Book Review: Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells

(Three Stars)

“The Koshan Order taught there were no coincidences. The Adversary and the other ancestors put the pieces on the table, but they didn’t give away the game.”

Not one of Wells’ better works. Oh, it’s an entertaining read, but needlessly obscure and lacking the savior-faire of many of her stories, but that’s part of the point. Our protagonist is an unwilling religious leader who doubts her calling and the sanity of the gods, including hers.

“The problem with looking for evil is that you then have to do something about whatever you flush out.”

Good world building. Typical Wellsian mixed-bag cast. Marred by numerous typos, perhaps the result of clumsy OCR conversion: like “worked with strange unfamiliar carving,” “the corning back,” “near o the stone bank”

“We don’t know who our enemy is.” “I know that.” “Well, maybe we will soon.” “Or we’ll be dead.” “Then it won’t be our problem.”

Book Review: The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity & the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

(Three Stars)

“The story of an American soldier whose involvement in making the world’s greatest dictionary was singular, astonishing, memorable, and laudable–and yet at the same time wretchedly sad.”

The engaging tale of how William C. Minor, an American doctor, came to be imprisoned for most of his adult life in an English insane asylum, yet from those confines became a major contributor to one of the greatest works of scholarship of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

“The English, who had raised eccentricity and poor organization to a high art, and placed the scatterbrained on a pedestal, loathed such Middle European things as rules, conventions, and dictatorships.”

With hardly more material than might make a good periodical article, Winchester inflates the story with details extraneous, untrue (and he tells why they’re untrue) and extensive excerpts from the OED itself–fortunately, not at length.

“No one had a clue what they were up against: they were marching blindfolded through molasses.”

Along the way, the reader is entertained by the naiveté and persistence of the editors, especially James Murray, in producing this monumental undertaking.

“There is a cruel irony in this–that if he had been so treated [psychologically], he might never have felt impelled to work on it as he did. In a sense doing all these dictionary slips was his medication; in a way they became his therapy.”

Book Review: Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach

(Three Stars)

“If you got any more noticed, I think they’d have you arrested.”

Ripping good space opera. Lots of action and self-depreciating humor.

“I saw no reason to give him the whole truth. Whole truths usually just made things worse, anyway. I avoided them whenever I could.”

Marred by loose, wordy syntax. (The preceding quotes could lose several words.) Tighter is brighter.

“‘Gate’ implies something you go through, but a hyperspace gate is nothing but a space-station-sized supercomputer capable of quickly and accurately doing the computations needed for safe jumps.”

Better-than-average explanation of how jumps work in her universe. Better than Continue reading

Book Review: Element of Fire by Martha Wells (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Element of Fire (Ile-Rien #1) by Martha Wells

(Four Stars)

“I have no regrets, except perhaps my choice of allies.” “And your choice of enemies?”

This freshman work shows elements of Martha Wells’ future style. Not quite four stars, but Wells gets extra credit because this was her first novel. Wells has turned the Ile-Rien stories into a franchise, presumably the subsequent ones are more polished.

“We’re going to be roasted. And eaten.” “Quit sniveling.”

Foreshadows the snarky humor which makes Continue reading

Book Review: The Sinless, Sickless, Deathless Life by Frank Neiman Riale (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Sinless, Sickless, Deathless Life: God’s Glory-Goal for All by Frank Neiman Riale

(Three Stars)

“Man was not made to die … but to be ‘clothed upon’ with glory that cometh down from on high.”

A seminal work in modern Christian mysticism, published in 1913. Riale argues that the hereafter begins now for the believer and that not only is sin forgiven, but sickness and death defeated. (Riale died in 1935.)

“The second coming of the Lord has already begun in me the moment I have accepted by faith that by his indwelling and outworking Spirit I will, by God’s Spirit, be over all the great race foes forever triumphant.”

Many contemporary Christian movements hark back to Riale’s thesis, if not his writings. Like moderns, he quoted from then-contemporary secular works to buttress his arguments.

“The Spirit of life that raised Christ from the dead swells in us to life us into the same almighty triumph also.”

Quibble: Understandable that Riale quotes from the King James Version of the Bible, less excusable that he occasionally writes as if he lived in the seventeenth century.

“All that I desire I shall have. God withholds nothing from the child of his likeness and the child of his love.”

Book Review: Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Here Be Dragons (Welsh Prince’s #1) by Sharon Kay Penman

(Five Stars)

“Poor Wales, so far from Heaven, so close to England.”

