The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo (Four Stars)

The Empress of Salt and Fortune (The Singing Hills Cycle #1) by Nghi Vo

“One drunken evening, many years on, In-yo would say that the war was won by silenced and nameless women, and it would be hard to argue with her.”

A fabled past is reconstructed by a cleric interviewing an ancient maid who had more than a little to do with the history reveals. Apt storytelling and clues scattered through the tales draw the attentive reader in and forward.

“Sometimes the things we see do not make sense until many years have gone by. Sometimes it takes generations. We are taught to be content with that.”

A welcome change from medieval European fantasies. Roughly imperial Chinese analog. The characterization of the cleric adds to the sense of other.

“Look to your records, cleric. Honor is a light that brings trouble. Shadows are safer by far.”

(2021 Hugo Awards Novella finalist)

Book Review: The Angel’s Game by Carloa Ruiz Zafón, translated by Lucia Graves (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Angel’s Game (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books #2) by Carloa Ruiz Zafón, translated by Lucia Graves (Four Stars)

“Never underestimate a writer’s vanity, especially that of a mediocre writer,” I would reply.
“I don’t like to hear you talking like that about Pedro.” “I’m sorry. Neither do I.”

Follows protagonist David Martin on a journey of discovery which, once began, he both impelled and repelled from completing. The reader will identify.

Even the worst news is a relief when all it does is confirm what you already knew without wanting to know.

Zafón deftly create character and scene by meticulous description, pulling the reader deeper into the horror Martin experiences. That things are not as they seem is a given, but David’s attempts to find meaning in  his own life is heart-breaking.

“We think we understand a song’s lyrics, but what makes us believe in them, or not, is the music.”

Folks should read, but probably not review books of genre they dislike. I dislike thrillers. This is a thriller. This is a very good thriller.  Still, I feel the need of a bath.

So many people in these streets have blood on their souls that they no longer dare to remember, and when they do they lie to themselves because they cannot look at their own reflection in the mirror.

2021 Hugo Awards Overview

Spring turns the speculative fiction readers’ heart toward the Hugo Award nominees. Culling this year’s collection, I’ll share my opinions.

What’s with all the horror stories? A reaction to current politics? The pandemic? The apparent hopelessness of current ideologies?  Most are so heavily agenda driven that they should post a “paid political” announcement. This is not indicative of the best of current science fiction and fantasy.

Nevertheless as I have for several years. I’m trying to wade through current crop of Hugo Award nominees. This year, as in past years, I have already been pleasantly surprised as well as disappointed.

Warning: I don’t normally review stories which I rate lower than three stars. These I will.

Book Review: Fugitive Telemetry by Marsha Wells (Four Stars)

Book Review: Fugitive Telemetry (The Murderbot Diaries #6) by Marsha Wells (Four Stars)

I told her, They don’t want me. (Hey, I don’t want me, either, but I’m stuck with me.)

Murderbot strikes again. Our favorite human-machine-construct security unit must investigate a murder. He doesn’t want to; the cops don’t want him to. What could go wrong? This story beats most contemporary science fiction because readers can identify with the protagonist alienated from self as well as others.

“This is the part that’s my job.”

Wells returns to the successful novella format of her first Murderbot Diaries. Internal clues suggest this story follows Rogue Protocol (Diary #4) rather than the longer Network Effect. Fans should read Wells’ Home: Habitat, Range, Niche, Territory (The Murderbot Diaries #4.5) before this story.

It tried to alert its onboard SecSystem, but as the old saying (which I just made up) goes, if you can ping the SecUnit, it’s way too late.

Disappointed that SecUnit doesn’t get to armor up as implied by the cover art. Nice representation of Murderbot next to Port Authority bot Balin.

“You know, swearing during operations doesn’t meet the professional conduct standards of Station Security.” “Because Senior Indah has never told anybody to [expletive deleted] off.” “You have me there.”

