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The Glass Hotel

The Glass HotelThe Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I became aware of Emily St. John Mandel via her previous novel, the science fiction book "Station Eleven." I loved that book and when I heard she had a new one out I had to try it. I'm glad I did.

The author grew up on a small island just offshore of Vancouver Island, Canada. This novel opens in a hotel set in rural Vancouver Island with somebody writing "Why don't you swallow broken glass" on a window with acid. This seemingly random act of petty vandalism ties the entire book together. And the book is pretty epic, allowing us to follow five characters over several decades and much of the world.

Like her previous work, Station Eleven, this novel jumps around in time and place. Unlike that work, it's not science fiction, instead based on the real-life Ponzi scheme ran by Bernie Madoff. It features both the architect of the scheme, Jonathan Alkaitis, his victims and a female bartender named Vincent. (She's local to the hotel). Mandel jumps around, but ties all these people and the window incident together in an interesting and compelling manner. I highly recommend it.



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What The WInd Brings

What the Wind BringsWhat the Wind Brings by Matthew Hughes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I've read several books by Matthew Hughes, all of which are science fiction. This book is most definitely not SF, rather historical fiction with some minor fantasy elements. It's based on an incident that happened in the mid-1500s, the beginning of the Spanish conquest of Ecuador. A group of African slaves were shipwrecked on the Ecuadorian coast and, in a reversal of the usual turn of events, create an independent state.

The story itself focuses on three people - Alonso, a "free" African, a local shaman and a Spanish monk who was descended from Spanish Jews. Hughes invented an interesting back story for all three characters, although all named characters are real. I found it a fascinating look at an obscure part of history.



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Beef Burgundy

I am working from home and am reasonably productive. However, since I am cooking more meals at home than I usually do, I decided to eat up some food items that have been cluttering up my cabinets. The first item on that list was a bag of egg noodles. for which I decided to make Beef Burgundy. THIS MAKES A LOT - 4 really hearty servings or 6 if you've got smaller appetites. I froze half of this batch.

Herewith is my recipe:

1.5 lb stew beef
1 small onion or 1/2 a large onion, diced
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 packet dried french onion soup
1 cup red wine (not cooking wine - drinking wine but 2 Buck Chuck works great here.)
1 soup can of water
1 small can diced mushrooms (optional)
4 servings noodles or rice

Brown meat and onion in a skillet. (When I did this, about halfway into the process I realized that the electric skillet my Mom sent me home with would have been perfect for the job.) Once the meat is browned and the onions cooked, drain off the grease then add everything except the noodles / rice. Simmer on medium heat for an hour, stirring occasionally.

About 45 minutes into the simmering, make your noodles or rice as per the package directions. When they are done, combine and eat.

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Sixteenth Watch

Sixteenth WatchSixteenth Watch by Myke Cole

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is the second novel in a month which featured a Coast Guard in Space. There's one amazing similarity and a huge number of differences which proved the writing adage that ideas are easy but plots are hard.

Myke Cole is a veteran of the modern-day US Coast Guard, and his novel Sixteenth Watch literally puts the US Coast Guard into space, in the person of Captain Jane Oliver. The book is set in a relatively near future, one in which China and the US are competing for Lunar resources. There's also an unhealthy amount of inter-service rivalry and political intrigue going on.

Here's where the similarity between this book and A Pale Light in the Black, the other Coast Guard book, come into play. Both books have a reality-TV sport called "Boarding Games" in which military units compete in simulated boardings. Getting the USCG team ready is what sends Oliver to the Moon.

But the similarities end there. Myke's book, unusual for MilSF, is about trying to prevent a war. There's action aplenty, but it's in a different goal - keeping the peace. Myke's characters are also different - engaging and a lot of them have PTSD which they are dealing with as best as they can. Since several things in the book are not as they seem, it's hard for me to go into more detail, but I highly encourage you to check this book out as well.

Oh, one other thing. The term "Sixteenth Watch" which feels very realistic is something that Myke invented out of whole cloth. It was a nice touch.



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A Pale Light In the Black

A Pale Light in the Black (NeoG #1)A Pale Light in the Black by K.B. Wagers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I read and enjoyed all 5 books so far in K. B. Wager's Indranan War series, so while I was waiting for her to finish Book 6 I decided to buy this book, the first in the NeoG series. NeoG stands for Near-Earth Orbital Guard, which is the space equivalent of the modern US Coast Guard. "Near-Earth" is a bit of a misnomer as much of the action takes place out by Jupiter.

