Book Review: Far-Seer by Robert J. Sawyer (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Far-Seer (Quintaglio Ascension #1) by Robert J. Sawyer

Three Stars

“I cast a shadow in your presence.”

A great premise: What if Galileo was a sentient theropod on a Jovian moon? Good development of raptor culture and metaphors. Good unraveling of the astronomical puzzle. Okay storytelling.

“Your heroism saved my life.” “It was nothing.” “My life? Or your deed?” “I’d like to think that in either case, that’s not true.”

Got the dynamics of planetary body movement and observation correct enough to make it fun for science nerds, while enough social, language and philosophy filters through to please right-brain-dominant readers.

“No God meant no meaning to it all, no higher standards by which everything was measured.”

The protagonist is certainly The One. Everything is too easy: hunt, astronomy, love, and politics. He swims in secret allies. One pops up whenever he needs. People conveniently die on cue too. (Cover quibble: saurian looks too like a T. Rex. More spoilers in that cover than this review.)

“The world might be coming to an end. But they’d worry about that tomorrow.”

Book Review: The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

Three Stars

Star Wars was and is my job. It can’t fire me and I’ll never be able to quit, and why would I want to? (That’s both a rhetorical and a real question.)”

I really wanted to like Fisher’s unintentional swan song. The style is conversational and intimate–sometimes too intimate. But the lack of real substance and her frequent profanity detract. (Twenty f-bombs, most neither relevant nor necessary.)

“If I’d been in high school instead of doing shows with my mother … I would have lived life as a teenager [instead of] having crushes on gay men.”

Mostly this biography covers Carrie’s childhood through the immediate aftermath of the Star Wars phenomena, with reflections on fans and fandom thrown in as filler. And a strange life she lived. She grew up in the spotlight of Hollywood celebrity, was apparently raped by her stepfather when she was fifteen, and knew only that she never wanted to be in show business.

“Would he … forgive me for … being a nineteen-year-old who, despite using four-letter words with such ease and familiarity, didn’t turn out to be the pro … I seemed to be?”

The titular diary offers insight into her mind as a nineteen-year-old thrust into both a starring role and an adulterous relationship, one of which she knew would go nowhere. Here are samples:

“Heaven’s no place for one who thrives on hell.”

“You took my breath away. And now I want it back.”

“How perfect can he be if he can’t see through me?”

A 2017 Hugo Award “related work” finalist, which category is the World Science Fiction Society’s excuse to give more Hugos. If Hugos are nothing else, they’re promotional tools.

“I was always looking ahead to what I wanted to be versus who I didn’t realize I already was.”

An incredibly strong, talented person.

“Metaphor be with you.”

Book Review: Words Are My Matter by Ursula K. Le Guin (Two Stars)

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Book Review: Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016, with a Journal of a Writer’s Week by Ursula K. Le Guin

Two Stars

“Listening is an act of community, which requires space, time, and silence. Reading is a means of listening.”

I wanted to like this book because I respect Le Guin as an author and a person, but two stars was a gift. This drivel seems tossed together to justify the selling price. It won awards perhaps because it says all the right things. Or it was her turn.

“There seems to be a firewall in my mind against ideas expressed in numbers and graphs rather than words, or in abstract words such as Sin and Gravity.”

She has opinions and states them well, but with precious few facts. She feels rather than thinks, and she’s proud of it. Yet she prefers “the fierce reality of true fiction” over “wishful thinking.”

“I’d rather follow a narrative than a thought, and the more abstract the thought the less I understand it. Philosophy inhabits my mind only as parables and logic never enters it at all.”

Le Guin admits she writes fantasy because she can’t do the math for real science fiction. That’s legitimate. Others should be as honest. But then she degrades hard science fiction as elitist and reactionary. That’s hardly fair. I like fantasy–her kind of fantasy–but I like science fiction that makes me think about velocity vectors and Hohmann transfer orbits.

“… the critics increasing restriction of literary fiction to social and psychological realism, all else being brushed aside as sub literary entertainment.”

Skip the reviews. They’re good but she both tells you too much and tells you how to think. Many folks like to be told how to think, but even when I agree with her I’d rather find my own way.

“The New York/East Coast literary scene is so inward-looking and provincial that I’ve always been glad not to be part of it.”

Her defense of abortion, whatever you may think on the topic, is among the best I’ve ever read. I wonder what her child would have thought.

“It’s hard to ask a child to find a way through all that [reproduced voices, images and words used for commercial and political profit] alone.”

Book Review: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (Five Stars)

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Book Review: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Five Stars

“How can anyone spend their whole life longing for the day when they become superfluous?”

Incredible portrait of a very credible man. I know him! What can I tell you without giving too much away? A great example of in media res, dropping the reader into the middle of things and letting him sort it out as it zips past him. In the case of Ove, no matter how fast the world zips by, he takes it at a walking pace.

“He’d been a grumpy old man since he started elementary school, they insisted.”

Yeah, it’s PC, but that goes without saying for Right-Thinking people these days. Ove is not an Archie Bunker, however. He’s a finely drawn character.

“It is difficult to admit one is wrong. Particularly when one has been wrong for a very long time.”

Many pithy epigrams; even more signals to stop and consider. Funny, but thought provoking.

