Saturday, July 13, 2013

Review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

There is nothing so satisfying as finding a new author, except finding a new author of really good, solid science fiction. That author is Pierce Brown and the book is Red Rising.

When I started the book, I was not impressed. Brown thrust me into the world of a Helldiver and the mining caste of Reds, but the true nature of the Reds didn't become apparent until I was much farther along in the book. The first chapter was all right and the writing was clear, if a bit overwhelming with all the Helldiver action and pitvipers and such, but the story was was weak. I could find no connection to Darrow at all. He's a kid in my world but a man in his own world and a newlywed and a powerful man in his own with a strong drive to excel and exceed the limits. I did have a grudging respect for him on that score, but the beginning was still slow and I stopped reading Red Rising to read other more interesting books.

I came back determined to read through to the end and suddenly Brown caught fire. Darrow won his Laurel but didn't get it because the system would not allow a Red of his clan to win. As he watched his prize and the food going to the same clan that always won regardless of how much the Lykos clan produced, I began to get a feel for Darrow's world and his wife, Eo's, dream. What followed was rage making and poignant and the real world of Mars and the Color Caste began to emerge into a light dawning on a much bigger story that moved forward with harrowing speed and force. That is when I was well and truly caught into the juggernaut that is Red Rising.

I was fooled by Brown's almost laconic beginning pace, in spite of the Helldiver action, into thinking Darrow's story was just another knock-off science fiction story. I was wrong. The pace and suspense build and build to a focused and sustained screaming Hell ride into a story that pits strength and cunning against a decadent and decaying society in the first throes of its privileged demise. The ante continues to spiral upward until Darrow assaults the gods and heaven itself in a stomach churning, adrenaline thundering story with an ending that illustrates just how far Darrow has come from the comforting confines of mines and his world view. He has seen the stars and taken hold of destiny with a fierce grip.

Red Rising is a heady mix of hard and soft science fiction with a fiercely wild heart. Although based loosely on the Roman and Greek pantheon of gods and goddesses, Brown has build a solar system of stunning breadth where slavery is a colorful necessity and power corrupts and changes those that can adapt in new ways. The science and medicine is fascinating and the political maneuvering breath taking in its scope, reminiscent of the best of Robert A. Heinlein and Roger Zelazny without the use of their hierarchies or ruling systems. This is quite simply the best science fiction I have read in decades. The only downside is that this is the first of a trilogy and doesn't debut until February 2014 and I have at least two more years to wait for the next installment.

With a first book like Red Rising, I anxiously await the rest of Brown's vision.

For its slow start, I give 4/5 stars, but I'd say this book is closer to 4.5 stars. It is after all only one chapter that fails to sing with the power and intensity of the rest of the novel.


NOTE:  Red Rising is not due out until February 2014, but this book is definitely one that should be on your list. Get it when it debuts in 2014.  It is worth the wait.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Review: Under the Dome by Stephen King

What struck me as I read Under the Dome is that the book is Lord of the Flies under glass. The fact that the main characters are adults does not detract from that comparison as the people of Chester's Mills are cut off from the rest of the world and left to their own devices. In that sense, Stephen King has imagined a rich and dark world where few people are untouched by the evil that men do -- or are the very essence of the evil that men do in the name of order and control.

The book rises like a rocket with clear intent and a purpose. The purpose is destruction and death, both of which follow in true Stephen King fashion like bloody fireworks. What follows is a close look at the thoughts and actions of the leaders of this small community and the animosity of the many against the few. as in all small town, the stranger, or newcomer, takes the brunt of all that violence and venom, which in this case is ex-Army lieutenant, Dale Barbara, also knows as Barbie. The inevitable connection with Ken follows later and becomes as irritating to the reader as it is to Barbie.

There is the owner of the newspaper, Julia Shumway, third generation reporter and publisher, the sheriff, Howard "Duke" Perkins and his loving wife, the richest man in town, second Selectman, Jim Rennie, and a cast of characters drawn from any small town in the world. There is abuse of power, needless death, murder, the strong preying on the weak, and the meek inheriting the scorched earth. There is a town drunk and a smiling and hapless first Selectman, and the token woman on the town Council, Third Selectman, Andrea Grinnell, the owner of the restaurant, Rose of Sweetbriar Rose, and adorable children, some of whom are intrepid explorers with the brains to figure out what is going on. The characters, as in all King's longer works, are legion and their parts, however small, are detailed in King-wise fashion.

