Book Review: British Forts in the Age of Arthur by Angus Konstam (Three Stars)


Book Review: British Forts in the Age of Arthur by Angus Konstam

(Three Stars)

In his History of the English Speaking Peoples, Winston Churchill described this period as night falling on Britain, followed by hundreds of years of darkness, then dawn rising on England with everything changed. Konstam’s survey of recent archology and study of fortifications built or renewed during that obscure time casts a bit of light into the gloom.

This book is part of a series by Osprey Publishing related to ancient and medieval warfare. Some overlap to previous Konstam/Osprey volumes.

Excellent illustrations by Peter Dennis. I have visited several of these sites. Both the photographs and illustrations bring out the nature of the “Age of Arthur” efforts better than seeing them. That said, if you have the chance, do visit them.

Book Review: Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal (Three Stars)


Book Review: Shades of Milk and Honey (Glamourist Histories #1) by Mary Robinette Kowal

(Three Stars)

“There are few things in this world that can simultaneously delight and dismay in the same manner as a formal dinner party.”

Disappointing. I like Jane Austen; I like structured magic; I like historical fiction; I like the writing of Mary Robinette Kowal. What could possibly go wrong? Quite a bit. Kowal follows too closely in the footsteps of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, even to the characters and plot. What Austen lacked in horizon she made up in clarity of describing the world of rural Regency daughters. This book rings false because it is too self-conscious. (Subsequent Glamourist Histories, more properly historical fantasy, are richer and more enjoyable.)

“Jane plucked the fold [of glamour] from the shelf and held it out to Miss Dunkirk, the light dripping in strands of gold that would have made Rumpelstiltskin proud.”

If Jane is so plain, who are Continue reading

Book Review: Black Star Renegades by Michael Moreci (Three Stars)


Book Review: Black Star Renegades by Michael Moreci

(Three Stars)

“He allotted himself a quick second to jam his claw against the control panel and silence all alerts. He knew he was in deep trouble, again; he didn’t need a soundtrack.”

Fun. Popcorn for the SF reader.

“And what are you going to do?” she scoffed. “What I always do,” Cade sighed. “Something stupid.”

If imitation is the most sincere form of flatter, Lucas Films, Marvel, DreamWorks–not to mention J. R. R. Tolkien, should be very flattered. In fact, their legal departments may consider when imitation crosses over into plagiarism. Not so. The plot, characters, and even some of the action and dialogue were cribbed from Stars Wars, et al., but Continue reading

Book Review: “The Martian in the Wood” by Stephen Baxter (Four Stars)


Book Review: “The Martian in the Wood” by Stephen Baxter

(Four Stars)

“Folk tales abound with forests; they are places of ogres and witches and transformations and the slipperiness about time and space.”

What if War of the Worlds was true, and just happened? Baxter expertly weaves a new short story into the tapestry of H. G. Wells‘ classic. Incudes a cameo for Wells.

“Something standing over the Wood. Like a towering skeleton, I thought, all bones and joints. Death, come to Holmburgh.”

While the protagonist is new, the narrator of Well’s story appears as Continue reading

Book Review: “Angel of the Blockade” by Alex Wells (Three Stars)


Book Review: “Angel of the Blockade” by Alex Wells

(Three Stars)

“One of those. Normally they wait until later in the conversation, when the fact that I’m not actually looking at them starts really getting on their nerves.”

Short. Entertaining romp with enough subtly and misdirection to engage any reader. Very short. Leavened with almost enough humor. Love the “cover” art.

“See you in a week, Nata.” “And I won’t see you, Kay-dee.”

Gratuitous profanity cost Wells a star. Lazy writers use expletives to establish character, but continually pouring in new Continue reading

Book Review: Valley Forge by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin (Four Stars)


Book Review: Valley Forge by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin

(Four Stars)

“His presence alone stopped the retreat,” the marquis [de Lafayette] recalled in his memoirs. “His graceful bearing on horseback, his calm and deportment … were all calculated to inspire the highest degree of enthusiasm. I thought then as now that I had never beheld so superb a man.”

Another look at the founding of the United States. While the title implies a focus on the winter of the Revolution’s discontent, the text covers the whole war–in fact, most of the life of George Washington. Because, make no mistake, while there were many other stories involved in our founding, the central and critical role was played by the enigmatic planter from Virginia.

“He apologized to Lafayette for the threadbare clothing and substandard armaments of his troops. Without hesitation the Frenchman replied that he had come to the United States [sic] to learn from the Americans, and not to teach. Washington never forgot the moment.”

Unlike the better histories this one depends on heavily secondary sources. It’s a short cut, but it risks Continue reading

Book Review: The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Fated Sky (Lady Astronaut #2) by Mary Robinette Kowal

(Four Stars)

“Because I’m a professional, I actually made it to the gravity toilet in the centrifugal ring before I threw up.”

Hard science fiction with a heart. Kowal melds hard physics and space flight procedures with realistic conflicts of identity and personality. Even better than The Calculating Stars. She never lets the reader forget that this tale is set in the 50s and 60s, not the 60s and 70s. Huge, but often subtle difference.

“This’ll be the only time that Apartheid works in our favor.” At my puzzled glance, she shrugged. “You don’t know? We’re on the separate-but-equal ship.”

Many appropriate SF similes and metaphors. “Like the difference between a slide rule and a kitten.” “As if we were trying to make an ablative grief shield of our bodies.”

“What’s going to kill us next?”

Lots of quibbles, but only to the hardcore hard SF fans; they rarely detract from the story. One, a violation of Newton’s first Law of Motion, was probably committed Continue reading

The Future of Work: Compulsory (Murderbot 0.5) by Martha Wells (Four Stars)


The Future of Work: Compulsory” (Murderbot #0.5) by Martha Wells

(Five Stars)

“With my governor module inert, I sometimes do things and I’m not entirely sure why. (Apparently getting free will after having 93 percent of your behavior controlled for your entire existence will do weird things to your impulse control.) Without thinking about it, I stepped off the edge Continue reading

Book Review: The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America’s Enemies by Jason Fagone

(Four Stars)

“I’m never quite so gleeful as when I am doing something labeled as an ‘ought not.’” Elizebeth Friedman

History is often stranger–and more wonderful–than fiction. This tale supports that thesis. Elizebeth Friedman and her husband William invented modern cryptography and in the process helped win two world wars and put many criminals in jail. That they got little credit is par for the course.

“The whole deciphering business is based on what we call the mechanics of language. There are certain fixed ways in which language operates, so to speak; and by studying the known elements and making certain assumptions, one can arrive at a result that usually does the trick.” Elizebeth Friedman “She could break a code in a language she could not speak, but Continue reading

Sharing in His Death?


“We rebuke the circumstances, but God wants something to happen inside us to beat death.” Gary Garner

“I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” (Philippians 3:10-11 NLT)

Do you want to suffer with him? To share in his death? We want the glory; He wants us to die to ourselves. The trial you face at this moment may kill you (if only metaphorically) but it may also be the direct path to your resurrection.

Embrace it; embrace the cross; embrace him.