CRYPTONOMICON by Neal Stephenson

cryptonomicon I’ll give you one word:  cryptography.  Stop yawning.  This was a really great book and it was all about cryptography.  And gold.  And greed.  And geeks.  I’m telling you, geeks are the new jock.

The story follows two different groups of people, in two different eras.  The first group are the wildly intelligent mathematical genuses (genusii?) during the Second World War working to crack the cypher codes of Germany and Japan, plus a go getter Marine grunt.  The one military guy knows so much that he can never be sent into danger because he could be captured and made to Tell All.   There is also a Japanese military grunt, little better than a prisoner slave, working for the ….  And there’s also this guy who seems to be a monk or a priest or maybe not.   OK, that’s enough.

The other group are modern day startup hotshots, looking to create a data haven in the fictional Sultanate located in a northern chunk of the Philippines.  And that monk guy who shows up again.  How is that possible?

Our mathematical genus has thoughts about the military and modern warfare:  It isn’t all about loading shells and pulling triggers.  No large organization can kill Nips in any kind of systematic way without doing a nearly unbelievable amount of typing and filing.

The United States military is first and foremost an unfathomable network of typists and file clerks, secondarily a stupendous mechanism for moving stuff from one part of the world to another and last and least a fighting organization.

This is a complex and dense read, but compelling nonetheless because of the great characters, only one of whom seems to have any real moral compass.

It all seems divergent, but the lines begin to gradually come together and we see the connections become clear.

You will learn lots about cryptology (and yes, either cryptography or cryptology are correct), math, systems of encryption, and other cool things.  You will learn about mine building, big business and nothing about greed that you don’t already know.  You will learn some cool stuff about submarines and warfare and the military mind.

This was written in 1999 and doesn’t feel out of date.  Possibly some things about world banking systems have changed.  How would I know?  I have a piggy bank that holds all my worldly dinero.

This is a hard work to categorize.  Not really sci fi, not exactly alternate reality, not space opera.  It just is.  Suis generis.  Oh gimme break.  Go look it up.  Do I have to tell you everything?

FOLLOW THE STONE (An Emmett Love Western) by John Locke

Follow the stone  Giddyap, cowboy!  Ya- hoo!  OK, enough of that.  Fun western novella staring Emmet Love, a gun slinger par excelance (is there any other kind?) who makes a living excorting ladies of the night from one town to another so they can upgrade their earnings by signing on with a different er, em, bordello.

This is the story of one such journey as our man escorts 5  young spoiled doves, plus a mail order bride from the East who pays him to take her to her prospective husband, and the trials and tribulations they encounter on their journey.

He has a best friend, a misshapen guy named Shrug who is more evidenced than seen, and who travels ahead of Emmet, leaving four stones as a guide placed east, west, north, south, and a fifth stone in the direction in which the party should continue to travel.  If there is no stone, it indicates possible danger, and they should stop and await developments.  Such developments might be Indians, robbers, fires, and who knows what else.

Makes my whining about how the restaurant on my travels didn’t have my favorite dessert, or how far it is to the next pristine rest stop seem a bit prissy.  OK, and spoiled.

Oh, and did I mention the witch.  Yeah.  Thought I forgot her.

Anyway, author Locke is quite prolific and has a number of books in the Emmet Love series, not to mention a whole lot of other series.

(I’m trying to remember the last western I read that wasn’t Bret Harte or Zane Gray.)


Man in black  Chilling post apocalyptic novella about lethal drought conditions throughout the world in the year 2200, due, natch, to the greed and actions of humanity (yawn),  and the lives of the townspeople in a small place in the Nebraska plains.

It pits a teenage boy with a mysterious lady in white against the oil industry. Not really much new in the meta story, but nicely told.

The science is a bit shakey, and I think it is a YA read.  Not sure. I searched for an author page, and found zero zip nada.  I have run across this a lot.  Somebody writes a book, publishes it on Amazon, and doesn’t even bother setting up a free site on WordPress or someplace so they can talk about their work and themselves.  Oh well, not my problem.

I am calling it a YA unless and until somebody tells me different, because it is not very complex, and the main character is a teenager who seems to have more sense than the adults around him, a common trope in YA stories.


Saxon   A delightful read, kind of history of Transylvania Lite.  A nicely condensed history of how the Saxon population ended up thriving in what is now Rumania, the Transylvania part.

