Book Review: To Green Angel Tower by Tad Williams (Four Stars)

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Book Review: To Green Angel Tower (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn #3, Parts 1 and 2) by Tad Williams

Four Stars

“Forever is a long time to carry grudges.”

Excellent. Successful and satisfying conclusion to a huge epic fantasy. Sixteen hundred pages (in this story) of complex plots, sub-plots and sub-sub-plots set in multiple, fully-realized cultures, many more than medieval Europe analogs. Language, history, clothing, religion, music, clothes, prejudices: the whole boatload. Immersive. Loads of quotable epigrams.

“If what we have experienced lately has been God’s way of showing his favor, I think I would be willing to try a little of his punishment, for a change.”

Religion is a major part of these cultures and the stories. The various faiths are treated respectfully. A realistic variety of responses by people to the religion of their and other cultures. Some are redeemed; some are lost.

“One day I would have to send my son off to do something I could not do. And I would never sleep again.”

What’s not to like? The 1600 pages may be a clue. Williams almost pulls a Robert Jordan. (Not a complement.) Basically, he lost control of Continue reading

Movie Review: La La Land (Three Stars)

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theatrical release poster

Movie Review: La La Land, written and directed by Damien Chazelle

Three Stars

“They worship everything (in Los Angeles), but love nothing.”

Fun. Well done. Amazing that Ryan Gosling and Emma Stones, apparently, can sing, dance and, in Ryan’s case, play piano. Popcorn for the heart.

“They love what other people are passionate about.”

Book Review: Stone of Farewell by Tad Williams (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Stone of Farewell (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn #2) by Tad Williams

Five Stars

“I thought it would be like a story. I didn’t think any more people would die.”

Keeps getting better. Second installations of trilogies often suffer being bridges without beginnings or endings. No so here. Stone of Farewell advances the story (stories) and keeps the reader guessing. Like all good epic fantasy, this series is not just about just magic, swords and crowns, but life and death, love and hate. The real questions of life.

“Winning and losing are only the walls within which the game takes place. It is the living that makes a house–not the doors, not the walls.”

Williams keeps the threads advancing by adroitly pulling the rug from the various protagonists just as they start to make headway. Just when things can’t get worse, Continue reading

Book Review: The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams (Five Stars)

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Book Review: The Dragonbone Chair (Memory Sorrow and Thorn #1) by Tad Williams

Five Stars

“Brave and foolish often live in the same cave.”

Where has this book been all my life? Well, since it was published in 1988. So much better than many Lord of the Rings rip-offs. Epic fantasy in a quasi-European medieval setting (though the Sithi are as much Nipponese as elvish; and the name is unfortunately similar to the evil characters of Star Wars). Good world building, good character development, complex cast and motives and history and ….

“Books are magic because they span time and distance more surely than any spell or charm.”

Unlike many LOTR clones, Williams’ series has a so-flawed-as-to-be-disgusting hero. Not that Simon’s bad, he’s just … irritating–in the hero-worshiping, ADD teen boy way. Well, he’s got room to grow. The other men are complex and driven as necessary.

“Why is everyone forever forcing their horrible secrets on me?”

Unfortunately, most female characters are not so well developed, though telling about the exception Continue reading

Movie Review: Hidden Figures, written, directed and produced by Theodore Melfi, et al. (Five Stars)

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Theatrical release poster

Movie Review: Hidden Figures, written, directed and produced by Theodore Melfi, et al.

Five Stars

Outstanding movie, based on real people and real events, but dramatically presented. The story about African-American women mathematicians at NASA-Langley in the 1960s. Also, of course, a story about overcoming personal and institutional prejudice.

Doesn’t sugar-coat the issues, yet isn’t silly either. Some people road buses, some sat at lunch counters, some went to work and did the job, even though they didn’t get credit–often didn’t get permission.

As much about the barriers overcome by women as those by African-Americans. The protagonists suffered the double challenge of being both.

The journey isn’t done by any means, but people who didn’t live through the 1960s have no idea how far we’ve come. We have come a long way.

Good Entertainment; good message. Go see it.

Seventy is the New Seven

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Watched the robotic garbage collection truck empty our trash bin this morning. It’s as entertaining to a seventy-year-old as seven-year-old. (Photo from a previous exhibition for the Colorado grandchildren. Treva’s not seventy … yet.)

