Saturday, December 12, 2009

Brainwash, Dominic Streatfeild

Dominic Streatfeild

Two people before me have reviewed Brainwash in Doug's old forums, and they are both excellent reviews. In fact, it was those reviews that lead me to put this book on my list. Now that I've read it, though, I'm not certain it was worth the time and effort.

The book opens by recounting some disturbing events relating to the behavior of several people in Hungary, Korea, and the Soviet Union in the 1930's, 40's, and 50's. It appeared those countries had developed the ability to modify someone's behavior - and possibly their actual thoughts and beliefs - in very significant ways. It was a scary time, and the reaction of our government - and others - was to go looking for how this could be done and if it could benefit us.

From there we're lead into several stories, some of which are truly horrific, about research (both military and non) into various forms of mind manipulation and control.

Brainwash is non-fiction, and thus useful to someone as an overview of the topics involved. However, I found that some of the contents - like chapters on the Moonies, satanism, and recovered memories - fairly far afield from those things that government organizations are doing. Yes, some of the underlying techniques are the same, but for me the presentation didn't hold together that well as the topics varied so widely.

Another frustration - one that may not be the author's fault - is that we never get complete resolution on the alarming cases presented early on. We get some information late in the book, but some of the victims have died and (of course) the Soviet Union is no more. Still, even an explicit summary of what we do and do not know about those cases would have been nice.

Finally I found the style of the book too informal for the topic matter. It bothered me enough that it slightly reduced my level of trust. This is a very serious issue and deserves a more thoughtful (and well documented) presentation than it was given here. Not that this is a tome full of jokes, but it doesn't exactly read like a scholarly work either. That may be part of the reason it is popular, though.

In the end, an important message is presented: there really is no such thing as brainwashing. It's a handy word for something that cannot be done. It is entirely possible to make people talk in various ways, but to change their thoughts radically without destroying them in the process simply cannot be done. In a way that's reassuring.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sons Of Palodar, Anne Powell (review extension)

Sons Of Palodar
Anne Powell

I've now managed to sit down with Anne and go over my comments and thoughts on her book in detail. This sort of review can be tricky - it is always best to avoid offending one's spouse - but it's also an opportunity for her to hear things from someone she knows will speak honestly. Thus, it's a balancing act where presentation means a lot.

Since that conversation I know I am allowed to say something about the plot of the book itself, without giving things away, of course.

Anne's story takes place in the Romnean empire, which spans thousands of star systems in the galaxy. The person in charge - she who must be obeyed, if you will - is named Katera, a wizardress (or witch, depending on how formal you want to be) of great power.

Space ships of all kinds fly between the systems of the empire, bringing trade and residents to new locations. Of course everything that can go with that environment does so: smuggling and piracy, for example.

There are quite a few races present, including humans, but in addition Katera created three races of beings called the Gladius some 700 years before the story takes place. Katera's whim is a command, and the Gladius are required to fight each other in ritualized combat in arenas throughout the empire for the entertainment of the citizenry.

Sons of Palodar is a love story set in this world. We follow Able Greenleaf, a human pilot for a young Gladius warrior as he meets Mary, a somewhat mysterious woman he falls in love with. There are complications, of course, that cannot be detailed here, and though we're not reading about a major event in the history of the empire, we still feel the presence of that history as the story unfolds. We also feel for the characters in a real way. Able and Mary - and a number of other characters - are well developed and believable. It's a pleasure watching them dance around each other and the complications of their lives.

It's risky to write reviews where one's point of view might obviously be biased - in this case by my relationship with the author - but I honestly hope she releases this novel in some format. Yes, there still are a few things that need to be cleaned up first, but for an early draft it felt very clean, and I gulped it down, having to go back for a second time to pick up on a few issues that need fixing.

If this work ever becomes available I'll let it be known here. And if anyone wants to read an early copy, either contact Anne directly if you know how, or contact me and I'll put you in touch. Suffice it to say I think it would be worth your time.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sons Of Palodar, Anne Powell

Sons of Palodar
Anne Powell

This is an interesting review to write.

My wife is an unpublished author. She's written two novels so far and has plans for two more. She writes science fantasy - something that straddles the divide between science fiction and fantasy.

Her first novel, Katera's Ghost, is an interesting read. It introduces a number of characters and the universe they inhabit. I liked it quite a bit, but it suffers from one major flaw in my mind. One of the major characters winds up doing something she shouldn't. It's not in character (in my mind, anyway) and it distracts. Beyond that, though, I quite liked it.

Her new novel - the one this review is actually about - is titled Sons of Palodar, and I am happy to report that it doesn't have any major flaws.

I've read it twice now, with the intent of providing comment and feedback. As with any early draft of a work this size there are some nits to work out, but overall this book is quite good. The characters are quite believable, and the plot moves forward well.

As the novel is unpublished I don't want to give away anything detailed about the plot or characters at this time. In truth I hope she tries to find a publisher for this one, though. With another short round of polishing I think it will be ready for that effort. Failing that I would consider some sort of self publishing option at this point, even if it's only in PDF format for ebook readers. I think it would do well.

And if Anne approves at some point I'll write up something that describes some of the content of the book itself.

Oh, and for those who haven't figured it out yet, Anne is a huge inspiration to me. I hope to follow in her footsteps one of these days.