Impulse – David Bara

dave-bara-impulse

This is grand space opera that fails, miserably, to rise above the mediocre. So, not so grand then.

The story is as follows: the Lightship Impulse is attacked. (I’ll not spil the story by giving you the details.) Why? Who? Enter our hero, Lt. Peter Cochrane, who is sent to investigate. Peter is a novice on his first mission. He has all the required training, but it’s time to find out the gulf between theory and practice, and the cold, hard, uncompromising impact of the real world. Or worlds…

The plot is leaden and obvious. The dialogue is often clunky and wearisome. The science fiction aspects are OK, but very much harking back to classical SF content. That may be of interest if you are into nostalgia, but you would be better to focus on the classical writers. The characters are lacking in development, with even the hero failing to rise from the pages of the book. I could not give a damn what happened to him. A bad sign. And that’s despite the love interest.

In short, this ends my interest in the series for good.

[I read this at the back end of last year, but forgot about it. This is my attempt to faithfully record my fiction reading, even when it’s an almost painful experience.]

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The hateful value judgement of the BBC

We have known for a while, that in this politically correct world, the use of language has become as much a political as a linguistic exercise. While not quite as bad as Orwell’s 1984, there are certain aspects that come damn close, and often the attitude and intent are entirely in keeping with it. This post is about the words terror and terrorist.

Reading about much of the mad violence that has taken place, you may well hunt in vain – except in Israel’s own media coverage – for those words. People are decapitated, run down, blown up, tortured, butchered, and killed. But that is rarely described as terror, and the actors are not terrorists.

Occasionally, you might see these words encased in quotation marks. This stylistic exercise is carried out to convey a clear message: someone else said this, and we certainly don’t agree, because we would never use such a word.

The BBC are on the most influential media outlets on the planet, and (very regrettably) they seem to be leading the charge (to mix a metaphor or two) in sanitizing terror from their reports on such incidents.

However, over at the excellent BBC Watch, they have a post that highlights how the BBC does actually use these words, and their hypocrisy when it comes to using terror and terrorist.

That post explains the BBC’s public stance on the use of these words. In short, they claim they are unable to make a value judgement, and so avoid doing so. However, as BBC Watch points out:

In other words, when it comes to terrorism in Europe the BBC apparently has no problem with “value judgements”.

So, apparently the BBC can make a value judgement if it wants to.

After reading the BBC Watch post, you might not unreasonably form the conclusion that so far as the BBC is concerned,  terror is something that happens in Europe, but never in Israel, unless it comes to Jewish terror.. Strange that. On the other hand, after reading it, you might conclude that the BBC is a vengeful, hateful beast, ridden with antisemitism and a distaste for the Jewish State.

Read the post here. And see the BBC Watch post about the BBC’s use of Jewish terror here. Quite a contrast.

 

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The land of milk and honey. And traffic.

traffic

From Globes:

Israel has the greatest average traffic density per kilometer among OECD countries. This data is presented in a new OECD paper examining Israel’s green taxation.

That’s the bad news. In the good news section, there is this:

The paper commends the unique method of calculating the green tax Israel formulated in 2009, claiming that it is “innovative and creative in referring not only to CO2 but taking into account five different pollutants and using the vehicle purchase tax to differentiate car models according to their relative impact on the environment.”

Even more good news is this:

According to the paper, the effect of green taxation on the purchase of cleaner vehicles has been “tremendous” and by 2014 about 83% of the private cars sold in Israel were in the lowest pollution grades, compared with 19% in 2009.

Unfortunately, in keeping with the law of unintended consequences, there is also this bad news:

At the same time, OECD researchers claim that the green tax had the side effect of drastically reducing the real purchase tax for many cars, due to green tax benefits, and has therefore reduced family car prices and led to new car sales skyrocketing. The OECD claimed that this leap has facilitated a substantial increase in traffic congestion, resulting in a rise in pollutant emissions, despite decreasing emission per vehicle.

Oh, that’s not good. That’s really bad. They would have been better, it seems, doing nothing!

So, another challenge for the government. Will they rise to it? And how? Well, whatever they do, some of the battle lines are already drawn:

At the present, professional-level officials in the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Tax Authority support a congestion tax, which imposes a tax based on the driver’s actual contribution to congestion and air pollution, while the Ministry of Transportation resolutely opposes such a tax.

