Monday, June 27, 2011

KCR: Transfer of Power, a Mitch Rapp novel (terrorism)

Cover of "Transfer of Power"Cover of Transfer of PowerTransfer of Power introduced Mitch Rapp to the world... The uber-operator, that is NOT a soldier, but is what best described as an assassin... to kill bad guys. In this book, there is the ultimate high concept... Terrorist attack on the White House itself. The book could easily been turned into a movie, it is that good.

Premise: CIA operative Mitch Rapp is undercover in Iran... to snatch local head of Hezbollah. The operation went without a hitch, and soon interrogation yielded a bombshell... Top terrorist Rafique Aziz is in the US planning an operation against Washington D.C.. However, they don't know the threat vector. That was soon realized when a coordinated assault (enemies snuck past security in linen truck, plus sniper on a rooftop, AND Aziz, with plastic surgery, pretended to be an Arab prince and somehow bypassed security background check) hit the White House. Only through dedicated secret service agents who put their lives on the line did the President escape to his bunker, but was out of communication, but over a dozen secret service agents lost their lives and 100 hostages were taken, various staffers and such. The terrorists quickly rigged the West Wing with explosives, and proceed to issue various demands. What is the terrorist up to? While the politicians fight for power and spin control, and military and law enforcement bicker over who's in charge, CIA pulled out their ultimate weapon: Mitch Rapp, who is ordered to infiltrate the White House, and if possible, rescue the hostages AND save the president...

Vince Flynn have a flair of writing about political intrigue that sounds so cold-blooded it'll make you squirm and wonder how can people just "burn" others like that in order to give themselves a tiny advantage. In this book, the Vice President is a pushover who keep waffling over what to do, and his chief of staff keep giving him spin control advice that somehow makes himself (and his principal) look better, instead of the right thing. The actual 'fighting' is short, and yes, many people get killed, esp. bad guys, but plenty of good guys as well.

The villains are pretty much cardboard cutouts, albeit smart ones. The politicians are portrayed with a bit more character. There are a few too many characters though.

Still, the high concept makes this book irresistable read. I've been tracking to track down this book for a while, having discovered Mitch Rapp series rather late (Memorial Day was actually my first.) and this book, IMHO, was worth it.

Rating: read it (at least once)

NOTE: this is the new cover. There's an older edition that has a blue cover.

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

KCR: Brooklyn's Finest (movie)

Brooklyn's Finest is a movie about three cops and one crook, whose lives brought them into this single housing project this fateful night, and they each will face their destiny. It's about each man going after his own dreams, and following his morals. It's a great crime drama.

Tango (Don Cheadle) is an undercover narc who had infiltrated the gangster's (Wesley Snipes) organization, and is torn between his loyalty to the police (who is pushing him to "get" the gangster) and his loyalty to the gangster (who saved his life before). Sal (Ethan Hawke) is a family cop working the narc detail who can't make ends meet, and is actually robbing dealers here and there. With his wife pregnant with twins and his house infested by mold, Sal is looking for a big break... Eddie (Richard Gere) is a week or so away from retirement as a regular uniform cop, but can't imagine another job, but can't imagine staying in either. Fate brought them to this one housing project, and meet their destiny.

The acting is pretty good all around, and the way the plots intertwine is pretty interesting.

Rating: watch it at least once.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

KCR: Storm from the Shadows, a Honorverse novel (scifi, Honor Harrington)

Storm from the ShadowsImage via WikipediaStorm From the Shadows is another novel set in the "Honorverse", David Weber's world of Honor Harrington and Star Kingdom of Manticore. This novel reads somewhat differently from the other novels, as this is a shift in direction for the series. Previously, most of the action is centered directly on Honor Harrington herself. This book basically features Honor's friend Michelle Henke, a fellow starship commander, and the stakes are raised by adding additional players that had previously been relegated to background status. Honor Harrington herself plays only a peripheral role in this book. The result is a book that reads familiar, yet quite different, and manages to setup the stage for later books in the series.

The premise: Michelle Henke's task force was ambushed by Havenite forces and her ship was damaged and left behind (on her orders). She ordered the ship self-destructed and became prisoner, only to be paroled back to Manticore with a proposal for summit and peace talks. She was sent to a different area (away from the Havenite war) as part of her parole, but stumbles into Manpower / Mesa's plan to destroy the Star Kingdom of Manticore... and the action also threatens to wake up the sleeping giant of Solarian League...

The problem with David Weber's writing, as I've explained before, is the universe is so large now there's dozens of characters, and they tend to get VERY talky as they spend PAGES talking about every angle of their thought process, violating the "show, not tell" rule. There are so many characters, you need a "cast of characters" to keep them straight! It also makes the characters too much of bit players, and the scene switching is fast and furious: a little here, a little there... It's equivalent of flash cuts in movies. If you like this style, you'll love this book. if you don't, you'll hate it even more.

