Movie Review: Walt Disney’s Moana (Five Stars)

theatrical release poster

theatrical release poster

Movie Review: Moana, directed by Ron Clements and John Musker

Five Stars.

Great story, great visuals, great songs. A little humor, lots of courage. Great feeling of how Polynesian culture is tied to the sea. (So much better than the cringe-worthy The Princess and the Frog, Clement and Musker’s last outing for the mouse house.)

Auli’i Cravalho”s first role. Wow. Dwayne Johnson can sing!

Go see it. Take a child if you must, but you’ll enjoy it yourself.

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Book Review: A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George (Four Stars)

Book Review: A Great Deliverance (Inspector Lynley #1) by Elizabeth George

Four Stars

“A vestige of time dead, being devoured by time to come.”

Lord Peter Wimsey rides again, sort of. An updated lord-as-sleuth tale with a grittier approach than Dorothy Sayers original from the 1920s. This series, from the 1980s, reflects more modern times, but still the quintessential England of literature and music as much as manors and manners. Not at all a Holmesian tale; much more personal and pyshological. (One hopes the BBC didn’t rape these as they did the Cadfael mysteries.)

“The police were antagonists to be thwarted rather than allies to be helped.”

Deep, complex characters. Everyone has a skeleton, if not a demon, in his or her closet. This book takes the reader deep inside the heads of just about everyone as New Scotland Yard investigates a horrific crime in Yorkshire. (I visited the Yorkshire dales in the late 80s, George’s good descriptions fail to express the bleakness and the beauty. Words fail.) This book is not for the timid or weak stomached. That more than one character vomits is appropriate and realistic. (You’ve been warned.)

“One can’t run forever.” “I can.”

The accents and vocabulary are a bit over-the-top, especially of the Americans, who I’m sure are portrayed just as most British viewed us then. George occasionally slips: “Bob’s your uncle” is not an expression Americans would use.

“The whole situation was an irritating, howling, political maelstrom of thwarted ambition, error and revenge. He was sick of it.”

Americans forget–more likely never knew–that England in the 1980s (when this book was written) was more socially divided that the United States today. Margaret Thatcher’s election set off a cultural war the likes of which we are just now seeing here. English were (I lived in Oxfordshire in the 1980s) much more class conscious. The attitudes expressed by Sergeant Havers were typical of commoners then. English gender attitudes are integral to the plot as well.

“Mothers have a way of taking things a bit personally. Haven’t you noticed?”

The text suffers jarring shifts in point of view, which perhaps were caused or exacerbated by formatting issues. Apparently this edition is an optical scan of the original text; numerous errors have slipped in. (“Shell stand that,” when “She’ll stand that” was obviously meant.) Do all English call speakers amplifiers? As in, “Enormous amplifiers sat in all four corners, creating at the center a vortex of sound.” (I know what council houses, boots and dust bins are; not what Americans think.)

“… before Lot finds me.”

Great writing. Great characterizations. Intense drama and conflict. But also a story of courage and compassion. Quite the climax, and yet plenty gaps are left in our knowledge of Havers and Lynley to engage the reader in his further cases. Looking forward to more.

“Death closes all.”

Book Review: Across a Billion Years by Robert Silverberg (Four Stars)

Book Review: Across a Billion Years by Robert Silverberg

Four Stars

“We (archeologists) are enemies of entropy; we seek to snatch back those things that have been taken from us by the years.”

Classic science fiction. Considering it was written in the 1960s, this book’s science fiction works better than many current offerings. It flunks sociology, as do many contemporaries.

“The first rule of archeology is be careful with the evidence. No, that’s the second rule. The first one is find your evidence.”

Twentieth century attitude towards rape; twenty-first century attitude toward inter-species sex. Some cringe-worthy moments. Our “hero” is meant to be clueless, but he’s also a chauvinistic ignoramus (at best).

“It’s unhealthy to gulp down a surfeit of miracles; gives one indigestion of the imagination.”