The biggest problem I see with the story is that after that spectacular rocket shot to the outer rings of Saturn, the middle of the book drags and sags, pulling down any forward momentum and becoming a bit tedious. It isn't that the details are fascinating, but the feeling of "Are we there yet?" becomes pervasive. It took me a while to figure out why that is until last night, as I jotted down some notes, I figured it out. King uses seizures with visions and dreams -- another familiar King device -- to let the reader know what is coming and he gives out the ending far too soon and far too often until the "are we there yet?" mantra is sung often and often in whining frustration.

Let's get on with it already. Yes, the descriptions are wonderful and the characters complex, but can we skip to the end NOW? When I figured in that most of the action occurs in the matter of three or four days, the urge to get it over with became almost imperative. When I think that the series will cover a month instead of a week, I'm a little less anxious to see the series, no matter what changes have been made in King's original story.

When the top of the hill is reached, the rest of the story is like the roller coaster screaming down the steep hill and through the turns without too much drag on the moment. There is a bit of drag, more of the "are we there YET?" but the ending is reached and the death toll is high. In King's books, death comes to all: high and low, good and bad, smart and dumb. Some of the deaths are handed out with justice and a sense of satisfaction that the evil is dead, but so are a lot of good people, which underlines the fact that when natures goes awry, death is no respecter of persons. Many will die; few will live on to tell the tale.

I won't give the ending away, but I found the reason for the dome at once interesting and a bit too pat. Bringing the dome down is characteristic of most of King's more recent books and I find that telling. A brush with death, such as King had, definitely changes the viewpoint and the heart. Somewhere I think the heart of a little boy King once kept on his desk has been given a decent burial.

As good as some part of Under the Dome are, it is a mediocre book overall. Flash bang beginning, slough of despond in the too long middle, and a moderately satisfying ending with a very high body count. Still, it is worth reading for all that and there are some very funny spots in King's characteristic brand of humor.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Celtic Summer before summer's end

It's done. Celtic Summer is finished at last down to the date and outlining, although there wasn't much outlining, just the face and one hand. I like that kind of project. Back stitching (outlining) is quite a chore, especially with a big project because it seems to take as long as the stitching. Back stitching does, however, bring all the colors and gradations into focus and picks out the important details. It finished a cross stitch piece, or at least that is what I told Beanie when she would bring her cross stitch projects to me to back stitch. It was frustrating for her and I understood that, but I feel a sense of satisfaction when all the stitching is done and the final back stitching in place. That's when I add the date.

I just to add my initials and the date once upon a time, but the year a project is finished is now sufficient for me, not that I couldn't add a flourish of signature and date to make it really mine. I do have those skills, but a simple year of finish is enough.

Celtic Summer posed it's own problems because there are actually hundreds of beads that need to be applied and I don't really have the kind of equipment that would help make the beads stand out sufficiently for viewers to see. The only real way to appreciate cross stitch is in person. That is the way to let the glimmer of the gold braid and the shimmer of beads have their full effect. They are quite lovely and the texture is simply wonderful. The fabric is also much heavier -- and sturdier -- since the stitches, gold treasure braid, and beads have been added to the weight, and it is a discernible weight.

I don't use an embroidery hoop or stretcher bars, although I have tried both from time to time. I feel they hamper the stitching and make things a bit too awkward to handle. Instead, I roll the fabric to the point where I'm stitching (usually ends up being folded especially with fabrics like Aida which are stiff and not amenable to rolling and holding) and it works for me. I don't have problems with stretching or bunching, but I think that's because of the way I stitch -- not too loosely and not too tightly. As Baby Bear said, "Just right -- and here she is." She's not sleeping in Baby Bear's bed, but here.

Close-up of face and top border.

Details of the dress and hem.

