Book Review: Leyte 1944: The Soldier's Battle, by Nathan N. Prefer

The Battle of Leyte that happened on land.

Leyte: The Soldier's Battle

Casemate, 2012, 394 pages

When General Douglas MacArthur arrived in Australia in March 1942, having successfully left the Philippines to organize a new American army, he vowed, "I shall return!" More than two years later he did return, at the head of a large U.S. army to retake the Philippines from the Japanese. The place of his re-invasion was the central Philippine Island of Leyte. Much has been written about the naval Battle of Leyte Gulf that his return provoked, but almost nothing has been written about the three-month long battle to seize Leyte itself.

Originally intending to delay the advancing Americans, the Japanese high command decided to make Leyte the "Decisive Battle" for the western Pacific and rushed crack Imperial Army units from Manchuria, Korea, and Japan itself to halt and then overwhelm the Americans on Leyte. As were most battles in the Pacific, it was a long, bloody, and brutal fight. As did the Japanese, the Americans were forced to rush in reinforcements to compensate for the rapid increase in Japanese forces on Leyte.

This unique battle also saw a major Japanese counterattack - not a banzai charge, but a carefully thought-out counteroffensive designed to push the Americans off the island and capture the elusive General MacArthur. Both American and Japanese battalions spent days surrounded by the enemy, often until relieved or overwhelmed. Under General Yamashita’s guidance it also saw a rare deployment of Japanese paratroopers in conjunction with the ground assault offensive.

Finally there were more naval and air battles, all designed to protect or cover landing operations of friendly forces. Leyte was a three-dimensional battle, fought with the best both sides had to offer, and did indeed decide the fate of the Philippines in World War II.

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Book Review: Heart of the Original, by Steve Aylett

A stream-of-consciousness diatribe of literary bullets spraying in all directions.

Heart of the Original

Unbound, 2015, 133 pages

True creativity, the making of a thing which has not been in the world previously, is originality by definition. But while many claim to crave originality, they feel an obscure revulsion when confronted with it. The really new is uncomfortable and disturbing. Repetition of the familiar is preferred. The hailing of old ideas as original lowers the standard for invention and robs most creative people of the drive to do anything interesting, let alone seek out the universe of originality which is waiting, drumming its fingers, wondering why nobody calls.

This is a book for all those who care not for the fashionable simulacra of the media creative, but for an understanding of the hard road to true originality. Part manual, part history of ideas, part manifesto – this a unique experimental journey around the outer limits of our culture. It debunks myths, contradicts familiar shiboleths and wages war on cliché and platitude as it has never been waged before.

A rallying cry and disruptive book for those bored with merely thinking outside the box.

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Book Review: The Unbearable Heaviness of Remembering, by L. Jagi Lamplighter

The fifth book in the Rachel Griffin series. Can we finish the school year?

The Unbearable Heaviness of Remembering

Silver Empire, 2020, 466 pages

...She has discovered she has an older sister named Amber, who was stolen-away as a baby. Nobody but Rachel remembers her--not even their parents. Rachel is determined to find Amber and restore her to the family. But how?

She doubts it will be as easy as overhearing the name Rumpelstiltskin.

Meanwhile, Rachel has bigger problems. Wild fey have invaded the campus. If they so much as bewitch even one more student, Roanoke Academy will be forced to close its doors. Rachel and her friends must solve this menace before the academy cancels more classes or, worse, the Year of the Dragon Ball!

But she has hope--if she can keep the school open--because, as Rachel's late grandmother told her, Masquerade balls are a time of wonder... when anything is possible.

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Also by L. Jagi Lamplighter: My reviews of The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin, The Raven, The Elf, and Rachel, Rachel and the Many-Splendored Dreamland, and The Awful Truth About Forgetting.

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Book Review: It Waits on the Top Floor, by Ben Farthing

A weird horror story about a Lovecraftian skyscraper.

It Waits on the Top Floor

Self-published, 2021, 296 pages

The tower appeared overnight, but it wants to keep you forever.

Thursday night, it was a dirt lot.

Friday morning, it was a 60-story skyscraper.

A tech billionaire wants the building’s secrets for herself. She hires a team to reverse-engineer the overnight construction. But she knows more than she’s letting on.

A curious 9-year-old decides there’s treasure inside, and goes exploring. His terrified dad chases close behind.

Inside, the facade of an empty office building is quickly shattered. Ghostly figures stalk the explorers. The walls themselves are hungry. And something is waiting on the top floor.

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Book Review: Remarkably Bright Creatures, by Shelby Van Pelt

A sappy story about an old lady, a failson, and a giant Pacific octopus.

