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John M. Ford "johnDC" (near DC, MD USA)

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A Flash of Inspiration: A Collection of Very Short Stories by Indie Authors
A Flash of Inspiration: A Collection of Very Short Stories by Indie Authors
Price: £2.18

3.0 out of 5 stars One Hundred Words, 21 Nov. 2013
This book contains flash fiction stories from twenty-one authors who know each other through the Book Junkies Facebook page. They have each contributed one or two or a few stories of no more than 100 words. Each story can be read quickly and some throw a punch that may get past your defenses.

A few words about the ones that captured my attention:

Annarita Guarnieri's "Sunset Love" takes place in a room that has no blinds.
Kristen James' "Missed Connections" finds a guy at the airport.
Mark Cantrell's "Final Draft" brings closure to a project.
Mark Cantrell's "Sod's Draw" ends another activity decisively.
M. Edward McNally's "Making an Exit" has the last word.
Stephen Hise's "The Best and Brightest" goes on location.
Susan Wells Bennett's "Revelation" is about family secrets.
Susan Wells Bennett's "Finality" rings in the end.
Vickie Johnstone's "Showtime" is quite a performance.

This is an interesting collection and worth a quick look if you are intrigued by the concept of flash fiction.

Starhawk: Academy - Book 7
Starhawk: Academy - Book 7
Price: £4.31

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hutch in Time (SPOILERS), 19 Nov. 2013
Jack McDevitt offers a prequel to his series of Priscilla "Hutch" Hutchins books. His purpose is similar to Tom Clancy's purpose in writing Without Remorse to explain the history and motivations of his John Clark character. In Starhawk Hutch fans learn about her qualifying flight as a spaceship pilot, her early involvement in the politics of space flight, and the relationships and formative experiences that move her toward becoming an Academy pilot. We even learn the origin of her nickname. There is sufficient narrative space between the end of this story and the beginning of the next published Hutch novel to allow for at least one immediate sequel to Starhawk. I hope there will be one.

As a Hutch fan, I would enjoy a sequel just to learn more about Hutch. But at least one sequel is needed to tie up the loose ends left at the end of Starhawk. Unresolved subplots include (SPOILERS): how much terraforming on a distant planet is destroying alien life forms, what happened to a new race of aliens somebody made contact with, what will happen with Hutch's "like interest," who or what force is present on the orphaned planet, and how will Hutch finally become a full time Academy pilot. One or two of these might have been more than a subplot in Starhawk, but if so, really should have had more closure.

I enjoyed reading Starhawk, but not quite as much as I expected to. I will definitely read a sequel, so McDevitt passes the primary test of a fiction author: "Leav'em wanting more." I will reserve final judgment until I get to read more. But for now, I recommend this book to fans of Hutch and of this author in general. If you haven't read Jack McDevitt before, I recommend beginning elsewhere, such as with his collection, Cryptic: The Best Short Fiction of Jack McDevitt

Liar Liar: Short Stories from Members of the Liar's Club
Liar Liar: Short Stories from Members of the Liar's Club
by Liar's Club
Edition: Audio CD

3.0 out of 5 stars Clubbed, 12 Nov. 2013
These fifteen stories all deal with some kind of lie. Sometimes it is the central issue in the story. Sometimes it's just in there somewhere. The stories vary in genre and quality. I wasn't familiar with any of the authors, although it seems one or two are widely known.

A few stories stuck out:

The one with secret organizations, spy hunters, vampire hit men, hidden government agencies, and advanced biological weapons didn't have much going on. Oh, there seemed to be lots going on somewhere else. But not in the story. I did enjoy the fact that the evil vampire hit men were sexists. And everybody made a big deal about it.

The one with the whirlpool that transports people through time left me cold. It was hard to follow and didn't have a very satisfying conclusion. The characters went to the past; the story didn't go anywhere. Oh, and one of the bad guys in the past was a sexist. Everybody made a big deal about it.

The one with the guy who came up with an elaborate plan to kill his wife was pretty good. Now that I think of it, there were two of them like this. The plans were different, but the plots were basically the same. Both of the murderers seemed kind of sexist to me. But that might just be my imagination.

The one with the zombie-like subway commuters was intriguing. The author created a magical, behind-the scenes world with supernatural creatures and hard-working mortals keeping an eye on them. It felt like an episode of Grimm. There wasn't any overt sexism. Or if there was, it was overshadowed by the insensitive stereotypes the author used when describing the supernatural creatures.