The finished piece - Celtic Summer

Another shot of the face, which actually looks really there with the back stitching

There is a bit of sadness to go along with the joy of having finished this particular piece. It took longer than usual -- for me -- and I did work on other projects in the meantime because it was such a long, involved, and very complex piece. Seeing it now finished with every last stitch in place, I have to say that I am happy with it. There will be other pieces in this series (Winter, Spring, Autumn, and Christmas) and I imagine I will get to them all eventually, but for now this is enough. I know that I can do a piece like this and not savage random stranger or lose my  mind (what little that remains). 

I got the fabric, pattern, beads, and floss at Celtic Summer at The pattern is, as of 07/07/13, not available, but will be available again soon, as are the companion pieces. The only part of the project not available through 123Stitch is the Petite Treasure Braid, and I found that at Stitching Bits and Bobs.  The company that makes the Petite Treasure Braid only sells to brick and mortar stores. Still, it's nice to be able to get everything I need online.

That is all. Disperse.

No longer 404

Executive Order -- Assignment of National Security and Emergency Preparedness Communications Functions

- - - - - - -
By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:
Section 1. Policy. The Federal Government must have the ability to communicate at all times and under all circumstances to carry out its most critical and time sensitive missions. Survivable, resilient, enduring, and effective communications, both domestic and international, are essential to enable the executive branch to communicate within itself and with: the legislative and judicial branches; State, local, territorial, and tribal governments; private sector entities; and the public, allies, and other nations. Such communications must be possible under all circumstances to ensure national security, effectively manage emergencies, and improve national resilience. The views of all levels of government, the private and nonprofit sectors, and the public must inform the development of national security and emergency preparedness (NS/EP) communications policies, programs, and capabilities.
Sec. 2. Executive Office Responsibilities.
Sec. 2.1. Policy coordination, guidance, dispute resolution, and periodic in-progress reviews for the functions described and assigned herein shall be provided through the interagency process established in Presidential Policy Directive-1 of February 13, 2009 (Organization of the National Security Council System) (PPD-1).
Sec. 2.2. The Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) shall: (a) issue an annual memorandum to the NS/EP Communications Executive Committee (established in section 3 of this order) highlighting national priorities for Executive Committee analyses, studies, research, and development regarding NS/EP communications;
(b) advise the President on the prioritization of radio spectrum and wired communications that support NS/EP functions; and
(c) have access to all appropriate information related to the test, exercise, evaluation, and readiness of the capabilities of all existing and planned NS/EP communications systems, networks, and facilities to meet all executive branch NS/EP requirements.
Sec. 2.3. The Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and the Director of OSTP shall make recommendations to the President, informed by the interagency policy process established in PPD-1, with respect to the exercise of authorities assigned to the President under section 706 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended (47 U.S.C. 606). The Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and the Director of OSTP shall also jointly monitor the exercise of these authorities, in the event of any delegation, through the process established in PPD-1 or as the President otherwise may direct.
Sec. 3. The NS/EP Communications Executive Committee.
Sec. 3.1. There is established an NS/EP Communications Executive Committee (Executive Committee) to serve as a forum to address NS/EP communications matters.
Sec. 3.2. The Executive Committee shall be composed of Assistant Secretary-level or equivalent representatives designated by the heads of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Commerce, and Homeland Security, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), the General Services Administration, and the Federal Communications Commission, as well as such additional agencies as the Executive Committee may designate. The designees of the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of Defense shall serve as Co-Chairs of the Executive Committee.
Sec. 3.3. The responsibilities of the Executive Committee shall be to: (a) advise and make policy recommendations to the President, through the PPD-1 process, on enhancing the survivability, resilience, and future architecture of NS/EP communications, including what should constitute NS/EP communications requirements;
(b) develop a long-term strategic vision for NS/EP communications and propose funding requirements and plans to the President and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), through the PPD-1 process, for NS/EP communications initiatives that benefit multiple agencies or other Federal entities;
(c) coordinate the planning for, and provision of, NS/EP communications for the Federal Government under all hazards;
(d) promote the incorporation of the optimal combination of hardness, redundancy, mobility, connectivity, interoperability, restorability, and security to obtain, to the maximum extent practicable, the survivability of NS/EP communications under all circumstances;
