Book Review: Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear (Three Stars)

Book Review: Shattered Pillars (Eternal Sky #2) by Elizabeth Bear

Three Stars out of Five

“To say a thing is to make it so.”

Well-conceived and well-told epic fantasy. Bear’s created world breathes authenticity. Spared returning reader retelling the first book, though a new reader may not pick up the stakes and the players as quickly.

“Everything is lazy.”

Maintains the high standards of Range of Ghosts but still drifts a little sideways. Nothing requires a story stretch to three volumes if it can be told in two. Ends with the right mix of hope and despair.

“It’s easier to be shared than to share.”

Book Review: Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear (Four Stars)

Book Review: Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

Four Stars out of Five

“It’s not a sacrifice if it doesn’t mean anything to you.”

Attention to detail evokes a world and culture similar to ours, yet not. Details large and small meld with details realistic, mythic and unlikely to suck the reader into the spell of her story. Sprinkled with aphorisms. (Too bad she italicizes them; heavy handed.)

“Different skies, different gods.”

Excellent depiction of the impact of beliefs on perceptions. Most modern fantasy dismisses all religion with a wink and a smirk. Bear takes it seriously. Religion doesn’t just impact how we perceive the world; it impacts the world perceived. Her portrayal adds depth to the characters and the story.

“Women are as capable—and as dangerous—as any man.”

No stupid girls with high-heeled shoes and samurai swords. These women are Continue reading

Book Review: The Lady and the Law by Wilkie Collins (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Lady and the Law by Wilkie Collins

Four Stars out of Five

“Never is a long day.”

Published in 1875, this tale of detection must be judged by the standards of both today and 140 years ago. A contemporary and friend of Charles Dickens, Collins could only write of the society and time in which he lived. The Lady and the Law reflects Victorian attitudes towards gender roles, propriety and money. Collins exposes the deficiencies of stereotypes about Scots and women, even as he exploits them. His Woman in White (1859) is considered one of the first mystery novels.

A well-written, engaging story. Since the detective novel was just emerging, Collins’ pioneering use of court records, cross-examination, and digging through waste heaps–not to mention red herrings, foreshadowing and misdirection–established what are now clichés. His overuse of looking glasses (mirrors) also anticipates a century of romances.

“None so blind as those who won’t see” sounds current, but it actually was used by Matthew Henry almost 200 years before Collins. Presumably it was a common English saying in Collins’ day.

(Typical of, this text is clean of typographical errors which mar so many classics republished as ebooks.)

Movie Re-review: The Force Awakens, Star Wars, Episode VII Four Stars

(Warning: spoilers abound)

Movie Re-review: The Force Awakens, Star Wars, Episode VII

Four Stars out of Five.

My first impression report is here. On second thought:

My son took his friend’s son to Episode Seven, then subjected him (and us) to a marathon viewing of all six previous episodes over two days. Seeing the movies in such close proximity heightens the contrast between the first six and the new one. For one thing, the first, especially Episodes Four through Six (We’ll have that convoluted timeline forever; thank you, George Lucas), have a cleaner, simpler quality. More straightforward space opera and hero’s adventure.

Episode Seven is gritty. Jakku is as dry as Tatooine, but dustier and filled with space ship—military space ship—wreckage. Takodana is humid with clouds and spray from vessels flying close to the surface. The Imperial craft are as OCD clean as ever, but all the resistance and non-affiliated vessels show wear, and kluged modifications and age.

The first six had a childlike simplicity missing from VII. The Force Awakens is darker, more violent. Balancing that is the greater acting ability of the new leads. Let’s be honest: Hamil was not much in Episode Four, and Fisher never learned to act. Daisy Ridley and John Bayega show potential. Adam Driver needs to abandon Christian Hayden as his role model.

None of them are particularly logical. When you step into the Galaxy Far, Far Away, check your credulity at the door. You have to be very willing to suspend your disbelief.

It felt a lot like one of the better (there are lots of bad ones) modern re-telling of classic movies. In fact, many folks noted the similarity between the plot lines of Episodes IV and VII. They even resurrected Yoda … sort of.

