All credit to @mklueg.
by Toby Ball
I have been a fan of Toby Ball’s City since I picked up the first novel The Vaults on a whim at the library just because I liked the look of the cover. I followed The City to the second novel Scorch City where again the cover served as the inspiration for the review. Now we have the third book of the trilogy, Invisible Streets, and it is easily my favorite of the three.
In the thirty years that have passed over the course of the trilogy The City, the real main character of the series, has gone through many changes. In this novel the changes are more visible than ever as The City is in the process of remaking itself. Whole neighborhoods, the patchwork of cultures and flavors that make the city such a compelling quilt of a landscape, are being literally plowed under to make room for expressways and the behemoth of a building they all will lead to, a monolith at the center of The City that is on one hand the keystone of Progress that The City has always embodied, and on the other hand the Tombstone for what in a way makes The City unique. But this is, of course, The City and in The City there is no getting away from the corruption, the dark undercurrents, the power plays, and the complicated, paranoid, devious, intelligent, and interesting characters that inhabit it. The plot of Invisible Streets is a slow, slow burn. It doesn’t hurry, nor does it lag, it smolders. Furthermore, even at that measured pace the reader doesn’t have the sense of being ahead of the characters even with the advantage of seeing the story unfolding from multiple viewpoints. The characters, still the noir archetypes of the reporter, the detective, the fixer, the politician, are vibrant and well written. The reader is made to feel their confusion, their resolve, and at times their desperation and hope. The story itself comes to a conclusion that in itself is satisfying and makes sense when looking back over the course of the novel, and yet it doesn’t really end because The City keeps on going, different but still The City.
Thank you for The City Mr. Ball.
Time for another Ingress post, maybe a book post later too.
This post is on the topic of portal defense / portal control in Ingress. I am talking specifically about purely tactical, within action range, portal defense / control. I happen to work right next door to a portal (OK, considering how much time I spend at work I practically live within range of the thing), and since I’ve been playing it has more or less been mine. This is not to say that the silly Frogs haven’t tried to take it away from me on occasion and that is what this post is about. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at tactical portal defense / control.
Caveat #1: I am perfectly aware that portal defense / control of this kind, however it is done, is in the end something of a waste of resources, but because of my dedication to the logistics of the game I am well prepared to expend the resources in order to achieve the psychological advantage of this sort of confrontation. If you aren’t loaded to the inventory cap with a full range of resonators, portal shields, power cubes and high level XMP bursters, this is not for you.
Ok, a little background on the situation. I live in a medium sized city and while there are active Ingress players there aren’t enough of us, green or blue, to trip over each other (the iPhone release of Ingress may change that, too early to tell). We, more or less, know who each other are and the areas we tend to play in. I specifically have two greens whose preferred play area overlaps with mine at my work portal. We are all at this point Level 8, though they started about a month after I did so until recently I was a level ahead of them and had a very slight power advantage. Their advantage is that they always play together (though their speed is pretty lacking in my opinion). My city is also situated so that out-of-town players come here to power level so I’ll get the occasional green dropping by to knock on my proverbial door. My work portal makes an inviting target for them as it is usually an anchor for multiple links and fields. Until I fight back, that is.
Tactical portal defense / control ultimately depends upon how fast you get the notification that your portal is under attack and how fast you can pull up your scanner. You first need to assess the situation. If you still have resonators on the portal you are in luck. Your first job is to make sure your portal is fully resonated with the highest level resonators you can place. Don’t start throwing low level resonators on the portal (more on that later). Once that is done turn your attention to the portal mods. Shields are the key. They are expensive in logistical terms but even a common shield will keep your resonator placements coming faster than your opponent can kill them, just make sure you keep at least one shield on at all times. Considering the cost, common shields are your best bet and two is better than one thanks to Ultra Strikes. A common shield and a force amp or turret is nice, but if you lose the shield you will lose resonators faster than you can replace them. With the shield, even in a 2 on 1 engagement (which I’ve had more than a couple of times) you can keep ahead.
At this point you have an XM advantage. Attacks from your portal are affecting your attacker and sucking away their XM. You only have this advantage because, you will notice, you haven’t tried to recharge a resonator, merely replaced them. I think recharging is a mistake for two reasons. First, it sucks away your XM. Second, your opponent is probably going to be able to reduce your resonators faster than you can charge them and speed is key in defense / control. It costs far less to place a new resonator, in XM terms, than to charge one, especially a high level resonator. If you can determine where your opponent is attacking from you should, of course, place your highest level resonators at the farthest point from them. More on physical position later.
Caveat #2: Whatever the level of your portal when you start out at the end of the contest, should you prevail, your portal will likely be reduced to the highest level portal you can field by yourself. Your fields will probably be gone. Your links will probably drop. Any that you manage to keep are bonuses in your favor, but assume they are gone, don’t chase keeping them. That is why this is portal defense / control.
