Book Review: The Winds of Marble Arch and Other Stories by Connie Willis
Two Stars out of Five
Connie Willis is something of a one-trick pony. She does her trick very well, but the shallowness of her style shouts when a dozen of her short stories are lumped together, as here. Especially when some are poor enough that they’d probably never see publication except in such an anthology. 700 pages of it.
As her readers know, Willis is fascinated with London during the Blitz. That is represented here, but she ranges far across the globe to present the usual suspects—late, lazy, lost or looney—fighting their own attention deficit and (usually) an impersonal bureaucracy or just the dead hand of the past to fulfill some (usually) mundane, but existentially significant to them, task. And driving themselves (and the reader) crazy in the process.
Few of these stories involve time travel: the staple of many of her books.
A better example of Willis’ style and single trick is Doomsday Book. That book has a soul which many of these stories lack. If you’ve never read Willis before, start with Doomsday Book.
Skip this collection.
For those paying attention, which few Americans are, the nuclear talks with Iran are following the typical “rug buying” format I discussed earlier.
At each juncture, the Iranians demand (and get) new concessions to achieve what we naively think is the final deal. No, it’s just the starting point for the next round of negotiations, at which they will seek more concessions.
They’re very good at it—been practicing for thousands of years. They do not see it as bad faith; that’s just how bargaining is done in the Middle East.
We, on the other hand, are fools.
An older F-16 would beat an F-35 in a dogfight? Ignoring for the moment that no modern aircraft should ever get into a dogfight, that’s pretty poor.
This is also the aircraft which does poorer close air support than the A-10, which it is also to replace.
See the trend? When you try to get one plane to do it all—oh, and take off vertically—you end up with an Edsel. Please excuse the antiquated reference, but Ford knew the Edsel was a loser before they offered them and offered them anyway.
What’s DoD’s excuse? Politics? What happened to principles? What happened to serving country, not career?
Several somebodies ought to be fired, instead they’ll be awarded, promoted and given bigger programs to screw up.
(Lest you think the author a crank, he’s a retired Air Force colonel who performed and co-wrote the maintenance portion of the initial operational test and evaluation of the F-15 Eagle in 1976. And he’s a crank. He thinks the DoD should focus more on defending the country and less on politics.)
Book Review: To Stand or Fall by John Scalzi.
Three stars out of five.
Disappointing. Oh, it’s good and I liked it, but I expected better. It’s all so predictable. In fact, even the writing has a dashed-off feel. Not the sly wit and plot twists one expects of John Scalzi. No battles, no conflict (really), just lots of talking.
This novella concludes Scalzi’s great work: The End of All Things. He told us in advance that he’d grown tired of the Old Man’s War universe and would write no more in it after this. This volume lowers readers’ expectations enough that he doesn’t need to worry about popular demand. A more effective way to kill a series than Arthur Conan Doyle’s approach.
Still, it’s a good read, if a bit of a yawner.
Book Review: The Riyria Sampler by Michael Sullivan
Four Stars out of Five
For Riyria aficionados this collection of short stories includes only seven pages of new material, but it is an excellent introduction to Royce and Hadrian (or Hadrian and Royce, depending on your proclivities). The byplay between this pair is the leitmotif of every Riyria book. (They are Riyria; it means “two” in the elfish tongue of their world.)
Never fear, each Riyria novel has a genuine plot and a basso continuo of the struggle of good versus evil in their world. As thieves, they would automatically seem enlisted on the dark side. Not so. (That shouldn’t be a spoiler.) But telling you why not and how it works out would be telling. So … I won’t.
If you’re intrigued, read this. It’s short, obvious, and fun. The price is right: free. (For a limited time.)
Book Review: God’s Daughter: Vikings of the New World Saga #1 by Heather Day Gilbert
Four Stars out of Five
Good historical fiction-romance. Excellent first novel. Authors of historical fiction, especially of obscure eras, such as the Viking settlement of Greenland and North America, have a choice: stick close to whatever source is available or invent. Gilbert chose to follow the Icelandic sagas. The result is a rich, engaging story.
Gilbert also chose to intersperse modern phraseology with traditional terms and practices. The result is less satisfying. For example, “medicinal practices” knocked me right out of the story. (I’ve lectured about verisimilitude often enough that you don’t need another dose.) “Medicinal” is jarringly modern. “Healing” or “cures” would have been a better word. Likewise, “curvy” to describe a female’s body sounds modern. Full-bodied or even plump would convey the idea better.
I don’t know enough about Viking lore or herbal medicine to critique the specifics, but some practices seem Continue reading
Book Review: Can Long Endure: The End of All Things By John Scalzi
Four Stars out of Five
This is how it’s done: under the surface of a shoot-em up space opera, Scalzi develops a intimate tale of personal crisis. Without telling the reader, he just lets it unfold. The ending is a surprise that’s no surprise; it seems inevitable even though it’s a shock.
Good job! Can’t wait for the last episode, though if the name of the book means anything … .
Book Review: This Hollow Union by John Scalzi
Three Stars out of Five
Even the masters miss occasionally. This second installment of Scalzi’s larger work, The End of All Things, advances the story but little else. A lot of “as your know, Bob” conversations intersperse with precious little activity. Good story telling, just not much story.
Scalzi obliquely deals with the same issue as the last book I reviewed, Uprooted, that being dealing with uncertainty in making decisions. Large or small, many of life’s decisions are usually bounded by unreliable data. In this case both the data and the sources are not to be trusted. Given the varying motives of the varying actors, it’s a wonder otherwise intelligent species aren’t at war with each other (and among themselves) all the time.
What’s a leader to do? If I told you, you wouldn’t need to read the book.
I’m a father. I shouldn’t be honored; I made a hash of being a father.
In fact, most fathers I know also think they failed fatherhood. Did we? I objectively think most of us meant well and tried hard. But intentions and effort aren’t enough. We had a big role in shaping the next generation: both men and women. But our role in preparing future fathers is critical. Mothers can’t do it. Family and community can help, but are no substitute for a present, engaged, loving father.
Is it such a hard job? It is. Almost impossible. And today men get precious little motivation or help from our culture. A society which degrades and marginalizes half its population is doomed. Ours is on that slippery slope.
Add to the difficulty that we generally learn how to be a father from our fathers, who were still sorting how what their father did right or wrong when they raised us. Many of us never figured it out. Some ran away physically or emotionally and didn’t even try. Others figured it out too late: after our sons were grown and fathers themselves, making the same mistakes but unwilling or unable to accept our advice on how to do better.
I’m not sure why I’m alive. But one of the roles I’ve taken these last forty years is that of a father. And I did a pretty poor job of it.
I apologize to both of my sons and to my wife for my failure.