This book also ends on a cliffhanger to setup the other books in the series and parallel plots, so it's not quite satisfying that way.

Rating: read it (if you're a fan of Honorverse)

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

KCR: Aggressor Six (novel, scifi)

Aggressor Six is an interesting twist on "know your enemy" novel on a sci-fi stage when the humans encountered the "waisters"... aliens that seem to bent on extermination of human species. Their technology is centuries ahead of the humans. Humans convened "Aggressor Six", a group of humans ordered to learn, act, speak, and ultimately, think like the Waisters, in order to give humans an edge in combat... if such a thing is possible. As colony after colony are exterminated, and the waisters are approaching the Sol System (the scouts were destroyed or driven off at TREMENDOUS casualties), will Aggressor Six find enough enough about the aliens to save humanity?

While the theme is hardly new, the execution is quite good, as this goes into the concept of war, on demonstration of superiority, and what constitutes sanity, and stubbornness. There's a surprising amount of actual science behind the sci-fi narrative, combined with enough action to satisfy those with shorter attention spans.

The book's old, and I encountered this in a used bookstore, but it's very good read. This is Will MacCarthy's first novel (dated 1996!)

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

KCR: The Gray Man (novel)

The Gray Man is the first in the Gray Man series by Mark Greaney, and it's a very interesting debut. The idea of "killer for hire" is nothing new. Killer for hire with a conscience is not new either, but this one is very well done, esp. for a first novel.

Premise: In the trade, he's simply known as "The Gray Man". He is a lone operator, able to get into almost anywhere, and get out, and few if any will see him coming. He used to work for the CIA as an ultimate termination team. When he was "burned", he became a lone operator, but he is specific: he only kills those who he consider is worth killing. He had just killed a target in Syria, and escaped into Iraq, when he was betrayed. The team that was supposed to pick him up wanted to kill him instead. He was able to escape. However, he soon realized that vast forces are arrayed against him... Hit teams from all over the world, and a ruthless man with almost limitless resources, are in his way. He could just disappear, but his conscience demands otherwise...

The action is relentless, as The Gray Man dodged one after another attempt on his life, and the stakes are raised. On the other hand, there are a few close scrapes that are just... too convenient. On the other hand, this guy can be hurt. He's not Rambo, and he can get grievously wounded, but he will get things done... or die trying.  The bad guys are a bit 'thin' and shallow, but they are okay as villains.

I am definitely buying the next book in the series.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

KCR: 1434 by Gavin Menzies (the book)

1434 is sort of a sequel to 1421, where the author proposed the hypothesis that the Chinese "Treasure Fleet" have visited the America long before Cristobal Colon (a.k.a. Christopher Columbus) came along. In 1434, he goes a step beyond, proposing a hypothesis so outrageous and so contrary to existing history, you cannot help but to take notice, and dismiss the author as either a crackpot or a genius.

In the book 1434, Gavin Menzies claimed that the Renaissance did not arose spontaneously from reemergence of classical knowledge (read: Greek and Roman) but instead, is the result of a Chinese expedition fleet that landed in Venice in 1434. Vast amount of knowledge was given to the Italians by the Chinese, and it is THAT knowledge that sparked the Renaissance.

Initially, the idea is so outrageous, most will dismiss the idea is simply preposterous. However, Gavin Menzies manages to pull enough threads together to illustrate how his alleged history *could* have happened, and account for vast amount of similarities between some Chinese drawings... and drawings by none other than Leonardo DaVinci and his predecessors, and a ton of other interesting clues.

Again, this book is not a serious historical account or study. Gavin Menzies never claims to be a historian. Instead, Mr. Menzies has a theory, and is seeking various evidence to prove his theory. Thus, this hypothesis cannot be "proven" this way. On the other hand, the available information that seem to support this alternative theory is interesting enough that you would want to read it to the end, and make up your own mind whether the evidence warrants further study of this theory.

Rating: maybe borrow it from the library?

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

KCR: Collateral Damage (movie)

Collateral Damage is almost a "last hurrah" for Arnold, as he is no longer acting an action hero, and the movie is basically formula Arnold, with a couple twists and turns that borders on the absurd. However, he's also more... "human", and less action hero. It's not that bad.

Premise: Fireman Gordon Brewer watched his wife and son die in a bombing of downtown LA Pavilion. Despite several warnings from FBI and CIA, Brewer managed to get infiltrate the perp's Colombian hideout, and have to work his way to stop the next bombing, in Washington D.C.

This revenge fantasy basically have Arnold, supposedly just a firefighter, was simply TOYED with by the bad guy, as if the bad guy is amused that some moron dare come after him. It simply makes little sense. In other words, this movie has Arnold running AWAY from fights instead of toward it. It is the most un-Arnold of all Arnold movies. Some even remarked that Arnold looks rather lousy, but then he's not playing an action hero here, is he?