So what happens if you get the notification and your portal is already gone. Hopefully it hasn’t yet been fully resonated because you need to stop it before it does. Why? Because you need to be killing resonators before your opponent deploys a shield. You have lost the defense fight already, but you may still control the portal. You are essentially now playing the other side of the previous engagement but you have the advantage of surprise and preparation. To put things in Boydian terms, you have an OODA advantage.
Caveat #3: There is a delay in your scanner between what your opponent does and what you are doing. If you are on the resonator placement side of the engagement your resonators will dissappear suddenly when, to your scanner, they look to be at full power. You have to keep in mind how many of what level resonators are deployed and switch very quickly between them. Again speed is key. On the attacking side your scanner may show few to no enemy resonators. They are probably there, you just can’t see them yet. You can recon by fire, do it, assume there are resonators and act accordingly.
So the idea on the attacking side of portal defense / control is to, obviously knock down the resonators to keep the portal from being fully resonated. Note that it isn’t as to kill resonators as fast as they appear. It is a delicate tightrope to walk, but even with logistical superiority you need to be hitting more than one resonator with each XMP. I would recommend using Level 7 bursters if 8s are harder to come by in your area, but if you have a pocket full of 8s go right ahead and use them. Usually in my battles so far the resonator destroyed notifications come in groups of 2-4 and that’s about right I think. It is tempting to try and jump back to the resonator placement side of the battle, but be careful. Because of the delay in your scanner you may waste valuable, irreplaceable, time trying to slip a resonator on the portal while your opponent (who is already placing resonators) blocks you with their own and potentially fully resonates and shields while you are poking at your phone trying to get back into attack mode. My thinking is that once they give up and go away you can resonate all you want. Keep up the pressure. In a 2 on 1 engagement, if your opponents aren’t communicating (and I don’t think mine do very well) they may be trying to place resonators over top of each other, all to your advantage.
Note: A common mistake that many players will make is that they start using lower level resonators because they feel like they are wasting their higher level gear. They are probably logistically insecure, and it is also easier to just keep throwing out Level 1 and 2 resonators than switching back and forth and keeping track of how many higher level resonators they are using. It just means they are easier to kill, so keep at them. You might be able to downgrade to Level 6 bursters though and still keep up the same pressure. It depends on how fast they are.
Position: Because of where I usually am in relation to the portal and where my opponents have typically positioned themselves (Usually in the parking lot of the building next door, sometimes positioned almost on the portal in order to use their Ultra Strikes) I have had the outer position. With Level 7+ XMP bursters and the ability to deploy resonators at greatest distance from the portal itself. The further they are from the portal, the more likely you are to need higher level bursters on the attack side of the engagement. I also have the possible advantage of playing from wi-fi though I think it is pretty negligible. Many times if you take a physical position where you can wave politely at them and give them a big shit-eating grin they will give up and go away. It also keeps them from thinking you are a spoofer which is good. I don’t do it unless I don’t know the attacker.
So that is my take on tactical portal defense / control. The goal is to keep the portal tuned to your faction, and more importantly hand your opponent a psychological (strategic) defeat. They might decide to leave you alone, or they might decide to come back when they know you aren’t there and take your portal anyway (Big deal, you still beat them, they know it, and you can take your portal back at your leisure. No portal is safe in this game and you get game points for taking it back). The point is to not make it easy for them and to make them expend resources they can’t afford to waste. Good luck and happy Ingressing.
Those who know me, who have played games with me anyway, can tell you I don’t like to be restricted by a small board. For example, I dislike chess because I find the board too small and crowded. I think I may have found the game that really suits my personality, Ingress.
Ingress is an augmented reality game (really an overlay of Google maps created by Google’s Niantic Labs) that uses the real world as it’s game board and an Android smart phone as it’s interface. Nominally the point of the game is to link portals that appear at notable locations to create fields that either control (for the Enlightened/Green/ Frogs team) or protect (for the Resistance/Blue/Smurfs team) the population using/from the influence of XM, or exotic matter. Control of territory by way of insurgent warfare sounds very strategic, and it is, but the true heart of the game is logistic. To me this is the future of gaming.
Maybe I’ll find time to post about some of my Ingress adventures, if I stop playing long enough.
Daniel Suarez is one of those authors that in a few more years (or after one of his novels reaches the big screen) is going to be talked about as one of the top authors of contemporary science fiction. His latest book, Influx, while I wouldn’t say is his best novel (that honor in my mind goes to Daemon) it is probably his most cinematic.
The plot is based around a “what if” scenario. What if humanity was in reality far more technologically advanced than we thought we were? What if we had already perfected fusion power, created true nano tech, found the cure for cancer, created Artificial Intelligence, vastly expanded human longevity and physical and mental limitations, and made huge advances in materials science? What if the human race had all these things but they had all been hidden from us by an organization that hides them from us for our own good because the consequences of their discovery would do more harm than good?
When you put it like that it sounds noble. However, as the main character of the novel, Jon Grady, finds out it is far from anything of the sort. Jon is a thinker with a unique mind and discovers a technology that could represent one of the greatest technological shifts in human history; the Gravity Mirror, a device that can harness the most powerful force in the universe. That’s when the BTC, the Bureau of Technology Control, arrives and destroys his lab before any news of his accomplishment can spread.
