Sunday, April 28, 2013

Movie Review: Jack Reacher

1. Short review: 

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: Tom Cruise's performance: 'He looked little and pissed-off.' (Kristine Kathryn Rusch)

2.2. What I did not like: The bad guys' motivation was not clear to me. Money? Geez, in this world, if you got money and want more, get a McDonald's franchise. Or a Starbucks.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Everyone.

2.4. Is the movie appropriate for children to see? Yes, with a caveat. There is violence, but the personal violence is movie violence: gunshots with no spatter and no blood. However, there is a sniper shooting that is replayed several times. Your call.

2.5. On the basis of viewing this movie, will I pay to see the sequel? Yes, I will pay to see another Jack Reacher starring Tom Cruise.

2.6. Rating and the plot in a nutshell:

2.6.1. How I rate movies:
-- I want my money back.
-- Worth a rental, not more. 
-- Worth first-run theater price once. <-- Jack Reacher
-- I will pay first-run theater price to see it again. 

Running time: 130 minutes.

2.6.2. The plot in a nutshell:
     Mass sniper shooting in Pittsburg. Cops arrest suspect. Asked for a confession, the suspect writes 'GET JACK REACHER' on a tablet.
     Jack Reacher shows up. Investigates the incident for suspect's defense attorney. Uncovers nefarious plot. Kills all the bad guys. Leaves town.
2.7. Other:

     I saw this on pay-per-view. I liked it. 
     Kristine Kathryn Rusch noted that Jack Reacher found a poor reception among fans of the Lee Child books. Evidently they were upset because 5'8" Cruise was chosen to portray a 6'5" character.
     I have not read any of the Jack Reacher books, so I had no expectations about the man's size. But thinking about it, if the guy is 6'5" I expect him to be capable of handling himself in a brawl. At 5'8", it comes as a brutal surprise.
     There were three fistfights in the movie. In the first, Reacher took on five toughs and sent three to hospital. The last two escaped that fate by running away.
     Cruise brought the attitude of Reacher out on the screen. He looked bored by the prospect of a fight with five toughs. To get the fight started, he even said, "Look, it's getting late." When the fists flew, he savaged his opponents. No Marquess of Queensberry rules for him. He dealt each blow to stun or disable. Kudos to whomever choreographed that fight.
     The movie's bad press persuaded me to avoid it in the theaters. That's too bad. I enjoyed it.

2.8. Links:
IMDb review
Rotten Tomatoes review

Saturday, April 27, 2013

eBook Review: Retief!

Keith Laumer, Retief!


Product Details from Baen's Books

Published ?
SKU: 0671318578
Ebook Price: $4.00
Not Currently Available (As of 26 April 2013.)

1. Short review:  (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked:  I am a fan of Jaime Retief. I think the Retief series was the best that Keith Laumer wrote. 
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? Roller coasters, but old wooden ones. None of the new loopty-loop let's-get-inverted roller coasters. Still, good rides. 

2.2. What I did not like: Eric Flint's afterward. Eric Flint is not a fan of Retief. Said he liked KL's "In the Queue" better. I read "In the Queue". Once. I have read Retief! many times. This is the first time I read it in ebook form.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Science fiction fans. KL fans.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes. No worries.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Yes.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell:
     There are many stories, so there are many plots. The headliner is "Diplomat at Arms", the first Retief story. Curiously, this is the story of the end of Retief's career with the Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne, aka the CDT.
 2.7. Other:
     KL served in the US Air Force. After honorable service with the hardest-working branch of the military, for inexplicable reasons he chose to consort with liars and villains: he joined the Foreign Service.
     Jerry Pournelle wrote that, in training, KL had to lie on the ground while a tank trundled over him. Seems like a damned silly thing for an Air Force officer to do, but Jerry says that experience informed KL's Bolo series. Bolos were AI tanks with no human operators. Myself, I never cared much for the Bolos. How do you root for cold metal versus men? I dunno. For tank action I prefer David Drake's Hammer's Slammers. Men in iridium AFVs doing unto others hot, hard, and heavy 'cuz it's their job and they're good at it.
     Retief is my favorite of KL's series. Like Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat, each story -- "Diplomat at Arms" excepted --  is filled with droll humor.
     Eric Flint does not appreciate Retief and says so in the Afterward to this volume. Says he prefers KL's "In the Queue". I do not know Mr Flint, but based solely upon his stated preference here, I do not think he and I can be friends. If he would rather read "In the Queue" than "Diplomat at Arms", he is too twisted for my tastes. Why Baen's Books did not get someone who is a fan of Retief, anyone but Eric Flint, to write the Afterward beats me.
     Look. I love the Retief series. Retief! is the first volume of the collected stories among many. I read it many times and enjoyed each reading.

