Warning! The best character in Adam Blade's First Hero is not even in the novel.
I read this book to my nine year old, who loved the fantasy and frienWarning! The best character in Adam Blade's First Hero is not even in the novel.
I read this book to my nine year old, who loved the fantasy and friendship of the original Beast Quest series. Chronicles of Avantia rejects all that imagination and roots around in a juvenaliac mire of graphic violence, guilt and gloom. Whenever there came a description of villagers being slaughtered or people boiled alive, I would make up a bit about Sheepie, Tanner's pet superhero sheep. Now that beast had some fun and adventures!
Instead of old ladies being impaled, the First Hero I read had a heroic sheep who head-butted the stock bad guy Gor right outta town. Some inventive dialogue turned the attacking army from bland targets into comical dolts. It got a few laughs. Tanner's wary love interest had a belt full of throwing pastries instead of axes. Ridiculous, yes, but no less stupid than the original text. And don't underestimate the deadliness of a week-old donut. Rock hard, baby!
Sheepie won't be making a return. I was lucky to coax my son to the conclusion of his book- he requested reading something else rather than finish the rest of the series. If you have inadvertently picked up this pile of turgid slurry yourself, I only hope that a certain free-roaming brave and cheery sheep charges into your copy and brings along a bit of life. It's easy! All he ever says is "baaa!" It is more interesting and challenging than what "Adam Blade" filled fifteen chapters with....more
SHTMP provides excellent insights into the techniques, lives and limitations of investigators who carry neither a badge nor a gun. There are thousandsSHTMP provides excellent insights into the techniques, lives and limitations of investigators who carry neither a badge nor a gun. There are thousands of PI novels released every year, but this is the only book I have ever read about an investigator from within the corporate world. This is all new, and the fact that it is based on a true story is a definite hook.
I wish an editor had taken a red pen to the prose and turned the 400 pages into a solid, fast-moving 200. The current text is repetitive, inconsistent and confusing. Why would the CIA appear from nowhere to fly our narrator abroad, race him around with a beautiful woman in a high-powered car, have him sit shotgun while an ex-KGB giant snaps photos of the identity thief, then drop him home and never again enter the story? Why would his boss reveal Vietnam horror stories, retire from the company and then two years later be hanging around the office discussing the investigation's budget? A few axes are ground repeatedly and the bad guy never has his soapbox to offer a defence, rationale or confirmation of several looming questions.
Three stars as Snow does a great job with the content and really knows his field. ...more
Despite his name, Cricket Martini-Curls was a tea man. He despised how fellow members of the criminal aristocracy assumed he could be appeased with onDespite his name, Cricket Martini-Curls was a tea man. He despised how fellow members of the criminal aristocracy assumed he could be appeased with one of those vermouth concoctions. Fools! One would think that the magnificent Martini-Henry rifles which had conquered half the world would have made a lasting impression. Two cups of Tetley’s, leaves couriered from the most underhanded tea shop in Edinburgh?, soothed his temper sufficiently that chief henchman Simcoe Alehops dared to approach his decommissioned Soviet Balzam-class intelligence ship’s command chair again.
"Apologies, sir, but there was a call on the sat phone. A distressing incident at your son’s school."
Ah, young Karl! Probably put a few of the older aspiring criminal geniuses into Schola Sceleratorum’s infirmary again. A generation of supervillains would long remember Karl’s cunning in battle and superior physical prowess- a miniscule price for any momentary trouble with the headmaster. "Proceed, Alehops. Spare no detail."
His henchman shifted from foot to foot, appearing ready to duck behind the radar console. "The academy requires a small tuition increase to cover recent damage. Very small. Well. Doubling, in fact."
"What?" Martini-Curls vaulted from his command chair as if the boat had been struck by a missile. "How? Why?"
"It seems," Alehops quivered from behind cover, "it’s all the fault of a student from Legatum."
"Legatum Continuatum!" Britain’s hated secret academy for young detectives. Every underworld kingpin’s nemesis was an alumnus of that exclusive school. Cricket Martini-Curls longed for nothing in the world so much as to cause its towers to crumble. Many of his peers had tried. None yet had been able to penetrate its defences or out-manoeuvre its faculty of goody-goody investigators to slay its brood of teen detectives.
"The student’s name is Amanda Lester. A descendant of Sherlock Holmes’ vile law enforcing halfwit, Inspector Lestrade."
"Amanda Lester, eh?" Martini-Curls hurled his teacup, missing a damned cat who leapt to the salvation of the comms station with a hiss. "Tell me more."
"The Moriarty family has compiled extensive files," Alehops shared eagerly. Blixus Moriarty, Cricket’s old roommate at Schola Sceleratorum! The world had not forgotten his illustrious great-great uncle, the lucky worm. "Amanda Lester, age twelve, transferred in this past January. Initially she had difficulty settling in to Legatum, with its classes on pathology, toxicology, disguise and other crime-fighting skills. I understand that detective work held no appeal for her. She aspired to be a film director like the famous Darius Plover, back in her native Los Angeles."