You see, while the BTC may be protecting us from rampant change it has also been taking all of this revolutionary technology and hoarding it for itself, abducting those who created it and attempting to turn them to its own research agenda. Those scientists who decline their offer are imprisoned and tortured. Jon is one of these Resistors.
Influx is a roller coaster read with a wide-ranging scope and well thought out premise. A summer blockbuster waiting to happen. I think I killed the book in about two days because it is one of those page turners that you don’t want to put down. I only have a few quibbles. 1) While most of the book has dead-on pacing the finale seemed a little rushed, but that may only mean it will translate even better to the big screen (including the epilogue that I think could have tied up some loose ends with just a few more words . 2) One of the characters is improbably able to acquire and adapt the BTC’s advanced technology and provide it at the most opportune moment. 3) One simple answer invalidates every single disaster model the BTC produces: Space Colonization. The last scene is good and I like the feeling behind it, but all I need is an orbital elevator or space launch to make me feel better.
I haven’t, lately, been much into writing but since I have a few minutes I thought I would ramble a bit about some reading I’ve been doing lately. On a whim I picked up a paperback that has been on my bookshelf a while (an old friend already well read) and since have read through most of its series brethren. This book was Bolos Bk 1: Honor of the Regiment, a collection of short stories set in a universe created by Keith Laumer that features huge self-aware tanks known as Bolos.
It may be kind of a small thing but the very first time that I read these books the aspect that probably hooked me was the name for a Bolo’s main offensive weapon, a kind of plasma cannon that in the books measures its destructive output in megatons-per-second; the Hellbore. The picture above, a Mk XX Bolo (the first marks that were considered to be fully self-aware), features two Hellbore cannons as well as a suite of point defense and anti-personnel turrets (known as Infinite Repeaters), a bank of mortars, and magazine fed VLS missile cells behind an armored hull strong enough to resist the fire of virtually anything except for another Bolo’s Hellbore. Furthermore, this arsenal is powered by a pair of fusion reactors, and rolling on multiple, independent, track systems capable of cruising at 55mph and spiriting at 75 mph. It is a fourteen thousand ton juggernaut and later marks just get bigger, smarter, and more powerful.
Now, there is something to be said for the utility of tanks this size, especially in the current era of warfare where the tank seems to be falling by the wayside (the earliest Mk. I Bolo was essentially a late-model variant of the Abrams tank) but I always saw it in the context of where the Bolos fought, which is mostly not on Earth. No, Bolos are the human’s sword and shield on battlefields among the stars, against aliens who see us as prey, wish to take our resources, or stand in our way.
After all is said and done the very coolest thing about the Bolo universe is that most of the books are collections of short stories written by a whole host of sci-fi authors. While this does lead to a bit of confusion at times as the different authors sometimes are inconsistent in the capabilities of the Bolos themselves, it leads to many voices exploring different aspects of the universe and as a reader I love that.
I was watching the first episode of the new season of The Killing on AMC. We meet Detective Holder’s girlfriend played by Jewel Staite (who played Kaylee on Firefly) who reveals Holder’s “Serenity” tattoo.
I had to pause my DVR. That’s just about as funny as Richard Castle (played by Nathan Fillion) dressing up as Mal for Halloween.
By the way, though the first two seasons of The Killing seemed to drag on interminably, the third season starts a whole new case and it is looking incredibly interesting based off just the first two episodes.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Jericho Award, that honor is bestowed, by me, upon the best new show of the season (starting in the summer and ending with the close of the spring finales) that was cancelled. Granted, it is kind of an ignominious award to win but, it is also intended to point out injustices and frustrations with “The Powers That Be” who decided what shows live and die even apart from their respective, and sometimes rabid if small, fan bases.
This year I even kept track of all of the new shows I started watching to make my selection process even easier! In no particular order:
Defiance on Syfy
I don’t play the game so I’m not exactly sure how it ties in but the show has… potential. I kind of like it because everything isn’t explained right away, avoiding hours of exposition for the sake of explanation. I also dislike it because we, the audience, need some exposition from time to time to figure things out. A note to the writers: a lot can be learned just by showing the audience a map, no dialog needed.
The Following on FOX
The only problem I have with this show is suspension of disbelief, otherwise it had some pretty good entertainment value. If think were it lost me most was watching Kevin Bacon personally end a cult member or two in virtually every single episode. Actually I think he did shoot somebody in every single episode.
Ripper Street on BBC America
Why did I start watching this one? I have no idea except to explain it as the curse of the DVR. So many shows, so much memory. I actually kinda liked it. I’m pretty sure it is a cleaned-up depiction of Whitechapel in that era, but the acting is good and the writing doesn’t assume the audience is stupid. Check it out on DVD if you run across it.