Not quite good enough to buy, maybe watch once.

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KCR: Slanted Jack (scifi, adventure, space)

A sequel to "One Jump Ahead", the nano-enhanced soldier Jon Moore, and his sentient gunship Lobo seem always heading into some sort of trouble. This time, the trouble came looking for him...

Premise: Slanted Jack, a con man from Jon's past, came to seek his help. He needs to protect a child, who supposedly have special powers... and a lot of people want the kid. A religious fanatic who moonlights as an arms dealer... a notorious and ruthless gang boss... and a high government official out to clean up the frontier, each wanting Jon's allegiance, each with the power to crush Jon and Lobo. Then there's the kid... How does Jon and Lobo get out of this one?

Problem with Slanted Jack is the characters came across as a bit flat, with Jon being the only one with any depth. Every body else came across as cold-hearted people out to use other people to their own purposes for little reason other it it suits them. The book is sort of adventure where the hero tries to play off one side against another. The result is satisfying, though it's a bit shallow.

If you like sci-fi action, with a bit of intrigue, go right ahead.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

KCR: God of Gambler's Return (movie)

God of Gambler's Return is a sequel to the original "God of Gamblers", a Hong Kong movie that started the "gambling movie" craze, starring Chow Yun Fat. (NOTE: God of Gamblers II is not a true sequel, but a spin-off). This one is even glossier, with some truly evil people, and enough trickery, plotting, and such that makes it a little deeper than your usual gambling movie.

Premise: Ko, "God of Gamblers", have retired to France with his pregnant wife and is living a happy life without games of chance. However, when a former rival reemerged from jail, and met up with a psychopathic gambler and killer, Ko found his wife and unborn child murdered. Before her death, she forced him to promise to not gamble for one full year. While travelling in China, Ko stumbles onto a gang turf fight, have a run from the law, and eventually have a showdown with the killer that took his family.

There is plenty of gunplay as bad guys are out to take down the good guys, and good guys shoot back, of course. There's a bit of trickery here and there, and some of the plans seem to be VERY long range, leading to a satisfying conclusion.

This movie is 1994, so production values are quite low by today's standards, and some of the stuff may make people squeam. There is also quite a bit of crude HK style humor. If you don't mind some slapstick humor this is not a bad way to spend an hour and a half.

Rating: watch it once

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Friday, June 17, 2011

KCR: Green Lantern (2011) Movie Review

Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan in Green Lantern.Image via WikipediaJust came out of a 3D screening. While the movie is not that good (not on the level of Iron Man / Iron Man 2), it's not quite as bad as DareDevil or worse, Elektra.

Premise: a UBG who feeds on fear had been imprisoned on a random planet in the lost sector by the Green Lantern Corp. A crashed space ship and stranded crew allowed the UBG to revive and escape, and destroyed several Lanterns, and two civilizations. It also mortally wounded the lantern that had previously defeated and imprisoned him, but he managed to get away... and crash landed on Earth, where he passed his ring onto test pilot Hal Jordan. When the UBG discovered the ring is now on Earth, it came to consume Earth... unless the newest Green Lantern Hal Jordan can defeat it...

Ryan Reynolds has a heavy resemblance to Ben Affleck, who had the pretty disastrous Daredevil movie to his credit. This movie will be measured up to that, and while it's not terrific, it is not horrible either. My main problem is there is not quite enough fighting, and not quite enough special effects. The fight scenes are basically TOO SHORT.   There are basically, uh... five action sequences in the whole movie. The jet, the training, the toy car, the first fight, and the BIG fight.

Also, the "cloud eating all" is a bit overdone. It's in a ton of movies, from GI Joe to The Day Earth Stood Still and now Green Lantern. It's getting tiresome. The soul-eating thing is a lot like, Final Fantasy / Spirit Within. The result is feeling of deja vu all over again, and again, and again.

Still, the backstory is sufficiently well told not to offend the fans completely but makes you wonder how much better it could have been. There is not quite enough fighting to satisfy the fans who come to see spectacles.

Rating: maybe wait until pay per view?

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

KCR: 1421 by Gavin Menzies (book)

Photo from of a 1763 Chinese...Image via WikipediaMenzies is not a professional historian, but he is a profiessional sailor, and he has an idea that has been meeting huge resistance in the scholarly community... Did Admiral Zheng He sailed his Chinese fleet out of Chinese waters and Southeast Asia, and in fact, may have sailed around the world long before Magellan and others, discovering America a hundred years before Columbus?

As a Chinese American, I am familiar with the story of Zheng He, though not in great detail. I recall reading "historical novels" about Zheng He.

