Book Reviews

Gun, with Occasional Music
by Jonathan Lethem
The quote after the dedication of this book sums it up quite nicely:
"There was nothing to it. The Super Chief was on time, as it almost always is, and the subject was as easy to spot as a kangaroo in a dinner jacket."
-- Raymond Chandler.
This science fiction novel is a hard-boiled detective novel in the style of Raymond Chandler set in a future from Philip K. Dick: drugs, talking animals, and inquisitors who keep track of people's Karma Points (when you hit zero karma, you're probably headed for the cryo-freeze jail next time you slip up). Conrad Metcalf is a private inquisitor who recently had been shadowing a doctor's wife. A week or two after quitting the case, his employer turns up murdered. Metcalf decides to find out what happened, even though he has no client. By the way, he does run into a kangaroo in a suit. Recommended.
The Difference Engine
by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
I read this while on vacation in San Francisco. Charles Babbage was a British mathematician and inventor in the 19th Century. He designed and built a mechanical calculating device called the Difference Engine. He also designed, but never built, a more complex device he called the Analytic Engine. This alternate earth novel proposes that Charles Babbage was able to build his Analytic Engine, ushering in the computer age one hundred years earlier than in our timeline. This is the prototypical SteamPunk book. Large, steam-powered mechanical computers drive Britain's bureaucracy, factories and economy. The scientists and inventors are the society's power elite, gaining seats in the House of Lords by merit, rather than family position. Lady Ada Byron is the Queen of the Engines, the most revered of engine programmers. This is a world rife with intrigue and adventure. The story follows three people whose lives become entwined in the plots of the day: Sybil Gerard, an evening tart who is embroiled with Sam Houston and his attempt to reclaim the throne of Texas; Edward "Leviathan" Mallory, an archaeologist whose discovery of Brontosaurus fossils in the wilds of American Indian territory brings him in conflict with fellow scientists of the Royal Society; and Laurence Oliphant, a shadowy figure who seems to pull strings from off-stage. This is a grand book. Highly Recommended.
by Brian Jacques
This medieval tale of adventure has a nice twist. The characters are animals ala Watership Down. The events take place in the forested area surrounding Redwall Abbey, so named because of its red sandstone fortified wall. The brothers of the abbey are all mice, and other forest creatures are the flock. The antagonists are an army of rats, ferrets, weasels and stouts led by Cluny the Scourge, the meanest, toughest ship rat in the country. This is the first of a series intended for juveniles or young adults, but it has plenty to keep the interest of anyone. Recommended.
Rogue Warrior
by Richard Marcinko
This is the autobiography of the Navy SEAL who formed SEAL Team Six in the early eighties. It tells of his start in the Underwater Demolition Teams (Frogmen) and subsequent transfer to the SEALs when they formed in the sixties. He tells of his missions in Vietnam and his later mission of forming the best counter-terrorism unit in the world (or at least so he says). The book is exciting and provides a fascinating look at the art of the unconventional warrior. Warning: do not read this if rough language and violence easily offend you. This book and his novels provide critical information to anyone running a Special Ops game for any time period, because he illuminates some of the history and principles of unconventional warfare starting with Roger's Rangers, formed during the French and Indian Wars. Recommended.

The Runelords

by David Farland

(Also Known As The Sum of All Men, since The Runelords is really the name of the series, not the novel.) Mr. Farland has taken a concept (that of a person permanently giving their physical and mental attributes to another)  and thoroughly thought out all the ramifications and possibilities. Then he created a captivating fantasy world with interesting characters to tell a story. I also like the elemental magic system he's created, where mages must specialize in Earth, Air, Fire or Water magic. I really want to know how the protagonists are going to defeat a man who can walk up to a castle wall during a siege and ask the defenders to throw down their weapons and they instantly comply. This book combines good plot, characters, setting and well-thought out ideas into a very satisfying whole. Highly Recommended.