Revolution on NBC
You know what? I don’t like this show and yet I continue to watch it out of sheer stubborness. I haven’t even watched all the episodes and I’m pretty sure I know how the season will end (the last episode is either on my DVR or will be soon). I so wish it had hewn closer to S. M. Stiriling’s “Dies the Fire” type of world, but it didn’t, it has guns. I’ve got news, guns pretty much killed any reason to carry a sword that you actually fight with. Aside from that, the plot is so convoluted and contrived in order to put a dozen people at the heart of every single major event before and after the power went out it blows my mind. Seriously, aside from these dozen people nothing else has or will happen in this world. Everybody is just waiting for them to get near so they can actually do something.
Elementary on CBS
Far and away my favorite new show of the season. I wasn’t sold on Watson being a woman at first but I really like the juxtaposition. The writing is smart. The acting is great. Above all Holmes isn’t single-handedly solving every crime for the NYPD. My only complaint is that Moriarty was introduced way too early in the series. I could happily have watched whole seasons without bringing in the arch-nemesis. Make him go away for a few years then bring him back when you know you only have a few seasons left.
Copper on BBC America
A gritty and brutal period show. The crimes and mysteries and situation seem believable and the acting and writing is very well done. Another show to watch on DVD.
Arrow on CW
Another show I liked quite a bit. Granted, it is on the CW so there is a fair amount of “pretty people doing pretty things” but the action is good and you need a little bit of brain-candy every now and again. It also did a really good job of working in the back-story all through the season instead of dumping it in all at the beginning. Some of the acting is good, some is pretty rotten but hey, how many other live-action super hero shows have made it on TV without being really weak in writing and acting or just too campy. I think Arrow will avoid both of those things.
Continuum on SyFy
I started out not liking this show, probably because the main character relied very heavily on her future tech at the beginning. As episodes went on it gradually was whittled away from her and the show got better. You get to see her actually being a policewoman and a detective. Great job writers! (Everybody else take notes, Bond has toys because he is Bond and he is awesome. Your characters need to be characters first and use gadgets second). I like where this show is going. Lots of potential.
Perception on TNT
Sherlock Holmes meets A Beautiful Mind. Yeah, I can watch that. The imaginary people seen by the main character are more interesting than most of the other characters on the show but I’ll take what I can get.
Longmire on A&E
My second favorite show of the season. The acting is super. The writing is spare and elegant (Walt Longmire is a man of deep introspection and few words). This is the kind of show where something happens and it seems at first to be straightforward, but Walt gets those narrowed (or more narrowed) eyes and you know there is something else afoot and the next hour of TV is going to be interesting to watch.
Hannibal on NBC
This show has grown on me. I started off not liking it simply because of Lecter’s terrible accent. I still don’t like that accent. It is Scandinavian meets Scottish and somebody is making him hold a marble under his tongue. Otherwise, since they are going to be using many elements from the books it looks like something that will get better. I hope so.
Last Resort on ABC
This was a terrible, terrible show and I’m glad it was canceled without finishing. Not even the phenomenal actors and great locations it had available could rescue the ridiculous premise or the horrific writing. Seriously, if all you see is Andre Braugher’s speech in the first episode you have seen the best this show has to offer. Everything else is downhill from there.
Robot Combat League on SyFy
I don’t even know if this is a show that will come back but I really liked it. Actually I liked parts of it. I really liked the fighting parts. I couldn’t have cared less about the reality-show parts of it. I hope that this season will serve as a proof of concept and next season, or even a new show, will feature robots that follow game rules but are designed and built by the teams themselves (A whole other show I would watch). Even if the network bankrolls the production costs I want to see teams that are invested personally through blood and sweat in their bots and who will innovate nifty ways of beating the hell out of each other for my personal amusement.
So, who wins the Jericho Award for 2012/2013?
Only one of these shows was cancelled and that was Last Resort and I refuse to give an award of any kind to that show. Really this is congratulations to all the other shows I listed here. I enjoyed watching your first seasons and you remain programmed into my DVR for this coming season. Hopefully your freshman compatriots of 2013/2014 will be able to follow in your footsteps and get picked up for a season 2.
by Greg Rucka
I have been a fan of Greg Rucka since picking up the first Atticus Kodiak novel Keeper on a whim. I have followed him since then and the guy is honestly a really good writer. Over the years he has mastered what really makes action novels work, pacing and the ability to describe actions that happen all at once in a way that the reader can follow along and not get confused.
Alpha starts a new venture for Rucka, a new world and a new cast of characters. In the world of Alpha the war on terror is ongoing and there are dangerous men lurking in the background eager to exploit paranoia and catastrophe for their own financial gain. Standing against these villains, and also the ideologues who would like nothing better than to wipe the Great Satan off the map, is Delta Force operator Jad Bell. Bell, whose callsign is Warlock, leads an elite group of three other Delta operatives with equally colorful monikers like Chaindragger, Bonebreaker and… Cardboard. Okay, I don’t get the last one but I’m sure there is some in-world story that goes along with that nickname, but then again I really don’t understand why the novel is called Alpha either. I don’t even remember the word Alpha being anywhere in the book. Maybe the next book will be Beta or Bravo or something, but I digress. This group seems to be outside the normal military chain of command and apparently reports directly to the President.
