December 17th, 2007

_Dauntless_ by Jack Campbell and _Water for Elephants_ by Sara Gruen

Both books in which the POV character is one seriously old guy.

In _Dauntless_, Campbell, aka Hemry (from the JAG in space/_A Just Determination_ review) switches to faster-than-light mil sf, further into the future. There's some neat stuff about the religious/cultural background (ancestor worship figures prominently), but the basic story is deceptively simple. An Alliance (good guys) fleet has gotten hold of the key to the hypernet gate for the bad guys home system. Here's our chance! Along the way, they pick up the about-to-die-for-good space pod in which "Black Jack" Geary has been hibernating for a century after a glorious last stand covering the successful escape of the Alliance fleet in the _first_ battle in the century long war against the Syndics. Unfortunately, the acquisition of the key was a trap, and after taking heavy losses, all of the Staff go to negotiate with the Syndics, who promptly execute them, leaving Jack in command with an hour to surrender.

Instead, blast from the past Jack decides to exit the system via the "back roads" which have been forgotten in the day of the Hypernet. Turns out the Alliance has lost more than people and ships; they've lost crucial expertise which he can re-instruct them in, if he can find the time to resupply and retrain his new ship. While he's doing so, he stumbles across evidence that humans might not be as alone in the galaxy as they think.

_Fearless_ awaits, but first I had to read _Water for Elephants_ for book group. Packed with incident, _Water for Elephants_ does indeed satisfy. Gruen got lucky and acquired a mother-lode of circus related research material in the course of her other job. In this story, a 93 year old (or maybe 90) man is flashing back on his youthful first year with the Benzini circus. He almost had a vet degree from Cornell, but was unable to sit for his exams because he got the news that his parents had both just died in a car accident. And, oh, by the way, the house had a mortgage (probably to pay Cornell's tuition), dad's been taking payment in kind for the last couple years (it's 1933 or thereabouts and things are _really_ tough all over), the bank where he had his savings failed and the bank which holds the mortgage isn't feeling kindly at all.

Well of _course_ he's going to jump on a circus train. I mean, duh. What would any sensible lad do under the circumstances?

It takes a bit of doing to get hired on, and then to get regular food and a safe place to sleep. Along the way, he takes under his wing a variety of folk worse of than himself. When I said "packed with incident", I was not kidding. Gruen replays every sordid bit of circus history you've ever heard of: the elephant who drank the lemonade (like, the whole vat), the guy who was murdered and rolled up in a canvas tent, the "dumb" elephant that just happened not to understand English, but when you spoke to her in the right language was in fact The Smartest Elephant Ever.

Whatever.

I primarily objected to the dwarf tossing. Otherwise, a fast, fun read with a relatively satisfying ending (altho not for the paralyzed alcoholic guy who had shellshock or the aforementioned dwarf; or, for that matter, for the paranoid schizophrenic or a long list of other people who got thrown from the train). Quite possibly worth buying and reading in paperback, even without a book group being involved. The overall moral is appropriate for our age in that a college degree is helpful EVEN IF you decide to run away with the circus.

Toddler Fun: STOP signs are cool

On one of the Super Why reading segments, Lauri and Hooper are putting the letters on the sign (this is before Super Why proper starts). You need to know this as background for the next bit. My son is obsessed (and I do not use this word lightly) with Super Why. He knows his letters -- if you ask him what letter he is holding (we have the Leap Frog Fridge Phonics letter set, and a set of foam letters), he'll usually be able to tell you. If you ask him for a particular letter and it's available, he'll hand it to you. Usually.

Today, some packages arrived. This is not unusual at any time of year and more than the usual number are arriving right now. This was the Nutrimill and I did not intend to open it because I have some concerns about curious toddler fingers and, well, a grain mill.

However, my son hauled me off to the kitchen, insisted I pick him up so he could select something from the flatware drawer. He got a butter knife and ran back to the box. From this I know he wants to open it. I tell him that, and he repeats open box with knife back to me, somewhat comprehensibly. Cool. Sentences. We like sentences. Then we open the box. At the top of the box is a piece of paper with a stop sign and some language about don't dispute the Uncle John's charge (Kodiak, which sold me the mill, is owned by Uncle John's. I actually knew this, but understand that might have escaped some customers attention and resulted in unpleasantness all around). My son sees the paper, and spells out loud S-T-O-P and then says Stop.

I don't see anyway to interpret this other than he can recognize, read and spell the word stop.

Kinda freaky.

R. just came out of the living room to ask me if I heard what our son just did, which was spell, in chorus with Super Why, l-i-g-h-t. As in, no delay.

Like I said, kinda freaky.