Gavin Menzies was not a professional historian, and he approached this from the view of a sailor, both amateur and former British Navy. Much of his "proof" is a bit on the "thin" side, or a bit stretched. He also is not approaching it like a true historian: looking for both evidence for and against. Thus, a lot of historians automatically discounted him as a "freak" or "crazy guy". Indeed, on a PBS show of the same name, even some CHINESE historians doubt Menzies' claims.

On the other hand, there is a lot of evidence, and altogether there is enough to wonder if more can be found. While some of the evidence can be discounted by doubters, there is simply too much evidence to completely dismiss. There's even a book now called "The 1421 Heresy" that does have a real historian studying the 1421 theory and see what real evidence are there.

The book itself is rather informal, though you can see that Menzies is approaching the book from the angle of looking evidence to fit his theory, instead of a more formal approach. Still, it's a fun read, and makes you look at history in a whole new way.

Since then, many other books have been published that provides more about the puzzle. There's a book that claimed this old colony along Canadian shore may have been a Chinese colony.

Rating: Worth reading, borrow it from the library?

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KCR: Fearless, starring Jet Li

Huo YuanjiaThe real Ho Yuan Jia
Image via Wikipedia
Jet Li, with his thorough mastery of various Chinese Martial Arts disciplines, had taken on many of the iconic "folk hero" roles in the history of China. In this movie, he is portraying master Huo Yuanjia, a master about the turn of the century, when Western powers and Japan are trying to push the corrupt Chinese government into more concessions by awing them with other masters.

The premise: Huo YuanJia was the youngest son of a kungfu master. The young Huo had always been way too proud of his skills, instead of learning any restraint, which eventually lead to a series of personal tragedies. He tried to commit suicide, but he survived, and lived in the wilderness as penance for a long period before coming to his senses, and returning to the city, just in time to encounter the imperialists and others trying to denigrate China. Huo was able to rally supporters into forming a Wushu association. Then the imperialists challenged him to a match, against other masters... and they want to win at ANY cost...

The martial arts are excellent as always, and this movie is not shy about showing some blood when it calls for it. AND there's a plot instead of just slash and cut and punch. There's a theme behind it, about pride, about not backing down in face of challenge, and about the true winner of spirit if not in body... and about redemption.

Allegedly Jet Li's final martial arts film (except as fantasy characters), this is a masterpiece.

Rating: Watch it!

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

KCR: The Kingdom (movie)

Cover of "The Kingdom (Combo HD DVD and S...Cover via AmazonThe Kingdom is a fun action flick that depicts a fictional scenario where FBI was called to help catch terrorists in Saudi Arabia where they fight prejudice, suspicion, and more.

Premise: terrorists infiltrate a "foreign compound" as security guards, then with guns and suicide belts, inflict huge amounts of casualties... and it was filmed. When rescuers arrive to clean up, a bomb hidden in one of the ambulances caused even more casualties. Saudi King called in the FBI, but local security forces don't like the idea. The FBI agents have to work against prejudice (some are female), suspicion, while trying to ferret out the bad guys. The end gun battle was impressive as they fight through apartment complex one room at a time.

One of my top terrorist-topic films. (I also like "The Traitor" and "Green Zone")

Rating: Watch it!

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KCR: Dead Shot (sniper, war, novel)

Dead Shot is a very good "shooter" novel, with a great premise, and a great showdown at the end. My only problem is it is too much of a spy thriller, with the bad guy moving almost at will, little if any tension until when the "hero" gets on his tail.

Premise: Juba sniper, a true Al Qaeda assassin, managed to assassinate an informant in the middle of allied Green Zone in Iraq, in order to silence him from revealing Saddam's WMD cache location. The now-declared-dead Kyle Swanson, part of Task Force Trident, is asked to hunt down this guy, since clearly someone knows enough to access that WMD, and someone will be accessing it. Soon, a horrific attack in London (that made the bus bombings look like a picnic) proved him right, and Swanson tracked Juba down to a rural village in Iraq, where sniper meets sniper in an ultimate showdown, shot to shot...

The problem with this novel is the bad guys are just too good at their job. SWAT team at the door? Booby trap. More SWAT? Blow up the whole block. There was no "close calls". There is no tension... the bad guys always get away. EVERYTHING falls within their plan, EXCEPT the hero. This is often a problem when the plotting is a bit too clever. Why would the good guys be the only ones making mistakes? Still, the duel is neat, though not that satisfying, as there are two more novels after this in the series.

Rating: worth reading at least once

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Monday, June 13, 2011

KCR: Alternate Generals (anthology, fiction, alternate history)

Robert Edward Lee, as a U.S. Army Colonel befo...Image via WikipediaEver wonder how things may have happened differently? Here are 16 tales of alternate generals fighting battles that they just MIGHT have fought...

  • Colonel Robert E. Lee leading cavalry charge in the War of Crimea as a part of Royal North American Army
  • Cardinal Napoleon Bonaparte inspiring troops in continuation of the Crusades
  • Sun-Tzu made his way to Europe instead of one of warring factions in China

and much more

If you like "what if" scenarios, you should try this book. There's 16 tales here, and this has inspired two more volumes of similar anthologies.