Excellent historical fiction. A critical time of Welsh and English history brought to life through Llewelyn ab Iorwerth and Joanna, daughter of John Plantagenet. Inaccuracies and anachronisms are few.

“If sunlight were not silent, she thought, it would sound much like Llewelyn’s laughter.”

Gives even minor characters enough depth. In the inevitable tension between accuracy and a good story, Penman usually goes with the story. And what a story it is.

“The true significance of this charter is that it changes privileges to rights.” “A pity it will be as short-lived Continue reading

Book Review: Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

(Three Stars)

“All the true things I’m about to tell you are shameless lies.”

Hardly science fiction, except for the MacGuffin: Ice-Nine. Humorous.

“What makes you think a writer isn’t a drug salesman?” “Guilty as charged.”

Enjoyable interleaved stories of an improbably group of people saving or destroying the world. Vonnegut’s economical, cynical prose entertains and pushes for reflection. It worked better fifty years ago when it was fresh.

“Busy, busy, busy.”

Book Review: Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Of Noble Family (Glamourist Histories #5) by Mary Robinette Kowal

(Four Stars)

“Perhaps she could paint me with a halo.” “Nothing so explicit. Simply a ray of light emanating from heaven, as if you are favored by God.” “Ah, for that, I only need you seated at my right hand.”

Fitting end to the series: Jane and Vincent must deal with family, that most Austenian of plot movers. But Austen–even glamour–gradually recedes for center stage as our protagonists move far from the shores of England into physical, political and social situations as outside their experience as being impoverished in Venice, to Antiqua in the Caribbean.

“She held his gaze and waited. If there was one thing that a young lady learned, it was how to wait with a tranquil expression.”

Kowal tries to maintain a Jane Austen tone–to the point that the grammar is often stilted–but her subjects are far beyond the cloistered existence of Regency England. Kowal enjoys, and makes good use of, resources far beyond anything Austen could imagine.

“It was difficult to avoid noticing how many times Julian had been whipped. Jane ground her teeth together as they worked.” This was not England, but England was responsible.”

That other cultures may understand and use glamour differently than Europeans might seem obvious, but Jane like us occasionally misses what is right before her. Kowal does a credible job defining these alternate approaches–remembering Jane as many Americans seem unaware that Africa is a huge and diverse place–and imagining a credible response for Jane to it.

“His eyes were wide and serious with the slightly troubled expression unique to newborns, as if he had come into the world knowing how to right all the troubles but could no longer quite remember how.”

Wallace Gray, RIP

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Dr. Wallace Gray died Sunday, February 3.

I met him over fifty years ago at Southwestern College, Winfield, KS where he was the Kirk Professor of Philosophy and Religion for forty years. His enthusiasm and inquiring mind led me into a lifelong study of life, religion and people.

Recently he helped me polish my book, Living in the Spirit.

We saw Wallace last October when we returned to Winfield for my fiftieth class homecoming.

He made a huge impact on my life. I’ll miss him. Dr. Wallace, rest in peace.

Book Review: Vaour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Valour and Vanity (Glamourist Histories #4) by Mary Robinette Kowal

(Four Stars)

“But true love will always triumph. Is that not what the novels says?” “Yes, but we are in the land of Romeo and Juliet.” “What a happy thought that is.”

This glamour history eschews the usual Regency England setting for a more exotic locale: Venice after the dissolution of the Republic by Napoleon. Kowal likewise confronts our protagonists with new threats and new antagonists. The story has been compared to Ocean’s 11, but Kowal’s task was more difficult because she maintains a single point of view throughout, where modern swindler-the-swindler stories depend on multiple, rapid shift of POV.

“Allow me to offer one exceedingly simple reason to not remove to Lord Byron’s.” He raised his eyebrows in question. Jane placed a hand to her bosom and sighed over-dramatically. “I fear for my virtue.”

Kowal demonstrates her virtuosity by melding Lord Byron into a story which had not originally included him, but Kowal’s research discovered the notorious poet in residence in Venice at the very time of her plot. Too good a character to shun.

“Times are hard. I shouldn’t have … you used to be a lady, didn’t you?” “Yes.”

Jane and Vincent’s brief excursion into poverty broadens their characters and increases the stakes. In the process they deal with isolation, deceit and a most unconventional convent.

“Prayer provided only the illusion of control, but Jane was too accomplished a glamourist to deny that illusions could provoke emotions. The same perception allowed her to see beyond the curtain of bravery to the fear in her husband’s eyes.”