Book Review: Tales of Old Earth: Stories by Michael Swanwick (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Tales of Old Earth: Stories by Michael Swanwick

(Four Stars)

“You won’t find the natural state here. We’re living in the aftermath.”

A really good collection of short stories. Many good stories about beginnings and endings, especially endings which may be beginnings. Lots of cliffhangers. Some post-apocalyptic, some deeply introspective. Some funny, some tragic, most thought provoking. All well fashioned.

“Self is an illusion … a fairy tale that your assemblers, sorters and functional transients tell each other.”

Swanwick has a gift with word images. Out of a few words, he fashions a complete context.

“…as cozy and snug as the inside of a walnut.”

Skip the Introduction Continue reading

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Book Review: Encounters Unforeseen: 1492 Retold by Andrew Rowen (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Encounters Unforeseen: 1492 Retold by Andrew Rowen

(Four Stars)

“The sea has protected our people from whatever lies beyond.”

A monumental effort. Deep historical research marred by modern, irrelevant speculation. The depth and detail Rowen attempts leads to so many narrative threads and point-of-view characters (often hopping from one head to another mid-paragraph) that keeping track is a challenge. Too much exposition disguised as narrative. Slow going, but worth the effort.

“The bones of the dead are food for the living.”

A strong point is the evenhanded depiction of the varied beliefs, even when the thoughts or actions seem reprehensible to modern sensitivities. Rowen doesn’t shy away from Continue reading

Book Review: Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Four Stars

“You know the secret which is the key to my life.”

Unexpectedly good fiction. As deep and introspective as the best modern storytelling though written 150 years ago. Nineteenth century England produced many treasures apparently hidden to American readers by the glare of modernity. A mystery and a romance, of sorts. Based, as they say today, on a true story.

“Life is such a troublesome matter … that it’s as well even to take its blessings quietly.”

Braddon takes the reader deep into both male and female characters. That all is not as it appears is obvious, but what it turns out to be Continue reading

Book Review: A Pillar of Iron: A Novel of Ancient Rome by Taylor Caldwell (Four Stars)

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Book Review: A Pillar of Iron: A Novel of Ancient Rome by Taylor Caldwell

Four Stars

“Republics decline into democracies and democracies degenerate into despotisms.” Aristotle

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.) is probably the most important man in history most of us never heard of. That he was one of Rome’s greatest orators and writers is secondary to his impact on modern western political thought. “The influence of Cicero upon the history of European literature and ideas greatly exceeds that of any other prose writer in any language,” wrote classicist Michael Grant. Cicero’s thoughts undergirded much of the Renaissance and Enlightenment. America’s founders often quoted the Roman.

“His own existence was less secure because his father no longer existed. Another statue had crashed in his hall of life and its senseless rubble littered the floor.”

Taylor Caldwell tried to change that in 1965 with this historical fiction biography. Drawing on speeches and letters of Cicero and Continue reading

Book Review: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor (Five Stars)

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Book Review: The Night Masquerade (Binti #3) by Nnedi Okorafor

Five Stars

“Couldn’t you be broken and still bring change?”

Don’t read the reviews (including this one), read this novella. Forget your categories of science fiction versus fantasy or your advocacy goals. Read and enjoy. Good story, good storytelling, good writing.

“A tree with strong roots laughs at storms.”

Expect to see this novella nominated for awards, but don’t let that dissuade you from reading it.

“It is what it is and we know you do what you do.”

Book Review: Bannerless by Carry Vaughn (Two Stars)

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Book Review: Bannerless by Carry Vaughn

Two Stars

“You’re trying to save a world that went away a century ago.”

Had to force myself to finish. The premise was so blatantly ridiculous that I had to see if the author somehow saved it. She didn’t. The setting is a post-industrial, post-electrical, post-pharmaceutical, post-religious utopia a century after The Fall, which is the end of civilization as we (or at least Californians) know it. Except they still have solar cars and birth control implants. And a still? They miss plastic wrap? I’d miss antibiotics.

