Book Review: The Wise Woman by George MacDonald (three stars)

Book Review: The Wise Woman (Cullen Collection #17) by George MacDonald (three stars)

‘The princess was, at this time of her life, such a low-minded creature, that severity had greater influence over her than kindness.’

Not one of MacDonald’s best. First published in 1875. The accompanying notes suggest potential cross-fertilization with Mark Twain, who released his The Prince and the Pauper six years later. Twain’s story was much better. As is common for many MacDonald tales, preaching and explaining sometimes supersede storytelling.

‘People are so ready to think themselves changed when it is only their mood that is changed.’

The wise woman is a proto-Mary Poppins. She does and gets away with outrageous things. And they work. Moderns would call the Department of Social Services or police for child abuse.

‘Those who are most given to abuse can least endure it.’

Book Review: Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clark (four stars)

Book Review: Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clark (four stars)

“Where do we go from here?”

First published in 1953. Before sputnik, large-scale integrated circuits, cell phones, Star Trek/Wars, and a host of things and norms we now take for granted—including maybe-not-so-benevolent alien stories. For that matter, before 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rendezvous with Rama, and a host of Clark stories which almost define science fiction. This story precedes and anticipates them. An SF must read.

‘For the road to the stars was a road that forked in two directions, and neither led to a goal that took any account of human hopes or fears.’

Clark demonstrates both why he is recognized as a master of SF and why so many contemporary offerings are such thin soup. Clark writes an engaging (and unexpected) story and extrapolates how humans might respond, on the way skewering not only religion but those who make a religion of science. He injects his own bias and prejudice, as do all writers. He certainly erred on the impact of plenty on its recipients.

‘At first he could not believe his eyes. Then he forced himself to remember that all his preconceived ideas were worthless here: he must not let his mind reject any message his senses brought into the hidden chamber of the brain. He must not try to understand—only to observe. Understanding would come later, or not at all.’

Error: Clark got time dilation backwards! If you’re traveling at 99.9% the speed of light, it still takes you at least forty years to travel forty light years. In the meantime, hundreds of years may have elapsed on Earth.

‘Now it had drawn into its being all that the human race had ever achieved. This was not tragedy, but fulfillment.’

Book Review: The Stardust Thief (Sandsea Trilogy #1) by Chelsea Abdullah (four stars)

Book Review: The Stardust Thief (Sandsea Trilogy #1) by Chelsea Abdullah (four stars)

“Neither here nor there, but long ago…”

Excellent medieval desert adventure fantasy.

Excellent medieval desert adventure fantasy. Compelling storytelling. Aladdin reimagined with gender swap of the major players. Loosely focused on a generation after a Scheherazade-type queen.

Aladdin reimagined with gender swap of the major players. Loosely focused on a generation after a Scheherazade-type queen.

“I hope you didn’t plan on using me to find the lamp only to throw me into the Sandsea.”

Three point of view characters, though clearly tagged, make for a spaghetti plot. Complex and gritty. Abdullah explores self-image, motivation, betrayal, and redemption. Narrative dumps straight into second book after a satisfying climax in this initial volume.

“It is not weakness to rely on others for help.”

Reflection: Golden Age of Islam pruned of Islam. Linguistic and geographic references build verisimilitude, but little Islamic culture remains. Vestiges of nativist polytheism.

“And we shall finally talk, [redacted], of stars and stories.”

Book Review: Upgrade: A Novel by Blake Crouch (five stars)

Book Review: Upgrade: A Novel by Blake Crouch (five stars)

“You don’t believe climate change is the greatest threat to our species?” “The greatest threat to our species lies within us.”

Outstanding contemporary science fiction. Apocalyptic stakes. Excellent character and world building. Waves away technical issues to focus on the moral. Appropriate uncertainty and angst.

“If she’s not wrong about our impending extinction, what do we have to lose?” “Everything it means to be human.”