(e) recommend to the President, through the PPD-1 process, the regimes to test, exercise, and evaluate the capabilities of existing and planned communications systems, networks, or facilities to meet all executive branch NS/EP communications requirements, including any recommended remedial actions;
(f) provide quarterly updates to the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and the Director of OSTP, through the Co-Chairs, on the status of Executive Committee activities and develop an annual NS/EP communications strategic agenda utilizing the PPD-1 process;
(g) enable industry input with respect to the responsibilities established in this section; and
(h) develop, approve, and maintain a charter for the Executive Committee.
Sec. 4. Executive Committee Joint Program Office.
Sec. 4.1. The Secretary of Homeland Security shall establish an Executive Committee Joint Program Office (JPO) to provide full-time, expert, and administrative support for the Executive Committee's performance of its responsibilities under section 3.3 of this order. Staff of the JPO shall include detailees, as needed and appropriate, from agencies represented on the Executive Committee. The Department of Homeland Security shall provide resources to support the JPO. The JPO shall be responsive to the guidance of the Executive Committee.
Sec. 4.2. The responsibilities of the JPO shall include: coordination of programs that support NS/EP missions, priorities, goals, and policy; and, when directed by the Executive Committee, the convening of governmental and nongovernmental groups (consistent with the Federal Advisory Committees Act, as amended (5 U.S.C. App.)), coordination of activities, and development of policies for senior official review and approval.
Sec. 5. Specific Department and Agency Responsibilities.
Sec. 5.1. The Secretary of Defense shall: (a) oversee the development, testing, implementation, and sustainment of NS/EP communications that are directly responsive to the national security needs of the President, Vice President, and senior national leadership, including: communications with or among the President, Vice President, White House staff, heads of state and government, and Nuclear Command and Control leadership; Continuity of Government communications; and communications among the executive, judicial, and legislative branches to support Enduring Constitutional Government;
(b) incorporate, integrate, and ensure interoperability and the optimal combination of hardness, redundancy, mobility, connectivity, interoperability, restorability, and security to obtain, to the maximum extent practicable, the survivability of NS/EP communications defined in section 5.1(a) of this order under all circumstances, including conditions of crisis or emergency;
(c) provide to the Executive Committee the technical support necessary to develop and maintain plans adequate to provide for the security and protection of NS/EP communications; and
(d) provide, operate, and maintain communication services and facilities adequate to execute responsibilities consistent with Executive Order 12333 of December 4, 1981, as amended.
Sec. 5.2. The Secretary of Homeland Security shall: (a) oversee the development, testing, implementation, and sustainment of NS/EP communications, including: communications that support Continuity of Government; Federal, State, local, territorial, and tribal emergency preparedness and response communications; non-military executive branch communications systems; critical infrastructure protection networks; and non-military communications networks, particularly with respect to prioritization and restoration;
(b) incorporate, integrate, and ensure interoperability and the necessary combination of hardness, redundancy, mobility, connectivity, interoperability, restorability, and security to obtain, to the maximum extent practicable, the survivability of NS/EP communications defined in section 5.2(a) of this order under all circumstances, including conditions of crisis or emergency;
(c) provide to the Executive Committee the technical support necessary to develop and maintain plans adequate to provide for the security and protection of NS/EP communications;
(d) receive, integrate, and disseminate NS/EP communications information to the Federal Government and State, local, territorial, and tribal governments, as appropriate, to establish situational awareness, priority setting recommendations, and a common operating picture for NS/EP communications information;
(e) satisfy priority communications requirements through the use of commercial, Government, and privately owned communications resources, when appropriate;
(f) maintain a joint industry-Government center that is capable of assisting in the initiation, coordination, restoration, and reconstitution of NS/EP communications services or facilities under all conditions of emerging threats, crisis, or emergency;
(g) serve as the Federal lead for the prioritized restoration of communications infrastructure and coordinate the prioritization and restoration of communications, including resolution of any conflicts in or among priorities, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense when activities referenced in section 5.1(a) of this order are impacted, consistent with the National Response Framework. If conflicts in or among priorities cannot be resolved between the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, they shall be referred for resolution in accordance with section 2.1 of this order; and