In Alpha, Bell must face a nightmare scenario that I’m sure keeps plenty of people up at night in the real world. Intelligence has determined that there is a possible terrorist attack being readied against a theme park in the United States (duh!) but they don’t know when or where. To keep tabs on the goings-on at the threatened parks, agents are placed undercover among their staff. When one of those agents is murdered at the Disney-esque Wilsonville mega-park, Jad Bell is sent in as a park security supervisor in order to be point-man. What follows is a run and gun adventure that is worth a mega-bowl of popcorn.
I enjoyed Alpha. It is the kind of novel that scratches that itch you get for a good thriller that has plenty of guns blazing. Like I said, the pacing is great and the action has just the right balance of technical savvy to make it believable and understandable. I also liked the villain (the only person I can think of that might be referred to as Alpha), his motivations and actions bring an interesting twist the usual psychotic super-villain trope. In all he is very human. My only real complaint is that Alpha feels like the third book of a series rather than the debut. I feel like a lot of back story and characterization is somehow missing (like why is his callsign Cardboard?). Bell also seems to be in the twilight of his career and we hear he has a lot of scars, but we have never seen him earn them. Except for a “badass-credential” scene at the beginning of the book we just have to take it on faith. I also think it was kind of a cheap coincidence that some of the people taken hostage in the attack would have such close ties to the Hero (especially among the thousands and thousands in the park when the attack goes down). It is kind of like wondering how Lois Lane always seems to be the one trapped in the mine/lab/stadium/office building/restaurant/bank that is about to be robbed/blown up/attacked by aliens/whatever. It’s a quibble but I think the action would have happened just as fast and hard without it. I’m still looking forward to the next book.
I don’t have very many reviews of Canadian whisky because, honestly, there aren’t that many new ones hitting the shelves. Lately though I’ve had several new bottles to sample and I thought I would share my impressions.
Collingwood Hand Crafted Blended Canadian Whisky
Toasted Maple Wood Mellowed
The story on this whisky that comes out of Brown-Forman’s Canadian Mist distillery in Collingwood, Ontario (but don’t worry it isn’t just an expensive version of Mist), is that it is aged in white oak barrels and then mellowed with toasted maple wood. I also understand that it is bottled on the Woodford Reserve line in Kentucky. That makes sense because the bottle also has, with its cap-under-a-cap / three-times-as-wide-as-it-is-deep, the same footprint as that bourbon’s does. The bottle does look cool but let’s be honest, it is what is under the cap that counts.
The aroma is very nice. Sweet woody notes dominate as they do with most Canadian whiskys but the maple finish shows through nicely without being overwhelming. The nose also display notes of what I think of as candied orange peel and ginger snaps.
The flavor itself is nutty, and woody and has a mouthfeel that is very, very smooth reminiscent of an Amontillado sherry, warm but light. Additionally there is a faint red stone-fruit and graham-crackery brown sugar flavor hovering in the background. The finish continues to show the nutty character with lingering hints of toffee.
Overall I would say that this is a very nice whisky worthy of devoting some space in your liquor cabinet to it (and it will take up some space). If I could find any fault with it I would say that the finish felt somehow slightly grainy on my tongue but that may have been just me.
Usually my spirits posts are titled “On the Rocks” but for this one I couldn’t resist.
Ron Zacapa 23 year old Sistema Solera Rum, Guatemala
This sugar cane rum from Guatemala has a rich, buttery, nutty, toffee-like aroma. The flavor, though, is much more complex than even the nose implies with nuances and character that comes from many years exposed to wood. Those 23 years bestow upon this rum a uniquely smoky, earthy almost peated scotch-like character that melds with the bright classic rum flavors to create something new and different. A real treat.
El Dorado 12 year old, Guyana
El Dorado has a sharp, apple butter aroma to go with its smooth and creamy mouthfeel. Its flavor is much more rum-like than the Zacapa having only (Only!) aged for 12 years. El Dorado is very rich and seems as if it should be thick and viscous but manages a lightness to its mouthfeel that is refreshing. It finishes with very nice white stone fruit, honey and caramel notes.
Cruzan Single Barrel, U. S. Virgin Islands
Probably the easiest of these rums to get your hands on it pours a pale, pale straw color and smells like smoky roasted cashews and buttery toffee. The taste, however, has an herbal, almost vegetal cast that carries through to a pleasant finish that seems almost slightly salty.
Diplomatico Reserva, Venezuela
The appearance of this rum is incredible. It pours a wonderful, warm honey color that looks very inviting. The smell is also unique, a blend of caramel and cinnamon hard-candy with a nice nutty background. It is very, very smooth. The flavor starts off with a medicinal twang that mellows quiclky on the mid-palate. After that is a very rich, liquid-peanut-brittle-in-a-bottle flavor that is delicious and extends through the loooong warm finish.
And so begins the Ray Cruz era of Stephen Hunter’s excellent sniper thrillers.
