Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2017 Evelyn C. Leeper.


BLACKOUT by Mira Grant:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/21/2013]

BLACKOUT by Mira Grant (ISBN 978-0-316-08107-8) is the third and final book in the "Newsflesh" trilogy. Books in series almost always suffer from one of two problems: they spend too much time recapitulating what has happened in the earlier books, or they are hard to follow or meaningless for those who have not read (or don't remember) what has come before. In the case of BLACKOUT, it is the latter problem. It is conceivable that people will do what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences did with the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and give the award to the final episode, intending it to represent giving the award to the series as a whole. But as a book standing on its own, it does not stand on its own. (On the plus side, it has several female characters, and they talk to each other about things other than the male characters.)

To order Blackout from amazon.com, click here.


"Countdown" by Mira Grant:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/22/2012]

"Countdown" by Mira Grant (Orbit) is yet another episode in Grant's "Newsflesh" (a.k.a. "Zombie Apocalypse") series. It is good, but one can have too much of a good thing. Still, it is better than some of the other nominees.


DEADLINE by Mira Grant:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/22/2012]

Last year I voted FEED by Mira Grant first, but DEADLINE (ISBN 978-0-316-08106-1) is, in some sense, just more of the same. In addition, it does not stand on its own--it relies on you having read (and remembered) FEED and it has no ending. It shares this characteristic with A DANCE WITH DRAGONS--it is actually a little annoying to have so many "incomplete" stories nominated. (The Sidewise Award tries to avoid this by considering multi-volume works as a single work. This still has the problem of knowing when the last volume has come out.) For what it's worth, although the narrator of DEADLINE is male, I could not avoid thinking of him as a female.

To order Deadline from amazon.com, click here.


FEED by Mira Grant:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/20/2011]

Okay, I know I said I usually leave the Hugo reviews to Joe Karprierz, but I have just a few things to say about FEED by Mira Grant (ISBN 978-0-316-08105-4), none of which address the actual plot, characterization, or style of the book.

First, it's one of those "premium" mass-market paperbacks: taller (7.5" tall) than the traditional size (6.75" tall), and more expensive ($9.99 rather than $7.99, which I think is the current standard price). I'm sure that in 1967 when Ace Books paperbacks jumped from the old smaller size (6.375" tall) to the size of the last fifty years there was as much complaining about how they no longer fit on the shelves. That doesn't mean I'm happy about this time.

<TANGENT> Ace books made the jump in size in 1967, between the M-series and H-series of their Ace Doubles line, but actually a lot of companies had the larger format well before then. For example, Ballantine never had the smaller format so far as I can tell. And some companies kept it even longer, particularly for dictionaries--I have Spanish-English, Hebrew-English, and other language-English dictionaries of later provenance than are the shorter size. But the size I really wish would make a come-back is the Armed Services Edition! The Penguin 60s are a stab in the right direction, but not quite as good. </TANGENT>

But to return to FEED:

Nor am I happy about the copy-editing, nor rather the lack thereof. The narrator talks about "the highest viewer numbers since Cruise versus Gore in 2018" (page 120), which contextually must be a Presidential race, but of course there would not be one in 2018. (The Presidential campaign in the novel is in 2040 so it is not as if somehow it made a shift because of the Rising.)

There are references to RadioShack (page 183) and Starbucks (page 192). Will both these last another thirty years? In particular, the much more "agoraphobic" society depicted in the book seems unlikely to support places like Starbucks. RadioShack, I will grant, could transition to more of an on-line store, though given the rate at which retailers are failing these days, it still seems questionable whether even that will survive that long. The same is true of "Microsoft Windows VirtuParty" (page 315)--as strong as Microsoft is now, thirty years and a zombie apocalypse can affect a lot of things.

One character talks about "someone who thinks Edgar Allen Poe is socially relevant" (page 238). This is just plain sloppy--it's Edgar Allan Poe. But more than sloppy, it seems to indicate that no one in the whole line of writer and editors knows this.

