Book Review: The Stars Now Unclaimed (The Universe After #1) by Drew Williams (three stars)

Book Review: The Stars Now Unclaimed (The Universe After #1) by Drew Williams (three stars)

That’s why I was here: trying to right my own wrongs. In a very small way, of course. I was only one woman, and it was a big, big universe. Also, I had a great many wrongs.

Near superhero space opera. Protagonist is a close as a human can get to being a super and has incredible luck to boot. Good, if superficial introspection. Linear story careens from one crisis to the next, often saved by chance.

“The local radiation will be divided between us, and it’ll go that much slower.”

Williams apparently learned science from Star Trek. Innumerable physics gaffs which know the reader out of the spell of the story. The supposed Pulse radiation impacts everything except what the protag needs.

“For a religious leader-person, you suck at comfort, you know that, Preacher?” “It has been mentioned, yes.”

Some humor. Would appeal to and be appropriate for young adult readers except for the language.

“… long since gone, eons ago, along with the atmosphere.” “When we finally broke out of the caverns and back into atmosphere …” Huh?

Decent ending, despite hooks to the rest of the series. Might have gotten another star had I not been reading real science fiction on my other device.

Then again, very few of us are lucky enough to choose the day we die.

Book Review: Lincoln on War by Harold Holzer (Four Stars)

Book Review: Lincoln on War by Harold Holzer (four stars)

“All this talk about the dissolution of the Union is humbug—nothing but folly. We WON’T dissolve the Union, and you SHAN’T.”

Primary source material on Lincoln’s speeches, letters, thoughts on wars in general and the Civil War in particular. Excellent presentation, including short paragraphs giving context.

“Our army held the war in the hollow in their hand [after Gettysburg], and they would not close it.”

Lincoln was a great communicator; it’s easy to see why folks (even in the North) loved and hated him. History shaped him, but he likewise shaped history.

“Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.”

Book Review: Jefferson’s Second Revolution: The Election Crisis of 1800 and the Triumph of Republicanism by Susan Dunn (three stars)

Book Review: Jefferson’s Second Revolution: The Election Crisis of 1800 and the Triumph of Republicanism by Susan Dunn (three stars)

“There is nothing more common,” wrote Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia in 1786, “than to confound the terms of the American Revolution with those of the late American war. The American war is over; but this is far from being the case with the American revolution. On the contrary, nothing but the first act of the great drama is closed. It remains yet to establish and perfect our new forms of government; and to prepare the principles, morals, and manners of our citizens, for these forms of government, after they are established and brought to perfection.”

A competent, if over long survey of the American revolutionary period. A necessary corrective for those thinking the revolution ended in 1776, or 1781, or 1787. Students of history already know recent elections are not the first stirred with scandal and accusations of false dealing

‘The leaders of the Virginia dynasty—Jefferson, Madison, Monroe—cherished liberty and equality and trumpeted the pursuit of happiness, but they were unwilling—or perhaps intellectually unable—to begin the process of creating institutions and programs to extend those principles to all Americans.’

She makes the case that a robust two-party system is vital to American democracy despite that all the politicians, including Jefferson, wanted only one party—theirs. That most were inconsistent, if not out-right hypocrites is well documented. Like a dime novel, she opens with a sensational cliffhanger which she doesn’t work her back to until two-thirds through. Reads like a research paper, the footnotes mercifully at the end.

“The party committed suicide,” wrote a frustrated [John] Adams, and “indicted me for the murder.”

Numerous false details alert the reader to possible errors in more weighty topics. Dozens of “historian said” references, which add little to her narrative but bloat. Students of history are wary of manufactured and even inverted citations, ala Ward Churchill. Dunn and her readers would be better served had she restrained herself to primary sources.

‘Like Machiavelli, Tocqueville came to the sagacious conclusion that the guardian of freedom was tumult. The direct source of the tumult? Democracy itself.’

A glance at her other titles suggests Dunn’s agenda, which she pursues here. The founders were not trying to establish a democracy—they rightly feared that word, especially has it manifested itself in France—but a republic.

‘Under Jefferson and Madison, radical, revolutionary ideas—equality, majority rule, self-interest, democracy—had entered the mainstream of American politics. The old style of elitist, deferential politics was gone for good.’