Now, I don’t know if Stephen Hunter ever reads the reviews for his books, much less any reviews that I might have put together, but I thought this coincidence was pretty cool
“Ray Cruz really doesn’t have all that very much screen time in Dead Zero, but my read on him is that he is much more like Bob Lee’s father Earl Swagger. He is a powerful warrior who makes sacrifices for honor, duty and justice. In a sense, Earl and Ray are like Hercules and Hector to Bob Lee’s Achilles. Each of them are powerful warriors and heroes in their own right, but Earl and Ray do violence to serve a greater purpose, while Bob Lee is a killer because killing is what he is best at.”
In any case the torch has officially been passed to Ray Cruz. Bob Lee only appears in this novel in spirit.
Compared to some other Hunter novels Soft Target is fairly straightforward. In fact, to me it reads more like Mr. Hunter started out writing a character development story that put Ray in a dangerous situation to explore how the character would think and act. Lucky for us he got carried away and we ended up with a new book for the shelf.
There is some good action here. Everything revolves around a terrorist takeover of a mall at the height of the Christmas shopping season, a situation that personally fills me with dread because it is so plausible. While gunmen roam we get to meet Ray’s girlfriend, if briefly. We get to see his half sister Nikki in action as a hot-shot news reporter. We also get to meet State Police Commandant Douglas Obobo who takes a position of empathy, understanding and reconciliation in his negotiations with the gunmen who have taken over the mega-mall based on the Mall of America (Mr. Hunter, your politics are showing and I bet we get to see him in later books).
I liked Soft Target. I’ll admit it probably wasn’t the greatest book Hunter has ever written but they can’t all be the best. It was a good read though and I enjoyed it. If anything I guess it goes to show that those Swaggers do tend to be in the bad place at the right time. Or I guess the wrong time if you happen to be the bad guys. Dead bodies of people with bad intentions do tend to turn up fairly often in those circumstances.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Jericho Award, that honor is bestowed, by me, upon the best new show of the season (starting in the summer and ending with the close of the spring finales) that was cancelled. Not very prestigious I’ll admit, but since it is awarded to the show that I like the most, I would like to think that it serves to point out an injustice or two.
This season has a few shows to nominate. I didn’t really like all of them all that well, but I did watch all of their episodes. There are other shows that failed after their first season, but for one reason or another, I didn’t watch them. You may think they are much better but if I don’t watch them they don’t get nominations.
And The Nominees Are:
For all of the times that I rolled my eyes at the rampant stupidity of the people on the Magus the show really hooked me with the first episode and finished just as strong. Granted, in between there were a lot of moments where it was kind of painful. I think the weakest point was with writing that had to be, well, convoluted in order to get the group to go in a certain direction or down a particular path. On the whole I didn’t think the show had more than a season in it based on its premise but after the finale I could see potential. I also liked how it ended with a soft cliffhanger. Maybe it will get picked up by TNT or Syfy, but I doubt it. Too expensive. Not enough cult following.
In spite of never being a Lost fan (I only watched the first season and that on DVD) I really enjoyed this show. The back and forth between the two timelines to tell the story and bit-by-bit reveal new aspects to the mystery worked for me. If anything I think the end of the first season was too ambitious and may have killed its chances of getting picked up by a cable network like Syfy, though it would still suffer from fewer problems than some other shows. I really though FOX would have brought this one back. Oh well.
Ok, I don’t watch Bones so I don’t really understand the tie-in beyond being in the same narrative universe, but I am a sucker for quirky detective stories. This one was about as quirky as it gets. To tell the truth, I was a big fan of Walter logic and the ensemble cast really worked and was interesting. Each of the characters seemed to really effortlessly bring their particular skill-set to the table, though Walter was the one to tie them all together. If there are any of the nominated shows that I think should be picked up on cable it is this one. Personally, I think it is a natural fit for USA or A&E. Both of those networks already have quirky detective shows in Psych and The Glades (respectively) but I don’t think another would hurt either of them and may actually help to pull audience from one to the other.
Ok, to be honest I didn’t like this show, but since I did watch all of the episodes I decided to include it with this season’s nominees. Honestly, the premise was weak. The plot was contrived. The special effects were gratuitous. The writing was tortuous. The acting was weak (I know, I already said weak but it fits here too). I am appalled that this is the show that is getting the most traction for a bid to go to cable. Seriously? I know Terra Nova had fans, but I just don’t understand what people see in this show.
And The Winner Is…:
Well, I am really tempted to declare a tie, but I think the show that I am going to miss the most is The Finder (whose potential Jericho-mate is Alcatraz). Both of these shows were solid all the way through and seeing as how they were on the same network, and that House is coming to an end, I don’t see why FOX would want to discard both of them while keeping the terminally stupid Touch. I could only stand two episodes of that piece of garbage.
Like I said, winning the Jericho Award is kind of ignominous. The reall winners this year are the shows that I watched that did get picked up for another season and that deserve a look from those of you who missed them. Here they are in no particular order (probably missing a few too):
- Person of Interest
- Hell on Wheels
I’m going to try something new. Maybe it will start a conversation. Maybe it will only happen once. Maybe it will alleviate some boredom…
The purpose of The State of Distraction is to throw out some things that may be of interest that may not get their own posts or that I may not get around to posting about.
