July 21st, 2008

_Valiant_, Jack Campbell (kindle)

First of three reviews today, assuming I get to them all.

This latest entry in the Lost Fleet took some number of extra days to become available on the kindle but I successfully waited. (Ditto for the latest Sookie Stackhouse, which will be next).

Campbell is the sf author formerly known as John Hemry. He actually had a military career and when you read his books, it shows -- in a good way. While I think on balance I preferred his JAG in Space books under his own name, the Lost Fleet series is developing nicely. Both series contain numerous women in the military, and in the Lost Fleet at least there's a clear presumption that Gays Are OK, too, which is nice. Set at some unclear point in the future, 100 years into a very evenly matched war with the Syndic worlds, Black Jack Geary has to solve a difficult series of problems.

First and foremost, he had to dig his way out of the emotional and physical hole of having been in cold storage (literally) for that hundred years. Second, he had to assume leadership of the fleet that had been decapitated by a Syndic betrayal during parley in which all senior officers were murdered brutally and simultaneously, leaving ship captains to figure out who should be in charge. He's in charge by dint of seniority of date which he made captain, but people with more years experience aren't happy about that. To worsen matters, the way he (didn't) die(d) has become a motivational legend in the military.

Over the previous few books, he's had to convince this once and future Lost Fleet to quit committing atrocities, quit rushing into battle without a plan, start using some real strategy and subterfuge. He's also had to deal with some mutiny/treason/abandonment, particularly after rescuing a bunch of POWs.

In this latest entry, his enemies have become more desperate and gone somewhat underground. They've taken to framing his closest supporters, attempting to destroy ships in the fleet through malware in the jump system, etc. To compensate, the majority of the fleet is now solidly following him and learning the tactics and strategy he's been trying to pound into them. On-again-off-again lover Rione has moved entirely off-again and the jealousy between her and his flag captain Tanya Desjani is, IMO, overplayed and overwrought. I'm of two minds about the last few pages of the novel. On one level, it made me want to hurl. On another level, it was a pretty convincing version of some of the star-crossed lovers crap characteristic of Japanese fiction/art of a bygone era. Heck, characteristic of some of the star-crossed lovers crap characteristic of Japanese fiction/art NOW. Given the nature of the religion/ethos of this future time, it kinda fits.

Throughout the novel, Geary continues his usual efforts to live honorably and lead effectively while poking at the puzzle that is how this war got started and why it continues, i.e. what's up with the aliens. Several important discoveries are made along the way.

I seriously doubt this would read well as a stand-alone novel. As a series entry, it's decent. The series as a whole continues to compel me to come back for more.

_From Dead to Worse_, Charlaine Harris (kindle)

This latest Sookie Stackhouse novel is sort of like old home week: everyone still alive (or at least undead) makes an appearance at some point (well, not _everyone_, but pretty close).

The book starts with the oft-rescheduled double wedding in which the Bellefleurs get married (but not to each other; that would be wrong). Sookie gets suckered into being an emergency bridesmaid but still has to work the bar after the pictures. She meets some interesting and unfamiliar undead and eventually gets around to describing (some of) them to Eric at which point it becomes clear they shouldn't really be in town and have lied about clearing their presence with Eric. That and some foreshadowing kick the plot along, but not before some serious distraction in which Sookie meets a relative and clears up some of the faery mystery.

Other distractions: expectably, Jason and his wife have marital difficulties and Sookie finds out just what she signed up for with those weird vows in Hotshot.

There's a bit of a were-war which Sookie changes the direction of midstream by pointing out some anomalies and insists that people actually start talking to each other. Sookie learns that her undead and then dead cousin reproduced before dying and tracks down the offspring and learns something a little surpring when she does. Louisiana finally falls to a different vampire in a very tense stand-off. Sookie's roommate finally gets back in touch with her mentor -- who movies in, and helps fix Bob the cat.


At the end of the book, it's far from clear who Sookie will be sleeping with next -- and it's also far from clear who this reader would want Sookie to be sleeping with next. It'll be interesting to find out. If you're looking for some hot lovin', this series entry ain't gonna supply it, except in the form of some flashback memories. Nevertheless, a _really good_ series entry. But don't start the series here; it would be unbelievably confusing.

BPL book club pick, _Sky Burial_, Xinran Xue (kindle)

I never did get around to picking up a copy at the library and tonight's the discussion so today I snagged it online. It's short (250 pages or so in paper) and a very fast read.

It's a novel, but it purports to be a fictionalized version of a true story as told to the Chinese author by another Chinese woman named Wen.