Like managers with vacancies in the organizational chart, the first Hungarian kings invited guests from the West to develop a Transylvania that was in process of being conquered.

This was back in the 800’s.  First the Saxons were invited in and welcomed heartily.  They prospered and did well, then other conquering forces took over and threw them out.  They managed to come back and reintegrate and again got tossed out on their ears.  Today, there are very few remaining Saxon families.

The last part of the book has suggestions on  places to see wonderful Saxon villages, churches and other buildings.  Makes me want to take a trip to Transylvania, avoiding, of course, the vampires.

Catalin Gruia is a journalist for the National Geographic.  He has written The Rise and Fall of German Transylvania, and The Man They Killed on Christmas Day, (which is about Romanian Communist Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu), Vlad and the Vampire: The Eternal Double Life of Dracula,  plus a number of other books.

DUST by Hugh Howey

dust  If you are a sci fi fan, you have heard of Wool, the story of the silos, by indie writer Hugh Howey.  You probably LOVED it.  Yeah, me, too.

Dust is the conclusion to the saga.  I should say the satisfying conclusion.  This whole story is packed with characters to root for and to hate.  Characters to wonder about.  And a whole world that strange as it is, is totally believable.

I’m not going to tell you how it all works out.  But I will give you a few quotes:

The folly of man — the folly of the blasted silos he had helped to build — this assumption that things needed saving.  They ought to have been left on their own, both people and the planet.  Mankind had the right to go extinct.  That what life did: it went extinct.

And :

Heroes didn’t win.  The heroes were whoever happened to win.  History told their story — the dead didn’t say a word.


Even if we’d gone extinct, the world would’ve gone right on along without us.  Nature finds a way.

I haven’t been this involved, intrigued and yes, obsessed, by a long saga like this since Stephen King’s The Dark Tower.  The world created, the characters who inhabited that world, stay will me still.  As Mr. Howey writes:

This is not the end, of course.  Every story we read, every film we watch, continues on in our imaginations if we allow it.  Characters live another day.  They grow old and die.  New ones are born.  Challenges crop up and are dealt with.  Where a story ends is nothing more than a snapshot in time, a brief flash of emotion, a pause.  How and if it continues is up to us.

Well put.  And if you want to continue this Saga in your head, there is a burgeoning pile of fan fiction now available and I think most of it is here.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go clean the windows.  Yeah.  Be right back.


singular_300  This is a wonderful sci fi novella and part of the Killgrace series.

Killgrace is an alien.  And that is not his name, but one he assumed for human consumption.  He exists on radiation.  He is extremely grumpy, and intensely intelligent.

His partner, Susan, is also not what she claims.  She is an astrophysicist, claiming to be an anthropologist.

Here’s the deal:  These two are scientists unexpectedly stranded in a technological backwater who find, to their dismay, that conservation of energy and E=mc2 are in effect.  Most of their technology is useless. They have two ways to get home:  try and merge the reality they are in with the main causality, or rebuild a navigational database from readings taken across space and take a shortcut.  Co-operation is a problem: the world they came from was at war, and they aren’t on the same side — or are even the same species.

In this episode, they come to a US starship trying to rescue two ‘creatures’ the size of a small planet from a black hole.  It is an interesting exploration of the physics, mechanics and creativity of folks faced with this problem.  Lots of physics in this, but my favorite lines is when one of the characters says, “There’s no gravity in space, right?”

Yeah.  Right.

Well, gravity sucks.  Good thing, or we would all fall off the planet.

There are nine novellas in this series, and I am definitely going to get some more of them, because I am a sucker (see what I did there?) for hard science sci fi.

CAVEAT EMPTOR by Ruth Downie

caveat emptor  Our buddy the doctor,  Gaius Petreius Ruso, and his lovely Tilla, whom he has now married, return to Britain in this fourth volume in the series.  You will recall that this is set in Roman-occupied Britain of the 800s.

He and Tilla stay with his friend Valens, who promises to find work for him.  Meanwhile, a job comes up for him to investigate the disappearance of the Tax Collector and his brother from a nearby town,  who disappeared with the tax money, leaving an extremely pregnant wife, who gives birth in Valens’ house, attended by Tilla the midwife.

The pregnant wife is the relative of a neighboring tribe who count Boudica, the Rebel Queen as their blood line.  Whew.  Cool stuff.

