“Single Striper” Review

3-star rating
"Single Striper" book  cover

Having read some of Steve Smith’s previous work, I was looking forward to a wild and wacky account of the first part of his two year hitch in the post-Korean War Army of the late 1950s. That expectation was only partially met.

My overall impression is that Smith was deeply disappointed in this part of his Army experience. Rather than a time of adventure and challenge leading to wisdom and maturity, he found it to be a time of boredom and drudgery, interrupted by pointless meanness, sometimes bordering on cruelty. It’s not clear when he adopted the draftee’s cynical distrust of officers, sergeants, and “lifers” generally—that is, the soldiers who were serving beyond their initial enlistment—but it’s clear that he did.

That’s not to say that this distrust was unearned. In his view, most of the officers were distant, lazy, and cared about little except advancing their careers. The non-commissioned officers (NCOs) were often worse: petty tyrants and martinets, intent only on making the lives of the draftees under them as miserable as possible. There were a few who did not live down to this low standard, but they were the exceptions.

Please click here to read the rest of the review.

“The Elements of Grammar for Writers” Review

3-star rating

This little book is outdated in some ways, yet it has certain charms and retains some value.

Written in 8 BG (“Before Google”)—that is, in 1990, when BG still referred to the Brothers Gibb, personal computers were a new thing, and the internet was mostly a gleam in technologists’ eyes—it’s amusing to see references to hand-written student papers and reminders to make sure you use a new typewriter ribbon when getting a paper ready to turn in.

It was also clearly written primarily for college student writers facing the near-future prospect of having to write papers for employers, not just professors. And it relies on memorization of some rules (only a few, mercifully) and tables and appendices in which the reader can look up grammatical terms and irregular verb forms, because, of course, at the time there was no Google to ask and get 3,578,227 possible answers in 0.0286 seconds.

These quaint antiquities aside, this little book’s first five chapters, and parts of the sixth, do have some value. For example, Chapter 1 kindly clarified for me exactly what a comma splice is, and Chapter 2 reminded me that what I’ve been calling a gerund (like “calling” just now) is actually a verbal, not a verb. Well, dang!

Professors Funk, McMahan, and Day, the authors of this little tome, are still at it. The 9th edition of this book’s replacement is available on Amazon, but at nearly $50 a copy, I have a hard time believing it has the same value as this one, also available on Amazon for a mere $4.59.

“A Heap o’ Livin'” Review

3-star rating
"A Heap o' Livin'" book cover

This 1916 book could just have easily have been titled “A Heap o’ Preachin’” or “A Heap o’ Homilies,” given its content. But author Edgar A. Guest knew his audience, and wrote for them.

His readers from over 100 years ago expected the simple ka-thump ka-thump ka-thump rhythm patterns of the poems they may have read as children, and Guest delivered. They expected the simple rhyme patterns (such as ababcdcd or aabbccdd) of those same poems, and Guest used them.

They expected poems on the themes that resonated with them—honesty; integrity; humility; generosity; the values of hard work and work for its own sake; the joys of boyhood, manhood, and fatherhood; faith in a Creator and His ultimate plan; patriotism; bearing up without complaint in the face of life’s trials; and so on—and that’s what he wrote.

To read the rest of this review, please click this link.

“Notes from Bisbee” Review

4-star rating

Bisbee, Arizona, is one of those towns—every state has one—that gets called “unique.” Or “colorful.” Or “quirky.” Which can be a polite replacements for other terms. As it turns out, Arizona is blessed with two such communities: Bisbee, in the southeastern part of the state, and Jerome, half-way between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon. Both are former mining towns that had to reinvent themselves when the mines closed. Both became havens for artists and folks who didn’t quite fit anywhere else.

Of course, no town would function if all the residents fit that description, so there are plenty of people in Bisbee who are simply more flexible and forgiving of the quirks of the more unusual residents. Debrah Strait is one of that latter group.

Please click here to read the rest of the review.

“De/Compositions” Review

3-star rating

I first encountered De/Compositions: 101 Good Poems Gone Wrong as a text book for an undergraduate English course I had to take to build up my humanities credits before I could be accepted into a Master’s Degree program in English at the University of Central Oklahoma. Author W. D. Snodgrass’s idea, to take 101 highly-regarded poems, from Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare to Donald Hall’s 1990 “The Man in the Dead Machine,” and turn them into something less than great, is an interesting one, particularly as an academic exercise. He groups the poems into five general categories—abstract and general versus concrete and specific; undercurrents; the singular voice; metrics and music; and structure and climax—and focuses his “de/composition” work in these areas.

Snodgrass, a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Delaware, is both a good enough poet to do this, and one not good enough. Why do I say that?

On the one hand, when “de/composing” each poem, he maintains its poetic structure, in particular its form and its rhyme and beat patterns, while reducing the qualities that made the poem stand out. With some poems, he even provides alternative versions with different beat patterns or number of beats per line. In a few cases, he even shows early drafts by the poet him- or herself, so the reader can see how the poem developed.

All of this is fine, even excellent… for an advanced poetry student who has the time and guidance to study each poem and absorb the lessons the “de/composition” teaches.

To read the rest of the review, please click here.

“Walk Quietly the Beautiful Trail” Review

3-star rating

It’s important to keep in mind what this little book (barely 60 pages long) is, and what it is not.

Walk Quietly the Beautiful Trail book cover

What it is: a Hallmark gift book with a 1973 copyright date; a slim collection of Native American song lyrics, poetry, legends, and reproductions of paintings. The translations date as far back as 1923.

What it is not: an in-depth or representative study of Native American culture, art, or literature.