Wen grew up in a very exciting time in China (and not in a good way). She went to medical school, where she met her future husband, a bit of an idealist who wanted to help people injured in battle. After some time in Korea, he went to Tibet shortly after they married, and she got an extremely abbreviated death notice. Unsatisfied (and convinced her husband was still alive), Wen joined the army to track him down. Shortly after her arrival, she rescued a Tibetan woman who could speak Chinese suffering from exposure who was trying to track down a companion she had named Tienanmen. Shortly thereafter, the entire detachment is captured by Tibetans who take the Party members hostage and also Wen and Zhumuo. Antics ensue.

Zhumuo and Wen spend a few seasons with a nomadic Tibetan family, but Zhumuo is kidnapped. Eventually, one of the daughters of the family, one of the adult male husbands, and Wen go off in search of Tienanmen, Zhumuo and Wen's missing husband. The priority order isn't clear, and the search pattern is somewhat haphazard. They stumble across Tienanmen at a monastery, then start touring sacred mountains in some sort of Schelling point inspired strategy (Tibetans go to the mountains to find what they lost). This works -- they find Zhumuo, but because Tienanmen has become a monk, Zhumuo and Tienanmen are doomed to unrequite their love forever. They plan to go to Lhasa (eventually they do) but along the way stumble across a hermit named Qiangbo who knows what happened to the missing husband and even has a package of his stuff to deliver to Wen that he's been trying to get back to China for the last few decades.

They proceed to Lhasa after getting permission for Tienanmen to travel further; they need papers to go to China.

Obviously, since the 1950s when Wen left, and the various points in the story in which Wen re-establishes contact with someone from China, when she reaches Lhasa and returns to the last town in China she lived in before searching for her lost husband, things have changed and she's been out of touch. This is a pretty transparent opportunity for Xinran Xue to make some pointed comments about political changes in China over the last 3-4 decades. Wen and her husband are portrayed sympathetically -- but basically as naive dupes. Their less-educated contemporaries are portrayed less sympathetically -- more or less as barbaric savages who barely understand their own culture, much less have any appreciation for anyone else's. The Tibetans are portrayed as inherently religious in nature, but who suffer from having to support an expensive caste of monks who take their goods and offspring, live high on the hog and produce weird but beautiful art forms. The interaction between China and Tibet is portrayed in a complex fashion, but underlying it all is the idea that the Chinese Just Want to Help Tibet by bringing them better stuff, like long ago they brought barley crops.

The failure of communication and the inadequacy of documentation across the drastic political changes in China is pointedly displayed and equally pointedly never explained, altho a variety of people question it in a variety of ways.

When the book was described to me, I basically wanted to hurl, so if this has that effect on you, I've clearly gotten several things across accurately. When I actually read it, it was considerably worse. The good news is, you don't have to be a White Murrican to produce a thin, easy-to-read, extremely appealing story about how a naive, romantic, idealistic member of an oppressive society goes off to solve a personal mystery among a colonized people, Goes Native, Experiences Great Hospitality from the Savages, Saves some of them, Learns to Love Their Culture and participate in their religion, etc., and as a result comes to question some of what she has been inculcated to believe about her own society from birth.

Given what's been going on in China over the last few decades, this may very well be about the best analysis of relations between Tibet and China that can be produced from within China, compatible with, say, not getting locked up or otherwise suffering a horrible life at the hands of the Powers That Be.

That does _not_ mean I have to like it.

While I realize this can also be read as a straight-up star-crossed lovers thing, I would expect my regular readers to recognize that my capacity to appreciate that kind of story could only charitably be described as limited.

ETA: Not to be confused with Blake Kerr's _Sky Burial_, also about Tibet and its relationship/relations with China.

ETA2: FWIW, I may be the only person on the planet with this particular set of reactions to this book, so EXPECT YM to V.

ETA3: And in my defense, can I just say? Nan Talese.

ETA4: NOT the only person to react this way.


_Natural Born Charmer_, Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Or SEP, in the lingo.

SEP's books have a very well-defined form. Characters in crisis (career change, relationship ending, etc.) who are also in the process of relocating encounter someone else going through same. The characters all have huge trust/abandonment/attachment issues BUT also have a substantial circle of long-time friends and/or family which they may or may not be temporarily cut off from. Someone's going to be artistic. There will be secondary characters going through similar, often related (like, parent of) the primaries and therefore to some degree responsible for the neglect or whatever that led to the issues. Someone will be an excellent cook (usually, but not always, the artistic one). Someone will have a huge pile of money and/or be a massive celebrity. Etc.

In this particular entry, Dean is a football player (so this is part of the Stars series), a quarterback who has taken a pretty bad hit and is dealing with shoulder problems. His mother was a groupie. His father is a rock star. His half-sister's mother has recently died in a bizarre accident. He picks our heroine up in a beaver costume (minus the head) as he's driving around the country. She (Blue) accompanies him to his farm in Tennessee where they accrete members of his biological family (all mentioned already in this review), act very snarkily to each other and everyone else, and save the town. Sort of.