It’s five-star writing, but I rated it four because of gratuitous profanity. Yes, profanity establishes character, but Wells pours it on. Dozens of instances of the f-word. It knocks the reader out of the spell of the story.

“And I assume you’re open to another contract the next time something weird happens.” “Only if it’s really weird.” “Understood.”

Book Review: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within (Wayfarers #4) by Becky Chambers (Three Stars)

“Remember children, their shells still white.”

A gentle take on Enemy Mine. Agenda-driven story. An appropriate agenda, but Chambers so carefully checks off each item that this story with be dated ten years from now. The plot, such as it is, is a framework on which to hang sermons.

‘You engaged in bloody theft and you called it progress, and no matter how much better you think you’ve made things, no matter how good your intentions are.’

A disparate group of dissimilar species (including no humans) are trapped together. Most have to deal with their inclinations, if not their xenophobia, to get along. Stress, verbal conflict, and a crisis to draw them together. Assumes every species everywhere chooses its gender, and it’s the biggest deal of their lives. Gratuitous profanity.

‘What are we, if not strangers and not friends?’ ‘I have no idea.’

The biggest character shortfall is that all the disparate creatures think, feel, and will like humans. There’s no sense of other about them. Entertaining discussions of cheese, dancing, and tickling. Occasionally stumbles over her own effort at pronoun sympathy.

There was only one absolute in the universe, Roveg was (relatively) sure of, and that was the fact that there were no absolutes.

This series started well, but apparently commercial and ideological considerations overcame the urge to quality. They’re still good books; just not as good as Chambers demonstrated she’s capable of.

Vehlech hra hych bet,’ ‘May it be to your liking.’

Book Review: Absolute Surrender by Andrew Murray

Book Review: Absolute Surrender: How to Walk in Perfect Peace by Andrew Murray

“God does not ask you to give the perfect surrender in your strength, or by the power of your will; God is willing to work it in you.”

An extraordinary example of this type of literature. Vastly better written than many contemporary exhortations toward Christian living.

“Do not be afraid He will command from you what He will not bestow. He is living in your heart by Hid holy Spirit.”

Murray thrived in South Africa over a century ago, but his many works on theology and Christian living reverberate with today’s readers. His scholarship and doctrine are at the same time orthodox and lucid. This particular edition was “revised for readability and clarity,” greatly improving the accessibility of Murray’s original text.

“Why have you not experienced it? Because you have not trust God for it, and you do not surrender yourself absolutely to God in that trust.”

Murray’s counsel is arranged in compact chapters, each well-written and organized.

“We are far more occupied with our work than we are with prayer. We believe more in speaking to men than we believe in speaking to God.”

If you read only one devotional this year, read this one.

“As the Spirit reveals Christ to us, Christ comes to live in our hearts forever, and the self-life is cast out.

Book Review: The Story of the Greeks by Hélèna A. Guerber (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Story of the Greeks by Hélène A. Guerber (Three Stars)

The beginning of Greek history is therefore like a fairy tale; and while much of it cannot, of course, be true, it is the only information we have about the early Greeks. It is these strange fireside stories, which used to amuse Greek children so many years ago, that you are first going to hear.

The key word in the title is story. Do not confuse this book with a history of the Greeks, rather a dumbing of Greek history for an assumed audience of young readers. Very young. Guerber commits several errors about the role of myths in culture. (Interested readers may consult J. R. R. Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories” in The Tolkien Reader.)

The Greeks used to tell their children that Deu-ca´li-on, the leader of the Thes-sa´li-ans, was a descendant of the gods,

While a rehash myths and legends, the author engages young readers at the level they are most likely to be interested—even to the point of indicating the syllabication of daunting Greek names. Compared to Thucydides, Guerber tells more readable stories.

Northwest of Sparta, in the country called E´lis and in the city of O-lym´pi-a, rose a beautiful temple for the worship of Ju´pi-ter (or Zeus), the principal god of the Greeks.

First published 125 years ago, the book reflects Guerber’s Anglo-Christian point of view. One wonders why she refers to the Greek gods by the names of their Roman counterparts. (Nice, if inaccurate, cover art.)

