Silo Trilogy by Hugh Howey

Book Review of Wool, Shift, & Dust by Hugh Howey

These books were originally published in multiple parts each, what I am reviewing here are the omnibus editions.  All three books are telling essentially the same story with Shift picking up the tale I’d say about the middle of the Wool timeline and then Dust taking the story to it’s conclusion.  Even though the story and timelines cross-over they are told from different perspectives.  Howey’s writing style is easy to read and follow — I’ve not read any of his other books (though I now plan too) but at least in these there are no impossible made-up words or ideas to contend with.  Not suggesting those are always bad things but they do sometimes make a book harder to enjoy.  In my initial review of ‘Wool’ I had said that I thought Mr. Howey had a chip on his shoulder with his Help Desk people since he essentially criminalized the ‘IT’ department.  I’m so glad that I read the other two books so I could get the rest of the story!  Since I don’t want to give everything away I will say that the basic premise throughout the story of a dystopian society created by a corrupt government via the catalyst of an eminent biological attack is completely (and sadly) believable.   Juliette, whom I will call our protagonist (though not the only one) is a real and likable woman – a person you will be rooting for until the bitter end.  I guess the main antagonist is Thurman, but he is really just the linchpin of a much bigger evil.  I kind of wanted a 4th book to continue the story but I guess I will have to be happy with the ending as it is – and it does have a happy ending even though there are losses along the way.  (I will have to  be satisfied imagining for myself what happened next… like who married whom, who got be the next mayor, if they found others… etc.).  I absolutely recommend these books!  It’s an enjoyable way to spend a weekend or two!

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This is very nearly me…

I am reading

    The Ares Decision

by Kyle Mills and on page 123 he describes the office of one of the main characters…

Her tiny office was crammed with books that looked like they’d spent most of their lives in the field, but most were completely obscured by her fetish for sticky notes. There was hardly a square inch available anywhere that didn’t have a reminder of some type attached to it.

I think I may already have the book angle covered and I’m pretty sure I’m only a few more sticky notes or lists away from this description!

More on the book once I finish it, hopefully this weekend.

Game of Thrones, Season 1, Episode 1, Winter Is Coming

My first nice unbiased comment is that I really do like the opening sequence with the model of the wall and Westeros.  That is very cool… I like the kind of ‘clockwork’ aspect to it.


I also do think that Sean Bean was a a good choice for Eddard Stark, he does fit the picture of Ned that I had envisioned while reading the books.  Catelyn, however, is nothing like what I imagined and seems far too old.

Right away I feel like the Winterfell children are all too old and I don’ like it.  One of things that made these characters enduring in the books was their tender ages and  what they had to go through.

King Robert seems to fit into the role quite well for me but Cersei not so much… I think I may just have issues with all the female casting.

Jaime…. well first I was expecting someone more, well I don’t know… more svelte, sexier… but not player type but more Bondesque or something.  I wanted to meet Jaime for the first time and feel the need to jump him, ya know.

Tyrion I think will probably grow on me because I think the actor is good and I think the personality is spot on — however, in the book he was described as being much more grotesque and I think his character needed that to work to create that love-hate relationship throughout out the story.  You also get your first glimpse here that Tyrion may not be the most morally corrupt of the cast… stay tuned.

Joffrey… does he remind anyone else of Malfoy?  Ugghhh.

I totally love Arya (even though I feel like she’s too old).  Sansa isn’t developed enough to comment on and we don’t get to see the true nature of Bran yet.

I wish we could have seen a little more of the dire-wolves.

John Snow…  I am going to withhold judgement right now because he is one of my treasured characters.

Across the sea to Pentos….

Daenerys was too old but at least her character behaved younger.  Viserys was definitely creepy and I’m seriously looking forward to his demise.  One thing though… their hair should have been silvery and shimmery – not white.

Khal Drogo wasn’t really what I pictured but as kind of a minor character (in my view) I guess I didn’t care so much.  Off topic I did like him much better in Conan.

Gods… I know that all I want for my engagement gift is a freaking box of snakes!!!  If it’s a good omen to have some killed at the reception I’ll be sure to invite all my exes!

Their first time is nothing like what was in the book. *Dislike*

So… episode one leaves us with a cliffhanger and any sane person should want to kick Jaime and Viserys in the teeth.


Game of Thrones, Part Duex

So after much contemplation I have decided to try watching the miniseries again.  I will admit to having hated it on my first attempt.  I’ve read all five of the books and am eager for the next.  Sadly, it sounds like it may be 2 years before book 6.  So, here I go with season 1…

April 2011 Book Reviews

Some of the books I read in April (acutally read Instinct last week, but who’s counting?)…
Weirdly enough 3 of the books I read this month turned out to be about genetic mutations\de-evolution\super-evolution etc.  In fact, 2 of them both featured female veterinarians as the heroines.  Just thought that odd… Made me wonder if we’ve run out of things to be afraid of and had to start making up shit.  Anyhoo…. I’ll start with the biggest loser…

Breathless by Dean KoontzContemporary Literature)

Horrible.  Too may story threads that never really come together.  A lot of character building that wasn’t very well sequenced.  The worst though, in my view, was the complete non-ending.  It just ends… no closure, no explanation, nothing.  I guess I was expecting something better from a writer of Koontz reputation.  This is one of those that had a female vet and weird genetics (or possibly aliens, couldn’t really figure that out).  Not recommending this one folks. 