There's usually a small town. It's usually populated by an assortment of Characters. It usually needs to be Saved. This time, it's Garrison, owned by a curmudgeonly old lady, also in need of redemption.

It's all here, complete with SEP (TM) emotional roller-coaster as the various parties confront their long-standing emotional issues and make a supreme effort to progress to being better adjusted easier to live with (but still interesting) people.

I tried to get this from the local library. Repeatedly. Somehow, it was always checked out. I eventually picked it up via TitleTrader. I still need to get _Match Me If You Can_, its immediate predecessor in the Stars series.

_The Poisonwood Bible_ is the next book group selection. Fortunately, N. was back from Stockholm and present at the discussion tonight and, as expected, she shared my reservations about _Sky Burial_, so I mostly stayed out of trouble (altho we may have ruined the book for its fans). Next kindle selection is the latest Queen Betsy by MaryJanice Davidson. But right now, I'm going to go read Calculated Risk, because all kinds of things apparently happened today.

Birds: in the playset and trotting around the yard

We have a new clutch of eggs (okay, by now they've probably hatched; maybe we'll check on them tomorrow) in the nest in the playset which we failed to remove after the previous birds grew up. They grew up fast. Not kidding. Not, oh, the time goes so quickly bullshit that parents of grown kids try to palm off on parents of pre-schoolers. Like, weeks.

As for the trotting, that would be the wild turkeys I spotted yesterday: a hen and a bunch of young'uns, headed for one of the blueberry bushes. I initially only saw the hen (the leach field is a bit of a hump between the house and the bush, blocking the view of the shorter birds) and went outside on the deck to get a better look. Expectably, T. freaked out and demanded I come back inside (dunno why; mysterious toddler ways *shrug*). But once out on the deck, R. spotted the little guys. Very, very cute. Saw some of them again later in the afternoon, so this is clearly Their Hangout, not a migratory thing.

doctors and decision making, or, our money and our lives

This kinda set me off:


It's long, and there are some doozies in it. They complain about political obstacles to saving money on health care and devising reasonable regulation. Given these two folks stance on litigation (gleaned from other stuff published over the years), I wouldn't trust them on any topic, either. They seem to subscribe to the theory that if you got rid of litigation, you would eliminate the motive for defensive medicine/overtreatment. Hardly.

"One approach: We urge development of small clusters of primary care doctors and other professionals that live within budgets, accepting capitation payments calibrated to patients' health. Raising primary care doctors' incomes by half would sharply increase their supply and their time to listen to patients and coordinate care."

Sure. That's gonna work. Look, MDs are fabulously well known for being like among the _stupidest_ people when it comes to finances in general. Doesn't matter whether you look at how they run their household budgets, their retirement planning, investment decisions in general or running their business (their practice is a business). As a group, I don't think they can be beat for being dumbshits with money. This just does not pass the sniff test on that account alone.

Second, doctors don't have to be sued to practice defensive medicine or to overtreat. If docs are passing out scrip for antibiotics for people with colds and _relying on media_ to convince people to _quit asking_ for scrip for colds, it seems obvious that these people have spines about like jellyfish have spines. They _cannot_ say no, consistently, as a group. Does not pass the sniff test on that account as well.

But just as a little example, here's what might happen if you had a small cluster of primary care doctors making decisions about health care based on financial repercussions:


Here's a sample of what you'll find in this long -- but worthy -- entry:

"I went for a job interview in Portland and in a conversation with the medical director of a large group there, I was told that if I failed to get my patients LDL levels down to 100 “someone will sit down and talk with you.” This particular group was able to offer a better starting salary than average. I had assumed that the reason they could offer more was through efficiencies. During the interview, I learned there was more to it than that. They had special arrangements with drug companies called ‘incentive programs.’ The medical director told me with absolute glee “we keep asking them [meaning drug companies] for money and they keep giving it to us.” He sounded like a kid at Christmas!"

This sounds like a _great_ idea.

There are a variety of ways to tackle this particular funding conundrum, some of which might work. What Socolar and Sager are proposing doesn't strike me as one of them.

CO2 = CO2. Really. Source doesn't matter.

Where, oh, where is Arsenio when you need him? This is _definitely_ one of those things that makes you go, hunh?

"Mr. Burnett also said Jeffrey A. Rosen, the general counsel of the Office of Management and Budget, asked three times for separate memorandums describing why carbon dioxide molecules emitted from vehicles (already likely to be subject to regulation) could not be distinguished from CO2 molecules emitted from power-plant smokestacks (whose regulation was opposed by powerful segments of the industry and the administration)."

If Burnett is making this up, Rosen should sue him. Unfortunately for Rosen, there's probably a paper trail.

Read all about it:


The headline is mysterious and inexplicable in its own right: A New (and Unlikely) Tell-All

It may be new, but it hardly seems unlikely. This is right up there with abuse of the word ironic.