I'm not sorry I listened to these stories. They filled my time commuting to and from the city. I read a lot of "best of the year" short story collections. This book gave me a renewed appreciation of the sifting and reviewing process that screens most of the "just okay" stories out of such collections. Most of these fifteen stories fit in that category. Just okay.

Your mileage may vary.

Satechi BT Wireless Bluetooth Portable Speaker System for iPhone / Android Smartphones / iPad / Tablets / Macbook / Notebooks
Satechi BT Wireless Bluetooth Portable Speaker System for iPhone / Android Smartphones / iPad / Tablets / Macbook / Notebooks
Offered by SATECHI
Price: £44.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Pleasant Sound When I'm Around, 12 Nov. 2013
This speaker delivers high volume, high quality sound just about anywhere. It's small enough to fit in my messenger bag--or in my jacket pocket, if it came to that. The battery holds about a three-hour charge, which can be replenished using either a wall plug or a USB connection.

The Bluetooth connection was easy to configure with both my iPhone and iPad. And I've configured two on my iPhone--one at home and one at the office. They both work without confusion. Not sure what would happen if they were in the same room.

The local nature of the Bluetooth connection creates a nice feature. When I leave my office--carrying my iPhone--the connection is broken and the song or audio book pauses. There is no need to spend time shutting it when I'm on the run. And, more importantly, there is no missed music or book chapter. Very nice.

I have two, but haven't tried to connect them. I'm guessing this works as advertised. I'm very happy with both of them. Much nicer than either of the wire-based speaker systems I've tried. I'd buy them again without hesitation.

Sense of Wonder: A Century of Science Fiction
Sense of Wonder: A Century of Science Fiction
Price: £10.18

5.0 out of 5 stars Where We've Been, 12 Nov. 2013
Leigh Ronald Grossman taught college-level science fiction courses for many years. He faced the recurring challenge of selecting fiction and nonfiction reading material each year. Grossman finally decided to assemble his own collection with stories and essays ordered to trace the historical development of the field. This book is the result: it is just under a thousand pages of excellent reading.

The book does not claim complete coverage, like that attempted by John Clute's The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Instead it samples, including stories representing different historical periods, important authors, and selected science fiction subgenres and related topics. The book is noteworthy for its treatment of early science fiction, including stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelly, Jules Verne, and others who wrote before the genre had a name. I read through 10% of the book before the stories began to look like my conception of science fiction. This historical perspective was enlightening.

The editor includes many classic stories. My favorites, with painfully brief descriptions, are:

--"Who Goes There?" by John Campbell is the original alien-goes-bump-in-the-night story.
--"Arena" by Fredric Brown pits a human against an alien in hand-to-tentacle combat.
--"Grotto of the Dancing Deer" by Clifford Simak introduces a very old man.
--"The Cold Equations" by Tom Godwin is a cautionary tale for stowaways.
--"The Little Black Bag" by C. M. Kornbluth traces a lost doctor bag from the future.
--"First Contact" by Murray Leinster faces the challenges of meeting friendly aliens.
--"Think Like a Dinosaur" by James Patrick Kelly proves we can think in new patterns.

Some stories show the range of emotions science fiction can evoke. They introduce readers to the different tones and textures of well-written science fiction. Five examples:

--"The Country of the Kind" by Damon Knight shows how hard it is for a sociopath to empathize.
--"Her Smoke Rose Up Forever" by James Tiptree, Jr. is about the immortality of pain.
--"Bicycle Repairman" by Bruce Sterling introduces the fast-paced complexity of cyberpunk.
--"A Letter From the Clearys" by Connie Willis draws forth a future nostalgia for things past.
--"Bears Discover Fire" by Terry Bisson takes a whimsical view of increasing intelligence.

Nonfiction articles and author profiles are placed at chronologically appropriate intervals among the stories. There is good coverage of many areas, including my favorites: Space opera, first contact, post-apocalyptic societies, and time travel. Articles about early science fiction editors Hugo Gernsback and John Campbell describe their relationships with their writers and the tremendous impact they had on the field's development. The authors' bios are well-written, including a sample of their short stories and longer works and occasional oddities from their personal lives. (Such as the author whose aunt was his mother's identical twin--and frequently masqueraded as his mother.) There is even some advice for would-be science fiction writers, such as Terry Bisson's "Sixty Rules for Short SF."

