Book Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency #1) by John Scalzi

Three Stars

“This isn’t going to end well.” “Does it ever?”

Scalzi delivers the goods. So many other authors of science fiction fail simple narration, if not science. Scalzi is a master storyteller and covers himself on the science front as well. Unlike many first-of-a-series novels, this story has a satisfying conclusion even as it sets the hook for follow-on tales. A good, fast, enjoyable read.

“I’m busy with the end of everything.”

Perhaps compensating for the male cast imbalance of previous works, almost all the major characters are female.

“… the human tendency to ignore or deny facts until the last possible instant, and then for several days after that, too.”

The f-word occurs in some form 202 times. Half of those are to establish the credentials of one of the female leads, but most weren’t necessary. Cost him a star. It’s not as if Scalzi hasn’t Continue reading

My Seven Wonders of the World, #6

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Hagia Sophia Exterior –imgarcade.com

My Seven Wonders of the World, #6

Hagia Sophia and its millennia-younger imitator the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. (The nine hundred years newer Blue Mosque is prettier from the outside and its dome cleaner and brighter inside, but the older church set the standard.)

As architectural achievements the domes of these buildings are incredible feats. As a sensory experience they are stupefying. Both boast amazing open space under their domes. Seeming acres of open floor stretch out with no columns intervening. Photographs do not capture the feeling of immensity.

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Blue Mosque Interior — kids.britannica,com

Both give the illusion of being larger inside than they seem from outside. I have noticed this phenomena with similar structures, including large (now vanished) circus tents and Cold War hardened aircraft shelters. From the outside the vault or dome slopes away from the viewer, making it seem smaller than it is. Inside, the viewer experiences the full immensity of the covered space. For that reason, Saint Peters Basilica and gothic cathedrals may be larger but lack the feeling of immensity.

A unique experience.

America Made Great Again

image from suggest-keywords.com

image from suggest-keywords.com

America is not great because of it large, talented population. Nor of its huge gross domestic product. Nor its arsenal of nuclear warheads. Nor its vast natural resources. Many other countries enjoy some of those benefits and burdens.

America is great–and proves its greatness every day–because it respects its own limitations, most recently by a ruling by the government’s courts against the government.

The leader of the government may not like the ruling. He may appeal the ruling. He may berate and ridicule the judges, but … but he will abide by the ruling.

America is great because the most powerful man in America is not above the law.

And the least powerful is not beneath the law.

Book Review: Spellsinger by Alan Dean Foster (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Spellsinger (Spellsinger #1) Alan Dean Foster

Three Stars

“The strange quasi-science [he] called magic. Or was the wizard right and science was really quasi-magic?”

Dreadfully slow pace. Almost quit after fifty pages; almost quit again fifty pages from the end when I realized nothing was going to happen in this volume. This story merely introduces the characters, world and issue for the greater series. Still, Foster tells a good story.

“This land he now found himself in was no more alien-appearing than Amazonian Peru, and considerably less so than Manhattan.”

Populating his world with human-like mammals is automatically works against stereotypes. In addition, Foster works counter expectations with an artsy male, who is repelled by the fantasy work he’s been thrown into, and an athletic female who embraces it.

“The appetite for evil far exceeds that of the benign.”

Many readers love these never-ending tales; I don’t. I won’t be back.

“It wouldn’t be any fun if it didn’t have any danger.”

The Times May Be Changing, But Not the Divisions

The Times May Be Changing, But Not the Divisions

Not only do we live in an increasingly black and white world, but the polarization of American politics flips our values with every change of administration. Yesterday’s truth becomes today’s lie. What was formerly good is now condemned. Just because the party of the person sitting in the Oval Office has changed.

Folks now aghast at Trump’s coziness with Putin denied revelations that the Clintons fronted for Russian oligarchs buying American uranium mining companies. The people who used to complain about the size and cost of Michelle Obama’s entourages are mum about the expense of maintaining multiple Trump households. The test of “false news” is not truth, but consonance with my preconceptions. Who checks the fact checkers?

The filter of faction is highly polarized. We aren’t aware of our own bias because our sources of news and opinion pre-filter information before it reaches us. We think we’re reasonable. We’re not biased, only those other folks.

The filter we look through is the first thing we don’t see.

Movie Review: The Great Wall, directed by Yimou Zhang (Three Stars)

theatrical release poster

Movie Review: The Great Wall, directed by Yimou Zhang

Three Stars

“What are they trying to keep out?”

A fun, fast, heroic fantasy set in a China just across the border from historic. Tempted to give it four stars simply because my expectations were so low. Beautiful cinematography. The few western characters provide non-Chinese audiences a point-of-view from which to wonder and adapt. Worthy themes: trust and loyalty beat greed.

Most violence–the movie is wall-to-wall violence–is fantastic, usually between humans and computer-generated monsters. Female characters, led by Jing Tian’s Commander Lin, are serious, competent, fighters and leaders. Lots of fanciful medieval technology: sort of ancient China-punk.

A good way to burn through a bucket of popcorn.

Reconciling Irreconcilables

image from www.history.comHave you noticed the Alexander Hamilton worship? Paradoxically, many of his acolytes also adulate Thomas Jefferson.

In life, they were bitter opponents and greatly disliked each other personally. How do we reconcile the current love of both? Revisionist history, rose-colored glasses, and two centuries remove.image from www.nationalreview.com

They were both great men, though they differed in almost every way. Our nation was fortunate to have both among its founders. If we hadn’t (along with G. Washington, B. Franklin and a few others), America might have gone the way of the French Revolution, which would have been fine with one of them.

Book Review: Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

Four Stars

“Sometimes even bad advice can point a man in the right direction.”

Eight stories bound to stretch your imagination if not your horizons.

“Maturity means seeing the differences, but realizing they don’t matter.”

Original, thought-provoking fiction in a range of times and contexts.

“When you love someone, you don’t really see what they look like.”

 

 

Puccini’s Madama Butterfly at the Sarasota Opera

imageGiacomo Puccini‘s Madama Butterfly at the Sarasota Opera

This being our second opera experience (the first being Verdi’s Aida at Sarasota in 2016), we now have a point of comparison.

Butterfly was better, and not just because my great-niece was cast. Where Aida was epic and pompous, Madama Butterfly was intimate and evocative story. As we’ve come to expect from Sarasota, the music and sets were great. After praising the ability (and stamina) of Joanna Parisi as Butterfly, we admired the simple, but evocative setting—essentially the same for all three acts—and amazing lighting transitions. Good show.

Rachelle Moss sang Kate Pinkerton, the American bride of the villainous lead male. The part is minor, but meant Rachelle was named on the program (as opposed to anonymously appearing among the wedding party, which she also did in Act One). She and Lt. B. F. Pinkerton (played by Italian Antonio Coriano) were roundly boo’ed at the curtain call, which of course was entirely appropriate.

Side note: we sat next to a Japanese lady who attended dressed in kimono. Treva, of course, struck up a conversation with her, about the types and proper wear of kimono.

My Cuban friend, José P. Bové, insisted we pronounce the Italian title properly.

Book Review: The Fisherman and the Pig by Kameron Hurley (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Fisherman and the Pig by Kameron Hurley

Four Stars.

“Distrust of and disappointment in people had kept him alive this long.”

A fun short story. Great set up and world building is just a few pages.

“It was assumed, in every age, that when one spoke of ‘the war’ everyone else knew exactly which war they were talking about.”

The reader is drawn in and swept along. Perfect ending.

“As much as he wanted closure some days, the deep fear of death … won over every time.”