Thus ends the history of ancient Greece, which, though so small, was yet the most famous country the world has ever known,-the country from which later nations learned their best lessons in art, philosophy, and literature.

Book Review: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine (Four Stars)

Book Review: A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan #1) by Arkady Martine (Four Stars)

“You should be flattered; someone wants you dead artistically, Ambassador.”

A fresh take on the politics and morals of interstellar civilization. Told from the point of view of a new ambassador from a platform-based independent civilization with a population in the tens of thousands, on the fringes of a galaxy-spanning mega-empire whose capitol planet population numbers in the billions.

Yskandr was more political than she was. More political and more dead. The inheritor of an imago-line was supposed to learn from her predecessor’s mistakes.

The plot is about who the ambassador meets and learns to trust (or not) as she sorts through an incipient civil war of which her little archipelago of stations may be both a trigger and an afterthought. She gets hurt often; eating, drinking and sleeping seem optional—to her distress.

“Just once, I’d like you to imagine I might do something because it’s what a person does.” “Mahit, most people don’t—” “Get ambushed by strangers with terrifying weapons in their own apartments while evading their only political ally in order to have a secret meeting on a foreign planet? No.”

For all the futurism, all the technology except the coveted imago is oddly twenty-first century. Of course, this is not hard SF but at least a nod to something new would seem appropriate.

Poetry is for the desperate, and for people who have grown old enough to have something to say.

Solid conclusion, leaving lots of hooks to follow-on installments.

I am a spear in the hands of the sun.

Book Review: Planetside by Michael Mammay (Four Stars)

Book Review: Planetside (Planetside #1) by Michael Mammay (Four Stars)

“It might have been my imagination. My brain does funny things when my own people try to kill me in an ambush.”

Military science fiction with an undercurrent of humor. War isn’t funny, but an old colonel’s take on how and why one fights are laced with realistic irony. Certainly, everything is not what it seems. Reflections on authority and responsibility.

“It’s one of my skill sets, Lex. I can’t really explain it. I fill my brain with stuff, and expect that it will pop back out when it matters.”

Sent to investigate a strange disappearance of a politically-sensitive soldier, the protagonist discovers much isn’t quite right at the front. Character development and plotting are focused on the insights of one who has “been there; done that.” Well done.

“Thanks, sir. For everything.” “Don’t mention it. I got you blown up. I owe you.”

Book Review: The Good Shepherd by C. S. Forster (Five Stars)

Book Review: The Good Shepherd by C. S. Forster (Five Stars)

“This is the captain.” Long training and long-practiced self-control kept his voice even; no one could guess from that flat voice the excitement which boiled inside him, which could master him if he relaxed that self-control for an instant. “We’re running down a U-boat. Every man must be ready for instant action.”

The best Forster ever. Better than Hornblower. Out techno-babbles Clancy. The reader feels Krause’s pain. Immediate and real.

“A U-boat for certain, and Keeling was rushing down upon her at twenty-two knots. We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement.”

Krause’s entire life comes into focus during two days in 1942 in the North Atlantic. His Christian upbringing, his being “passed over”* for promotion, his failed marriage, but most of all his rigid sense of duty before self all animate the inner dialogue which is the heart of this amazing story.

“Every man shall bear his own burden, and this was his—that was a text from Galatians; he could remember learning it, so many years ago—and all he had to do was his duty; no one needed an audience for that. He was alone with his responsibility in this crowded pilothouse, at the head of the crowded convoy. God setteth the solitary in families.”

Cannot imagine how this could be made into a movie. How does the camera capture the inner conflict. That the name change to Greyhound suggests some dilution. Regardless, read the book first.

“Krause found himself in the position of a man whose casual remark turns out to be true. Now that he had announced that he wanted to go to the head he was in a state of overwhelming anxiety to do so. It was shockingly urgent. He could not wait another minute.”

*Military idiom for officer considered for but not being promoted.