(h) within 60 days of the date of this order, in consultation with the Executive Committee where appropriate, develop and submit to the President, through the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, a detailed plan that describes the Department of Homeland
Security's organization and management structure for its NS/EP communications functions, including the Government Emergency Telecommunications Service, Wireless Priority Service, Telecommunications Service Priority program, Next Generation Network Priority program, the Executive Committee JPO, and relevant supporting entities.
Sec. 5.3. The Secretary of Commerce shall: (a) provide advice and guidance to the Executive Committee on the use of technical standards and metrics to support execution of NS/EP communications;
(b) identify for the Executive Committee requirements for additional technical standards and metrics to enhance NS/EP communications;
(c) engage with relevant standards development organizations to develop appropriate technical standards and metrics to enhance NS/EP communications;
(d) develop plans and procedures concerning radio spectrum allocations, assignments, and priorities for use by agencies and executive offices;
(e) develop, maintain, and publish policies, plans, and procedures for the management and use of radio frequency assignments, including the authority to amend, modify, or revoke such assignments, in those parts of the electromagnetic spectrum assigned to the Federal Government; and
(f) administer a system of radio spectrum priorities for those spectrum-dependent telecommunications resources belonging to and operated by the Federal Government and certify or approve such radio spectrum priorities, including the resolution of conflicts in or among such radio spectrum priorities during a crisis or emergency.
Sec. 5.4. The Administrator of General Services shall provide and maintain a common Federal acquisition approach that allows for the efficient centralized purchasing of equipment and services that meet NS/EP communications requirements. Nothing in this section shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect the procurement authorities granted by law to an agency or the head thereof.
Sec. 5.5. With respect to the Intelligence Community, the DNI, after consultation with the heads of affected agencies, may issue such policy directives and guidance as the DNI deems necessary to implement this order. Procedures or other guidance issued by the heads of elements of the Intelligence Community shall be in accordance with such policy directives or guidelines issued by the DNI.
Sec. 5.6. The Federal Communications Commission performs such functions as are required by law, including: (a) with respect to all entities licensed or regulated by the Federal Communications Commission: the extension, discontinuance, or reduction of common carrier facilities or services; the control of common carrier rates, charges, practices, and classifications; the construction, authorization, activation, deactivation, or closing of radio stations, services, and facilities; the assignment of radio frequencies to Federal Communications Commission licensees; the investigation of violations of pertinent law; and the assessment of communications service provider emergency needs and resources; and
(b) supporting the continuous operation and restoration of critical communications systems and services by assisting the Secretary of Homeland Security with infrastructure damage assessment and restoration, and by providing the Secretary of Homeland Security with information collected by the Federal Communications Commission on communications infrastructure, service outages, and restoration, as appropriate.
Sec. 6. General Agency Responsibilities. All agencies, to the extent consistent with law, shall: (a) determine the scope of their NS/EP communications requirements, and provide information regarding such requirements to the Executive Committee;
(b) prepare policies, plans, and procedures concerning communications facilities, services, or equipment under their management or operational control to maximize their capability to respond to the NS/EP needs of the Federal Government;
(c) propose initiatives, where possible, that may benefit multiple agencies or other Federal entities;
(d) administer programs that support broad NS/EP communications goals and policies;
(e) submit reports annually, or as otherwise requested, to the Executive Committee, regarding agency NS/EP communications activities;
(f) devise internal acquisition strategies in support of the centralized acquisition approach provided by the General Services Administration pursuant to section 5.4 of this order; and
(g) provide the Secretary of Homeland Security with timely reporting on NS/EP communications status to inform the common operating picture required under 6 U.S.C. 321(d).
Sec. 7. General Provisions. (a) For the purposes of this order, the word "agency" shall have the meaning set forth in section 6.1(b) of Executive Order 13526 of December 29, 2009.
(b) Executive Order 12472 of April 3, 1984, as amended, is hereby revoked.
(c) Executive Order 12382 of September 13, 1982, as amended, is further amended by striking the following language from section 2(e): "in his capacity as Executive Agent for the National Communications System".
(d) Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:
(i) the authority granted by law to an agency, or the head thereof; or
(ii) the functions of the Director of the OMB relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.
(e) This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.
(f) This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.