Compelling narrative. Hard to review without spoilers. Data dumps disguised as dialogue. Just short of preachy. Restrained, focused profanity.

“You’re making the same mistake she did. Being smart doesn’t make people infallible. It just makes them more dangerous.”

Reflection: a necessary antidote to much contemporary pessimism. The world is full of smart, soulless people. That’s how it got this way. But some hearts are still beating.

“You can’t kill humanity to save humanity. Human beings are not a means to an end.”

Book Review: Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb (four stars)

Book Review: Royal Assassin (Farseer Trilogy #2) by Robin Hobb (four stars)

“Farewell, Fitz. Do try to do a bit better at not letting people kill you.”

Better than most middle novels. Hobb delivers more challenges and angst in the bridge novel of her Farseer trilogy. When it seems things can’t get worse, they do.

“Your future may be different. But do not imagine it is yours to command.”

Every action drives the protagonist toward despair. Power, security, influence, and friends erode as Fitz tries to determine and do what’s right. How do you give up without giving in?

“Do you know how easy it is, Fitz, to follow a man you believe in?” “My prince, I believe I do.”

Reflection: First, Fitz learns evil is real even when others deny it, then he learns that he matters in the struggle against evil. And that victory–even survival–is not assured.

“Time is no miser when one lives always in the now.”

Book Review: Buying Time by Joe Haldeman (three stars)

Book Review: Buying Time by Joe Haldeman (three stars)

“The long habit of living indisposeth us for dying.” Sir Thomas Browne

Better than some of Haldeman’s more famous works. Less preaching; more story. As cynical as ever, Haldeman develops a more complex plot and characters. Lots of violence, as usual. Lost a star due to gratuitous profanity.

“Even if we could guarantee your life, we can’t guarantee your sanity.”
“All right. “You’ve done your job. I’m terrified. But I still want to go ahead with it.”

Published in 1989, but ages well. Compatible with what we didn’t yet know about Ceres, for example. Technology miscues, of course, but none which impair enjoying the story. Microprocessors and distributed communications caught most SF writers flatfooted.

“You were born in the wrong century, you bastard.” “No, you were. Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

Reflections: Published one year before the Soviet Union collapsed, Haldeman thought it would last another hundred years. He wasn’t alone, blinded by his preconceived notions. Many failed to see how hollow and brittle the Soviet Union was. Similarly, Apple, Boeing, Tesla, etc., have sold their corporate birthrights for a bowl of porridge. What happened to Hong Kong tells Taiwan its future under the CCP.

“All we really know is that we aren’t children any more. That we blinked and found the playground has suddenly become infinite.”

Book Review: A Rip in Time (A Rip Through Time #1) by Kelley Armstrong (four stars)

Book Review: A Rip in Time (A Rip Through Time #1) by Kelley Armstrong (four stars)

“It would make for interesting detective fiction.” “No, it would not. Do you know why? Because you are not detectives.” “All the best detectives are amateurs. Every reader knows that.”

4.5 stars. Jessica Fletcher does Jack the Ripper. Twenty-first century Canadian detective vaults to Victorian Edinburgh, with a rope around her neck. Connecticut Yankee. Who would you trust? Who would trust you? Except for that leap, not-quite-paranormal. Excellent historical fiction. Great character building. A dash of humor.

“Do I even want to ask what you’re doing?” “Science.” “I see. And more specifically?”

The protagonist may blurt modern idioms, but nineteenth-century middle-class Scots shouldn’t. “Not really my thing.” “medical-school dropout.” Such phrases break the spell of the story. Edgy but not offensive language. Excellent use of crossed purposes, hasty assumptions, and thwarted expectations. Not to mention prejudices.

‘It’s a late-night knock at the back door to a funeral parlor. Of course I want to know who it is.’

