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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Recently read: "The California Voodoo Game" by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes

The California Voodoo Game: A Dream Park Novel

The California Voodoo Game: A Dreampark Novel

The third book by Niven and Barnes to focus on Dream Park, the fictional California amusement park which hosts LARG in addition to typical rides.  This one takes place eight years after the first.  The new game, focusing on voodoo, is set in Meacham's Folly (Meacham Incorpaorated Mojave Industrial Community) which was meant to be a giant planned community.  Damaged in the big quake (which occurs before Dream Park), it has been abandoned until now, when it is being used as the setting for the newest game, and then will be used as the test bed for the terraforming being planned for Mars (part of the background for The Barsoom Project)

Alex Griffin, Dream Park security chief, has a new girlfriend who is found murdered just before the game starts.  Tony McWhirter (jailed by Griffin in Dream Park, then hired for security when he is released from prison, and now one of the Game Masters for the new game) guesses that the killer is possibly in the game and that there is some sort of gambling fix planned. Griffin once again enters a game as a player.

The game itself is based around Voodoo, and gods (or aliens), and is different in that instead of a single team, there are multiple ones, competing against one another.  This leads to a lot of strategy by the Lore Masters (the heads of the teams) with alliances formed and broken. This adds to the complexity of the game, but sometimes adds to the confusion, since the cast of characters is pretty large (though there's a lot of game "deaths" fairly early in the game).  We also see several returning characters among the gamers, including Mary Em and Acascia Garcia (former lover of both McWhirter and Griffin).  I did enjoy some of the teams (the Army team in particular).

As a mystery (and as a game) this one is better than The Barsoom Project, but still lacks something compared to Dream Park.  I did think the ending, which Griffin finally realizing what his life has lacked, is fitting.

As a side note, like the Kindle version of Dream Park, the cover art for this one isn't very good, especially compared to the art of the original hardcover edition.

The California Voodoo Game: A Dreampark Novel

We'll see a new Dream Park book, The Moon Maze Game, later this year (though it will be set more than 25 years after this book)

Recently read: "Fever Dream" by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Fever Dream

Fever Dream

The newest book from Preston and Child about FBI agent Aloysius Pendergast.  This is sort of a return to form after being the slightly disappointing  previous two books (The Wheel of Darkness and Cemetery Dance).

Agent Pendergast, in a chance examination of the gun his wife Helen was carrying during the lion hunt twelve years before that resulted in her death, realizes that Helen was murdered.  Determined to find out the reason, he drags his friend, NYPD cop Vincnet D'Agosta, into a leave of absence to help with the hunt.  What was the motive for Helen's murder?  Was it connected to her apparent fascination with John James Audubon, and her search for a apparent lost Audubon painting?  They must travel to Africia and then back to the American Gulf Coast as they unravel the secrets behind Helen's life before she met Pendergast.

I've always liked how Preston and Child craft their novels around what appears to be some supernatural event, eventually pulling out a rational explanation for what's going on (though again we get a bit of Constance Greene, Pendersgast's ward, who is the biggest stretch in their books).  With this book, there's less of that, since it's primarily a murder mystery, though there is evenutally an unexpected answer to what caused several esipodes of madness.  How that ties in with Audubon is a bit far fetched, but still rational.

I do worry a bit about their focus on Pendergast.  I know that he's by far their most popular creation, but I actually perfer their books where we see more of the supporting cast.  This is now the sixth book to focus narrowly on the agent, and I'd like to see more of their general mystery/thrillers.  He also has been even more of a super human character, where he always had the necessary knowledge at hand, along with his physical skills.  I am happy to see that their new book, Gideon's Sword, has a new protangist and is the start of a new series.

Recently read: "Dead on the Island" by Bill Crider

Dead on the Island

Dead on the Island (Truman Smith Private Eye)

The first book in Bill Crider's "Truman Smith" PI series, it introduces private investigator Truman (Tru) Smith .  Smith, a BOI (born on the island) returned to Galveston Island to try and find his missing sister.  He has failed, and is painting houses to get by, running along the seawall when his weak knee lets him and reading Faulkner in his spare time (and also feeding Nameless, the cat who hangs around).

Smith is asked by his high school friend Dino to find Sharon Matthews, the daughter of one of the women who worked the whorehouses run by Dino's uncles when Galveston was wide open.  He first thinks the girl ran away when she found out about her mother's past, but finding Sharon's boyfriend murdered, and then getting beat up outside a Houston nightclub, convinces him that there is more going on.

He must dig into his and Dino's past, and there will be more bloodshed before the story is told.  Smith makes an interesting detective: wracked by guilt over the failure to find his sister, he's a bit adrift.  Crider's "Sheriff Dan Rhodes" series is more successful (up to 16 or 17 books) but this one is well worth searching out also.

Recently read: "The A.I. War, Book One: The Big Boost" by Daniel Keys Moran

The A.I. War, Book One: The Big Boost

The A.I. War, Book One: The Big Boost (Tales of the Continuing Time)

Trent the Uncatchable is back!  It's been a long time waiting, but DKM has finally given us the next part of the "Continuing Time" story, and it focuses on Trent.  To me, it feels much more like "The Long Run" than "The Last Dancer" and most of his fans (myself included) are probably ok with that, since Trent is such a marvelous character.  There's also not much focus on the "Continuing Time" background, which, while I know Moran loves, is to me the weakest part of his writing.

The Unity is being built in Earth orbit, a seven kilometer long spacecraft, one of the largest artifact ever built by humans, and it is being built for one purpose: to bring the rest of the solar system (particularly Mars and the Belt) under Earth (Peaceforce) control.  Trent goes undercover aboard the Unity, planning on somehow derailing the Peacforce plans.  There, he will match wits with Melissa du Bois, a Peaceforcer Elite and eventually her boss, Peaceforcer Elite Commander Mohammed Vance.

Much of this book apparently was written years ago, but it still feels pretty fresh to me.  I've not done a re-read of The Long Run or The Last Dancer, but Trent still feels like Trent, and I didn't notice any glaring inconsistencies in the background.  The book opens with a marvelous set piece, as Trent (with a price on his head) is the focus of an assassination attempt in the Belt, and ends up playing hide and seek with a Peaceforce spaceship.  The bulk of the book has Trent aboard the Unity undercover, pretending to be the person in charge of the programming team.  His goal is to derail the project, and his final solution works well, and I certainly didn't see it coming.

The big flaw in the book is that it's "book one" of a trilogy, and it ends in a cliff hanger.  I can only hope that the wait for books 2 and 3 isn't anywhere near as long.