Book Review: The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary by Peter Gilliver, et al. (Five Stars)

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Book Review: The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary by Peter Gilliver, E.S.C. Weiner, Jeremy Marshal

(Five Stars)

“Writers have been borrowing words from their predecessors for centuries.”

The intersection of Middle Earth and the love of words. Who could want more? (Other folks maybe, but not me.) The best non-fiction I’ve read in years. No, it’s not that well written, but it’s exhaustively researched.

“Within fantasy literature, Tolkien’s coinages and distinctive uses can be found everywhere.”

Before the internet, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was heaven for word lovers to noodle around in. Tolkien worked on the first edition in his first job after World War I.

Lore-master evidently fills a gap, and has apparently made its way out beyond the restricted context of fantasy into general use.”

While the sections on Tolkien’s work on the OED are interesting, the Word Studies are my favorite. Amazing and gratifying to see that Tolkien didn’t just invent words: he researched them. In essence he built an etymology for each word, as if it had developed on its own without his midwifing it. Given his day job, it’s no surprise most sprouted from the rich loam of the Anglo-Saxon languages. (“Middle-earth,” for example, is derived via Middle English middel-erthe, middel-erd from middangeard, an Anglo-Saxon cognate of Old Norse Miðgarðr, the land inhabited by humans in Norse mythology.)

“The English language has begun the process of assimilating Tolkien’s personal word-hoard. And the OED will continue to record this record.”

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Book Review: Fell’s Hollow by A. J. Abbiati (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Fell’s Hollow: An Episodic Novel by A. J. Abbiati

(Four Stars)

“Good things sometimes come to the good, but bad always comes to the bad.”

A series of short stories set in one time and place with an overlapping cast of characters. Their stories intertwine, but never seem to end. Shahrazade-style. Have patience. Eventually many of the threads get tied.

“You must accept your fate. The sooner you do, the sooner you can live your life free from pain.” “Is your life free from pain?” “It is free from any pain brought on by disobedience. That is enough.”

Each new chapter jerks the reader away from what little had been deduced. Literary vertigo early on. Stick to it; minor characters in one tale become the protagonist of another. Even the “evil” have a story and, of course, to themselves they aren’t evil.

“She was a slave, Onya.” “A slave?” The girl’s voice dripped with disgust. Tye shrugged. “Some things don’t change. There will always be evil in the world.”

Aphorisms open each chapter from literary works within the culture. Some are good.

“Deny not the whetstone of fate/When edging the sword of purpose.”

Book Review: City of Bones by Martha Wells (Four Stars)

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Book Review: City of Bones by Martha Wells

(Four Stars)

“If you had any common courtesy you’d die now and save me this trouble.”

A pleasure to read; sorry it ended. Post-apocalyptic steampunk fantasy with a protagonist who is an alien to a culture which may need exactly his expertise to survive. Excellent world building. Leavened with self-depreciating humor. This early (1995) work foreshadows Wells’ talent, since exhibited in her Murderbot tales.

“If I fail, everything terrible that happens next will be my fault. That’s the perfect end to my life, don’t you think?” “If you fail, I promise not to tell anybody.”

Good character development with lots of cross purposes and confused motives. Scene setting is rationed out with the story telling, allowing the reader to Continue reading

Book Review: Zer0es by Chuck Wendig (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Zer0es (Zer0es #1) by Chuck Wendig

(Four Stars)

“Everything is connected. And all of it is vulnerable.”

Ready Player One meets Terminator. A chilling morality tale about life in a connected society. Well-conceived and told. Complex cast of stereotypical, but believable characters, designed to rub sparks from each other. None of them fit, one doesn’t even belong among them, and then there are the cops.

“What I do these days is a victimless crime. Money isn’t money anymore. It’s all just ones and zeroes.” “We’re all just ones and zeroes. The trick is figuring out which of us are ones and which of us are zeroes.”

Why not five stars? Didn’t care for the framing story–told too much and served no purpose except as a hook to book #2. Over-the-top profanity–unnecessary and lazy.

“Feels as solid as a paper airplane. It’ll fly, but I don’t know how well it’ll land.” “Relax. That’s hackers for you. We kinda make the parachute after we jump out of the plane.”

Quibbles: Brains may be computers, but that doesn’t mean that they’re all wired alike or that you can just plug in and upload and download thoughts. Twice refers to Sidewinders as air-to-ground missiles; they aren’t.

“If Typhon was designed to protect America, she must first invokes chaos … because they have to be willing to accept us, she said. Because in chaos is opportunity.”

As we become more connected, not only does privacy, but accountability disappears. The real power in Washington lies with the bureaucracy, not the three constitutional branches. And a scenario such as Wendig describes–out-of-control AI concocted by quasi-official agencies two or three times removed from public visibility or control–is possible. Or soon will be.

Quis custodiet custodes?” Juvenal (“Who will guard the guardians [themselves]?”)

Book Review: “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Four Stars)

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Book Review: “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal

(Four Stars)

“What do I have to be depressed about?”