Oh, and if you'd like the "club-you-over-the-head-with-the message" paragraph, here it is, from the first person narrator talking to the reader (page 186):

"Fear makes people stupid, and Kellis-Amberlee has had people scared for the last twenty years. There comes a point when you need to get over the fear and get on with your life, and a lot of people don't seem to be capable of that anymore. From Blood tests to gated communities, we have embraced the cult of fear, and we don't seem to know how to put it back where it belongs."

Well, gee, you could be a little less subtle than that, but it would involve 42-pt Bold Algerian font to do it. However, just to sure you got the message, Grant has it re-iterated in blog quotes on pages 346 and 428.

And just in passing, it really helps you understand one constant reference if you know who Steve Irwin is. (The name Irwin rang no bells with me.)

To order Feed from amazon.com, click here.


EVERY HEART A DOORWAY by Seanan McGuire:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/23/2017]

EVERY HEART A DOORWAY by Seanan McGuire (ISBN 978-0-7653-8550-5): At last, a story that is straightforward and comprehensible! The concept (a boarding school for teenagers who had disappeared into "imaginary" worlds and then returned to our world) made me think it was similar to something Neil Gaiman would write. This is one of those books that makes the proposed YA Hugo so iffy--is it YA or not? (Well, since it is novella length, it wouldn't be eligible as a novel anyway.) If you are looking for a more traditional work, this fits the bill.

To order Every Heart a Doorway from amazon.com, click here.


"In Sea-Salt Tears" by Seanan McGuire:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/28/2013]

"In Sea-Salt Tears" by Seanan McGuire is not a zombie apocalypse story. I guess McGuire writes all those under her "Mira Grant" pseudonym. This is certainly a good enough fantasy that one wishes she would spend more time writing non-zombie stories. This one is based on traditional legends, but with a modern sensibility, which seems to be the trend at least since the "Fairy Tale" series from Tor Books in the early 1990s.


"Rat-Catcher" by Seanan McGuire:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/28/2013]

"Rat-Catcher" by Seanan McGuire is another story based more on traditional legends. This one is set in 17th century London, though, so instead of the modern sensibility of "In Sea-Salt Tears" we have a Restoration setting (which however seems more Elizabethan than of a later period). The result is less original somehow.


"San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats" by Mira Grant:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/28/2013]

"San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats" by Mira Grant (ISBN 978-0-3162-1896-2) is yet another story of "The Rising", a.k.a., the Zombie Apocalypse. By this point, I am getting heartily sick of the Zombie Apocalypse in all its forms. And this one depends on knowledge available only by having read the other works. It is a good addition to the overall story, even if it seems to be pandering a bit to a fan base.

To order "San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats" from amazon.com, click here.


PERSONAL MEMOIRS by Ulysses S. Grant:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/21/2016]

In PERSONAL MEMOIRS by Ulysses S. Grant (ISBN 978-0-940-45058-5), Grant describes his childhood thus: "There were no telegraphs in those days to disseminate news rapidly, no railroads west of the Alleghanies [sic], and but few east, and above all, there were no reporters prying into other people's private affairs." It is clear what annoyed him most about his later life. (And it's worth pointing out the start that these memoirs go up only through the Civil War--he does not cover his Presidency at all.)

Grant gives us a sense of the effect the railroad had on people in 1839: "I thought the perfection of rapid transit had been reached. We travelled at least eighteen miles and hour, when at full speed, and made the whole distance averaging probably as much as twelve miles an hour. This seemed like annihilating space."

Grant's humor frequently lies in convolution: "I never succeeded in getting squarely at either end of any class, in any one study, during the four years. I came near it in French, artillery, infantry and cavalry tactics, and conduct." Given that elsewhere he speaks of his difficulty with a couple of these subjects, he clearly means he was near the low end.