Film. As if endless enigmatic species of myxomycetes did not promise warty plasmodia enough for a lifetime of fascinating scientific study! Martini-Curls simply could not understand the youth of today. "We have a mole inside Legatum, do we not? Could our sleeper not sabotage this fish-out-of-water Lestrade and undermine the morale of the student population?"
Alehops furiously consulted his notes, white cat hair flying about. "Ah! Yes, sir, there are observations here that could only have been gathered by someone planted inside the school! Amanda Lester faced challenges considerable enough to make most children despair, but with the help of friends like Amphora Kapoor, Nick Muffet, Ivy Halpin and Simon Binkle she... well, obviously must have triumphed over those challenges if she was able to obliterate your son’s-"
"OBLITERATE?" Martini-Curls screamed. Schola Sceleratorum, obliterated?
"When I said tuition fees doubled," Alehops danced with practiced agility, dodging everything Cricket could throw at him, "I meant, doubled by a scale of ten. I don’t know the word for when they add an extra zero to the price."
"Yes, they simpletoned the bill. Place needs to be rebuilt, really."
Martini-Curls grabbed the nearest Chinchilla Persian and wound his arm back, but the spitting beast’s claws dug deep into sleeve and flesh and made it impossible to throw. Cricket felt like a fool, hopping around the bridge screaming expletives and flailing a cat. Simcoe Alehops eventually set a hot cup of relaxing tea at his command chair. Cricket collapsed, grudgingly appreciating that his chief henchman was not altogether worthless. "You handle the expenses for my son’s school, Alehops. Please tell me that you were trying to extort an inflated sum from your employer, like any competent criminal would."
Alehops blushed again. "I was, sir. Not quite ten times an increase. It’s eight."
"Damn that ingenious Amanda Lester!" Martini-Curls quietly savored a sip, belligerent Persian still clinging to his forearm. "This ship cannot afford any increase! Can you conceive how completely I have invested into this sugar opportunity? And today’s smuggling operation?" Rats squeaked in surprise. Cats stopped chasing them. The battered heads of the full crew swiveled at that too-loud pronouncement. "Mu-ha, I meant," Cricket recovered, "of course you’ll all be paid! Back wages and everything. Mu-ha! Alehops, please report the favorable news."
"Good news? Of course, sir, if you wish! It is not all easy sailing for Amanda Lester. She has weaknesses. Her best friend is blind. That should be a doddle to exploit. Her weakness for cute boys, too! Her relationship with her parents is notably strained. That is an area where adversaries like ourselves can cause her pain. Plenty of opportunity for conflict, unless she grows and develops."
"Excellent!" Martini-Curls drained his cup. Simcoe had ducked behind two of the larger mercenaries. "What now? Expound, Alehops, or be damned!"
"A second call came through, from our del- erm, smugglers," Alehops proffered. "I’m afraid they’ve been nabbed by detectives ashore. They rang requesting you to organize a solicitor."
"Dimwits! And the slow lorises?"
"For the vetting process, the buyer brought her own veterinarian, sir. All had a bad dose of monkey pox, I’m afraid. Wouldn’t part with a cent."
All those eyes stared unblinking again. "What, the scope of exotic pet smuggling is second only to illegal narcotics!" Martini-Curls vehemently defended. "There’s a lot of money in monkeys. Usually. Just not this time."
"So we’re not getting paid?" Simcoe dared. The crew menaced a step closer.
Schola Sceleratorum had a semester-long study of the Technique and Application of Mu-ha-ha-ha. Martini-Curls had earned one of his few A’s. He demonstrated now that his skills remained undiminished. The crew were visibly reassured. "Of course you will get your due! Mu-ha! On a completely unrelated note, look off to our port bow! No, your other port! Left, ‘port’ means ‘left’! Do you see that? Keep looking out to sea, quell! There, on the horizon, I see a purple rainbow approaching."
Pocketing the ship’s precious orange crystal, Cricket crept through the hatch and into his escape craft. Motoring across rough swells at speed, he realized he had forgotten his bug-out bag stuffed with bundles of tea and Swiss francs. Tears streaming from the salty gale, Cricket Martini-Curls vowed revenge against that meddling girl.
The cat on his sleeve growled and eyed him malevolently. ...more
Space aliens arrive early in Conquest and bomb the text with info dumps. These aliens are tall tan dudes with no eyelids, and they come bearing the poSpace aliens arrive early in Conquest and bomb the text with info dumps. These aliens are tall tan dudes with no eyelids, and they come bearing the power to cure cancer, joke about haggis and change point of view several times in the same chapter. Some are good guys. Some are very, very bad aliens indeed. The good ones hook up with the human resistance and introduce YA readers to wormholes, nano bots, androids, psychic powers, blast rifles and other SF staples of the literary world. There's a smooch or two, evil giant generic frog foot soldiers, wicked space witches, some discussion about morality and several good twists once the action takes off.
Critical Mick says: set phasers on fun! Charlie Parker might be on this same planet, but the tone and content of Conquest is worlds away from Connolly's other writing....more
WARNING: The country which invented the Internet is presently the most vulnerable to an attack from it.