Book Review: The Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliott (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Unconquerable Sun (Sun Chronicles #1) by Kate Elliott (Three Stars)

“This is your last chance to surrender,” I murmur as we stride along. Sun snorts. “I don’t surrender.”

Epic space opera, though the emphasis is on internecine politics more than space battles. Quasi-superhuman protagonist teams of heroes. Had a more Chinese than Greek feel. Adolescent emotions all around. Fun, lightweight read.

I am the worst of children, for I have defied my parents and abandoned my obligations. Perhaps my family honestly intends to kill me, since death is just another form of running away.

The point of view character, despite the book and series titles, is not Sun. In fact Sun is among the least interesting of the cast. Like watching the Marvel movies on fast: begins choppy and episodic. Gradually a unified picture forms, it requires patience. Numerous homages to classic earth literature.

Sun had not taken her for the blushing kind, although she definitely struck Sun as the kind who would become dramatically infatuated with a handsome enemy who’d tried to kill her.

Many errors in gravitation, orbital dynamics, and inertia. The usual Star Trekkian physics, which is to say not based on that of this universe. Popcorn for the brain.

Maybe the truth helps us understand where we stand. I’m just grateful I have people I can trust.

Book Review: She Who Became the Sun (The Radiant Emperor #1) by Chelly Parker-Chan (three stars)

Book Review: She Who Became the Sun (The Radiant Emperor #1) by Chelly Parker-Chan (three stars)

In that one terrible moment, she knew what her fate of nothing meant. She had thought it was only insignificance, that she would never be anything or do anything that mattered. But it wasn’t.
It was death.

If Leo Tolstoy had written Mulan instead of War and Peace. Right down to the confusing naming conventions. Deeply insightful light historical fantasy into the nature of desire and destiny.

The monastery was never to have been forever; she was always going to be expelled into that world of chaos and violence—of greatness and nothingness.

Even the bad guys are three-dimensional and engaging. Come to think of it, there aren’t any good guys. None the really interesting characters are men. Telling more might spoil things, but Chinese history is a strong clue.

Zhu felt a stab of uncharacteristic pity. Not-wanting is a desire too; it yields suffering just as much as wanting.

Why only three stars? Pornography. The first two-thirds of the story treats sex indirectly and subtly, then Parker-Chan dumps the reader into a graphic, gratuitous sex scene. Doesn’t just violate the flow of the story, cheapens everything before and after. Totally unnecessary. They had great sex; it changed their lives. Okay, but close the bedroom door.

“Even the most shining future, if desired, will have suffering as its heart.”

Won’t be back for more. Sad. So much potential.

Book review: Revolutionaries by Jack N. Rakove (four stars plus)

Book review: Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America by Jack N. Rakove (four stars plus)

“Washington never allowed the army to disdain its civilian superiors. Fabius was the role circumstances forced him to play, Cincinnatus the character his own more closely resembled.”

If you read only one history book about the American revolutionary period, read this one. That said, readers without a passing knowledge of the 1770s and 80s may get lost in Rakove frequent digressions and flashbacks within flashbacks.

“Where the ideologue Adams believed that a raw lust for power was driving Britain’s leaders to seek dominion over America, Morris preferred to blame obtuse stupidity and miscalculation. But both agreed that British missteps, rather than American desires, had brought the colonies to the point of independence.”

Rakove is of the people-make-history school, but also posits that some people rise to the challenge better than others. This collection of mini biographies is fleshed out by considering more than the obvious giants of the age.

Madison was at once a constitutional radical, celebrating the capacity of his countrymen to rethink basic questions of republican government, and a political conservative who never underestimated the risks they were taking. That too was part of his political genius.”

Unlike so many modern historians, Rakove keeps his opinions to himself and does not batter the reader with his agenda. There’s plenty of credit and blamer for most everything that went right and wrong.

“All of them shared that one characteristic that Hamilton memorialized in Nathanael Greene. ‘Those great revolutions which sometimes convulse society,’ Hamilton reminded his brother officers of the Cincinnati, had also this merit: ‘that they serve to bring to light talents and virtues which might otherwise have languished in obscurity or only shot forth a few scattered and wandering rays.’”