He is quite blunt in his opinion of the Mexican War (a.k.a. the Mexican-American War): "For myself, I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory." Undoubtedly part of this distaste was due to the fact that the Texians brought slavery into Mexican territory, where it was prohibited, and then wanted to declare independence from Mexico. (Texas seemed to spend a lot of time seceding from whatever country they belonged to at the moment.)

Grant adds, "The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war. Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times." He also talks about the Mexican War and the Southern rebellion (as he always refers to it) as "two wars--both in my estimation unholy."

You also get a lot of details that explain his actions later. He specifically tells of a couple of incidents that made him unimpressed by uniforms, or at any rate less likely to make him think he was impressive in a uniform. But he also talks about how Zachary Taylor, a general he much respected, rarely wore his uniform, and this was undoubtedly another contributing factor.

Grant was not eager to attend West Point. In fact, of his journey there he writes, "I would have been glad to have had a steamboat or railroad collision, or any other accident happen, by which I might have received a temporary injury sufficient to make me ineligible, for a time, to enter the Academy. Nothing of the kind occurred, and I had to face the music."

He had little but contempt for officers who enjoyed all the privileges of their rank in peacetime, but deserted when war loomed: "I noticed, however, a few years later, when the Mexican war broke out, that most of this class of officers discovered they were possessed of disabilities which entirely incapacitated them for active field. They had the moral courage to proclaim it, too. They were right, but they did not always give their disease the right name.

A key to his strategy in the Civil War is that, as he writes, "One of my superstitions had always been when I started to go any where, or to do anything, not to turn back, or stop until the thing intended was accomplished."

Going out to shoot wild turkeys one day, Grant was so fascinated in watching them fly that he never shot at them once, and wrote, "When I had time to reflect upon the matter, I came to the conclusion that as a sportsman I was a failure, and went back to the house." And of bullfights he wrote, "The sight to me was sickening. I could not see how human beings could enjoy the suffering of beasts, and often of men, as they seemed to do on these occasions."

Grant writes, "It is a well-known rule that when domestic animals are used for specific purposes from generation to generation, the descendants are easily, as a rule, subdued to the same uses." This sounds like inheritance of acquired characteristics, but whatever truth there us to it is undoubtedly due to the weeding out of those animals that are unsuitable. (A cow that does not give milk is not going to be bred for the next generation.) A famous Grant quote is "I am not aware of ever having used a profane expletive in my life; but I would have the charity to excuse those who may have done so, if they were in charge of a train of Mexican pack mules at the time." Since one assumes he is sincere, it is interesting to contrast his language with that of politicians today. And, in conjunction with the previous quote, maybe they should be breeding pack animals that they could, well, breed.

In the Mexican War, Grant notes, "The administration had indeed a most embarrassing problem to solve ... all the capable officers of the requisite rank belonged to the opposition." A successful general would be a likely Presidential candidate in the next election, but the administration could hardly purposely lose the war. Ultimately, General Zachary Taylor did become President, though Grant believes Taylor would have preferred a peaceful retirement instead.

Grant contrasts the two generals, Winfield Scott and Zachary Taylor, as follows: "Scott saw more through the eyes of his staff officers than through his own,. His plans were deliberately prepared, and fully expressed in orders. Taylor saw for himself, and gave orders to meet the emergency without reference to how they would read in history." Grant took both of these approaches and melded them into his own style.

Grant observes that (at the time of his writing in the 1880s) Mexico talked grandly of their victories in the Mexican War, and how much money the United States was forced to pay them. Similarly, he notes, that there are American writers who attempt to claim the Union forces were not victorious, but were defeated here, there, and everywhere, until the Confederates finally surrendered

out of exhaustion, adding, "There is no difference in the amount of romance in the two stories."

Grant predicts, "As time passes, people, even of the South, will begin to wonder how it was possible that their ancestors ever fought for or justified institutions which acknowledged the right of property in man." What he does not predict is that these people will then construct their own history in which their ancestors fought over a different issue entirely ("No, the Civil War was not about slavery--it was about states' rights."). To be clear, Grant writes as the first sentence of his conclusion, "The cause of the great War of the Rebellion against the United States will have to be attributed to slavery."