What this book reveals should not be a surprise: that Native Americans experience the same feelings of love and desire for, and devotion to others; that they use song to prepare themselves for battle; and that their songs reflect the important times, activities, and events in their lives. The editor’s very limited commentary also reflects some of the attitudes of white Americans about the “Indians” that held at that time.

C. Merton Babcock edited a wide variety of books, including collections of Shakespeare, Melville, Thoreau, Whitman, Poe, Longfellow, and Hurston, and other books on topics ranging from the Koran to communication theory. It’s easy to wonder how Hallmark was able to enlist such a scholar to do a book like this, and why he agree to.

Do not over-analyze this little book. It represents just the merest sip from the vast lake of the artistic, literary, and cultural works of the first peoples of the Americas. If that sip whets the reader’s curiosity and encourages him or her to learn more, it has done something good.

“Balfor’s Salvation” Review

3-star rating

Middle books in a series can be hard to write. Ask me how I know. Balfor’s Salvation is the second book in Susan Trombley’s Shadows in Sanctuary series.

Balfor's Salvation cover

In Lilith’s Fall, the first book in the series, Stacia Dornan is part of a human team that joins with a band of umbrose to rescue the umbrose’s Prince Balfor, who’d been captured by the umbrose’s enemies, the adurians, and was being tortured. During the rescue, Stacia is seriously injured but she and Balfor are placed together so that, despite being barely conscious as well as in great pain, they make a tenuous connection by briefly holding hands.

Balfor’s Salvation begins some years later. Humans and umbrose want to expand their commercial ties, thanks largely to Lilith from book one being the concubine of Balfor’s number two, Duke Ranove. Somehow Balfor remembers Stacia from his rescue and wants her to be his primary contact. This slender thread brings them together, and predictably it’s lust at first sight.

To read the rest of the review, please click here.

“From the Top Down” Review

3-star rating
From the Top Down book cover

The subtitle to this book by Susan J. Ellis is “The Executive Role in Successful Volunteer Involvement,” and that’s true as far as it goes. For executives in businesses or organizations in which volunteers make up only a small fraction of the total workforce, this book is an excellent resource. Ellis devotes full chapters to budgeting for volunteers, the impact and financial value of volunteer contributions, understanding the volunteer/employee relationship (especially how it can go wrong and what to do to prevent or fix it), legal issues, and managing volunteers at all levels, from those performing basic tasks to those supporting the executive suite. For these topics and others, the book provides a wealth of information and keen insights, including how to address and change dismissive or fearful attitudes among employees about the volunteers who are working with them.

However, there’s a whole range of other organizations the book barely even mentions: those in which volunteers make up the vast majority of the workforce and the paid staff represents the minority. These organizations include veteran or military-affiliated groups, medical condition or other single-issue advocacy groups, and many others. They have chapters or similar teams spread across a wide area, such as the entire U.S., supported by a small organizational headquarters, often located in a state or national capital. An entire, separate book could be devoted to these groups.

To read the rest of the review, please click here.

Measles, the Anti-Vax Movement, and the Moral Imperative

I’m ticked off this week. No getting around it; I am. But I’m also sad and frustrated.

As of April 11th, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there have been 555 confirmed cases of measles so far this year. That’s more than in all of 2018 (372) and the highest number since 2014 (667). Measles was declared “eliminated” in the U.S. in 2000, but that means the disease isn’t present all the time (or “endemic”), not that it doesn’t exist at all.

Travelers from countries where measles is still endemic bring cases into the U.S. every year. Usually, there are enough people who’ve been vaccinated around them that no one else catches the disease, or a few do, and then no one else does. This is “herd immunity” at work.

But there are states and municipalities around the country where people can claim all sorts of reasons for not wanting to get vaccinated, or get their kids vaccinated. As a result, not only are they now vulnerable to this disease—and a lot of others—but so are the people around them.

Some of these people cite religious beliefs. Some of them live in relatively small, tightly knit communities like the Orthodox Jews in part of New York City. Others are scattered throughout their cities like, say, Christian Scientists. Or they live in isolated rural areas. I’m not happy about them for reasons I’ll make clear later.

I’m much more concerned about the ordinary but science-ignorant citizens who’ve been suckered by the anti-vaccine movement into believing emotion-laden allegations that vaccines cause all sorts of conditions, the most famous, or infamous, being autism. Never mind that in the case of autism, the scientist whose study started the whole thing retracted his research long ago, agreeing with his critics that he’d made some pretty serious errors in his work and conclusions.

But the virus of fear has been released into the wild.

Read more of this post.

A Formula for the Science in Science Fiction

The fundamental element of my Eternity Plague series—The Eternity Plague (book 1), Chrysalis (book 2), and Wild Spread (book 3, currently in draft)—is that five naturally-mutated viruses have infected all of humanity and are doing all sorts of strange and not necessarily wonderful things to everyone. My heroine, Dr. Janet Hogan, discovers the viruses and has to try to stop them before they do too many awful things. Good luck with that: so far the viruses are doing more things faster than Janet and her team can respond to them. How will the series end? Sorry, no spoilers here.

But because these books are science fiction, I wanted to ground them in science, and good science at that. But having the viruses cure and prevent all viral diseases and repair the genetic mutations that cause others?

Uh, yeah, that seems like a stretch. But that’s why I write “fiction beyond the known,” right?

Now, I’m not a geneticist like Janet is, nor do I play one on TV or in the movies, so I needed to do a fair amount of research to be able to present things in a credible but futuristic way, since the series is set in the mid- to late 2030s.

A ribosome
A ribosome

For example, early in The Eternity Plague, Janet and her team are deep inside a virtual reality simulation of a gene’s DNA being run through a megamolecule called a ribosome, which “reads” the DNA and creates a protein. I invoke other genetic machinery, including something called messenger RNA to help make the protein, which it does in real life.

To continue reading, please click here.