My Review of “Uroboros Saga (Book 8)” by Arthur Walker

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Amazon link: Uroboros Saga (Book 8)
Author: Arthur Walker (@ArthurHWalker)
Series page on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06Y4BCLPH

Thumbnail sketch: Another outstanding entry in a really fascinating and engrossing futuristic sci-fi series. Starts out like an old-time Western, as a new sheriff — who is, by the way, a giant bear — takes up his post in a small and isolated town, but by the end there are plenty of new threads exposed in the global conspiracy at the heart of the series.
4 Stars

 

My Take On Uroboros Saga (Book 8)

After the big events taking place on Mars in Book 7 (see my review) and a slam-bang prologue, Uroboros Saga Book 8 begins to tell a decidedly more measured story. The arrival of Eamon, the giant metasapient bear police officer, to serve as the sheriff of the small, isolated Montana town plays out like an updated version of an old-time Western. Although the townsfolk are wary of ‘non-humans’ and a violent white supremacist and anti-metasapient militia group is operating in the area, the town is located at the foot of mountain housing an AI sentience core, a vital asset in the post-Shutdown world that was first featured in Uroboros Saga Book 4.

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My Review of “Dark Money” by Jane Mayer

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Amazon link: Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind The Rise of the Radical Right
Author: Jane Mayer (@JaneMayerNYer)
Website: New Yorker archive

Thumbnail sketch: A good start to understanding how the current American political landscape became the way it is. This book frequently angered me as renowned journalist Jane Mayer describes how a clique of the ultra-rich subverted our politics to selfishly serve their own interests. 4 Stars

 

My Take On Dark Money

If you’re wondering ‘how did we get here?’ about the American political scene in 2018, reading Dark Money is an excellent way to begin understanding just why things are, the way they are. Like so many other Americans, I never paid much attention to politics before the 2016 election. I considered myself an Independent, voting for candidates from both of the major political parties for local, state and national office. There were also times I didn’t vote in races after deciding I couldn’t support any of the candidates.

My views were shaped in some part by Watergate — as a kid, I watched the congressional hearings live on my living room TV — in that I felt a vague and persistent distrust of politicians, who all seemed to be morally flawed to some degree. This view was reinforced during my military service, where I served with and under people whose ambition and ability to ‘work the system’ allowed them to rise to positions of authority despite character issues.

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My Review of “Waterloo” by Bernard Cornwell

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Amazon link: Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles
Author: Bernard Cornwell (@BernardCornwell)
Website: http://www.bernardcornwell.net/

Thumbnail sketch: A concise, very readable overview of one of history’s most famous battles. A bit repetitive, but does a good job identifying main personalities, placing the campaign in context, and describing key events.
4 Stars

 

 

My Take On Waterloo

I love history, always have (I even won a medal in high school for it). Mostly, though, I’ve kept my view at the 10,000 foot level — studying the bigger picture in which events like individual battles are just a part. I know where Waterloo fit into the history of Europe, but not many of the battle’s details, so I decided to dig a bit deeper.

Waterloo by Bernard Cornwell hit the sweet spot for me: a very readable overview that covers the major players and events without getting bogged down in minutia. If you want a general understanding of the battle, this is a great option. If, after reading this you want to take a deeper dive, there are undoubtedly other books focusing on the uniforms, tactics, weapons, etc., of the era and this particular clash.

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My Review of “The Body Library” by Jeff Noon

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Amazon link: The Body Library
Author: Jeff Noon (@jeffnoon); Website

Thumbnail sketch: A unique and dream-like Urban Noir Fantasy tale that can be enjoyed as a simple page-turner or by searching for deeper themes. There’s murder, illicit drugs, and a weird and terrifying disease — all connected to the titular book.

4 Stars

 

 

My Take On The Body Library

Once again, Mr. Noon has created a story that can be simply read and enjoyed as a fast-paced and dream-like Urban Noir Fantasy, or it can be examined and pondered, searched for underlying themes. To be sure, I’m unaware of any meaning or purpose the author has intended with The Body Library; perhaps there is none beyond telling a unique and interesting tale. It also wouldn’t be the first time I’ve misinterpreted a writer’s prose, inventing themes or symbolism as a result of my own personal filters. I don’t see that as a negative, really, but part of what makes reading enjoyable (authors, however, may disagree).

Following the strange events of A Man of Shadows (my review), private investigator John Nyquist has relocated to the aptly-named city of Storyville. The creation and telling of stories, monitored by the city’s powerful Narrative Council, is the main occupation, and preoccupation, of Storyville:

Every road, lane, avenue and cul-de-sac was crowded with listeners and storytellers alike, with fables, with myths and legends, with murder mysteries and tales of horror both human and supernatural, with two-line parables and epic sagas which took a day or more to relate, with yarns and anecdotes and accounts of genuine true fictions, with lies galore, glorified. On corners, in kiosks, outside bars, in vast concert halls and tiny wooden sheds that held two people only, one teller, one listener: here the people shared their stories. Joy filled the streets. The stories merged and mingled where narrators vied for the same audience, events and characters migrating from one tale to another, as they often will.

— Noon, Jeff. The Body Library (Nyquist Mysteries) (Kindle Locations 62-67). Watkins Media. Kindle Edition.