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KCR: Strikemasters (novel, military)

Strikemasters ranks among the worst books I've read. It is formulaic, presents military in impossible terms, is a blatant copy of already existing plots, and is basically a joke all around. I've read most technothrillers, from Harold Coyle to Tom Clancy to Dale Brown and plenty of people in between. Bill Kellan, in his "Strikemasters" attempts to emulate the style, but came up miles short.

Premise: US have a secret of secrets base, hidden even more than Area 51... called Area 153 (three times ore secret than Area 51, get it? 51x3? Ha-ha). Test pilot "Gunn" was sent on secret orders to join this group of misfits... flying three modified C-17's, which is so stealthed, it's even SOUND-stealthed (think Blue Thunder) and visually stealthed (smart-skin). One's the gunship, one's a dropship (paratroopers) and one's a tank landing ship. When Al Qaeda offshoot kidnapped 5 USAID workers in Pakistan and want to execute them on TV, Strikemasters are called in to deal with them... by the program's leader, because one of the hostages was his daughter.

Do you see the problem? I don't mind a bit of tech. I am a BIG fan of science fiction. However, putting super-stealth technology on a TRANSPORT PLANE? AND technology that just WORKS without ANY sort of explanation? It's impossible to sound-stealth a jet, even with active sound cancelling. You certain't can't quiet the rush of air. Smartskin is possible but a plane is impossible to keep absolutely clean, and any dirt will make the smartskin active camo useless. The premise of the leader of the program sending in the group as a private army is even MORE ridiculous. This guy is even more reckless than Rambo.

Let me describe a scene, and you tell me if it makes any sense. The tank-carrier plane intercepted a corp jet and through some sort of impossible eavesdropping tech, determined that UBG (ultimate bad guy) is onboard, but this jet doesn't have weapons. So what they did was... the stealth plane overtook the jet, still stealthed, then opened the rear ramp, so the tank use the main cannon to shoot the other plane out of the sky.

WTF?! Haven't this guy heard of wingtip vortex turbulence? You can't fly in front of the other plane without the other plane knowing it, even if you are positively CLOAKED! And haven't this guy heard of COAX machine gun? WTF?!

This guy reads like someone who wrote a technothriller without doing ANY research except what he *think* the military ought to operate like, then proceed to throw laws of physics out the window. There's a ton more impossible situations in the book that defies logic.

All being said, this is one of the most idiotic books I've read. Good thing I only paid a buck for it, and even then I felt it's sorta wasted.

Rating: Avoid it like the plague

Sunday, June 12, 2011

KCR: Tom Yum Koong / The Protector (movie)

Ting (Tony Jaa) is ready for another showdown.Image via WikipediaThe protector is an action movie where Thai action star Tony Jaa shows off his Muy Thai skills against wide variety of opponents by taking on a subject dear to any Thai: elephants.

Premise: Tony Jaa was asked to recover the two sacred elephants of the village by his dying father, killed by the thieves. Tony Jaa tracked the elephants to Australia, where he met up with a Thai-descent policemen, and a beautiful Thai girl who may be part of the organization he is tracking. He digs deeper, he finds that the local Triad boss (Jing Xing) is invovled, and the front is... a restaurant.

This movie combines "fish out of water" premise, plus plenty of action as Tony Jaa knees and elbows his way through Sydney Australia against all bad guys, leaving most of them writhing on the ground in pain. The additional fighting against kapoera fighter, a swordsman, and a very big guy, is great. Later there's even MORE fighting. The non-stop action scene where Tony Jaa fights his way up 4 levels, lasting 5 minutes and dispatching 50+ goons, is probably one of the most interesting action scenes ever (without special effects).

Worth watching at least once.

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KCR: The Lost Fleet #2: Courageous (novel)

The lost fleet series is about a man who does what he can to keep a fleet together, so he can see home again. However, much of the "action" consists of verbal byplays between John "Black Jack" Geary, the main character, with his officers and other people such as Co-President Victoria Rione, who's Geary's lover. This is the third book in the series, so it's hard to explain this book without explaining the background..

Background info: The Alliance has been at war with the Syndicate (Syndics) for over 100 years. A major alliance fleet on the way to attack Syndic homeworld was repulsed by an ambush and superior numbers. The battered fleet also recovered John "Black Jack" Geary, lost in space in cryo-sleep for 100 years from a previous action. During that time, Geary became a legend. Now that he'd came back in the flesh, fleet regulations made him the most senior officer in the fleet, Geary takes over as the new fleet commander, trying to take the battered and bruised fleet with its marines back to the Alliance. But many in the fleet are afraid of Geary, or want to protect their own powerbase...