“Wouldn’t want anyone to get more than they deserved, because that was what doomed the old world.”

Villages of hundreds have replaced cities of millions, and everyone lives in hippy communes growing vegetables and weaving cloth. Community standards are enforced by gossip and Continue reading

Book Review: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Five Stars

“Do you think, because I am poor and obscure and plain and little, I am soulless and heartless?”

Amazing how real and relevant this 170-year-old novel is. Heavily autobiographic, it deserves its classic status.

“If all the world hated you, and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.”

Not as easy to read as works by Jane Austen, but the reflective mind will find much to ponder. Many modern readers may lack the familiarity with French (as a language) and the Bible (as a source of literary allusion) to fully appreciate some of passages.

“Inexorable as death”

Brontë shares a social conscience and impatience with hypocrisy with her contemporaries (Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, etc.) but lacks their sense of humor. Nonetheless, Jane Eyre delivers a gut punch of honesty and introspection. Brontë’s novel espouses a feminism fully in step with modern sensibilities.

“Women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts.”

Her critique of Christianity as practiced by some characters would be opaque to most moderns, whose understanding and response to religion has been conditioned by Hollywood. She critiques the religion practiced by some, and is daunted by that of others. The whole work reflects her deep-felt if unorthodox beliefs.

“There is no happiness like that of being loved by your fellow-creatures, and feeling that your presence is an addition to their comfort.”

Book Review: All These Worlds by Dennis E. Taylor (Four Stars)

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Book Review: All These Worlds (Bobiverse #3) by Dennis E. Taylor

Four Stars

“Can we go back to being pondscum? Life was so much easier.”

An ambitious project, well done. A satisfying end to the series. None too soon, as the story degenerated toward being a soap opera rather than a space opera. The android bodies, multiple threads, and repetition distracted.

“Don’t make the common mistake of thinking your opponent stupid just because they don’t see things your way.”

The narrative point of view changed often, but Taylor clearly identifies whom, where, and when we are. I still had to take notes to keep things straight

“Who wants to do their whole life doing chores?”

Taylor melds the optimistic and pessimistic views of space exploration. We will find folks who need our help, who want to compete with us, and who will eat us. Be careful Continue reading

Book Review: For We Are Many by Dennis E. Taylor (Three Stars)

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Book Review: For We Are Many (Bobiverse #2) by Dennis E. Taylor

Three Stars

“War … we did reluctantly and only be necessity. Exploration, well … that was fun.”

Gorilloids, rapters and robotic ants, oh, my! Taylor’s world building and storytelling are perhaps even better than the first volume. Multiplicity of Bobs and threads is dizzying. Instant communication not hand-waved. Many pop cultural references.

“Immortality had sounded like a great idea, back on earth, but there were costs, especially when you become attached to ephemerals.”

Quibble: Losing 35 cows negligibly impacts feeding 15 million. Much better take on the logistics of population support, travel, communication and armament than most space operas.

“Colonizing an alien planet, as with everything else, was more complicated than TVs and movies let on.”

However, despite him dedicating this book to me–well, to “all the people who love a good old-fashioned space opera”–he lost a star because the story didn’t end. It just stopped. “End Book 2” He could have/should have done better.

“That’s why God invented backups.”

Book Review: We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor (Four Stars)

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Book Review: We Are Legion (We Are Bob) (Bobiverse #1) by Dennis E. Taylor

Four Stars

“They wanted me dead. It seemed to me that the Golden Rule applied. Time to reciprocate.”

Ripping good space opera/apocalypse tale. Lots of fun action as well as reflections about what/who we are. Heavy handed on stereotyping, but “Stereotypes are good first order approximations.”

“The backup was a digital attempt to save an analog phenomena.” (of a digital attempt to replicate an analog phenomena)

Engaging storytelling. Multi-threads, excellent Continue reading