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My Review of “Directorate S” by Steve Coll

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Amazon link: Directorate S: The CIA and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001-2016

Author: Steve Coll (@SteveCollNY)

Thumbnail sketch: Examination of the fraught alliance between the US and Pakistan to battle terrorism in Afghanistan after 9/11, a partnership in name only as each side pursued frequently non-complimentary aims. Want to have an idea about why there is no end in sight for America’s longest war? Read this.

4 Stars

 

My Take On Directorate S

I’m not a fan of “American Exceptionalism” — the belief that the U.S. is unique among nations with respect to its ideas of democracy and personal freedom — because too many politicians have decided this uniqueness ALSO means we are superior and have the mission of transforming the world in our image. This isn’t to say I don’t approve of, or love my country; just that I don’t approve of imposing our values, systems or standards on any other nation. That’s arrogance, plain and simple.

Sadly, arrogance is frequently on display in American foreign policy. What other label applies when the U.S. ignores the goals, wants and/or needs of other nations, expecting them to do our bidding? That, for me, is much of the story told in Directorate S. Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders see India as their most serious threat, and especially desire control of all of the disputed Kashmir region, which has been the site of three wars between the two nations since 1947.

After 9/11, President Bush made his (in)famous statement that the nations of the world were either “…with us or you are with the terrorists.” Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency had for years supported radical groups including the Taliban in next-door Afghanistan. Keeping Afghanistan relatively weak and dependent served Pakistan’s interests in several ways, including providing training areas for insurgent groups active in Kashmir. But, with the Taliban providing sanctuary to Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, Pakistani and American interests were in conflict.

With the US as it’s primary source of military equipment, Pakistan chose the course of appearing to fall into line with America (and thus being rewarded with billions to support their efforts against terrorism) while secretly continuing to support radical groups. This was somewhat of an open secret to regional experts in both the Bush and Obama administrations, but the quick and relatively easy overthrow of the Taliban and then the invasion of Iraq kept Washington from addressing the situation. Time passed, Iraq waxed and waned, Afghanistan languished, and the “we know you know that we know” dance between America and Pakistan continued.

Eventually Pakistan’s support for radical groups while maintaining an outward appearance of aiding America backfired, leading to terrorist attacks against the state including suicide bombings. The Pakistani military fared poorly in it’s attempt to assert control in the semi-autonomous Tribal Areas that sheltered many radical groups including the remnants of the Afghan Taliban and were therefore the scene of many US drone strikes — a particular irritant to those opposing the government’s support of America. Perhaps it was the discovery that Bin Laden was living a stone’s throw from the Pakistani version of West Point, but American funding steadily decreased and Pakistan has turned to China for military aid.

And there is no end in sight for the American war in Afghanistan, the longest war in U.S. history.

This book continues the narrative from the author’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. I have not read the earlier book, yet. I plan to at some point, but reading it is not a prerequisite to understanding and learning from Directorate S.

My Review of “Hue 1968” by Mark Bowden

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Amazon link: Hue 1968: A Turning Point of The American War in Vietnam
Author: Mark Bowden (@markbowdenwrite)
Goodreads Author Page

Thumbnail sketch: An illuminating and highly readable overview of one of the key events of the Vietnam War, with insights and recollections from both sides.

5 Stars

 

 

My Take On Hue 1968: A Turning Point of The American War in Vietnam

Mark Bowden has been one of my favorite authors since reading Black Hawk Down. I’ve also enjoyed his work on a variety of subjects in my favorite news magazine, The Atlantic. His prose is clear, concise and highly readable — perhaps thanks to many years working as a reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer.

As the subtitle of this book suggests, the Battle of Hue during the 1968 Tet Offensive was one of  the key moments during America’s war in Vietnam. The offensive itself — widely seen as a tactical victory for the Americans and their South Vietnamese clients — was arguably the critical turning point in the conflict. Although the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Viet Cong (VC) suffered serious losses of experienced personnel during Tet, their bold and coordinated attacks against population centers throughout South Vietnam put the lie to upbeat assessments from American military leaders that victory was within sight (“light at the end of the tunnel”) and US public opinion across the political spectrum turned against the war. Continue reading

My Review of “The Last Good Man” by Linda Nagata

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Amazon link: The Last Good Man
Author: Linda Nagata (@LindaNagata)
Author’s Website: mythicisland.com

Thumbnail sketch: Fast-paced yet layered military sci-fi set in a near-future where humans are on the cusp of losing their place on the battlefield. There are nuanced characters doing believable (and at times frustrating) things and thrilling action scenes in equal measure.

4 Stars

 

My Take On the last good man

Thanks to author Linda Nagata, I’ve now read two excellent military sci-fi thrillers — The Last Good Man and The Red: First Light (my review) — set in highly plausible near-futures where technology has fundamentally changed the role of humans on the world’s battlefields. Both books can be enjoyed simply as the exciting and fast-paced thrillers they certainly are, or readers with a more thoughtful bent will ruminate on the impact these changes will have on conflict and warfare.

In a way, The Last Good Man is really two stories. The first quarter of the book sets the scene, introduces the characters and hardware, including robotic drone swarms, and includes a thrilling hostage-rescue raid. The balance of the story deals with the fallout from that raid as protagonist True Brighton seeks the truth about the death of her son, a special forces soldier killed during a failed mission eight years previous. Continue reading