This book is just a continuation of the previous action, as nothing was really resolved. Instead, a few bits of information have been revealed. The hyperspace gates have given the Syndics a strategic advantage, but Geary's fleet is also sensing that the Syndic civilian populace may not be fully behind the war effort as it seems. However, there seem to be hidden menace hiding in the background. What is this menace?

While each book adds a bit to the story, there's also no sense of completion. If you prefer serial fiction, give it a try, as this book will drag into 7-10 books easily.

Rating: read one and see if you like it to keep reading

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KCR: Kill Zone (sniper, war, novel)

Sgt. Jack Coughlin is the best shooter in Iraq, and now, he has turned to novel writing. The problem is this conspiracy stuff doesn't quite work, and the plot later makes even less sense. It's too contrived.

Premise: the top general in Iraq was kidnapped. He was scheduled to testify against a congressional act to privatize a lot of the military (i.e. mercenaries). A rescue mission sent in met with severe mishap... the chopper crashed. One sniper survive the crash: gunnery sergeant Kyle Swanson. He had received a secret order from the Whitehouse... Terminate the general if he cannot be rescued. Swanson, however, rescues the general, with help of a highly advanced sniper scope called Excaliber. However, there are a few secrets in that scope as well. There is also a conspiracy up to silence Swanson, and anybody related to him by the backer of mercenary bill. Can Swanson accomplish his mission, and expose the conspiracy?

Frankly, the conspiracy is so ****ing large it boggles the mind. We're talking about conspiracy that has mercenary units that is perfectly willing to shoot down military planes, all around the US AND the world, kidnap and assassinate VIPs in and out of the US, connections in various other Middle East countries, and more. It's **** crazy. Why would a company with this much power bother with a simple bill through US congress?

Sort of worth reading, but not worth buying.

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KCR: Triple Tap (movie, shooting, Hong Kong)

The Chinese characters for "Hong Kong".Image via WikipediaThe movie "Triple Tap" is a Hong Kong crime drama that has a couple twists and turns that you may not see coming, and as a result, is a much better thriller than what typically comes out of Hong Kong.

Premise: competition shooter "Ken" had just beaten a cop "Jerry" at a live ammo shooting competition by 0.31 seconds with zero misses. On the way home, he interrupted an armored car heist and shot several of the robbers, who were killing the guards. A traffic cop who came onto the scene was also shot. One robber got away. Ken was arrested for murder and illegal discharge of firearms, but was released and hailed as a hero by the media. But not all is as it looked on the surface. Ken has been illegally accessing his supervisor's funds in the investment firm trying to cover his losses. The supervisor wants him as her boyfriend, even though he already has a nice nurse for a girlfriend at home. As Jerry digs deeper for the truth, he discovers that Ken is a methodical planner, possibly with a killer instinct, trying to live a double life. When more people turned up dead, Jerry and Ken match wits resulting in a showdown... Who is the ultimate pistolero?

This psychological thriller is much better than your typical Hong Kong action film, with really tense moments without too much special effects, big explosions, or even much gore. The movie, in a sense, reminded a bit like Roshomon, that Japanese classic where we get four different versions of the story. It's a bit of whodunit, a bit of crime drama, and as clues are revealed, the showdown at the end is inevitable. The only problem I have is with the re-enactment scene, where "Jerry" the cop went to see this retired cop for some advice on reenacting the shooting to get the pscyhological state. It's as if the other guy went into a trance channeling the killer's spirit, and that's just dumb.

Rating: Watch it at least once.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

KCR: The Quantum Connection (fiction, scifi)

Best described as a geek fantasy, Quantum Connection is a semi-sequel to "Warp Speed", where humans gained faster-than-light drive through some luck tapping vacuum energy. In this book, the stakes are higher. While the characterization is one-dimensional, the plot keeps things moving at a great clip.

Premise: geek Steve Montana have violent mood swings, but he thought he got it under control and got a great government job studying some mind-numbing technology that is clearly not of this world. Then he woke up on a flying saucer about to be dissected by the alien Greys... So he somehow broke loose through his geeky knowledge, saved fellow captive Tania, learned how to control the nano-machines, remade themselves into super-humans, then raced back to the moon to join a human program already underway to combat the Grey menace...

The action is fun, and sci-fi just believable enough to keep you grounded yet fantastic enough to be a good read. Don't expect characterization here. It's action almost all the way.

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KCR: Vortex by Larry Bond (novel, war)

Cover of "Vortex"Cover of VortexVortex is a techno-war thriller from Larry Bond in the vein of Red Storm Rising, and this one has an interesting scenario. The war is brutal, and the opponents are unusual enough to intrigue.

Premise: An assassination of South African government allowed hardliner Boers to restore apartheid. In order to distract the population and grab the diamond mines, the new government invades the neighbor Namibia. The local government picks an unlikely ally: the Cubans, and Castro sent his expeditionary forces to help defend Namibia (in exchange for lots of $$$). The Boers have to also fight internal dissent and external threat. When Boer escalate to tactical nukes, Cubans respond with nerve gas, which forces the Americans and the British forces to get involved...