2.8. Links:  There are entries in Wikipedia for Keith Laumer and Jaime Retief, but they are so bad that I refuse to link to them. An example of how bad they are, the entry for Jaime Retief consistently misspells his name. If you can't be bothered to get the name right, don't bother making the entry at all.  

2.9. Buy the book:  Retief! (Oops! Not currently available from Baen's Books. Big mistake on their part. Huge. Click the link anyway. Maybe by the time you try it they will have had a lucid moment and made it available. I mean, it was available. How hard is it to link to an ebook file? A link that used to be there?)
     HEY! You guys at Baen's Books. When will you make this right?

     CAVEAT EMPTOR: The Amazon listing for Retief! is "The Yllian Way", a single Retief short story. It is not the full first collection. 03 November 2013.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

eBook Review: Assignment in Eternity

Robert Heinlein, Assignment in Eternity

Product Details from Baen's Books

Published 7/1/2012
Ebook Price: $8.99 

1. Short review:  (Amazon rating: 4 out of 5 stars -- I like it.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked:  "Jerry Was a Man" and the Afterward by David Drake. "Jerry Was a Man" is a 5-star story. 
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? Both. Four stories are collected in this volume. Some coasters, some walks.

2.2. What I did not like: Sad to say, I have never liked "Lost Legacy". Read it years ago and forgot it. Reading it again, I remembered why I forgot it.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Science fiction fans. RAH fans.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes. No worries.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Yes.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell:
     There are four stories in Assignment in Eternity: "Gulf", "Elsewhen", "Lost Legacy", and "Jerry Was a Man". David Drake's Afterward tells us where these stories were first published and how they came to be published.
     "Jerry Was a Man" is the reason I bought the book. This story alone is worth the book's price.
     Jerry was a 'worker', the product of gene engineering from chimpanzee stock. Billionairess Martha van Vogel found him in a pen of 'retired' workers at Workers, Inc., and took a liking to him. When she discovered that Jerry and his cohort were to be terminated because they were no longer economically viable, she raised a fuss and called her stockbroker (by cell phone) to direct him to purchase controlling interest in the corporation's stock. To smooth things over, Workers, Inc., made her a present of Jerry.
     Mrs van Vogel found her attempt to gain control of Workers, Inc., blocked. She sought another way to prevent Workers, Inc., from terminating retired anthropoids. What she found was lawyers. They have Jerry sue Workers, Inc.
     The key questions in the case are two:  1) What is a man? and 2) Is Jerry a man?
     The problem with the story is that the title gives away the ending. But it is still a great story.
     Why is it a great story?
     I have my view of science fiction. My view is that nobody writes about the future. We write about matters of today using the lens of science fiction to magnify some specific concern.
     "Jerry Was a Man" was published in 1947. When RAH wrote the story, blacks were segregated by law. RAH was making a point about racial injustice. If a gene-engineered chimpanzee was a man, was a black human being anything less?
 2.7. Other:
     FYI Rod Walker, the hero of Tunnel in the Sky, was black. No less an authority than Virginia Heinlein, RAH's wife, said so.
     Johnny Rico, the hero of Starship Troopers, was Filipino.
     RAH believed in the equality of men before it was fashionable. He believed that a man is not defined by the color of his skin but, rather, by the quality of his acts.

2.8. Links:  The Heinlein Society 

2.9. Buy the book:  Assignment in Eternity

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

eBook Review: Spitfires, Thunderbolts, and Warm Beer

Philip D Caine, Spitfires, Thunderbolts, and Warm Beer: An American Fighter Pilot Over Europe

Product Details

  • File Size: 4211 KB 
  • Print Length: 231 pages 
  • Publisher: Potomac Books Inc.; 1st edition (February 28, 1995) 
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc. 
  • Language: English 
  • ASIN: B004NNUV72 
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled 
  • X-Ray: Not Enabled 
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars (28 customer reviews) 
  • Price: $9.16
1. Short review:  (Amazon rating: 4 out of 5 stars -- I like it.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked:  Well written. Caine crafted an excellent book from Gover's letters, war diary, and interviews.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? Roller coaster.