Short story opening with a Wizard of Oz tie-in. Creative tying of Baum’s classic to previous novels set in Kowal’s Lady Astronaut universe.

“It shames me that my first reaction was anger. How dare he?”

Quibble: “They’ve got a slingshot that can launch a ship up to near light speed.” Maybe someday, but not with then-current technology. These folks still use punch cards to program computers.

“The decision would be easier if I knew when he would die. I still hate myself for thinking that.”

Book Review: Discovery of the Saiph (Saiph #1) by Pp Corcoran (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Discovery of the Saiph (Saiph #1) by P.P. Corcoran

(Four Stars)

“Your overriding priority is not the discovery of new life; it is the preservation of life on Earth. If, for whatever reason, something does not seem right to you, Captain, you turn tail and head for home.”

Excellent hard science fiction. A not-too-implausible future of mankind discovering we’re not alone and someone else would like to be alone–even if it requires annihilating everyone else. Despite covering an expanse of time and territory, Corcoran develops the personalities of key players to give them depth, even if it is stereotypical.

“The logistics behind establishing a colony are massive, never mind the expense.”

Lots of contacts with previously unknown peoples. Disappointing that first being-to-being contact always occurs Continue reading

Movie Review: Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve (Four Stars)

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Movie Review: Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve

(Four Stars)

There are days that define your story beyond your life. Like the day they arrived.

Excellent hard science fiction. Despite that–and several Academy Award nominations and a Nebula and Hugo Awards–it was ignored at the box office. Probably because it was too cerebral.

Everything you do in there, I have to explain to a room full of men whose first and last question is, “How can this be used against us?” So you’re going to have to give me more than that.

Amy Adams makes the movie. She has the best part, best lines, and despite having only one glamour scene looks believable through it all. Whitaker and Renner stumble through their parts.

“Language is the foundation of civilization. It is the glue that holds a people together. It is the first weapon drawn in a conflict.”

There’s also a spiritual parable quality to Arrival which can’t be ignored. Let each make of it as he or she will.

“Despite knowing the journey and where it leads, I embrace it, and I welcome every moment of it.”

 

Book Review: Starseers by Lindsay Buroker (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Starseers (Fallen Empire #3) by Lindsay Buroker

(Three Stars)

“Are you reading my mind?” “Of course. Would you trust anything that comes out of your mouth?” “Perhaps not in this case, no.”

More space opera adventures of Buroker’s fighter pilot turned pacifist and herder of strays. Alisa seems a magnet for conflicting and conflicted companions and all the trouble which floats in their wake. The storytelling is fast paced and snarky.

“Did you expect something else?” “From you? I’ve come to expect inappropriate humor when it would be … inappropriate.” “I don’t always make a joke.”

Previously noted the parallels to Star Wars stories, perhaps a more apt comparison would be to Martha Wells’ murderbot stories, though in them the snarkiness and cyborgnetics are in one package.

“I won’t do anything cyborgy.” “Cyborgy? What would that look like exactly?” “I don’t know, but I assure you it’s very menacing.”

Quibble: “Her ship, which weighed thousands of pounds … was resting on a sheet of ice.” No, any kind of space freighter would weigh thousands of tons. And it just crash landed on that ice. If it was going through the ice, it would have been when velocity multiplied its mass.

“A tool is only as good or evil as the man who wields it.” “Says the man smithing a sword.”

Movie Review: Captain Marvel, written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Four Stars)

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Movie Review: Captain Marvel, written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

(Four Stars)

“Space invasion, a big car chase. Truth be told, I was ready to hang it up until I met you today.” Nick Fury

Lots of fun amid the cinematic mayhem. I like this Nick Fury a lot better; he’s got the best lines. By the end of the film you’re convinced this is what Samuel L. Jackson really looks like. Brie Larson, frankly, is why this rating isn’t five stars. Agent Coulson!

“Does announcing your identity on clothing help with the covert part of your job?” “Said the space soldier who was wearing a rubber suit.”

Marvel seems to do best at origin stories. Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel doesn’t know who she is or what’s going on. So we ride along as she figures it out. Great ride. Along the way we find out a lot about Fury, SHIELD, and the Marvel universe.

“This war is just the beginning.” “I’m not going to fight your war. I’m going to end it.”

Unlike so many Marvel movies, not everyone is what they seem. I like discover. I like growth. This movie has lots of both. And lots of special effects.

“I’m kind of done with you telling me what I can’t do.”

Book Review: Honor’s Flight by Lindsay Buroker (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Honor’s Flight (Fallen Empire #2) by Lindsay Buroker

(Three Stars)

“This woman has the self-preservation instincts of a rock.”

More of the same following Star Nomad. Snarky humor; cartoonish characters and story. A bridge story that goes almost nowhere. A little backstory revealed. A good heart, but not much body.

“I wasn’t hollering. I was arguing defensively.”

Quibble: Lots of improbable action with even more improbably low casualties. Unlikely all that shooting between armored space military results in no fatalities.

“It’d easy to be honorable when your life is normal and your needs are met. It’s when you get desperate that your morality gets tested.”