Remarkably Bright Creatures

Ecco, 2022, 368 pages

After Tova Sullivan’s husband died, she began working the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, mopping floors and tidying up. Keeping busy has always helped her cope, which she’s been doing since her eighteen-year-old son, Erik, mysteriously vanished on a boat in Puget Sound over thirty years ago.

Tova becomes acquainted with curmudgeonly Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus living at the aquarium. Marcellus knows more than anyone can imagine but wouldn’t dream of lifting one of his eight arms for his human captors—until he forms a remarkable friendship with Tova.

Ever the detective, Marcellus deduces what happened the night Tova’s son disappeared. And now Marcellus must use every trick his old invertebrate body can muster to unearth the truth for her before it’s too late.

Shelby Van Pelt’s debut novel is a gentle reminder that sometimes taking a hard look at the past can help uncover a future that once felt impossible.

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Book Review: Mission One, by Samuel Best

A 2001-inspired first contact novel.

Mission One

Sky City, 2017, 419 pages

Five months to Titan. Four brave crew members. One incredible mystery.

Jeff Dolan always wanted to be an astronaut. After helping a private space company build a ship that can travel to Saturn's largest moon in five months, he gets his chance.

Shortly after launch, a devastating malfunction forces Jeff and the crew to make a choice: continue to Titan or go back home. As the truth about their mission unravels, one thing is clear: Someone on Earth knew about the system flaw and covered it up.

Yet surviving the journey isn't the crew's only concern. Even if they make it to Titan, they will face another problem: Something is already there.

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Book Review: The Golden Enclaves, by Naomi Novik

All shall love Galadriel Higgins and despair!

The Golden Enclaves

Del Rey Books, 2022, 409 pages

The one thing you never talk about while you're in the Scholomance is what you'll do when you get out - not even the richest enclaver would tempt fate that way.

But that impossible dream has somehow come true for El and her classmates. And what's more, she didn't even have to become the monstrous dark witch she's prophesised to become to make it happen. Instead of killing enclavers, she saved them, and now the world is safe for all wizards. Peace and harmony have enveloped all the enclaves of the world.

Just kidding.

Instead, someone else has picked up the project of destroying enclaves in El's stead, and everyone she saved is at risk again with a full-scale enclave war on the horizon. And so, the first thing El needs to do after miraculously escaping the Scholomance, is to turn straight around and find a way back in.

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Also by Naomi Novik: My reviews of A Deadly Education and The Last Graduate.

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Book Review: Fairy Tale, by Stephen King

A portal fantasy with the old King twist.

Fairy Tale

Scribner, 2022, 608 pages

Charlie Reade looks like a regular high school kid, great at baseball and football, a decent student. But he carries a heavy load. His mom was killed in a hit-and-run accident when he was ten, and grief drove his dad to drink. Charlie learned how to take care of himself—and his dad. When Charlie is seventeen, he meets a dog named Radar and her aging master, Howard Bowditch, a recluse in a big house at the top of a big hill, with a locked shed in the backyard. Sometimes strange sounds emerge from it.

Charlie starts doing jobs for Mr. Bowditch and loses his heart to Radar. Then, when Bowditch dies, he leaves Charlie a cassette tape telling a story no one would believe. What Bowditch knows, and has kept secret all his long life, is that inside the shed is a portal to another world.

King’s storytelling in Fairy Tale soars. This is a magnificent and terrifying tale in which good is pitted against overwhelming evil, and a heroic boy—and his dog—must lead the battle.

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Also by Stephen King: My reviews of Blaze, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Lisey's Story, Cell, The Shining, Duma Key and Doctor Sleep.

My complete list of book reviews.

Book Review: Shadows of Solstice, by Bonnie Elizabeth

Imagine Buffy saving the world except she's boring and has no Slayer powers.

Shadows of Solstice

My Big Fat Orange Cat Publishing, 2021, 146 pages

It began with a fire. It would end with a battle.
Kicked out of multiple schools, Mina Andresen's future depends upon graduating from tiny Havestad Lutheran College on Minnesota's north shore.

While not her ideal situation, her classes interest her, her roommate is pleasant, and life holds promise. Then the local church burns down the weekend before finals, on the Festival of St. Lucia.

Suddenly, the nights get darker, shadows move eerily, and Mina imagines she sees monsters. When people start dying, Mina must confront the fact that she's not just imaging things.

In order to save her fellow students, the local townsfolk, and possibly even the world, Mina must step up and accept a responsibility larger than anything she ever imagined. Even harder, she must believe in herself.

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Alexandra Quick

AQATWW: Will Skynet finish this book before I do?

I might have beaten GRRM and Patrick Rothfuss, but can I finish Alexandra Quick and the Wizard War before AIs can finish it for me?