2.2. What I did not like: I wanted a table of Gover's missions and kills, but maybe that is asking too much.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Air combat buffs. History buffs.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes. No worries.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Yes.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell:
     There is no plot, but it feels like there is. The tension rises steadily until LeRoy Gover returns home on leave in 1944.
     LG learned to fly during the Great Depression. When he signed up for the Selective Service, he realized that without two years of college he would be shunted to the infantry when drafted. He searched for and found a way to become a fighter pilot: join the RAF.
     The RAF concocted an oath sort of like the one the French Foreign Legion used so that American volunteers would not lose their citizenship. Before he swore the oath, LG took 'refresher training' on AT6s in Bakersfield. Not every student in his class passed. He did.
     Most American volunteers were used as instructors in Canada. LG was slated to become a fighter pilot.
     LG sailed to England by way of Canada. He joined his Operational Training Unit in Wales. After he finished his training, he cycled back to instruct the next class. Then he joined 66 Squadron in early 1942. When he joined, 66 Squadron flew the Spitfire Mk V. 
     The only American in the squadron, LG flew the full range of fighter missions: bomber escort, convoy patrol, and fighter sweeps -- the British term for ground attack. The day of the Dieppe Raid, 19 August 1942, 66 Squadron flew top cover for the ill-fated Canadians. (Why did the British high command always throw away commonwealth forces in ill-conceived adventures like Gallipoli and Dieppe?) LG flew three missions over Dieppe that day. On the first mission, the whole squadron flew. On the second mission, there were only five planes in the squadron that could fly. On the third mission, the squadron consisted of three aircraft; only LG returned from that mission, his Spitfire riddled with bullet holes.
     LG received orders posting him to 133 Squadron the next day. 133 was an Eagle Squadron; that is, its pilots were all American. LG spent a month with them before the US Army Air Force absorbed the Eagle Squadrons.
     LG went from a Flying Officer in the RAF to Second Lieutenant in the USAAF. He still flew Spits but with a star instead of a roundel.
LeRoy Gover flew a Spitfire with these markings from late September 1942 to January 1943.
     The USAAF primary fighter mission -- bomber escort -- differed from that of the RAF, and the Spitfire was ill-suited to the mission. In January 1943 LG traded his Spit for a Jug, a razorback P47. (In the book's cover photo he is seen about to enter his P47.) LG was promoted captain about the same time and became a flight leader. USAAF regs said a pilot had to have 50 hours in a type before flying combat, so LG did not fly another mission through enemy skies until 10 March 1943.
     The day before Christmas 1943, LG's squadron commander told him he was being sent home on leave. Due to SNAFUs with his leave orders, LG did not leave England until March 1944. He spent the rest of the war commanding a fighter lead-in squadron in Florida.
 2.7. Other:
     Along with stories of Spits and Jugs, LG gives much print to the free time he spent in London drinking. Thus, the warm beer in the title.
     LG transferred to the USAAF for the insurance ($10,000 in the USAAF; 0 in the RAF) and the pay. His pay increased from $58 a month in the RAF to $300 a month in the USAAF. As a second louie.
     The book contains 31 photos. One that impressed me was the photo of LG's OTU class. 30 members of the class were marked with Xs and 7 with Os. X denoted someone who was killed in the war. O denoted someone who had crashed and was unfit to fly. Six in the class survived the war still flying. You got that? 30 dead out of 43 and another seven too broken up to fly again. And grunts complain us flyboys have it easy. Hmmph.
     LG retired from the Air Force a full bird colonel in 1962. Flew charters to Mexico and Canada after that.
     There is much more in this book, but I won't spoil it for you. Read it for yourself. It is excellent.
     One last thing: I was surprised to find the tension rose in this memoir as if it were a novel. I felt relief when LG was ordered home on leave.
     Okay, one more last thing: LG got 4 kills with the RAF and 2 with the USAAF. The USAAF did not count his RAF kills and the RAF did not track his USAAF kills, so by the official records he is not an ace.
     Okay, okay, one last last thing: Members of the Eagle Squadrons -- USAAF pilots who had flown with the RAF -- in addition to their USAAF wings got to wear their RAF wings over their right breast pocket. How cool is that?
     LG died two and half years after this book was first published. His obituary (third from the top) differs from the book on details. I think the book is right and the obit is wrong.
     The author, BGen Philip D. Caine, USAF (Ret.), did an excellent job with this book. It is the best third-person account I have read. He was no slouch either. Look him up.

2.8. Links: 
LeRoy Gover with the 4th Fighter Group (Note: Despite the roundel on the Spitfire, the information on this page covers only LG's time in the USAAF.)
Philip D. Caine 

2.9. Buy the book:  Spitfires, Thunderbolts, and Warm Beer