This is a great collection! Serious fans should read it thoroughly, taking time to track down the additional stories, novels and authors it recommends. Those not ready for such a commitment can place it on their shelves and read from it occasionally and selectively. Readers who enjoy nonfiction may want to pick up The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction or Science Fiction: A Very Short Introduction. They can continue tracking leading science fiction stories each year in Gardner Dozois's The Year's Best Science Fiction or David Hartwell's Year's Best SF annual collections.

Doctor Sleep: Shining Book 2 (The Shining)
Doctor Sleep: Shining Book 2 (The Shining)
Price: £3.66

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You Never Know Who, 4 Nov. 2013
Stephen King's constant readers remember Danny Torrance, a young boy using his "shining" talent to battle the evil forces in Colorado's Overlook Hotel. When the hotel burns to the ground, these evil forces are dispersed. But other evils remain in the world, both human and inhuman.

This book finds an adult Dan Torrance scraping bottom, drinking to dull his psychic senses and drifting from job to job, from town to town. Dan eventually gets off the bus in a small New England town where he finds a job, a room, and a few new friends. With the help of Alcoholics Anonymous, Dan builds a new life one day at a time. He finds work in the Helen Rivington House, a hospice where terminally ill patients spend their final weeks. Dan's abilities help him ease the final hours of their lives and their transitions to what comes next.

Abra, a young girl with strong shining ability reaches out to Dan and be begins to mentor her. They learn of The True Knot, a tribe of human-seeming creatures who feed on the shining ability of children. The children do not survive this process. The True detects Abra from afar and begins searching for her.

Stephen King tells a good story. He makes effective use of the real world, educating readers about alcoholism, terminal patients, and the hidden places of New England. He invents a new kind of evil, borrowing from legends of vampires, gypsies, and the "ghostie people" Dan Torrence has encountered before. These hungry creatures hide in plain sight among caravans of retired Americans crossing the country in their Winnebagos. Readers are given one more thing to fear, not only on King's pages, but on the lonely highways of real life. Nicely done, Mr. King.

Much as I enjoyed this book, some things troubled me. First, while members of The True Knot are cold and ruthless toward humans, they show genuine affection for each other. This is hard to reconcile with other, more traditionally evil aspects of their natures. The second issue involves a spoiler, but only in a general sense. Everything seems to turn out fine at the book's end. And it's not like The Shawshank Redemption where the good feeling is achieved by a long climb out of darkness. The book just builds to a medium level of suspense, then levels off and floats happily to the end. One wonders if Mr. King has mellowed a bit too much for a horror writer. A distressing possibility.

The book has many strengths, few weaknesses, and is written in the unmistakable voice of Stephen King. A proven storyteller, he is worth listening to.
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Woodbury (Images of America (Arcadia Publishing))
Woodbury (Images of America (Arcadia Publishing))
by Robert W., Jr. Sands
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars The Town Next Door, 3 Nov. 2013
I grew up in West Deptford, which borders Woodbury. I enjoyed West Deptford's Images of America so much that I picked up the corresponding book about Woodbury.

The book is full of pictures from the history of Woodbury, New Jersey. There are also names, dates, and other tidbits of history. The chapters are organized by theme, covering general topics such as businesses, schools, churches, and neighborhoods. The chapter on transportation is particularly interesting; I had not realized that early Woodbury was such a hub or water and then rail transportation. My favorite historical snippets describe the founding and history of the Bonsal Blues marching and dance band.

Authors Robert Sands and Barbara Turner have done a good job. This kind of book always leaves readers wanting to see more, but the coverage is impressive. Any reader who has lived in Woodbury will recognize many of the locations and enjoy the memories these pictures evoke.

Recommended to those who have lived in or near Woodbury.

West Deptford (Images of America (Arcadia Publishing))
West Deptford (Images of America (Arcadia Publishing))
by April Maska
Edition: Paperback
Price: £1.42

5.0 out of 5 stars Home Again, 3 Nov. 2013
I grew up in West Deptford during the 1960s and 1970s. When I learned about this book from a post to a West Deptford-oriented Facebook page, I knew I had to get a copy. I have not been disappointed.