Book Review: A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition by Ernest Hemingway (four stars)

Book Review: A Moveable Feast: the Restored Edition by Ernest Hemingway (four stars)

The last bit of professional writing by my father, the true foreword to A Moveable Feast: “This book contains material from the remises of my memory and of my heart. Even if the one has been tampered with and the other does not exist.” Patrick Hemingway

Updated version of Hemingway’s definitive story of how lost the Lost Generation was. Includes much material omitted when originally published after his death. Those interested will need a map of 1920s Paris.

It was not a trip designed for a man easy to anger. You could not be angry with Scott any more than you could be angry with someone who was crazy, but I was getting angry with myself for having become involved in the whole silliness.

Ernest and Hadley were young, poor, and sure of themselves. Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stern, F. Scott Fitzgerald populate his cast, but he admits he’s writing fiction. Reader beware.

By then I knew that everything good and bad left an emptiness when it stopped. But if it was bad, the emptiness filled up by itself. If it was good you could only fill it by finding something better.

Clear, forceful prose. That said, he weasel-words his criticism of his contemporaries in Paris and Austria. Saves his harshest words for himself, but even as he accepts the blame for ruining his own marriage he blames others.

I have tried to write by the old rule that how good a book is should be judged, by the man who writes it, by the excellence of the material that he eliminates.

Book Review: The Hidden Palace (The Golem and the Jinni #2) by Helene Wecker (four stars)

Book Review: The Hidden Palace (The Golem and the Jinni #2) by Helene Wecker (four stars)

“Stop searching for the things that no one can explain. Isn’t this world cruel enough as it is?”

A fitting sequel to The Golem and the Jinni. Starts slowly as Wecker widens the scope of the story and cast. Like the best historical fiction, she blends her plot into real events, in this case the swelling tide of the First World War, capturing how it looked to the Hebrew and Lebanese communities of Manhattan. Good, clean writing.

“Jinn do not have friends. We may be allies, or enemies, or lovers, but not friends.” “And I suppose a lover is not necessarily an ally.” “Not in my experience.” “Nor mine.”

The pace picks up midway as the scattered treads start to tighten. The various dénouement are well foreshadowed but not revealed beforehand. Some surprise and sorrow is still possible.

“You are exactly like them,” he said, pointing out toward the city. “You’d make me as meek and obedient as yourself, if I would only allow it. You’d make a human of me—no, you would turn me into you.”

Recommended for fans of historical fiction. Not typical fantasy, horror, or science fiction but incorporates elements of all, but with an intimacy that occasionally hurts. Well done.

“Sometimes, she challenges me, constantly, to be better than I am.” “And are there times when you resent the challenge? When you wish that, just this once, she’d let you be a little bit worse than you are?” “Of course.”

Movie Review: Show Me the Father, directed by Rick Altizer (four stars)

theatrical release poster

Movie Review: Show Me the Father, directed by Rick Altizer (four stars)

A Christian documentary by the Kendrick Brothers. While well made and sincere, its presence in mass-market theaters is a mystery.

Lots of good statistics and aphorisms about the impact of fathers and the love of God. Many Christians will buy and shelf along with the Kendrick Brothers’ dramas.

Book Review: Madrenga by Alan Dean Foster (three stars)

Book Review: Madrenga by Alan Dean Foster (three stars)

“Looking after them and attending to their needs can only slow you down.” “Friends never slow one down.”

A quest tale with a twist. Several twists. Foster is an accomplished wordsmith. He can tell a tale and describe a person or setting in just a phrase. Unfortunately, he exhibits a wordiness which belies his ability to do better.

“Nothing that has happened to me since leaving Harup-taw-shet has made any sense. Why should it be any different for you?”

The eponymous hero is dense and naive. The latter is more forgivable than the former. After the introduction, the story drags because Foster seems to not trust the reader to get the stupidity of Madrenga and tells us again. And again.

“The esteem reserved for elder beings as well as elder ways is being abandoned. Where once they sought improvement, now men seek only profit, and darknesses of all manner and kind stalk the land.”

Excellent close. Tied up enough ends to satisfy without telling everything.

“If I’ve learned one thing in life it’s that there are no promises. There is only hope.”