In the 1970’s, the US Defense Department’s AdvaWARNING: The country which invented the Internet is presently the most vulnerable to an attack from it.
In the 1970’s, the US Defense Department’s Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) laid the groundwork for the Internet. This communications system, initially developed by the military, has over the past 40 years become used by industry, commerce, social networks- almost every aspect of contemporary life. Richard A. Clarke’s Cyber War: The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It is a wake-up call written from a White House insider, illustrating what would happen if a foreign power used the Internet against the US. Specifically: crashing the national power grid, SCADA systems (controls for utilities, generators, transformers, pumps, and similar systems), air traffic control, financial databases, and many other components of critical infrastructure which are currently accessible through the Internet and are alarmingly poorly defended.
More than forty nations control dedicated teams of cyber warriors, preparing methods of attack. Cyberspace has become a “battlespace.” While the US has the world’s best internet-based attack capabilities, other nations have superior defenses for their infrastructure. Clarke demonstrates how weapons systems and also the civilian computer networks that manage communications, transport, banking, utilities, can be (and have been- lots of real-world examples) damaged or controlled from a remote location anywhere in the world. Every year additional nations ramp up their cyberwar units- the US, Russia, China, France, North Korea. The world has gone all Die Hard 4.
Cyberwar was initially published in 2010, with this paperback edition released in 2012 with a new appendix about the Stuxnet worm- a real-life proven instance of how the US and Israeli cyberwar units wrote a malicious program to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. His information is good and corresponds to reading I have done on it as a Computer Information Systems Security Professional. A good start towards more comprehensive details on Stuxnet can be found on Symantec's site. Also see their article on the Stuxnet 0.5: The Missing Link.
This book is certain to be updated with another “told you so!” appendix, as another of Clarke’s major reported real-world cyber attacks has been verified: the People’s Republic of China’s systematic theft of terabytes of R & D data from US military contractors and other companies. (They also hacked into Obama’s campaign computers when he was running for president in 2008, stealing draft policy documents.) In a damningly conclusive report released in February 2013, a computer incident and response company called Mandiant supplied proof that the intrusions and exfiltrations from their customers were state-sponsored hacking from the PRC. Specifically, they tracked a group of thieves they knew as “APT (Advanced Persistent Threat) 1” back to Shanghai and determined it was the 2nd Bureau of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) GSD 3rd Department, commonly known as Unit 61398. That report is highly recommended reading.
Though written for a popular audience rather than a technical one, Cyber War provides accurate detail. Clarke points out that many unexpected devices are connected to the Internet- everything from elevators to photocopiers to valves at power plants. These are intended to “phone home” for maintenance reasons and to avail of software updates, but this connection can be exploited for other purposes.
Rather than just sound the alarm, Cyberwar proposes a Defensive Triad to improve the US’s posture. This book is a call upon Obama to improve security on the national Internet backbone, secure the controls for the national power grids, and vigorously pursue security upgrades for Defense IT systems. It is a message that should be heard by government, industry, and all people depending on the Internet today- which is just about everyone. No surprise that Cyberwar was a big seller.
The book is also filled with Clarke’s insider observations and insights. For example, George Bush I had an ulterior motive for destroying Saddam Hussein’s military might in 1991. The Iraqi army- fourth largest in the world- was equipped with Soviet-designed weaponry. Blasting that to shit (partly through the use of emerging smart technologies) was intended as a demonstration to the Chinese and other nations reliant upon those same types of tanks and guns. The new F-117 Stealth fighter-bombers were used in the 1989 invasion of Panama “because the Pentagon wanted to show off its new weapon to deter others.” (page 194)
George W. Bush was a president who comes off poorly in Cyberwar. Clarke freely admits that NSA under Bush and Cheney routinely performed illegal surveillance and other actions. He reports that Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush Administration officials advocated invading Iraq because Afghanistan did not have enough targets to bomb. George W. Bush was a president who would rush through decisions without giving the matter thought, one who left regulatory commissions vacant so that government security decisions were not enforced, a president who violated the Convention Against Torture and “never saw a covert-action proposal he didn’t like.” (page 114) When considering what actions that nation should take, Bush would defer to the CEOs of companies that had made large political donations to his election committees. True, there were moves to protect the government’s networks on Bush’s watch (Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative and National Security Presidential Decision 54) but crucial time was lost as other nations took greater measures in the emerging field of computer security.
A final note: Clarke confirms (page 93) the CIA’s 1982 sabotage of the Soviet Urengoy–Surgut–Chelyabinsk natural gas pipeline. The KGB had been stealing Western technology: the CIA learned of this and introduced a flaw into automated pump and valve controls. The explosion was the world’s largest non-nuclear explosion- over three kilotons. This explosion occurred in a unpopulated area and so no casualties occurred. This early example of successful SCADA system sabotage demonstrates the potential of what could occur today if nations do not secure their systems correctly. CybrWar is real, with real-world consequences. Successful attacks have been occurring for decades, and will continue throughout this century. ...more