Thursday, April 19, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Into The Fire (Vatta's Peace, #2) by Elizabeth Moon

Into The Fire is the second book in the series called “Vatta’s Peace” by Elizabeth Moon.

Moon is known for her military sci-fi and space opera series called Vatta’s War. I had assumed this new series would be in a similar vein but the space opera components appear to be increasingly minimal as the series proceeds. I have not read the previous series, just the new one.

In the first book, Cold Welcome, Kylara Vatta (Ky to her friends) returns to her home planet of Slotter Key after acquitting herself admirably in various military operations in space. However her space shuttle is sabotaged and she manages to survive a crash landing in the sea and make it to a wintry, barren continent with a couple dozen troops. That book was centered around Ky’s fight for survival for herself and the troops she commands. I thought the setting was odd for a military sci-fi space opera but the suspense of will-they it won’t they survive was compelling. And before they leave the remote continent Ky and company discover an abandoned secret military base which holds important secrets (alien artifacts).

In Into The Fire, Ky has returned to her family (her cousin Stella Vatta is the CEO of the huge Vatta corporation which focuses on planetary and interplanetary shipping of goods and services and her aunt Grace is the Rector, basically the equivalent of planetary Secretary of Defense) to discover that there’s a vast conspiracy formed to do the Vattas (and her specifically) extreme harm. So she’s “home” (well really it’s Stella’s home) but she is definitely not safe and sound.

Ky has to deal with some bizarre fallout fir being missing for more than half a year due to the events in the first book. She was presumed dead and the Commandant of the Military Academy was killed (murdered) in the original crash. But what is Ky’s biggest problem? IMMIGRATION! Because she had been returning to Slotter Key after more than a decade away (as something of a military hero) she was unaware citizenship laws had changed and the administration considers her an illegal undocumented immigrant warranting arrest and confinement. This provides a deep insight into the administrative fussiness of Slotter Key society.

Another one of the cultural norms of the world Moon is building in the Vatta books is that assassination and violent death are considered common place (among wealthy families like the Vatta’s). Ky (and Stella and Grace) are subject to attacks of various kinds multiple times (poison attack, home invasion, direct military assault and mercenary double agents). This element of the book does add some suspense even though it’s really hard to believe any of the main characters will come to substantive harm (even though we do know that another assassination attempt successfully killed Ky’s parents and other members of her family in events that happened before this series began). Moon is at her best when she is describing the action scenes involved in these attacks and other military episodes. She also provides some intrigue by depicting the complicated nature of the relationship between Ky and Stella, who could be described as “frenemies.” This dynamic is interesting but it’s not entirely motivated in the text.

One of the key weaknesses in the book, IMHO, is Moon’s curious penchant for including the most mundane details of her character’s lives and activities. There are LOTs of examples of information being provided of things I don’t believe the reader needs to know (like the fact Ky eats ham sandwiches when she needed a quick snack after working too hard or the specifics of how meals are going to be prepared at Stella’s house when Ky and her fiancé Rafe are staying there). Maybe this is intended to communicate verisimilitude but I found it mostly tedious and distracting.

Overall, I am still interested in Ky’s character and I want to see what happens to her in the future so I will continue to read the Vatta’s Peace series but Into The Fire convinced me I don’t need to seek out Moon’s other books I presume they will suffer from this and other flaws in the writing. That’s probably too bad because I suspect that having read the multiple books in the Vatta’s War series that preceded this one would provide more context of the reasons for why another prominent Slotter Key family is going through such machinations to exterminate the Vattas.

As I reflect on my reactions to the book another flaw in Moon’s writing which I didn’t think consciously about as I read the book but becomes more evident as I prepare and write this review is that Moon doesn’t spend much time on depicting or discussing the diversity in her world-building, so my assumption is that most people are alike. She does mention a few times that Ky’s skin is light-brown in color but I don’t have a good sense of what Stella looks like (although her beauty and poise are remarked on several times). Ky’s boyfriend Rafe is described as “a shortish man, black haired, dark-eyed, well-dressed.” What image is that supposed to provide the reader of his “race” or “ethnicity”? I suppose that’s fine in a typical fiction book but there are a lot more SFF writers these days who are trying to be more explicit and direct in addressing issues of representation but Moon doesn’t appear to be one of them.