I have been playing with DALL-E and Midjourney more. (I'd try StableDiffusion but unfortunately I don't have an Nvidia card.) Right now, we're still in the early "Microsoft Clippy" stage of AI-generated art. When I take the time to very carefully craft my prompts, I can usually get something decent with a few tries, but specifying exactly what you want and not getting objects in the wrong arrangement, random artifacts, or faces drawn by Edvard Much, is still challenging.

I doubt I'll stop commissioning artists for my covers, but I think by the time I am posting AQATWW, I will probably be using AI instead of my illustrations-on-the-cheap workhorse of many years, Poser.

Alexandra Quick by Dall-E

I feel for all the folks selling character commissions on DeviantArt and Fiverr and ArtStation, but AI is coming for you, and people who just want pictures of their D&D characters, frankly, already don't need you. I keep track of the book cover market, and have already seen artists "incorporating" AI art into their designs. Pretty soon AIs will be able to fulfill all your hot-girl-embracing-an-alpha-wolf cover illustration needs as well.

Chicks dig alpha wolves, apparently
AI will be able to do this soon.

Of course AIs are also starting to write code, which does not concern me greatly as I don't think anything less than full AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) will be able to handle true full-stack development. But adding widgets to web apps and churning out boilerplate code for container deployment, yup, it's going to start hitting the lower end of the software development market soon. That goes for "data science" (the sexy new job title for anyone who can massage an Excel spreadsheet) too. If you have actual analytical skills and the math to back it up, you can keep your data science job, but "Show me trends by region in one-day increments, and make it a horizontal bar chart grouped by SKU, oh, and make it look pretty," is definitely something an AI will be able to do faster than you Python script monkeys with your jupyter notebooks.

But can AIs write?

Well, there are already shitty robo-content-generators, and we're starting to see stories like this. Sure, right now all those stories you're reading about how "An AI wrote a novel!" or "I submitted a AI-generated short story to a magazine and it was accepted!" are novelties. AI-written content is still usually pretty readily identifiable, and again, an AI capable of doing what an actual human author can do (creating not just a single coherent narrative, but infusing it with tone and thematic elements and allusions with a distinctive style and even doing this across multiple books) would pretty much have to be a full AGI.

But these early stories of AIs making one breakthrough after another remind me of the early days of the Internet. Yes, I am old enough to remember when the Internet was this weird freaky thing that was good for an occasional chuckle in a Sunday news segment, but not taken seriously as anything other than a curiosity for nerds. What, shopping online? How peculiar, but, like, there's no way banks will ever be okay with this for large transactions. But hahaha, that dancing baby sure is fun to watch!

That's where AI is today.

Hopefully this is not where it is tomorrow.

I am semi-seriously padding this post just so I have more to say than "Hey, you all want The Numbers, right?", but I am not kidding, kids: there are entire industries that are about to be cratered by AI.

The Numbers

But never mind all the AI doomsaying, you want The Numbers, right?

I just hit 356K words (Ayiyiyi!) with the completion of 60 chapters. According to my ever-changing outline, I have 6 more chapters to go. So yes, I am actually close. The end is in sight, as it were. And I have been writing steadily so... I feel pretty comfortable I will beat the AI apocalypse. Unless it happens ahead of schedule.

All the usual caveats about how much this first draft is a bloated piece of crap with threads that go nowhere, characters that need to be written out of the story completely, leaps of logic that resembles lemmings going off a cliff, questions in search of answers, and a few answers in search of questions. I am in many ways quite happy and proud of this ugly, ugly unborn baby, but it's gonna need a lot of slapping around before it's fit to be seen.

(Yeah, I don't know where I went with that metaphor either.)

Some people in the Alexandra Quick Discord server helpfully reminded me that I am old (hey, I am younger than GRRM and not nearly as fat) so by way of reassurance, I let them know that there are actually informal arrangements in the event something happens to me. I've given permission for my draft, in whatever state it is in, to be published. I haven't left notes for how the whole series ends, though. Maybe I will get around to that eventually.

I'm just teasing you guys, you're great.

Also, I have been told that I have been remiss in failing to give a shout-out to the Remedial Magic Podcast.

Remedial Magic Podcast

Brady, Baylor, and Delbert started this project as a general Harry Potter-related podcast, but it's become basically an Alexandra Quick read-along as they go chapter by chapter through the AQ series. They are almost done with book two now, and it's been great listening to their speculations and analysis. They also throw in some HP news, so go give them a listen on the podcasting app of your choice. Also check out their casting list.

FWIW, my fantasy casting choice for 12-year-old Alexandra Quick would be 12-year-old Natalie Portman.

Natalie Portman as Alexandra Quick

Older Natalie is too pretty, and I really can't think of an actress who looks like teen Alex.