Grant writes, "A large part of the National army, for instance, and most of the press of the country, clothed General Lee with just such [supernatural] qualities, but I had known him personally, and knew that he was mortal; and it was just as well that I felt this." There is a lot to this--many of the Union generals did seem unduly intimidated by even the thought of Robert E. Lee, and while Grant may have recognized Lee's strengths, he also believed that the Union Army could defeat Lee.

As an example of Grant's lack of luck in business, he writes of how in 1853 he and three other officers planted a field of potatoes. In June, the Columbia River flooded their field and destroyed the crop. However, it was not all bad, because it did save them the effort of digging up the potatoes, and as it turned out everyone else had planted potatoes, and the price plummeted.

A thought worth remembering: "No political party can or ought to exist when one of its corner-stones is opposition to freedom of thought and to the right to worship God 'According to the dictate of one's own conscience,' or according to the creed of any religious denomination whatever."

"Many educated and, otherwise, sensible persons appeared to believe that emancipation meant social equality." Grant fairly clearly did not believe in this social equality, when he can write, "The colored people, four million in number, were submissive, and worked in the field and took care of the families..." The difficulty of balancing (de jure) civic equality with (de facto) social inequality plagues us to this day.

"The South claimed the sovereignty of the States, but claimed the right to coerce into their confederation such States as they wanted, that is, all the States where slavery existed. They did not seem to think this course inconsistent." 'Nuff said.

Grant summed up one battle with a sentence that might sum up many people's summary of the war: "It was a case of Southern dash against Northern pluck and endurance."

In regards to the Union troops fleeing the battle the first day of Shiloh, Grant says that the colonels who ordered the retreats were "constitutional cowards," but that the officers and men who obeyed them were far better troops, as they afterwards proved themselves in subsequent battles.

At Shiloh, Grant tells of General Sherman's experiences: he was shot twice, and a third ball passed through his hat. Oh, and "he had several horses shot during the day."

One of Grant's maxims for generals: "The rear of an army engaged in battle is not the best place from which to judge correctly what is going on in front."

Grant's complaints about retreat in battle do not extend to situations in which isolated patrols are ambushed: "The shells and balls whistled about our ears very fast for about a minute. I do not think it took us longer than that to get out of range and out of sight. Major Hawkins lost his hat. He did not stop to pick it up." (I particularly like the Hemingwayesque sentences.)

To those who say that the South would have won at Shiloh if General Albert Sidney Johnston had not been killed, Grant responds, "IFs defeated the Confederates at Shiloh. There is little doubt that we would have been disgracefully beaten IF all the shells and bullets fired by us had passed harmlessly over the enemy and IF all of theirs had taken effect."

I found it interesting that when Grant came upon a factory which was making tent cloth with "C.S.A." woven into the cloth, he first told all the factory workers that they could take as much cloth as they could carry, and then he burnt down the factory. This concern for not depriving the workers of their employment without some recompense is very striking.

Grant's observation on the surrender at Appomattox has been much quoted, but probably should be included here: "I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us." It sounds very noble, from 150 years away, when both sides were re-united into one country again. It sounds a little less glorious if one considers trying to ask the Allied troops who fought the Japanese in World War II to take this attitude, or the troops fighting ISIS now. Fighting long and valiantly is not enough to make up for fighting for a terrible cause.

Regarding Lincoln's suspension of habeus corpos and other violations of the Constitution, Grant writes, "While [the Constitution] did not authorize rebellion it made no provision against it. Yet the right to resist or suppress rebellion is inherent as the right of self-defence, and as natural as the right of an individual to preserve his life when in jeopardy. The Constitution was therefore in abeyance for the time being, so far as it in any way affected the progress and termination of the war." The difficulty of course, is being able to limit the violations to what is necessary, and what seems necessary during a war will turn out to be a gross over-reaction.

All in all, I highly recommend this book.

To order Personal Memoirs from amazon.com, click here.


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