Title: Into The Fire.
Elizabeth Moon.
Paperback: 416 pages.
 Del Rey.
Date Published: February 6, 2018.
Date Read: April 6, 2018.

★★½☆  (3.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Alabama Wants To Amend State Constitution To Allow Ten Commandments On Public Land

LOL here we go again! Today's Godless Wednesday is about a red state again trying to force religious views on everyone else. The Alabama legislature is considering a state constitutional amendment which would allow the erection (sic) of religious displays on government-owned property in the guise of religious freedom.

Here is the text of the language Alabama voters will see:
Every person shall be at liberty to worship God according to the dictates of his or her own conscience. No person shall be compelled to attend, or, against his or her consent, to contribute to the erection or support of any place of religious worship, or to pay tithes, taxes, or other rates for the support of any minister of the gospel. Property belonging to the state may be used to display the Ten Commandments, and the right of a public school and public body to display the Ten Commandments on property owned or administrated by a public school or public body in this state is not restrained or abridged  [emphasis added]. The civil and political rights, privileges, and capacities of no person shall be diminished or enlarged on account of his or her religious belief. No public funds may be expended in defense of the constitutionality of this amendment. 
The Ten Commandments shall be displayed in a manner that complies with constitutional requirements, including, but not limited to, being intermingled with historical or educational items, or both, in a larger display within or on property owned or administrated by a public school or public body.
The bill (SB 181) passed the state house 66-19 and the state senate (22-3). The amendment has now become an issue in the Alabama gubernatorial race with candidates trying to position themselves as the most in support of enhancing the place of religion in the public square.

It looks to me as if it is masquerading as a religious freedom amendment since it is odd that the phrase "The Ten Commandments" would need to appear three times in an actual religious freedom amendment. What do you think?

Hat/tip to Friendly Atheist.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Friday, April 13, 2018

UPDATE: Michael Johnson a.k.a. "Tiger Mandingo" Has Jail Time Reduced From 30 Year to 6 (Plus Parole)

This blog post provides an update in the ongoing saga of how a 23-year-old Black gay man who was sentenced to 30-years for consensual sex with other men in Missouri because he is HIV-positive and did not inform his partners of that fact. The man is named Michael Johnson (although he described himself online as "Tiger Mandingo") and he became a poster child for the excesses of HIV criminalization. His trial was marred by blatant homophobia, prurient descriptions of Black male sexuality and blunt race-baiting by the prosecution. The good news is that eventually his original draconian 30-year sentence was overturned and last year he agreed to a 10-year sentence instead.

The latest update on the Johnson case is there is news that parole has been granted but that it is going to be delayed for 18 months, so in effect he will end up serving 6 years of his 10 year term since he has been in prison since 2013 and he would be released in 2019.

Steven Thrasher at Buzzfeed reports:
Last month, Johnson appeared before the Missouri Board of Probation and Parole, where his friend, Meredith Rowan, attended as his delegate in the hearing. The board did not immediately respond to an email or phone call for comment, but Rowan said Johnson called her from prison today to tell her that his parole had been granted — with a delay. 
“Michael was excited that it got approved,” Rowan told BuzzFeed News. “I have to look at it that I have a date, and it’s only 18 months away, and it’s still a lot sooner than a 30-year sentence,” Rowan said Johnson told her. If released as planned, Johnson will have served 60% of his 10-year sentence. The date is contingent upon Johnson not accruing any violations.
Johnson’s lawyers, Eric Selig and Jessica Hathaway, confirmed the terms of Johnson’s parole. ”We had some hopes, because of all the support Michael had received and a couple of other factors, that he would get out at an earlier date,” Selig said. 
Johnson will live with Rowan and her family in Indiana when he is released, Rowan said. He will be supervised by parole officers for the duration of his 10-year sentence, until 2023. 
Laws that single out HIV are widespread in the US. At least “67 laws explicitly focused on persons living with HIV had been enacted in 33 states” by 2011, according to an analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and researchers from the US Department of Justice. In Missouri, where Johnson was convicted, people living with HIV can face life in prison for exposing others to HIV if they have sex without first disclosing that they have the virus.
We at this blog have been following this case from the beginning because it seemed like such an egregious example of abuse in the criminal justice system intersecting with homophobia, race and HIV stigma.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Girl in the Ice (Detective Erika Foster, #1) by Robert Bryndza