Being seventy has its benefits:

It’s easier to say (not to mention remember) than sixty-nine.

You look old enough that you rarely have to ask for senior discounts.

Nobody asks you what you’re doing; they ask how you’re doing.

You get to express childlike joy and curiosity without people showing that they’re upset. (And you don’t care if they are.)

“To be seventy years young is sometimes for more cheerful than to be 40 years old.” Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Book Review: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave Five Stars

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Book Review: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave by Frederick Douglass

Five Stars

“The wretchedness of slavery and the blessedness of freedom, were perpetually before me. It was life and death to me.”

The straight scoop from the giant of abolition. Frederick Douglass’ life and words–not Abraham Lincoln, certainly not Stephen Douglas–mark the beginning of the end for slavery in America. Self-liberated, self-taught, read his words for yourself. His life illustrates the power of literacy to lift a man over apparently insurmountable odds.

“For her to treat me as a human being was not only wrong, but dangerously so.”

Conceived in the adulterous lust of his white master, born in the for-that-time moderate slave state of Maryland, owned by respected Christian men; Douglass puts to rest the many myths and lies surrounding the practice and impact of slavery on both the imprisoned and the imprisoners. It’s not pleasant reading. Yet the truth varies from the popular representations today spread by those both defending and condemning America 170 years ago.

“Mistress, in teaching me the alphabet, had given me the inch.”

Should be mandatory reading in every high school history course in the United States. Primary documents, such as this, tell the story far better than the propaganda that most states offer. Well written; short and to the point.

“Thousands would escape from slavery, who now remain, but for the strong cords of affection that bind them to their friends.”

Book Review: Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder (One Star)

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Book Review: Sophie’s World: a Novel about the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

One Star

“While people were seeking answers to the ultimate questions, they have discovered clear and final solutions to many other problems.”

I wanted to like this book. It has a great purpose and intriguing approach: relating the history of philosophy to young readers through a set of embedded stories about young Norwegians approaching their fifteen birthday. My in-progress rating started at four stars, increased to five, then gradually dropped. By the end, it’s nihilistic, materialistic propaganda masquerading as “a novel about the history of philosophy.”

Let’s start with what’s good: Uses common vocabulary to discuss the big issues of existence. When I started studying philosophy fifty years ago, survey courses plunged us into concepts like epistemology, ontology, and eschatology with little regard for why philosophy developed. Most of us rolled our eyes. I persisted, found the study of a lifetime and eventually majored in philosophy.

The story within a story within a story (within a story) format pulls the reader along. When the first story within a story was introduced, my estimation of the book rose.

“It’s one thing to collect Barbie dolls. But it’s worse to be one.”

What could possibly go wrong? Lots. Basically the book is what it purports until the lessons reach the nineteenth century Continue reading

Book Review: A Heritage of Stars by Clifford D. Simak (Three Stars)

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Book Review: A Heritage of Stars by Clifford D. Simak

Three Stars

“The best legends may be the best guarded. So sacred, perhaps that no one ever spoke aloud of them.”

Simak is a great story teller, but a mediocre science fiction author. Why? Because he gets so many details wrong. Yes, he wrote (and won awards) in the 60 and 70s, and his stories therefore didn’t anticipate the subsequent computation and communications revolutions. What he didn’t forecast isn’t the problem: it’s what he did–wrongly. (See Quibbles)

“Intellectual curiosity would be, almost by definition, a characteristic of any civilization.”

This tale is set fifteen hundred years after the Collapse of human technology, when humans have reverted to a near-Stone Age culture. Partly offsetting that loss is the blossoming of latent extrasensory talents. Most of the conditions he posits Continue reading

Convincing Ourselves the Real is the Ideal

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ISTOCK image in WSJ

Hopeful science thought for the New Year (from Dr. Helen Fisher on edge.org via the WSJ):

“Natural selection [favors] those who responded negatively to the one malevolent intruder, rather than positively to myriad friendly guests.”

But, “happily-in-love long-term partners [overlook] the negative to focus on the positive aspects of their marital relationships—… ‘positive illusions.’ … We humans are able to convince ourselves that the real is the ideal.”

“The neural roots of tolerance, mercy and pardon may live deep in the human psyche.”

Happy New Year, especially you who survived and thrived in long-term, loving relationships.