The plot by now is almost formulaic... A tiny incident sets in motion great events that few can predict, like a tiny snowball rolling downhill, and soon huge swath of destruction lies in its wake. There's even a bit about some courageous reporters, good old American derring-do of special operation forces, and more.

If you like thrillers of this vein you should love this book.

Rating: worth reading, esp. if you like this genre

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KCR: True Lies

True Lies is an action movie with several elements of comedy. It is as hilarious today as it was back in 1994. There are so many impossibilities that makes you go "did that really happen?"  but that's Hollywood for you.

Premise: Harry Tasker is a spy who chases down terrorists and do other spy things with help of his team. He kept his professional life separate from his home life, but he is having trouble at home. He thinks his wife may be having an affair with a smarmy car salesman, and his daughter is apparently a pickpocket and of relatively low morals. Unfortunately, he really has no time to take care of stuff at home when some terrorists may be smuggling in nukes into Florida...  Then everybody in the family got involved, and things got VERY complicated indeed...

The idea of secrets and multiple identities are used for comic relief very effectively in this movie. The scene where Tasker got the truth serum is hilarious.

The movie could be improved on several levels, but it is great fun. And admit it, you don't watch Arnold films to get educated or have deep thoughts...

KCR: Torch of Freedom (scifi, novel)

Torch of Freedom is a novel set in the "Honorverse", i.e. the world of "Honor Harrington" series by David Weber. This book only peripherally involved Honor Harrington herself, but rather concentrated on the characters Anton Zilwicki and Victor Cachat, and Queen Berry of Torch.

To describe the novel would be rather difficult, as the Honorverse, with a dozen novels and several short story anthologies, is almost huge beyond description, but here's a tiny summary, just to set the stage:

The planet "Torch" was a slave planet held by "Mesa Corporation", which manufacturers genetic slaves. In a previous book, a slave revolt, with a little help from the outside, threw off Mesa, and with some outside help, the ex-slaves kept their freedom. The ex-slaves elected Berry, adopted daughter of Anton Zilwicki, to be their queen (yes, I know it sounds weird), because Zilwicki had a part in revolution, and Zilwicki's wife, Lady Montagne, was a Manticoran noblewoman who gave up her title to get a seat in House of Commons in order to fight for more help genetic slaves. When Queen Berry was almost assassinated, and similar strange assassinations were reported in other star systems as well, Anton Zilwicki (ex-Manticoran Navy Intelligence specialist), and Victor Cachat, his counterpart in the Haven Republic (both have a love for Torch), went off to look for clues on who may really be behind this...

The world is rich, and characters varied, but each is unique. You may have problem keeping the characters straight, but David Weber's novel reads like Tom Clancy writing science fiction, with a dash of Horatio Hornblower's derring-do.

My main problem with Weber is sometimes his characters goes into lecture mode, as the two characters have to say out loud every thought where they explain all the angles verbally, even when the two are like-minded. That's more of a nitpick though, not a fault.

If you read any of Honorverse novels, you should pick this one up.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

KCR: Digital Fortress (computer, novel)

Digital Fortress by Dan BrownImage by bennylin0724 via FlickrDigital Fortress is written by a guy who did bare minimal research into encryption, and use that as a premise to involved a McGuffin device (in this case, a "secret decoder ring" (no I wasn't kidding) and some standard chase plots. What Dan Brown knows about encryption appears to be gleamed from Wikipedia, and the hero appears to be modeled on himself (just like Langdon was).

I admit that as a high concept and some simple reading it ain't that bad, but I'm a geek, and I get cranky when technology was described wrong and/or doesn't make sense. And they don't here.

Frankly, I consider the Da Vinci Code to be a borrowed high concept turned into a barely acceptable thriller that only was so successful because it had somehow involved Jesus. Digital Fortress doesn't even have that hook. The result is an acceptable if formulaic "thriller".

Rating: Skip it, unless you must read every Dan Brown book available.

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KCR: Rambo III (movie)

Rambo IIIImage via WikipediaRambo III is logical extension of Rambo 2... what war is there to fight besides Vietnam? In that time, the obvious answer is Afghanistan. Rather ironic isn't it that decades later, the American army is fighting in Afghanistan?

Premise: Colonel Trautman and a team was trying to sneak in some supplies for the mujahadeen (Afghani freedom fighters) when their convoy was intercepted by Soviet forces and taken prisoner. Rambo felt responsible because he had turned down Trautman earlier, so he is going in alone. On the way, Rambo befriends Afghani fighters, infiltrate the fortress held by the sadistic commander, steals and chopper, rescues a bunch of prisoners, plays hide and seek with Spetnatz commandos, rescues Trautman, fight their way out, and have a big fight at the end against the camp commander.