Tightly focused story. No culture, sports, society, or politics. Opinions about the 1868 Representation of the People (Scotland) Act should have been on everyone’s tongue. Hardly any mention of the Queen, nor relations with England, though radicals are portrayed as anti-immigrant. (Allusions galore, starting with the title. Dr. Gray could be a fictional Dr. Joseph Bell.)

‘We may keep secrets to protect others, but they will only ever feel we didn’t trust them enough to share.’

Book Review: Councilor by L. E. Modesitt Jr (four stars)

Book Review: Councilor (The Grand Illusion #2) by L. E. Modesitt Jr (four stars)

“There’s a definite similarity between law and politics. The more personal you make anything, the more expensive it becomes.”

Well-told steampunk fantasy with obvious plot development. The train-wreck telegraphed in Isolate finally happens. Compelling narrative. Excellent worldbuilding and dialogue. Better-than-average second story in a series.

“There’s an old idea that the truth can set you free. Not so long as people’s truths are rooted more in what they want to believe than the verified facts before them.”

A world populated by liars and hypocrites, not unlike our own. Politics 101 for the majority who have no idea how laws are made. Modesitt pushes all the usual buttons but manages to include a wider perspective.

“Whether we recognize it or not, all beings prefer excess to accuracy.’

Once again Modesitt describe every meal, every route of travel, every conversation. More to the point. Squeezes his 300-page story into 500 pages this time.

“Sometimes, the best outcome is still terrible.”

Book Review: The Steel of Raithskar by Randall Garrett and Vicki Ann Heydron (three stars)

Book Review: The Steel of Raithskar (The Gandalara Cycle #1) by Randall Garrett and Vicki Ann Heydron (three stars)

“Terrorism and greed were the watchwords of my time. The world had learned to be cynical.”

Rousing opening to a swords-and not-very-tame-tigers fantasy series. Told first person, drawing the reader into the protagonist’s confusion and analysis. Excellent world and culture building.

These people were not homo sapiens, strickly (sic) speaking, but they were utterly human. And throughout the human history of my world, no police force had ever given up on a cop-killer.

Tame violence, language, and sex by current standards, which is a plus. Framing story surrounding framing story. Numerous typos mar the text. Published in 1981, perhaps errors resulted from an un-proofed optical character scan conversion of the text. Satisfying close to first story.

“It was as though the flim (sic) of life had stopped and I was looking at a single frame frozen on the screen. The title of the film should have been Tarzan on the Planet of the Apes.”

Book Review: Voices from The Trail of Tears by Vicki Rozema (four stars)

Book Review: Voices from The Trail of Tears by Vicki Rozema (four stars)

“Sir, that paper … called a treaty is no treaty at all, because not sanctioned by the great body of the Cherokees and made without their participation or assent.”

Exhaustive analysis of the forced immigration of most eastern Cherokee from their homelands to the future Oklahoma. Without a doubt a shameful, extralegal confiscation and ejection. Rozema summaries the history, then introduces each primary source. Overkill as the letters and journals of the participants suffice to indict their actions.

“His conduct and course of policy was a series of blunders from first to last … It has been wholly of a partisan character.”

Most sources are unconsciously brutal in their causal callous treatment of Cherokees. Language two hundred years ago was stilted and hard to follow for modern readers. Documents the conflicting opinions among partisans on both sides: bureaucratic “just the facts” reports versus eyewitness anguish of murdered family. The state of Georgia led the movement. President Andrew Jackson acquiesced to the state, even when the United States Supreme Court found the state’s action illegal.

“The removal of the Southeastern Native Americans west of the Mississippi is one of the great tragedies of United States history.”

Early use of concentration camps to temporarily house families forced from their homes. Many individuals rousted with only the clothes they wore: no walking shoes, no utensils, no tools, no winter clothes. Paradoxically, forced smallpox vaccinations saved many from epidemics endemic to the newly settled areas.

“My sun of existence is fast approaching to its setting. When I sleep in forgetfulness, I hope my bones will not be deserted by you.”