The environmental issues may be solved by a growth in electric vehicles, but the issue of congestion is likely to be ever present. We are just going to have to live with the jams.

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The winning margin

princes-of-florence

After an enforced break due to renovations, it was oh so good to get back to some gaming, especially as I had been locked out of my games while the works were ongoing. So, there was added joy in welcoming Azriel, Nechamiah, Peleg, and Roslynn.

The main game of the night was Princes of Florence, which only Peleg and I had played before. It is a classic game of resource management, with the players competing to build works of art to merit fame, fortune, and the all important victory points! The game has a neat combination of auctions, and actions. Auctions allow you a chance to buy what you need, but nothing is guaranteed. Actions allow you a lot of leeway, but if the auction has gone badly that may not matter.

Because we had played it before, Peleg and I had a fairly stead progression through the first two (out of seven) rounds. After that, Azriel, Roslynn, and Nechamiah started to become more assertive and things got a bit more competitive.

Going into the last round, Peleg was out in front, with me in second place, and the others close enough to be threatening. Peleg had a good last round, and must have been surprised to see Roslynn’s bonus scoring which was outstanding, and put her in the lead, just. Even more surprising was Azriel’s final scoring, which put him on the same score as Roslynn. Unfortunately, my last round fell short, and Nechamiah wasn’t able to muster a serious challenge.

Azriel then claimed the win on the tie break, having a measly 100 florins more than Roslynn. Well done Azriel, and commiserations to Roslynn.

For some light entertainment to finish off, I ran a quick game of Hey that’s my fish. Nechamiah proved the best penguin fish fetcher.

Thanks to all who came for getting the gaming back in the groove.

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Dark Winter – David Mark

dark-winter

This is the first in a now established crime series featuring Detective Sergeant Aector (Hector) McAvoy, the Scotsman doing his bit for law and order in Hull.

The book starts with the killing of an old sea dog, the only survivor of a shipping disaster from forty years ago. Then, the only survivor of a massacre in Africa is brutally murdered with a machete in broad daylight in a city church. McAvoy is on the edge of proceedings, having a somewhat difficult recent history with the local police, because he ended the career of a popular (but bad) detective. However, by one of those quirks of fate that drives so much of our lives, and even more of our fiction, McAvoy is drawn into the central investigation, and the hunt is on to find the killer.

Good stuff

McAvoy is an interesting, well drawn character, though at times his behavior stretches the suspension of disbelief too far. The Hull backdrop is also well done, and takes up just the right amount of space in the telling of the tale. The plot is delivered with surprising panache for a first novel, and the sense of danger, action, and excitement are all pretty damn good.

Not so good stuff

The plot itself is a stinker. The motivation and explanation for these crimes does not hang together, and doe snot convince. That may be because it is not well written, or it may be that it is simply unbelievable. Regardless, it stank.

Similarly, most readers are going to work out what is going on well ahead of McAvoy and his police colleagues. I often wonder why the characters cannot see the bleeding obvious.

The supporting characters are the proverbial cardboard city, apart perhaps from his superior, Trish Pharaoh. She is a strange one: trying too hard to make her way in a man’s world, her behavior swings from extreme to extreme. Sometimes dictatorial, sometimes sympathetic, sometimes flirty, sometimes caring, sometimes just offering up some bland dialogue. She did not convince me.

Overall

Books like this face a challenge in a crowded market. They have to stand out from similar fare. This one just about does it, but not without a struggle. I’m intrigued enough to want to read more, because the author may better develop his characters and his story telling. In short, not bad, with some potential.

Finally, check out the quote from Val McDermid on the book cover at the top of this post. It will have been worth a few bob to David Mark, but I have to vehemently disagree with her, and don’t understand on what basis she can have made it. I’ve made a note to ignore recommendations by Val McDermid.

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The Hunting Dogs – Jorn Lier Horst

This is a book in the series about policeman William Wisting, which starts in English with Dregs, and continues with Closed for Winter. So far, it’s my favorite.

Seventeen years ago, Wisting solved one of the country’s most famous crimes: the kidnap and murder of Cecilia Linde. Now released, the convicted killer claims he was framed, and starts a court action to put things right. From the claim, it appears that key evidence was fabricated, and Wisting is suspended pending an investigation. Meantime, in an apparently unrelated incident, a man out walking his dog is murdered, and when Wisting’s daugther turn’s up at the dead man’s house, chasing the story, she is assaulted by a masked man, presumed to be the killer. Then another young woman goes missing, and things are going from bad to worse.