The book is set several hundred years in our future, after a mid-21st century event called "The Collapse." Earth is rebounding and unified, but many conflicts remain. LT Maxine ("Max") Carmichael, a member of a very famous and rich family, joins the NeoG instead of the (space) Navy. She's assigned to Zuma's Ghost, an interceptor with a tiny crew of a dozen or less. There she finds herself in intrigue while the crew prepares for the annual Boarding Games, a multi-service special forces competition.

What I really like about this book in particular and Wager's work in general is that we have very complex human beings as characters. They have friendships, loves, hates and everything in between. They also get hurt, make mistakes and generally are real people. While all of this is going on, there's a very gripping plot happening. It's all done quite entertainingly and seamlessly. I highly enjoyed this book and can't wait for the next.



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Sometimes it's obvious

I did not watch the President's speech last night. From my review of the news today, the actions announced were days late and dollars short. I find this unsurprising. As Anne Geyer said, if all you have is a wall, everything looks like an invasion.

In other news there's been some discussion as to why Biden beat Sanders in Michigan and why Sanders beat Clinton there in 2016. I really do think it's a simple answer. Fair or not, Clinton had high negatives with a lot of voters. There were a lot of "anybody but Clinton" votes in both the primaries and the general election.

Biden has some negatives (as do all politicians) but not nearly as high as Clinton. As a result, he did much better. Sometimes the simple and obvious answer is actually the right answer.

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History is the raw material of fiction

The Blood-Dimmed Tide (Fiction Without Frontiers Book 2)The Blood-Dimmed Tide by Michael R. Johnston

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


They say history is the raw material of fiction. This book is very much a case in point. It's book 2 in a series, and opens about a year after the events of the previous book. Tajen Hunt has led a group of humans in reclaiming an uninhabited Earth from the Zhen Empire. Said empire had claimed to "save" humanity from the wreck of a slower-than-light starship.

Here's where the history comes in. The template for the events of this book are based on the Irish war of independence which started with the Easter Uprising of 1916. Much like Ireland and England, humans and the Zhen have been living together for hundreds of years, which makes this war feel more like a civil war than the typical "D-Day in Spaaaccceee!" military SF. Now don't get me wrong - much stuff gets blown up real good, but there's a lot more than that going on.

Johnston's characters are very interesting. Tajen, our lead character, is gay and early in the book he marries his partner Liam. This, however, is not treated as unique nor is it a focal point of the story. It just is, and it's treated as such. The book is Book 2, so the ending is more of a "that's all for now" than an ending, but overall it's highly enjoyable.



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My Schedule for Capricon

Herewith please find my schedule for Capricon 40, to be held in lovely downtown Wheeling Ill from February 13th to 16th.

O Captain, My Captain Ravinia B Fan Interest Panel Thu 6:30 PM Duration: 01:30
Join us as we recognize women in roles of leadership in SF/F. Captain Janeway, Commander Ivanova (who is ALWAYS right), Captain Marvel, Admiral Honor Harrington, and Captain "Starbuck" Thrace demonstrate that it's not strictly a "boy's club" anymore. Who are your favorite women in leadership roles in SF/F? Your inspirations?

Indie Author Speed Dating River C Literature Participatory Event Fri 5:30 PM Duration: 01:30
In this session you'll have a chance to briefly meet and chat with a plethora of indie authors. Discover your next great read!

Reading: Donna Munro & Chris Gerrib River C Reading Reading Sat 10:45 AM Duration: 00:45
Description Donna Munro & Chris Gerrib read from their works. (Telecoil-enabled event)


Pirates are Not Just in the Caribbean Botanic A Theme Panel Sat 2:30 PM Duration: 01:30
Description Captain Dan Seavey stole lumber, alcohol and even whole ships right in Lake Michigan. Piracy was a global phenomenon that persists to this day. Our panelists discuss the past and future of global piracy. Why do we romanticize historical pirates, who were often really vicious bad guys? What does modern day piracy say about the socioeconomic impacts of the world we live in? Is climate change playing a role?

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