“You only need one ray of hope to chase all the shadows away.”

They don’t make men like Ove any more, at least not very many of them. I have had honor of knowing several, one of whom I’m related to.

“Men are what they are because of what they do. Not what they say.”

That business about Saabs and Volvos? Absolutely true. It even played out in America in Minnesota and Michigan at one time. (I have owned one of each, which makes me apostate. To be fair, my first example must have been built on Monday morning in Trollhättan.)

“And that laughter of hers, which, for the rest of his life, would make him feel as if someone was running around barefoot on the inside of his breast.”

Movie Review: Cars 3, directed by Brian Fee (Four Stars)

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Movie Review: Cars 3, directed by Brian Fee

Four Stars

“Just focus on what you’re here to do.”

Better than Cars 2, though that’s a pretty low bar. Closer to the formula and feel of the original Cars. Not sure young watchers will get all the getting-older theme, but there’s plenty of action.

“Don’t fear failure. Be afraid of not having the chance; you have the chance!”

Back to the NASCAR roots of the first Cars movie, plus a little nostalgia of the good old days of the racing community. Radiator Springs and citizens featured again. (Error: in one scene Lightning turns off the headlights he doesn’t have.)

“You’ll never be faster than Storm. You can outsmart him.”

Book Review: “That Game We Played During the War” by Carrie Vaughn (Four Stars)

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Book Review: “That Game We Played During the War” by Carrie Vaughn

Four Stars

“Since they were telepaths, they’d know the answer to that.”

How do you war against telepaths, or play chess for that matter? Or fall in love? A well-told short story about a logical conundrum. Well-plotted. Good point of view character.

“… took off their uniforms, they would look the same: naked.”

Short and to the point. One of the best of the 2017 finalist for Hugo Award short story.

“We are all of us wounded.”

No, I’m not going to tell. Read it for yourself.

“This is how you won the war.” “No, this is how we failed to lose.”

Book Review: “Bourbon, Sugar, Grace” by Jessica Reisman (Four Stars)

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Book Review: “Bourbon, Sugar, Grace: A Tor.com Original” by Jessica Reisman

Four Stars

“Life exists in more forms than we can predict or comprehend.”

A pleasant science fiction short story, which challenges the reader to keep up and entertains at the same time. Set in a dystopian mining colony after the mines have played out and the corporate overlords are reneging on closure promises.

“The thing that needed doing.”

Much better storytelling than the current crop of Hugo Award finalists. Potential lead in to a larger story.

“She knew it was the wrong thing to do, at the wrong time. But …”

A good take on how language evolves in “moms.” Nice cover art by Jon Foster.

“Please … let me not be graceless in this.”

Book Review: “Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar (Three Stars)

issue13coverv2_large-340x510Book Review: “Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar

Three Stars

“What’s strong is the shoes women are made to wear: shoes of glass, shoes of paper, shoes of iron. Heated red hot; shoes to dance to death in.”

Good story. Well-developed. A finalist for 2017 Hugo Award for short stories.

“Magic is magic is magic and there is always a stronger magic.”

Contrary to the tag, not a “gay” story. It’s a story “about two women reaching out of their respective tales,” the author says in her notes. “The enormity of what friendship means.” I try to read stories cold–that is, without reading liner notes, blurbs or other reviews–because I don’t want the opinions of others getting between me and the author.

“You climbed a glass hill by accident.”

Goodreads.com displays the cover art associated with another story is shown for this. I assume because both stories appear in the same issue of Uncanny magazine. It fit the other story better.

“She loved him for loving her as he loved no one else.”

Book Review: “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers” by Alyssa Wong (Four Stars)

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Book Review: “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers” by Alyssa Wong

Four Stars

“There was nothing phoenix-like in my sister’s immolation….”

Really intense inquiry into the nature of time and the possibility of alternate outcomes. Good development and manic pace. Best read at a single go.

“The chain frays, spread out like roots possibilities endless.”

Excellent stream-of-consciousness plot line. Go with the flow. Nice cover art.

“… looking for artisanal french fries.”

What’s the deal with all the charred bodies? Was there a hidden criteria that this year’s Hugo Awards, for which this tale is a finalist short story, had to involve death and destruction? Or is it just the world we live in?

“You can’t fix this. It was never yours to control.”

Book Review: “An Unimaginable Light” by John C. Wright (Four Stars)

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Book Review: “An Unimaginable Light” by John C. Wright

Four Stars

“We robots are meant to serve man, not destroy them. We and we alone labor out of pure love for mankind.”

Set in Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot universe, but takes human-android relations in a direction Asimov might not have conceived, though perfectly logical. As expected, deals with questions of sentience and life.

“Humans cannot stand near perfection. It makes men die.”

Good storytelling and development. The characters are vivid, if obvious. Justice and truth clash. Well done. Thought provoking.

“To utter certain types of truths is a micro-aggression. It creates a hostile environment we humans find uncomfortable.” “Your ancestors were more robust.”

Philosophically Platonic, dealing in independently true ideas. Make no mistake, Wright has a politically incorrect agenda. Since the Hugo Awards, for which this story is a 2017 short story finalist, is basically a popularity contest, I’m surprised this tale got this far.

“The robots are utterly logical, utterly benevolent, and utterly terrifying.”