The book is full of pictures from the history of West Deptford, New Jersey. There are also names, dates, and other tidbits of history. The chapters are organized by theme, covering general topics such as farms and businesses, people and families, sites and landmarks, and so on. There are special focus chapters on Eagle Point and Soupy Island, two interesting locations in West Deptford's history.

Authors April Maska and Noreen Mikulski have done a good job. This kind of book always leaves natives wanting to see more of their hometown, but the coverage is impressive. Any reader who has lived in West Deptford will recognize many of the locations. And will experience that subtle disorientation of seeing unfamiliar cars, fences, and trees along with recognizable buildings and landscape. Paging through the book is enjoyable.

Recommended to anyone who has lived in West Deptford.

No Title Available

4.0 out of 5 stars It's a Hat, 3 Nov. 2013
I don't like umbrellas. They are bulky, unwieldy, and are far more trouble to keep track of for the limited and occasional protection they provide. I don't mind my head getting wet once in a while, but sometimes the people in the meetings I attend do mind. For some reason.

So I got this hat. It's a good fit, when adjusted correctly, and keeps the rain off of my head. It doesn't have a professional look, but projects just the right amount of forethought and informality. Also dryness. The material is not waterproof, but the hat's firmness keeps the top off of my head when it is wet and the four ventilation holes keep me from sweating. So, a dry head.

The Outer Banks patch on the front reminds everyone that I, like any sane person, would rather be at the beach than attending whatever meeting I am on my way to. When I get there, or it stops raining, the hat folds up small enough to fit in my messenger bag or jacket pocket.

It's a good hat. I bought two, for when I lose one.

The Year's Best Science Fiction: Thirtieth Annual Collection
The Year's Best Science Fiction: Thirtieth Annual Collection
by Gardner Dozois
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars The Latest of the Best SF, 18 Oct. 2013
This collection contains twenty-nine science fiction stories published in 2012, selected as the best by experienced science fiction editor and writer Gardner Dozois. The book begins with a Summation of the significant events and influences of the year. As usually, this is an exhaustive review, covering trends across media types and SF subgenres. Dozois notes that e-books have neither faded away nor replaced printed books. People are reading more of both than in years past.

The majority of the book's 654 pages are devoted to the stories, which can be enjoyed without reference to the Summation. Here are my six favorites.

Pat Cadigan's "The Girl-Thing Who Went Out For Sushi" is entertaining SF at its traditional best--taking a new idea and exploring its implications as a story unfolds around a likeable character. An injured girl working in Jupiter orbit decides to transfer to the body of a genetically-enhanced octopoid. Just like her friends.

Richard Lovett and William Gleason's "Night on the Peak of Eternal Light" visits a sparsely-settled Moon that depends partially on the tourist trade from Earth. The permanent settlers see their world differently than their visitors. Each of them has a story and some of them have troubling secrets.

Brit Mandelo's "The Finite Canvas" is a well-executed story-within-a-story. An assassin visits a clinic with an unusual request. She wants a tattoo to commemorate her latest and last killing. As partial payment, she tells the doctor her story during the painful procedure.

Adam Roberts' "What Did Tessimond Tell You?" asks a question and then teases the reader about the answer until the story's end. Why would members of a Nobel Prize-winning research team suddenly lose all interest in their work and wander away, one by one?

Megan Lindholm's "Old Paint" is about a family's attachment to a robotic car. The car was programmed by their grandfather, who is no longer around to explain his work. Or figure out how it may have gone wrong.

Steven Popkes' "Sudden, Broken, and Unexpected" is about sex, hugs, and rock-n-roll. A once-famous studio musician works with a virtual pop star to script her next concert. His ex-girlfriend tries to reverse-engineer the virtual star's programming and reengineer a relationship with the musician.

And a notable mention for Robert Reed's "Eater-of-Bone." It was a good story, but not as good as it might have been, in my opinion. I like Reed's Great Ship stories and have enjoyed the accumulated wisdom of long-lived characters ever since encountering Lazarus Long in Robert Heinlein's Methuselah's Children. This story had both aspects but less of each than I expected. It wasn't bad, but it whetted more than it satisfied.

This is a solid SF collection, worth your time and money. Spend a little extra time with the story introductions, both before and after reading each story. You will walk away with good ideas about what SF you can read and enjoy next.

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