Topics of interest: Silverberg invented believable slang, acknowledging that languages evolve in four hundred years. Worked. Twenty-fourth century Israel includes the former United Arab Republic (Egypt, Iraq and Syria). Androids are an emancipated minority.

“Communication by pantomime isn’t terribly satisfying.”

Telepathic communication is discussed as “a full meeting of the souls. It is the end of secrecy and suspicion, of misunderstanding, of quarrels, of isolation, of flawed communication, of separation.” That was holy writ in the 1960s. Not so long as humans have greed and pride, not to mention psychopaths. Those who control those impulses would be censored regardless of the mitigating factor of their behavior. Communication is good; knowing each other’s every thought, not so good.

“If we haven’t succeeded in blowing ourselves up by A. D. 2376, we’re probably to make out all right. Maybe.”

Book Review: The Devil’s Novice by Ellis Peters (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Devil’s Novice (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #8) by Ellis Peters

Four Stars

“There’s many a young man has got his hearts wish, only to curse the day he wished for it.”

Upon my fourth reading, I raise my rating one star because this story compares so well with other historical fiction. In addition to the murder mystery, this tale brings to the reader an understanding of a historical setting which borders on the mythic, an introduction to a medieval craft (in this case, making charcoal), reflections on life then and now, a love story, and the fun of a tale well told.

“He’s innocent enough, God knows, to believe that other men are as honest as he.”

Readers seeking a story grounded closer to fact than the average epic fantasy, which usually loses itself in horses that run forever, swords that never dull, clerics who call down lightning bolts and enough nihilism for a lifetime, Edith Pargeter’s series on the life and times of this former Crusader and now monastic should be welcome. That’s why I’m on my fourth reading of this series.

“Despair is a deadly sin, but worse it is mortal folly.”

Book Review: Flatlander by David Niven (Three Stars)

Book Review: Flatlander by David Niven

Three Stars

“The thing about poetic justice is that it requires a poet.”

A series of self-contained mysteries involving a man with extra sensory powers a hundred years in the future. Most of the stories involve some sort of locked-room crime which Gil Hamilton must solve, often at personal risk, using his “imaginary arm.” Our hero is clueless about females but, unlike Mike Hammer, sensitive to three sets of ethics confusing lunie morals.

“Having a hole shot through him can make a man think.”

One unique problem of writing science fiction about the future is the pace of technological innovation now. These stories are only twenty years old, but read as if they were written half a century earlier. Niven’s twenty-second century protagonist lacks many abilities you take for granted: cell phones, the internet, for example. Though his “programming” information searches sounds a lot like googling. Data bases are still seen to be separate, restricted with the go-to information source being a 180-year-old man.

“Having babies is basic.”

Also, from the perspective of 1995, Niven foresaw world population of eighteen billion, resulting is a kind of subsistence-level existence for many. “I don’t see how we can avoid the crowding or the rigid dictatorial population control without the blessing of a major war or plague.” Malthus has at least one disciple. In contrast, even China has abandoned its draconian one-child policy. World population has not yet stabilize (and a lot could go wrong even then), but it appears that world population will peak nearer ten billion. Body part transplants play a major role in several tales, as he explores the morality of harvesting parts from unwilling donors. Niven claims, “India has been disassembling condemned criminals for transplants since 1964.”

“Nobody looks like a killer when he’s asleep.”

Side note: Niven assumes believe the great discovers will still be made by brilliant, if eccentric people like Howard Hughes and Albert Einstein.

Quibbles: A lunar landing would not “pass north of the city and curved around.” A high-powered continuous wave laser would explode flesh, not neatly slice it. (Seen Star Wars too many times.)

“Criminals don’t like locked doors.”

Book Review: Sword of the Bright Lady by M. C. Planck (Four Stars)

Book Review: Sword of the Bright Lady (World of Prime #1) by M. C. Planck

Four Stars

“Sometimes peoples would rather cling to a pretty lie than face an ugly truth, especially if the lie is one they’ve told themselves about themselves.”