Well, as in any good mystery, we have treachery, deceit, murders, and political coverups.  So what’s new, right?  Sounds just like today.

Boudica, AD 60 or 61) was queen of the British Iceni tribe, a Celtic tribe who led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire.

Boudica’s husband Prasutagus was ruler of the Iceni tribe, who had ruled as a nominally independent ally of Rome, and had left his kingdom jointly to his daughters and the  Roman  Emperor  in his will. However, when he died, his will was ignored  and the kingdom was annexed as if conquered. Boudica was flogged,  her daughters were raped, and Roman financiers called in their loans.

In AD 60 or 61, while the Roman governor was leading a campaign on the island of Anglesey off the northwest coast of  Wales, Boudica led the Iceni as well as the Trinovantes and others in revolt. They destroyed Camulodulum,  which is modern Colchester.

You can thank Wikipedia for that little explanation, which I lifted whole and entire from their page.  There’s lots more, like how she destroyed Londinium, and how the crisis caused the Emperor  Nero  to consider withdrawing all Roman forces from Britain, but Suetonius’ eventual victory over Boudica resecured Roman control of the province.

You go girl!



Persona non grata  Number three in the series by Ruth Downie of Roman-occupied Britain in the 800s.  Our Medicus, Gaius Petreius Ruso, army doctor, has taken his former slave, now lover, to Gual in response to a letter requesting his immediate return.   Expecting the worst, that is exactly what Ruso finds there, as his brother and wife, their five children, his clueless step mother and whining teenage sisters are caught up in a problem involving money … or rather, lack of it.

In addition, the brother of his sister-in-law, has apparently been lost at sea on a leaky ancient boat, which needs investigating.

The oldest of his sisters, a 16-year old, is in love with a gladiator, and here we learn more than we probably want to know about the gladiator business and the bread and circuses thing.  It’s very eeuuuies, the kind of information I try to avoid knowing.  I know,  Ostrich is my middle name.

The deceased father had incurred massive debts, which are now being called due, and just as the Senator holding the big notes is about to make a deal with Ruso, he collapses dead in Ruso’s office, a victim of poisoning.

Of course, Ruso is the prime suspect, and the book is concerned with his (and Tilla’s) attempts to find the truth about the missing guy at sea and who did the poisoning.

Another delightful episode in the series, with more interesting glimpses into how people lived in those times, this time in  Gallia Narbonensis.

Omnes Gallia tres partes divisa est.   That is all I remember from my three years of Latin classes.  Oh, yeah, and Iacta alea est”, inquit Caesar.  “The die is cast”, said Caesar.

AMERICAN GODS by Neil Gaiman

200px-American_gods   A while ago, I wrote about Michael Stackpole’s In Hero Years, I’m Dead, a story about superheros who are aging and retiring.  A funny/serious book that speaks to our notions of the fantasy and the reality.   In American Gods, Neil Gaiman tells a fantastical tale of the forgotten gods and mythological creatures of the many world cultures, how they came to America in the heads of their devotees and believers, and over time, were forgotten in favor of newer gods, like technology, internet, consumerism, etc.

Gaiman’s central premise is that these gods and creatures of mythology exist because people believed in them.  When people stop believing in them, their powers wane, and they become impotent creatures themselves, scrambling over the centuries and millenia to make a living.

This idea is explored through the story of Shadow, an excon who is finally released from prison after three years, and on his way home, meets a strange guy who calls himself Mr. Wednesday.  The characters have names that suggest their god identity.  So guess who Mr. Wednesday is?  Along the trajectory of this tale, Shadow meets a woman named Easter, a guy named Czernobog,  who worked in a slaughterhouse before his retirement,  a tall thin, beaky guy called Ibis, and his dog and partner, Jacquel, among many many others.

Shadow stopped in the street, and stared. “Are you trying to tell me that ancient Egyptians came here to trade five thousand years ago?”   Mr. Ibis said nothing, but he smirked loudly.  Then he said, “Three thousand five hundred and thirty years ago.  Give or take.”

“This country has been Grand Central for ten thousand years or more.”

Mr. Ibis is a mortician.  And Jacquel does the embalming.

“Coroner’s a political appointment around here,” said Ibis.  “His job is to kick the corpse.  It it doesn’t kick him back, he signs the death certificate.  Jacquel’s what they call a prosector. He works for the county medical examiner.  He does autopsies.”
From the heart, the liver, and from one of the kidneys, he [Jacquel] cut an additional slice.  These pieces he chewed, slowly, making them last, while he worked.  Somehow it seemed to Shadow a good thing for him to do:  respectful, not obscene.