We will see how it goes.
I just got done with Ghost in the Wires the autobiography / memoir of Kevin Mitnick. I liked it as much as The Art of Deception and The Art of Intrusion (both are must-reads on the 5GW bookshelf). I might get around to doing a more complete post about this one but in short I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in security or cyber-security.
I’m currently reading Storm Front by Jim Butcher. I’ve heard a lot about how good The Dresden Files are but never picked up the novels. So far I am enjoying it quite a bit and I will probably end up reading the series, though I probably won’t post reviews about them. Storm Front came out in 2000 after all so there isn’t much new there to talk about. My local library seems to have all of the books available and I already have Fool Moon waiting on deck. I might have to make it a point to go back and read up on series that I didn’t read because they were already a couple of books in before I noticed them. Suggestions would be great.
Of the wines I’ve been sampling lately a couple have stood out from the rest. One is the S.I.P. certified (a classification that goes beyond the organic tag) 2009 Carmel Road Pinot Noir from Monterey California. It has a nice, rich cherry / plum flavor and a beautiful black tea-like character. It also has very nice structure and balance and is worth looking for.
Another winner is a Spanish Rioja, the 2005 Marques de Murrieta Reserva. This is a wine at its peak right now showing a wonderful glowing garnet (going brickish) color, and a nice fruit / earth / wood balance with a delicious finish.
Most recently I’ve been drinking (rī)¹ and it is delicious. I have lately been kind of developing a taste for high-rye bourbon and straight rye whiskey. I guess something about that extra spicy character and extra touch of heat appeals to my palate. This one is exceptionally complex with layers of nuanced flavor. My preferred way to enjoy this one is in a Glencairn glass with no ice.
Who couldn’t be diverted by the Presidential primaries right now. It looks like it is coming down to Mit and Newt (though Mit has the upper hand I would say). As an independent moderate (if I can be called anything except cynical) I really should like Mit, but he seems like a weaksauce politician to me who will do anything to get a vote. Newt appeals to me (I hate to admit) because he seems more like a political animal rather than a politician. I acknowledge his strategic ability but I have doubts about his ability to lead. I guess if you show me a real leader with the ability to deliberately improve the position domestic and international position of my country beyond the next election’s time frame, then I’ll vote for that candidate. It’s pretty much that simple for me, I just don’t see that guy on the ticket.
First an editorial digression:
As a purveyor of fine wines, spirits and beers it is not unusual to watch products get on the distribution merry-go-round; moving from one supplier to another. I honestly feel very bad when I see my distributor’s salespeople hustle to get a new product on the shelf and build up a base of sales only to have it jump ship and watch another salesperson reap the long-term commissions on the repeat sales. This is especially true of my smaller, boutique, distributors. These guys don’t put their products in Wal-mart, the grocery store or the corner gas station. They build them in stores like mine, and I am very grateful for that. Unfortunately, they often see their products go to larger distributors once they are established and rarely see established products come back their way. I couldn’t run my stores without the blue-chip products of the bigger suppliers, but to be honest it is the small distributors that make my stores thrive. They are the guys who bring the newest stuff that nobody has ever heard of. They keep things interesting and for that I thank them.
Remember that when you are shopping in your local mega-mart. The reason they don’t have anything you’ve never seen before is they don’t deal with the small, boutique, suppliers. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Kendall Jackson or Jack Daniels. I sell lots of the both of them. But without the small labels and small production offerings of a real fine-bottle retailer who deals with the smallest of distributors, you are missing out on the newest, most exciting and adventurous products on the market.
70% corn, 25% rye, 5% malted barley
Backbone Bourbon is an uncut whiskey aged less than four years, bottled especially for Crossroad Vintners (meaning it will never fly away to another distributor). You may have never heard of it, and you may never see it unless you happen to be in my neck of the woods at a bar, restaurant or store that sells products that are new, different and delicious.
From the label:
“Backbone Bourbon is a true uncut whiskey that is meant to be sipped and savored. The quality of this bourbon comes from its youthful vigor and the purity of tasting a barrel strength whiskey (where no water has been added to dilute the experience). We have left the backbone in this bourbon. The name is also a tribute to the strength of character that is found in the people of Midwest America.”
Backbone’s nose is a nicely balanced citrus/wood collaboration with orange zest and vanilla spicing the aroma of baked pie crust. It has a nice, creamy mouthfeel, rich and earthy with that same ‘crispy edges of the pie-crust’, bread flavor. The citrus and spice hovers, tantalizing and tingling, in the periphery while the edgy, young whiskey, alcohol bite holds center stage through a long finish.
Backbone is a very solid bourbon along the same lines as Knob Creek or Wathen’s Single Barrel, but with a richer mouthfeel. As this is a new product I look forward to seeing longer aged versions and perhaps offerings with different mashbill and special barrel finishes.
These are the kinds of things that make my job so much fun.