Kept from being a typical Connecticut Yankee in medieval European culture by the strong internal voice of our displaced protagonist and his strong sense of right and wrong. Better than average story of a stranger in a strange land.

“… with hope came fear. The mixture was indistinguishable from anger.”

Both magic and faith work, the latter healing and rejuvenating. The former produces fireballs.

“I must respect the will of the gods, assuming I can figure out what that is.”

Humor is integral to the story. Christopher recognizes the emperor’s clothes, but also sees worth and potential in his rustic new surroundings.

“This is how we defeat Evil. It cannot comprehend Good. Well, that and fireballs.”

Minor typos, such as “abject lessons.”

“My cynicism remains untroubled by hope.”

Cover art quibble: a revolving receiver rifle pictured while the text describes a rolling block design. Very different looking.

“You underestimate yourself. Stop it. It’s stupid and weak.”

Review: The Age of Alexander: Nine Greek Lives by Plutarch Four Stars

Review: The Age of Alexander: Nine Greek Lives by Plutarch

Four Stars

“War has an appetite that cannot be satisfied by quotas.” Hegesippus

Plutarch’s Parallel Lives was the primary source for the history of Rome and Greece during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, this volume covers the period after Athens fall from supremacy in the Greek-speaking world.

“… and deliver the state from the habit of pandering to the mob, a disease scarcely less pernicious than tyranny itself.” (Some things never change)

Plutarch’s Lives influenced art and literature as well as politics and history. Shakespeare based his ancient history plays on Plutarch, occasionally quoting him verbatim.

“The truth is that the great majority of mankind are more offended by a contemptuous word than a hostile action, and find it easier to put up with an injury than an insult.”

Ian Scott-Kilvert’s English translation is clear and readable, if occasionally colloquial. Every day English has evolved since the 1970s.

“To show kindness only to one’s friends and benefactors is no proof of having acquired such self-control: the real test for a man who has been wronged to be able to show compassion and moderation to the evil-doers.”

The serious student of history may look elsewhere for greater authority, but the rest of us are enlightened and entertained by Plutarch’s commentary on the lives of the movers and shakers during a time which reads to us like epic fantasy: Descendants of Heracles, mythic tasks, loyalty and betrayal, heroes and tyrants.

“One more victory like that over the Romans will destroy us completely.” Pyrrhus

Book Review: The Bones You Have Cast Down by Jean Huets (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Bones You Have Cast Down by Jean Huets

Four Stars

“A part of me grieved for myself.”

A storytelling treasure. Huets transports the reader into the mind of a young fifteenth century Italian with all the assurance and intimacy which one expects of a modern bard. The sights, smells, feel of Renaissance Italy seep from every pore of the story. The Inquisition lurks in the shadows. Speculative elements are deftly melded into the mix.

“For a more virtuous person, no doubt, friendship would have trumped rage. Not for me.”

The fifteenth century was a seedbed for religious innovation, mostly aimed as real or imagined abuses practiced by the Roman Catholic Church. The Inquisition zealously sought the heretics; usually the civil authorities meted punishment. The contemporaneous history of the Cathars, Waldensians and Hussites underscores Continue reading

Book Review: Of Treasons Born by J. L. Doty (Three Stars)

Book Review: Of Treasons Born (Treason Cycle) by J. L. Doty

Three Stars

“Victory was never sweet; it was merely a relief.”

Better than average pace opera. Hard science fiction. Run Silent Run Deep meets Starship Troopers.

“His emotions were all sharp edges and angry corners.”

Good feel of shipboard operations. Decimal time reminds the reader of the otherness of this era.

“Only when he got back to the edge of death did he feel alive.”

Quibbles: Like most faster-than-light or near light speed space writers, Doty forgets the impact of time dilation. It would next to impossible to synchronize so many actors and movements. “The best laid plans” can’t be synchronized. Twice uses “auspiciously” when he means “ostensibly.”

“For them it’s over. For us it goes on.”