Altar of Eden by James RollinsLiterature & Fiction Books)

Girl-vet (actually cryo-zoologist) v. weaponized genetic mutations. Better than Breathless by a long shot but still just mediocre.  I did enjoy the scenery though… one interesting setting was an alligator farm in New Orleans.  Wasted a few pages with yet another romantic angle… I really don’t understand the purpose of that in suspense-thrillers… but oh well.

Storm Cycle by Iris Johansen & Roy JohansenContemporary Literature)

Things that I liked: the heroine is a computer whiz and is chasing down secrets from a long dead Egyptian Lady Doctor.  Love it!  And thanks to the authors who included a note at the end telling about the real Egyptology involved (which I also loved!).  This book had another common theme I see in thrillers of late… looking for a cure for something ‘incurable’.  Of course, I didn’t need the romantic twist (there were actually two) but in this case I don’t think it detracted from the story too much.  Ending could have been better but overall I enjoyed it.

Instinct by Jeremy RobinsonAction & Adventure Genre Fiction)
Here’s a twist… genetic freaks v Delta Force.  If you’re into military fiction then I think you’ll enjoy Robinson’s Chess Team.  (Warning… there weren’t any magical Ramboesque M-60s but some of the Delta members do seem to be more than human.)  I will likely pick up another of the Chess Team missions because of this book.  The story was okay… alot was borrowed from other stories… several came to my mind.  It was entertaining enough to keep me reading through to finish it in one night.

Next up is:

The Moses Quest by Will Adams

The Siege of Troy by Greg Tobin

Oops! There goes another rubber tree plant… or not!

The tyres of the future may be made from dandelions

Tremble, Michelin, tremble

OTHER than being an ingredient of the more recherché sorts of salad, herbal tea or wine, dandelions are pretty useless plants. Or, at least, they were. But one species, a Russian variety called Taraxacum kok-saghyz (TKS), may yet make the big time. It produces molecules of rubber in its sap and if two research programmes, one going on in Germany and one in America, come to fruition, it could supplement—or even replace—the traditional rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis.

Despite the invention of synthetic rubbers, there is often no good substitute for the real thing, for nothing artificial yet matches natural rubber’s resilience and strength. This is because natural-rubber molecules, the product of a stepwise synthesis by enzymes, have a more regular structure than the artificial ones made by chemical engineering. Around a fifth of an average car tyre is therefore made of natural rubber. In an aeroplane tyre that figure can be more than four-fifths. Moreover, the price of synthetic rubber is tied to that of the oil from which it is made, rendering it vulnerable to changes in the oil price. Because oil is likely to become more costly in the future, natural rubber looks an attractive alternative from an economic point of view as well as an engineering one.

Natural rubber has problems, though. Growing Hevea in the Americas is hard. A disease called leaf blight means the trees have to be spaced widely. Even in Asia, currently blight-free, planting new rubber trees often means cutting down rainforest, to general disapproval. And trees, being large, take time to grow to the point where they can yield a crop. A smaller plant that could be harvested for its rubber therefore has obvious appeal.

One proposal is to use guayule, a shrub that grows in arid regions and produces rubber that is free from allergenic proteins, which makes it useful for items such as surgical gloves. Desert plants, however, tend to be slow growing—guayule takes two years to mature. Yulex, a firm that has commercialised guayule, gets an annual crop of 400 kilograms per hectare. Hevea can yield four or five times that figure. Which is where TKS could come in. Dandelions are regarded as weeds for a reason—they are robust, fast-growing plants that can be pulled up for processing and resown easily, possibly yielding two harvests a year. If they could be turned into usable crops, they could outstrip even Hevea.

To this end, Christian Schulze Gronover of the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology in Aachen, Germany, and his colleagues have identified the genes that allow TKS to produce usable rubber. In particular, they have discovered an enzyme called polyphenoloxidase that is responsible for making its rubbery sap coagulate.

From the plant’s point of view this coagulation is a good thing. The evolutionary purpose of rubber, and the reason why it has appeared independently in plants as diverse as trees, guayule and dandelions, is that it gums up the mouthparts of herbivorous insects. Human users, however, do not want it to coagulate too soon, and Dr Schulze Gronover has found a way to switch polyphenoloxidase off, using a technique called RNA interference. This intercepts and destroys the molecular messengers that carry instructions from the polyphenoloxidase gene to make the enzyme, meaning that rubber can be extracted more easily from the plant.