What's REALLY hilarious is the movie's actually filmed in Israel. However, it's not important. The idea is the action is better than ever. Rambo will of course, get wounded a bit, kill lots and lots of bad guys, get bombed almost by napalm (just like the previous movie!) do some arrow hunting, and so on and so forth. It's formulaic, but it works.

You may as well complete the collection. Available in combo packs.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

KCR: 6th Day (movie)

Cover of "The 6th Day"Cover of The 6th Day6th Day, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of those movies that takes a high concept and takes it to the ridiculous extreme, but it sure sounds interesting. It's basically "The One" starring Jet Li, but in reverse, with more plausible sci-fi explanations.

Premise: in the near future, a secret cabal is "curing" almost lethal and disabling injuries and other problems by basically replacing the original with clones infused with memories from the original. A football star broken neck and life-threatening injuries? No problem... Zap his eyes to retrieve his memories, then kill the original, then activate a clone, reload the memories, and voila, he's "cured". Unfortunately for the cabal, this time, they cloned the wrong guy... And this guy will do all he can to protect his family... well... okay, THEIR family...

This movie has all the cliche plots thrown in, with lots of stupid one-liners. There's also more than a hint from Arnold's previous movie "Total Recall" which has a similar high concept: what if his entire life was a figment of someone else's imagination? Or as a critic puts it, both movie has that "Who am I really?" type of soul-searching.

It's also a bit funny about how those three assassins are really energizer bunnies... they keep going, and even when 'killed', comes back for some more. They are heck funny, even more than Arnold.

Not one of Arnold's best works (for that, I still say Commando or Predator) but watchable... once. Not quite enough to own.

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KCR: Flight of the Intruder (novel)

Flight of the Intruder by Stephen Coonts is the novel he had written, but can't find a publisher for years. When Tom Clancy managed to get his "Hunt for Red October" published, suddenly Coont's novel found an outpet.

Coonts is not a bad writer, but you can tell this is his first novel. A lot about "Jake Grafton" is almost autobiographical, describing Coonst, and characterization is a bit lacking. You don't really get a sense of what exactly drives Jake Grafton. it is as if he's just floating through life, not sure of what he wants, while doing some of the most dangerous activities on earth: being a naval aviator on a US Navy Carrier, and he's good at it.

The flying scenes are very good, but the plot is a bit of contrived high concept: what if we really bombed Hanoi... once?

It is worth reading, if you want to learn about life as naval aviator.

And skip the movie. It's a rather lousy adaptation.

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Monday, June 6, 2011

KCR: Red Phoenix by Larry Bond (novel, war)

Cover of "Red Phoenix"Cover of Red PhoenixLarry Bond helped Tom Clancy plot "Red Storm Rising" and basically help make Tom Clancy a household name after "Hunt for Red October" (when that book launched, it was only read by navy fans). Red Storm Rising is about a theoretical war between NATO and Warsaw Pact when USSR decided he needs to neutralize Europe in order to invade Iran for its oil. Somehow Larry Bond's name did not end up on the cover of that book. Larry Bond actually have military experience (in the Navy). So he wrote his own books.

Red Phoenix is about a theoretical invasion of South Korea by North Korea. Russia supports North Korea, and China decided to stay neutral. US have to ship in forces and fight alongside South Koreans. The action is great as it is in the same style of Red Storm Rising, that pioneered the rapid jump among various viewpoints at the local level. You get to experience the tank platoons fighting across the hills of Korea, the guards trying to repel the enemy commando attacks, the fighter pilots trying to wrestle air superiority, and the political intrigue behind the scenes in the Kremlin and in the Whitehouse.

If you like the style, it is a very good read.

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KCR: Doom the movie

Cover of "Doom (Unrated Extended Edition)...Cover via AmazonLet's put it this way: you know this movie won't be a masterpiece when you go in. It is based on a GAME about shooting nasty things that came out many many years ago. And it's NOT directed by Uwe Boll. So it is not that bad... as long as you don't have too high of expectation for it.

Setup: some sort of nasty things have invaded the Mars research facility. The "marines" have been called in. In the dark research facility marines encounter mad humans, creatures from nightmares, and illegal experiments that should have never been done... something of pure evil... When even the marines started to die, there may only be one way out... through hell...

The Doom movie can be viewed as sort of a pastiche / sendup of action movies, and for that it ain't bad. The action is quite good, though the marines rarely hit something. There's also a lot of favorite weapons in Doom that didn't make it into the movie, like pistol, shotgun, rocket launcher, and so on. However, the "first person" sequence near the end is pretty cool. There's also some sci-fi mumbo jumbo about extra set of chromosomes, experiments on death row inmate, and so on.

It is worth watching once, if you like the game. Else, forget it.

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