can make the argument that it was not, and it is an example of where Bernier argues a bit too hard that Louis made the right call. And from an historical point of view, this regime is the great example of absolutist monarchy, and while it was successful at the time, it helps set the stage for the Revolution against his descendant Louis XVI.



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My Review of Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year

Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year by Steve Turner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


If you are a Beatles fan, this is a fun read. 1966 was the year they did their final tour before retreating to the studio. And it was the year they recorded Revolver,l which is in the running as their finest album. And of course by the end of the year they are starting on what is conventionally regarded as their masterpiece, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I think these days most people don’t understand just how much was packed into a year for this band. They would record and release two albums a year! Today, a band might take two years to record an album, and release one every 2-3 years. So a lot happened in 1966.
If you are a casual fan of The Beatles you might not get that much out of this, but for the serious fan I think this is a good read, and can help tide us over until Mark Lewissohn finishes Volume 2 of his obsessively detailed history.



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My review of The Verge: Reformation, Renaissance, and Forty Years that Shook the World

The Verge: Reformation, Renaissance, and Forty Years that Shook the World by Patrick Wyman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I first encountered Patrick Wyman from his podcast The Fall of Rome, which I highly recommend. History is a funny thing, there are so many ways to approach a topic. Wyman’s take in this podcast was to look at the lives of some ordinary people during the period when the Western Roman Empire was falling. For example, one episode looked at the life a Romanized Goth who was a soldier in the legions, and what life was like for him and his family. When that was completed, he started a new podcast called Tides of History, which I subscribe to. So when he published this book, I wanted to get it, and I am glad I did. This book looks at a 40 year period in European history, 1490-1530, and again he looks at key developments through the lives of individuals, but in this case not anonymous average people but instead the major players, people like Christopher Columbus, Jakob Fugger, and Martin Luther. And this period was when Europe made the changes that took it from a minor backwater on the world stage to a the dominant culture in the space of a few centuries. I loved the book, and recommend it to anyone interested in history.



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My review of Stop the Presses!

Stop the Presses! by Robert Goldsborough

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The Goldsborough Nero Wolfe books are a little controversial among serious Wolfe fans. I would never claim that they match up to Stout’s work, but I have derived sufficient pleasure from them to keep reading them. After all, it is the only way to get new Wolfe stories, and I am a big Wolfe fan. This book is a case of Lon Cohen asking a favor of Wolfe, and as Wolfe has asked many favors of Lon in the past he feels bound to help out if he can. The Gazette has an acid-tongued gossip columinst who has made a lot of enemies. But 5 in particular have made threats that are deemed serious. Lon would like Wolfe to look into it, and maybe help to protect the columnist. And when said columnist turns up dead from a gunshot wound, suspicions abound. Yet the police insist that it was a suicide. But the managemnt of The Gazette hires Wolfe to uncover the killer. There is a neat twist at the end which I won’t give away. This is not a classic, but it is good enough to while away a few hours if you enjoy Nero Wolfe.



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My review of Living With Moore’s Law

Living With Moore’s Law: Past, Present and Future by Dana Blankenhorn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This was a fascinating book. I first started following Blankenhorn when he was a reporter covering technology, particularly Linux and Open Source software. Then I added his blog to my feed reader, and it remains there to this day. Moore’s Law is named for Gordon Moore of Intel, who once forecast that the number of transistors on a silicon chip would roughly double every two years, which is of course an exponential growth curve, and if you know anything about mathematics you know that exponential growth curves get insanely steep insanely quickly. In the real world, of course, that cannot persist. Some factor will step in to stop the exponential growth. But Blankenhorn expands on the notion and explores how something very much like Moore’s Law happens in other areas. And the implications are important. For example, with the role that computers play in our economy, this implies a deflationary bias to the economy, which very few people are even thinking about. (Most people are worried about inflation, which concerns me not the least.) But then look at biology. Our ability to sequence DNA and manipulate it meant that the first vaccines for Covid-19 started to appear in record time from when the virus was sequenced and described. The sequencing of the virus happened in record time, and then the vaccines came out in record time. And it is not a fluke or a one-time thing, advances build on what went before. So what this book does is explore how exponential growth in various ways will affect our future. As such, it is reminiscent of Ray Kurzweil’s work. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.



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My review of A Fire Upon the Deep

A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is a masterpiece of a book, deservedly considered a classic. It starts with a group of human scientists re-awakening an AI, but everything goes pear-shaped very quickly. From there two plot lines proceed in parallel, one concerning a family from the group that worked on the AI, the other concerning a group of mixed human and alien beings that are trying to deal with the menace unleashed on the galaxy by this AI. The greatest fascination of this novel is the alien races. They are very disctinctly different, but Vinge makes them believable at the same time. The plot line of the escaped family takes them to a world inhabited by beings with group consciousness. They are like small mammals, but an individual of this species is not even conscious or intelligent. It is only when they they join together in groups of 5-8 that they become intelligent entities. This is a very interesting idea, and Vinge develops it beautifully and in great detail. In the other plot line, one of the alien races is derived from aquatic plants/animals that get around on motorized carts, and might be the dominant race of the galaxy. Then there is the idea that in this universe the closer you get to the core of the galaxy the slower you travel, creating concentric zones where the speed possible varies.

What ties the two plot lines together is the possibility that the ship that took the family away may have the answer to defeating the rogue AI, so the ship with the mixed human/alien crew has to get there ahead of the AI. This novel has an impressive set of ideas that are fascinating. This is a book you have to read if you are a fan of science fiction.



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