Meanwhile, in America Matthew Kleinhenz of Ohio State University is working on increasing the yield of rubber from TKS. Dr Kleinhenz is doing things the old-fashioned way, growing different strains of TKS, grinding up the roots (where most of the sap is found) to see which have the highest rubber content, and crossbreeding the winners. His aim is to create a plant that is both high-yielding and has roots chunky enough to be harvested mechanically by the sort of device now used to pick carrots.

Combining the two approaches—high-tech bioengineering and low-tech plant breeding—may produce that rarity in the modern world, a whole new crop species. It would also mark a step on a journey that some see as the way forward: a return to the use of plant-based products that have, briefly, been overshadowed by the transient availability of cheap oil.


Writing prompt gone bad

WRITING PROMPT: After returning from work, you walk into your house and notice an item that wasn’t there when you left in the morning. What room were you in, what was the item and how did it get there?

Just another day lost to the corporate monster. Finally, I get to go home and relax. No phones, no e-mails… just a nice glass of tea and some mind-numbing television.Lovely, he didn’t shovel the driveway. I pulled the car into the garage and shut the garage door. As I opened the door into the house and walked in everyone suddenly seemed very busy with whatever they were doing. For some reason, my family’s behavior seemed odd to me but I was tired and just wanted to rest so I forgot about it.

I went upstairs to the kitchen and made myself a glass of iced tea. I went to sit at the dining room table and turned on the TV in the living room. It was then that I noticed the wristwatch on the table.

My son came bounding in looking for a snack. “Is this your watch?”
“nope…” he garbled as his mouth filled with cookie.

I called my daughter to come upstairs and asked if it was hers or belonged to one of her friends. She too denied any knowledge of the watch.

The question now was… who had been in my house? Where did the watch come from? And did I dare pose the question to Joe – did I really want to hear the answer. My stomach began to sink.

“Joe, could you come up here for a minute?” He grumbled and said he’d be up ‘in a minute’; which always meant an hour. I just wasn’t important enough to disturb his video game.

A while later, after all of the conspiracies had plenty of time to formulate in my head, he came upstairs. I hid the watch. “Did anything happen today? Anyone stop by?”

“No, why?” I thought he looked nervous.

“Well, it’s just that I found something here on the table that doesn’t belong here. I was wondering where it came from.” Now I’d set the trap.

“What was it?”

“Nothing, I guess. It doesn’t matter. I’ll find out sooner or later.” With that he figured his part of the conversation was over. I decided to hide the watch until someone came looking for it.

Several days later after getting home from work early…

“Did you see a watch on the dining room table?” asked Joe, like he was asking me to pass the salt.

“Since when do you wear a watch?” I asked, knowing full well that he never wore one.

He balked. It was only for a second but I saw it. “It was a gift for my mother.” He stammered.

“Really? You never even talk to your mother. And it’s nowhere near her birthday.”

He started heating up. “Just give it back!”

“And the inscription on the inside of the band is ‘S.E.M.’… what I can only assume are initials. But those are not your mother’s initials.” I really had him sweating. ” Why don’t you tell me who it really belongs to and what they were doing in my house?!”

“Just give it back! I need to return it!” He was yelling now. He knew that he was caught in his own web of lies.

“To whom do you need to return it? I’m not giving it back unless you tell me the truth.” I spoke calmly and quietly, then paused for a moment. “In fact, I won’t return it to you at all. You can have the owner drop by and I’ll give to ‘her’ personally.” We both knew it was a ‘her’.

“Okay, I fucked up…,” he looked at his feet and shifted uneasily from side to side. “The watch belongs to a woman that I know and she stopped by here earlier this week.”

“And?” I knew what was coming.

“And I’ve been sleeping with her…” he waited for the explosion.

But to his confusion I didn’t react. I told him to wait and I would go and get the watch. I’m sure he thought I was despondent… too destroyed to even go into a jealous rage.

I went downstairs and into the bedroom. I had hidden the watch in my dresser. I got it and put it in my pocket. I stood there for a moment thinking about all the times he’d cheated. No… this wasn’t the first.

I didn’t think I could ever feel this way. Could it have finally come to this?

I went around to the other side of the bed and opened the bottom drawer of his bed stand. I retrieved the 9mm and the loaded clip lying next to it. I put the clip into the gun and pulled back the hammer. It was then that I realized what I was about to do – what HAD to be done.

I went upstairs and walked into the living room area and he was still standing there by the dining room table, wringing his hands. He looked up and I shot him. Center mass… his shock was palpable, I nearly laughed. I walked over and lovingly put the watch around his wrist. I whispered in his ear, “It’s over.” I stood up and shot him in the head at point blank range.

I went back downstairs and dutifully cleaned the gun before putting it away. The kids would be home from school soon.

Then I shook him awake. “Joe! Wake up!” He was sweating and writhing in bed next to me. When he finally came out of it he looked at me like I was the devil herself. He never did tell me what the nightmare was about. Oddly, he checked the bed stand before he left the room.