October 19th, 2007


After a recent incident in which I hopelessly confused Hungary (as represented by Kate Seredy books of my childhood) and Turkey (as represented by the recent, excellent Elif Shafak _Bastard of Istanbul_), I decided there was absolutely no excuse for my pathetic knowledge of geography.

In the past, this would have caused me to do one of a short list of things: dig up a bunch of maps, buy a book. Currently, the major options were find something to learn geography online and buy a puzzle (like the ubiquitous United States puzzles, but for other parts of the world). Globes were out of the question, because they are unwieldy objects that date incredibly quickly and don't store well.

After looking at some multiple-guess quizzes, I decided I really wanted something visual and, well, mappy. Somehow, google led me to http://www.ilike2learn.com/, which has an unfortunate name, but some really great geography quizzes. Programmed learning in a robust and free form. Yay!

Step 1 was Europe, because, as I noted, there was that Turkey/Hungary error, which still seems unbelievably inexcusable. I don't recall any geography classes in school, altho I had a history teacher who was big on maps and map tests. That was for a world history class, but world history suffers from all the canon/conservative pedagogy problems and furthermore, I graduated high school in 1987 so you can just imagine what that was like (basically, if it was on the other side of the Iron Curtain, in some important sense, it was homogenous, communist and the backstory not worth learning because look what it led to).

Step 2 was the Middle East because, again, that whole confusion about Turkey.

Step 3 was to return to both and run through the capitals.

And now I'm nibbling away at Africa. Which is really hard, because I have so little framework to hook anything onto in Africa, but maybe this will help with that particular bootstrapping problem.

Lots of fun; check it out. It isn't just political geography (or whatever you call borders); there's also physical geography quizzes (mountains and lakes and rivers and such).

will the Brockmann never end?

_Flashpoint_ is almost entirely new people, employed by Troubleshooters, Inc. Decker, Nash and Bailey head off to K-stan, which has just suffered a major earthquake affecting its capital city. It has opened its borders to western relief agencies for the first time in a few years (this is the place that had the hijacked plane incident some years earlier in _Over the Edge_). Some terrorist guy with a kidney problem and a highly desirable laptop died shortly after the quake. The Troubleshooters ops have been sent in posing as relief folks to try to find it. Initially, the terrorist guy was assumed to be hanging with a local warlord, which brings in a subplot involving an American (Sophia) who stuck around K-stan a little too long and watched her husband beheaded by that warlord. Unspeakable stuff ensued for her but she escaped in the quake, believing (incorrectly) that she had killed the warlord by skewering him (Note to people contemplating similar: decapitation is much more of a sure thing).

Decker and Nash are both interested in Bailey. Decker and Nash are long-time partners and friends, so there's some agonizing there. Then Decker gets distracted by Sophia, who no one is sure whether to trust or not. And there's a reporter in the mix. Also a couple of other employees of Troubleshooters. Their hosts in K-stan. A teenager whose younger brother they pull out of a school that collapsed. A horse named Marge (as in Simpson; the glories of satellite TV).

I have mixed feelings about the way Brockmann handled infrastructure issues. Bailey rechargers her laptop with a small generator (not one of those solar gizmos, apparently). People drink out of the taps without negative effects at least occasionally (but for the most part, people are drinking tap water). The cell phone/communications issue is a central plot point so that's handled reasonable well.

I did really like the way the wrap-up of Bailey and Nash is handled. She is, after all, a computer specialist, and right from the beginning, she's hacking away at the computers at thee Agency they worked at prior to Troubleshooters. It makes sense that Bailey would have dug up Nash's buried file and read it. It even makes sense that Nash would be not expect her to have done that and have trouble processing that. Kinda cool. A bit idealistic (in the contents of the file), but that's okay; this is fiction, not reality.

I have to say, tho, that depicting Bailey as always authentic (and that's what Decker, Nash, and the rest of the crowd love about her) suggests she isn't going to make a great field operative. Or, alternativley, she's going to make a _great_ field operative -- and she's not nearly as authentic as everyone thinks she is. Which should make them worry.

No WW2 backstory in this one, and I, for one, do not miss it. In a lot of ways, this is a stand-alone novel only tangentially related to the rest of the series (SEAL Team 16 shows up at the end, but very peripherally). I've got the next two in paperback (one used, one from Costco), then there's one more paperback that's out, and after that, one current hardcover and one hardcover due out this month. It's a remarkably good run; thanks again to K. for the rec. (And there are _other_ Brockmann series out there as well, I know).