Batch: 11L02 Bottle: 1424
High West Distillery
Park City, Utah
You know a whiskey is going have boldness when the distiller feels good about putting an exclamation point in the name. Hand-crafted in small batches, with an exacting attention to detail, Double Rye lives up to the billing.
The eponymous ryes are a tag team of a brash two year old with a 95% rye, 5% barley malt mashbill; and a calmly smooth sixteen year old with a much more corn heavy mashbill of 53% rye, 37% corn and 10% barley malt. When put into a bottle together they create a best-of-both-worlds effect with bright spicy heat and mellow, well-developed, wood notes at a non-chill filtered 92 proof.
Double Rye has a bright and spicy nose full of citrus zest, candied apples and clover honey over a lurking clove zing. It is slightly creamy on the tongue and the wood notes really come through with vanilla, butterscotch and a faint cedar note. The rye heat carries through to a palate pleasing tingle that lingers through the citrus, persimmon, cinnamon finish.
Among whiskey-drinker’s whiskeys this one is a cut above. It is worth it to track down a bottle.
As a fan of brown ales I was looking forward to this one especially with it being a 25th Anniversary offering.
It poured a nice, rich brown with very little head. Smell was malty and slightly sweet with hints of cocoa and the promised vanilla.
The taste was nice and rich, much like the regular Turbodog but with an extra level of depth and complexity. The vanilla comes across more as a wood spice like that of a whiskey than that from a vanilla bean.
Overall it was a very good, but not great, offering. I would definitely drink it again. The taste is nice and the price is right.
Thea’s Selection Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley, Oregon
The Lemlson Vineyards Thea’s Selection Pinot Noir is one of the better Pinots I have had the pleasure to sample lately. Usually I prefer wines with a bit more weight than Pinot but the Thea’s Selection is certainly bulky enough to please my palate.
The nose is typical Pinot. Bright and heavy on the fruit. The taste is an entirely different story as it is much more fuller in body than most Pinots while remaining exceptionally well balanced. I am especially impressed by the winemaking skill it took to coax this much weight from a Pinot Noir grape while maintaining this seamless an integration of bright and dark fruit, bright acidity and firm grippy tannin. I have to wonder if there is a good measure of Syrah or something else dark and spicy blended here. Whatever it is it is a style I can really appreciate and get used to.
Delicious. Pair it with beef tenderloin or BBQ chicken.
by Toby Ball
Over the summer (The Summer of the Re-read 2010) I got an e-mail right here in the Red Herrings inbox offering me an advance copy Scorch City, a book I had really been looking forward to reading. However, because I was taking the summer off from blogging to re-read all those books I missed that email!
Dammit, I could have read this book months ago!
Ok, starting with the cover. If you remember, the reason I picked up the first book by Toby Ball, The Vaults, was the cover (if you can’t remember, here is the review so you can refresh yourself). That cover was cool, but this cover is not only cool but seems to embody all of the essential elements of the book as well. The cover shows the four main characters of the book, yes in spite of having only one person in the picture, four. In Novels of The City (you can still use that if you want) The City is a character all on its own, an industrial northern city that dominates the region and the towns around it. In this novel The City is joined by a utopian black shantytown on its outskirts known as the Uhuru Community. The cover, to my mind, shows that Community being crushed, sundered or plowed-under by The City. The third character on the cover could be any of the viewpoint characters of the novel but my bet is Lieutenant Piet Westermann, who is caught in the middle of racial, political and religious forces while he tries to solve the murder of an emaciated young prostitute. Throughout the book he is constantly pulled in various directions by forces and ideologies that he may or may not believe in, yet have the power to affect him deeply. He is a man alone in a crowd just as he is alone among the chaos of the shantytown on the cover yet moving with purpose. The fourth character on the cover may be just my imagination but it seems there is a shadowy hand reaching out from the lower right side of the picture toward the lone figure. There are spooky and shadowy forces at work in the novel but what seals it as symbolic in my mind as a shadowy hand and not an artifact of the terrain is that the light is coming from the figure’s left meaning the shadow is reaching out against the light.
All kinds of symbolism there. Who needs to review a book when all you have to do is talk about the cover!
The novel itself is just as well constructed and thoughtfully laid out as the cover is. The events of Scorch City occur fifteen years after those of The Vaults. It is now 1950. There has been another world war. The threat of Communism has taken a McCarthyesque turn in The City and has become the major issue in a contentious mayoral race while anti-communist vigilantes roam the streets. The setting is still very noir but the heat, the paranoia, the no-win feeling of helplessness, give it a desperate dystopian edge. Everything seems morally ambiguous and you are never quite sure who is the good guy and who is the bad guy, much less who is a murderer.
I enjoyed Scorch City just as much as The Vaults, but for different reasons. Ball has come a long way as a writer in a very short time. In The Vaults my only complaint was that while the settings were vivid and gripping, the character cast seemed too large and unfocused. In Scorch City the characters are much more clear, each serving a vital role and holding a piece of the story that is their own. The plot was just as compelling and even more tightly written and composed.
Keep them coming Mr. Ball, I want more City.