The Girl in the Ice is the first book I have read by Robert Bryndza. It is quite a good police procedural murder mystery with an interesting but flawed main character, DCI Erika Foster.

I am looking forward to reading more mysteries featuring DCI Foster. I’m sorta surprised that the author has made his main character have such a traumatic backstory (her policeman husband was shot and killed on a drugs raid that she was the commanding officer for). I presume this is the explanation for why Detective Foster  acts so inappropriately during the course of the investigation of the murder of the slutty daughter of a rich, politically connected businessman.

One key feature of the book which guarantees that I will read the next entries in the DCI Foster series is the diversity of the supporting characters: a lesbian DI, a handsome Black male DI and an openly gay pathologist. A relatively strong feature of the book is the level of suspense that is maintained throughout the book.  All of these supporting characters have interesting sub-plots in the book which greatly enhanced the book in my opinion.

However I did feel like a significant weakness of the book was the somewhat simplistic nature of the writing. One can't say that The Girl in the Ice is a complicated or thought-provoking read but then again very few murder-mysteries are. This is a notable exception to the complicated writing in Mark Billingham's Sleepyhead

That being said, since this is just the first book in the Detective Erika Foster series I expect the later entries will get better so I’m willing to give Bryndza an opportunity to improve, which I think he will.

RATING: 3.5 stars.

Title: The Girl in the Ice.
Robert Bryndza.
Paperback: 396 pages.
Date Published: February 12, 2016.
Date Read: March 6, 2018.

★★½☆  (3.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: B+/A- (3.5/4.0).


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

THE EXPANSE: Season 3 Debuts Today on SyFy!

The third season of The Expanse begins airing on SyFy today at 10pm EDT. This season should cover the events in the second and third books in The Expanse series written by James S.A Corey: Caliban's War and Abaddon's Gate. These are some of my favorite books of all time. The 8th book in the 9-book series is called Tiamat's Wrath and should be published in December 2018.

Until then, enjoy The Expanse!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

TENNIS TUESDAY: France-Spain, USA-Croatia Davis Cup semis; Djokovic Drops Radek; Dellacqua Retires

The quarterfinals of the Davis Cup were played this weekend and the results were: Spain (featuring the return of Rafael Nadal) defeated Germany 3-2 with David Ferrer outlasting Philipp Kohlschreiber in a 5-hour marathon match. United Staes blitzed Belgium (with ) 4-0, France beat Italy 3-1 and Croatia beat Kazakhstan 3-1. This set up a blockbuster semifinal between France and Spain in September and an intriguing tie between Craotia and the United States.

After announcing a split with Andre Agassi, Novak Djokovic also ended his coaching relationship with Radek Stepanek last week.

Garbine Muguruza won a clay title in Monterrey while Kiki Bertens won the Charleston tournament after having to play her semifinal (a tough 3-set win against Madison Keys) and final (a quick win against Julia Goerges) on Sunday.

The rankings are mostly frozen with most players taking a break as the surface change goes into effect and the clay season begins. Simona Halep has nopw spent 22 weeks at #1, more than Viktoria Azarenka or Maria Sharapova. On the men's side, Rafael Nadal stays in the #1 spot.


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