Mr. Wednesday is trying to recruit all the old gods to make war on the new gods, and enlists Shadow and some others to help in his endeavor.

This is a very long, complicated plot, with loads of characters, so many in fact, that I was having trouble keeping them sorted and remembering who they were, and the story jumped from scene to scene.

I found it a dense read, but compelling.  I do feel that it was too long.  There are a number of long side stories that I feel could have been left out to no detriment to the book, but then, I was not his editor, so what do I know.

It will greatly enlarge your knowledge base of lots of gods and mythological creatures, such as Mr Nancy, who is the living embodiment of Anansi, the spider god of African legend.  It is filled with ifrits, pixies, deities and characters who are the manifestations of the different aspects of gods.  Odin appears in two separate places as two different manifestation based on the belief system of the people where he is.

Religions are, by definition, metaphors, after all:  God is a dream, a hope, a woman, an ironist, a father, a city,  house of many rooms.

It is very different from the other books of Gaiman which I have read. My thoughts about Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane are here.    I have also read Coraline, which is really a children’s book.  A delightful, Richard Scary kind of story.

It is a difficult plot to explain without sounding like a nine-year-old telling you the story of a movie he has seen:  “and then ….. and then  ….. and then……”  So I will simply leave you with Gaiman’s own words:

One describes a tale best by telling  the tale.  You see?  The way one describes a story, to oneself or to the world, is by telling the story.






KETCHUM AND COBB by James Mullen

Ketchum and Cobb  I love mysteries.  I love police procedurals.   I especially love when the two are together in one nifty story.  And Ketchum and Cobb is just such a book.  I love when the police partners seem like real people.  I love when they have more to them than just the crime investigation.   And Ketchum and Cobb has just such characters.

Can you tell I really liked this book?

Partners Ketchum and Cobb are homicide detectives with the Boston Police Department.  Brendon Cobb has a wife, a teen daughter, and the memory of a son who committed suicide.  Jimmy Ketchum is a huge hulk of a single guy with a charming demeanor whom everyone likes.

[Jimmy] was one of the smartest, most logical-minded people Bren knew, but Jimmy lived his life on the fly with no planning or pretense — his life had no floor plan.

He always envied Jimmy for his ability to answer life on the first ring.

Bren was a different kind of guy.

Bren’s clothes didn’t have wrinkles, they had worry lines.

Oh, yeah.  Did I mention the blood?  We got yer blood right here, bunky.  A guy is found in his apartment ducktaped to a chair with his throat cut almost all the way through.  Eeeeuuuuu.  The guy lived in a place where

Heavy brown drapes in the living and dining rooms had a rough, wood-like appearance and seemed to hang more as an act of capital punishment than interior decoration.

You know, I’ve been in houses where the decoration seemed like capital punishment  — and the occupants seemed like they were on death row.

There’s a kidnapping, and a bunch of shooting.  Can’t have a crime novel without the bullets whizzing.

Here’s more clever stuff, when Bren was trying to interview a medicated hospitalized witness:

Bren waited and wondered if, instead of answering, she had the valium load his words into a plane that took off through a bank of clouds and flew into the curtain.  Ben waited, then asked the question again.  The plane must have hit some turbulence.

Jimmy Ketchum meets a gal and falls big time.  He is planning to ask her out.  Bren Cobb advises him:

Remember when you dated that girl who had a small urn on her mantel with her dog’s ashes in it?  If Sally has the same thing, don’t yell ‘sit’ at the urn, like you did with the other girl.  Don’t do that.

Makes you wish you could meet someone with their pet’s ashes in an urn so you could do the same thing, doesn’t it.  Yeah, me too.

Jimmy has a cousin, Herbie, who

portended to have a bright future, but seemed to have hit high tide around twenty-six.

We learn early on who did the dirty deed and the story gently eases more into the relationship and personalities of the two cops than a whodunnit.

Wonderful book, and I am looking forward to another offering from author Mullen.

I will leave you with one more quote to put on your bathroom mirror, to remind yourself to smile at everyone you meet:

Some people make you feel good after a brief meeting – they upgrade your day.

I hope you upgrade the day for lots of folks.