Wisting, inevitably, decides to investigate the case of the fabricated evidence on his own, despite the suspension. His daughter – somewhat embarrassed because her newspaper heavily promoted the claim by the convicted killer, and suggested her dad was to blame – follows her own trail to see what she can find out about the dead dog walker. She has tenacity, and smarts, and focus, and her dad’s counsel, so it is no surprise that she makes some headway. And the police are somewhat focused on the missing girl.

I felt that the writing in this book had improved over the previous ones, though it may also be the case that I was so rushed along by the page turning plot I didn’t pay enough attention. Or, maybe it was because the three books about Wisting had built up a more comprehensive and interesting character than previously I had encountered. Whatever, I really quite enjoyed this one, and would recommend it. I don’t think there’s as much merit in reading the first two, so this would be a better place to start the series for most people in my view.

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The Three-Body Problem – Cixin Liu

three-body-problem
This highly lauded science fiction book starts with a horrific peak behind the curtain of the Cultural Revolution in China, with the public beating to death of Ye Wenjie’s father. As the blurb puts it, this “singular event will shape not only the rest of her life but also the future of mankind.” A fair summary.

What happens next, according to the flow of the book, is that four decades later, nanotech engineer Wang Miao becomes involved with a group of scientists (some of whom have committed suicide) and an online virtual game world that hints at some galactic happenings. That world is the location of the three body problem, a world constantly at risk from the chaotic and unpredictable behavior of its three suns.

The author ties these threads together, writing beautifully at times, with panache and vigor. The translator – Ken Liu – does a great job, supplementing the narrative with suitable explanations of some of the terms, historical references, and other matters alien to a western reader. The book is part of a trilogy, and the general perception is that this is the weakest of the three, but still a fine book. It’s got some interesting ideas, and thoughtful scenarios.

All of that having been said, for me it fell flat. I could not build up any sympathy for the characters, and cared not for their fate. The story unfolded too slowly for me, and was often boring. The scientific narratives were OK, and often turned out to be more enthralling than the plot. The writing may be of the highest quality, but at times it did not go anywhere – at least for me. It was a real struggle to finish.

In short, not my cup of tea, and not one I could recommend.

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Veiled Empire – Nathan Garrison

veiled empire

This may be the shortest book review I have ever done: don’t bother.

Here’s the expanded version:

I found this book to be uninspiring, dull, and boring, populated by characters lacking in depth, and spiced up – and not in a good way – by comic book action sequences. Instead of sword and sorcery, for me it was slash and snooze. Awful.

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The Various Haunts of Men – Susan Hill

various-haunts
Sleepy little Lafferton is rudely awoken when it’s discovered that too many people are disappearing. First, a woman vanishes in the fog up on the Hill, then a young girl, an old man, and a dog, all in the same place. Former Londoner, policewoman Freya Graffham, is the one who spots the trend. She eventually persuades Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler that the disappearances are not the usual bill of fare, and throws herself into the investigation. Meantime, there’s lots of other stuff going on in Lafferton. There’s an active community of New Age healers and spirit worshipers nearby, and the novel takes time out to describe some of the encounters Lafferton folk have there.

This was a strange book. My overall impression was that it was bloated with unnecessary stuff, and should have been sharply edited down. Also, although billed as the first of the Simon Serrailler series, he is very much overshadowed by Freya Graffham. Indeed, we probably get more sight of his sister, a local, hard working, and conscientious GP. Given Freya’s attraction to Simon, the focus seems somewhat off to me. Further, this P. D. James or Ruth Rendell type story comes across as being very dated, describing a very white environment; I did not spot a single ethnic based character.

One explanation for the approach the author takes, is that the intent was to write about the place, and not the the crime. If that were the case, I would not have expected to see so much of the killer’s perspective; for example, there are several short chapters of the killer’s rants.

It may be a question of style, but I did not find the book, enjoyable. It was OK, but could have been much better had it had a sharper focus. I would have gladly done without some of the wasted narrative.  I cannot resist pointing out that for me, this was not only the first of the Simon Serrailler series, but also likely to be the last!

Avoid, unless you have a great desire to read about Lafferton.

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