So? Let go. Enjoy.

Let the Force be with You.


Reality Meets Science Fiction

Vertical (on the tail) landings has been a standard trope of science fiction stories and movies for decades.

In the last two months, two US corporations achieved it in reality.

The December 21 successful landing by Space-X was the most significant: a full-sized rocket returning from delivering two satellites into orbit.

Until now, all the space events at Cape Canaveral have been launchings … or attempted launchings.

Tomorrow, here we come.

Book Review: Bilbo’s Last Song by J. R. R. Tolkien (Four Stars)

Book Review: Bilbo’s Last Song by J. R. R. Tolkien

Four Stars out of Five (All but the most ardent Tolkien fans will rate it lower)

“Day is ended, dim my eyes,

but journey long before me lies.”

A short picture book published after Tolkien’s death. The poem is presented one couplet per two pages amid illustrations by Pauline Baynes of both The Hobbit and the journey to Grey Havens from The Return of the King.

The poem is not Tolkien’s best. But the illustrations will be recognizable, perhaps only slightly less readily than ones by the Brothers Hildebrandt, as classics of Tolkien stories. Baynes also illustrated C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.

Pleasant to find something “new” by Tolkien.

Book Review: Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson (Four Stars)

Book Review: Shadows of Self (Mistborn #5) by Brandon Sanderson

Four Stars out of Five

“Getting older does not tend to make you more normal.”

Sanderson keeps raising the stakes in the Mistborn series. Wax Ladrian rides rough over the norms of society, but he’s a friend of justice—if not the gods—right? Not everyone’s sure. Wax has his doubts.

Well written, if slightly repetitive of the previous volume The Allow of Law. There’s a reason for that. Greatly referable to the same old nihilistic stuff most fantasy authors are pedaling.

The kandra business doesn’t work for me. Too easy. Too much like eternal zombies.

A good read, if best read soon after reading the previous Mistborn books.

“Freedom … was being able to do what was right, without worrying if it was also wrong.”

Book Review: The Two Cultures by C. P. Snow (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Two Cultures by C. P. Snow

Three Stars out of Five

I read this (the original, published in 1959) in college. It was assigned reading. The premise, that mankind was dividing into two separate and non-communicating communities of arts and science, didn’t seem revolutionary then. The poles still exist today, but are even less evident among the many other polarizations in current culture: economic, religious, political and ethnic.

Form the vantage point of fifty years of actual observation, the polarizations persist not because they are natural but because they are convenient. Humans seem to thrive on “us and them” dichotomies. We create them. We feed them. We make jokes about them: “There are two types of people; …”

And yet it also seems we ignore them, as we actually live our lives. There may be scientists (certainly engineers) who have no artistic impulse, but many more who do. And many people straddle divides every day, even as they may identify with this or that community.

Robert Frost was right. Building walls doesn’t make better neighbors, but we build them anyway. Partly from fear; partly of necessity; mostly (I think) from habit.

Book Review: The Hessians and the Other German Auxiliaries of Great Britain in the Revolutionary War by Edward J. Lovell (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Hessians and the Other German Auxiliaries of Great Britain in the Revolutionary War by Edward J. Lovell

Three Stars out of five

An excellent history of the German soldiers hired to supplement the British forces in North America during the American Revolution. Commonly called mercenaries, the soldiers gained nothing by their duty. The various German rulers, led by Landgrave Frederick II of Hesse (cousin of the Britain’s George III), rented their conscript armies to the British and received all the rent.

Of thirty thousand Germans who came to North America just over half returned to Germany. Twelve hundred were killed in action, while over six thousand died of other causes. About five thousand settled in America.

Lovell used German sources and dairies to identify who the soldiers were and what they did. Anecdotes flesh out the narrative with glimpses of the trials and sufferings of the soldiers (and occasional accompanying family).

The style is dense, and some sentences require re-reading. Translated German sources undoubtedly contributed to the stilted style.

A good read for the student of the American Revolutionary War.