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Archive for January, 2022

Fiction Review – Termination Shock

Friday, January 21st, 2022

Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)

In the near future, a billionaire decides that doing something about climate change is better than doing nothing. He has a big idea, he’s got the money, and the technology exists.  But he also needs a little buy-in, and he’s not going to get that from governments, so he invites a number of potentially influential people to his ranch in Texas close to the Mexican border.

In this future, you can’t just walk around the ranch during the day unprotected. Earthsuits, with refrigeration units to keep you cool, are required.  The characters dash from air-conditioned limosines into air-conditioned buildings, and every place they might stop has a canopy over it to keep out the sun. Their phones have apps that tell the virus exposure risk of everyone around them. Drones are ubiquitous. There’s a lot of technology out there trying to cool down individuals but still only lip-service is being given to solutions. Everything proposed has some objection to it and so nothing happens.

The first part of the novel starts off with a plane crash, but the action then ramps down into a long section of introducing most of the major characters in the book. Queen Frederika of the Netherlands, aka Saskia, her entourage, and Rufus, a guy they pick up along the way. They’re going to travel across quite a bit of Texas to get to the ranch so be ready to settle in to a lot of scenery and discussion of sea levels.

Interspersed with that story is Laks, a young Sikh man in British Columbia who doesn’t quite know what to do with his life. I was intensely curious how his story would intersect with the rest, but it takes a while to get there. Along the way I learned about some interesting martial arts and the Line of Actual Control, which I’d only vaguely heard of before. In passing we’re also going to meet elites from Venice, London, New Guinea, and China. Notably absent is anyone else from the United States, which one Chinese guy says is now a laughingstock in the rest of the world.

It’s definitely a leisurely novel, with moments of astonishment during an awful lot of geography, political intrigue, near-future tech, and family histories. Then we get some real action, with the last 100 pages or so heart-poundingly tense. The main characters are pretty well fleshed out, and there are plenty of smaller parts with very intriguing people.

What I didn’t get a good sense of is the actual state of the climate in this book. Stephenson talks about the heat and has some technology for combating it, but no one we meet seems really affected by it. And maybe that’s part of the point: when you have money, a lot of issues are transparent to you.  What’s happening to agriculture, to cities, who’s benefiting and who’s losing, we’re not given much info. I also wasn’t entirely sure what China expected to get out of their meddling – was it a supposed to be a push towards what they wanted?

What I really liked is that this is not a dystopian novel. It offers up some hope. Things can and will get worse, but we do have options, if only we can abandon the idea of a perfect solution and just do something. It will be messy, but it will be a start.


Mystery Monday Review – Bachelors Get Lonely

Monday, January 10th, 2022

Bachelors Get Lonely by A. A. Fair (aka Erle Stanley Gardner)

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This 1961 outing is an enjoyable Bertha Cool / Donald Lam mystery.

Bertha, the owner-operator of a PI agency is elated that the firm is attracting clients. She’s a comic miser in the mold of Uncle Scrooge and Mr. Crab so she takes on jobs that stretch the resources of her partner Donald. In this one, in his efforts to do right by damsels in distress, Donald finds himself almost out of his depth with the cops and their annoying wish to charge him with murder.

As in the other novels in the 30-book series, every babe that crosses Donald’s path falls for him (including a stripper named Daffodil) but he’s a gentleman all the way, except when he’s ignoring his secretary Elsie Brand’s “come-hither” ways and calling her “Sister.”

Also as usual, the cops are contemptuous of constitutional rights. This gives Gardner a chance to pass along advice on how to deal (to whit: “I refuse to talk to you, I will remain silent, until I consult with an attorney”) if life plays a dirty trick on you.

The plot and wrap-up are not quite as outlandish as a Perry Mason story. The dialog is snappy with plenty of antique turns of phrase and only rarely does a character use a big word.





Mystery Monday Review – The Smiler with the Knife

Monday, January 3rd, 2022


The Smiler with the Knife by Nicholas Blake

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

In this 1939 spy thriller, the series hero Nigel Strangeways stays in the background while his wife, Georgia Cavendish, takes on a dangerous assignment from Nigel’s Scotland Yard Uncle John. A renowned traveler, Georgia is eminently qualified to be an adventure heroine. She’s brave and resourceful. She’s quick-thinking enough to be able to draw mental maps of the lay of the land and to make snap judgements of whether people are trustworthy.

Uncle John Strangeways is head of domestic counter-intelligence for Scotland Yard. He has grave concerns that a secret group called English Banner has plans to foment economic and civil unrest, undermine the confidence of the people in democracy and install a strongman.

Uncle recruits Georgia to infiltrate the group. “It’s somewhere among the rich families that we’ve got to look for the centre of the movement,” Sir John says. “You’re a legend yourself: this movement would be glad to make use of you.” Though she hates pretending to break up with her husband, she loves her country and so agrees to infiltrate the dangerous fascist group.

Georgia is a great character, fully realized in her ability to keep cool even while tired and hard-pressed. The other finely drawn character is the leader of the fascist group. His egoism doesn’t stop him being cunning and charismatic. Other vivid characters are a reporter and a cricket star who help Georgia fight the enemy.

Taking a cue from writers of adventure tales like Rider Haggard and John Buchan, Blake effectively propels the story, moving deftly between scenes of action. The fascists have an uncanny ability to track Georgia as they pursue her across Northern England. The chase scenes really are a cut above most mystery thrillers and Blake’s own fiction.

I highly recommend this WWII-era thriller. It a satisfying blend of characterization, plotting and exciting incident.