Book Review: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (Three Stars)


Book Review: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

(Three Stars)

“Provided that nothing like useful knowledge could be gained from them, provided they were all story and no reflection, she never had any objection to books at all.”

Not published in Austen’s lifetime. The Victorian’s loss is our gain. A pleasant enough story enhanced by insights given into Austen learning her craft as a writer.

“She was so far from seeking to attract their notice, that she looked back at them only three times.”

I enjoyed this more than my first reading almost a decade ago. I greatly appreciated Austen’s character and plot building. Most readers will have wearied of Catherine’s fair-weather friends long before she does herself, but that’s the point. We are taken deep into the hopes and fears (and what passes for thoughts) of our protagonist to see how she grows.

“To come with a well-informed mind is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.”

Not only aware of literary conventions of her time, Austen pauses occasionally to analyze them.  Several times she breaks the fourth wall by addressing her readers in the first person.

“You know, my dear Catherine, you always were a sad little scatter-brained creature; but now you must have been forced to have your wits about you.” said her mother.

That Austen couldn’t sell this manuscript in her lifetime enhances rather than degrades our impression of publishers of her day. Frankly, this isn’t very good; it is fascinating for its revelations of Austen’s first efforts. Other fragment, we are told, were even worse. But that a seclude young woman of limited means could see, understand and communicate so well, speaks for her singular talent.

“The anxiety, which in this state of their attachment must be the portion of Henry and Catherine, and of all who loved either, as to its final event, and hardly extend, I fear, to the bosom of my readers, who will see the tell-tale compression of the pages before them, that we are all hastening together to perfect felicity.”

Book Review: Harpist in the Wind by Patricia A. McKillip (Four Stars)


Book Review: Harpist in the Wind (Riddle-Master #3) by Patricia A. McKillip

(Four Stars)

“He cleared his mind again, let images drift and flow into thought until they floundered once again on the shoals of impossibility.”

Satisfying end to the series. McKillip may feel, with some justification, that this is not great epic fantasy, but it’s a good one. Read all three books in order and at once. What it lacks in epic sweep, it makes up in intimacy and flow.

“You have a name and a destiny. I can only believe that sooner or later you will stumble across some hope.”

Good foreshadowing of the role and identity of many major characters—some hiding in plain sight, others obviously significant but not as they initially seemed. Satisfying interplay between protagonist and significant other, building Continue reading

Book Review: Walkaway by Cory Doctorow (Two Stars)


Book Review: Walkaway by Cory Doctorow

(Two Stars)

“So long as you keep on pretending that money is anything but a consensus hallucination induced by the ruling elite to convince you to let them hoard the best stuff, you’ll never make a difference. Money only works if there isn’t enough to go around. (Weimar Germany tried to print “enough to go around” in the 1930s. Didn’t work.)

Wanted to like this more. Doctorow obviously worked hard on creating a gripping, convincing story. Convincing? Oh yes, because this is a 400-page infomercial on socialism.

“Sci-fi and fantasy are two sides of the same coin.”

Science fantasy. Not because of magic or elves, but the fairy tale that you can wish away limited resources and human nature. A post-apocalyptic utopia about Continue reading

Book Review: When a Nation Forgets God; 7 lessons We Must Learn from Nazi Germany by Erwin W. Lutzer (Four Stars)


Book Review: When a Nation Forgets God; 7 lessons We Must Learn from Nazi Germany by Erwin W. Lutzer

(Four Stars)

“The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory than man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment—or as the Nazis likes to say, ‘Of blood and soil.’ … prepared not in some ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.” Viktor Frankl, holocaust survivor

A distinctly Christian work. Lutzer, who has written dozens of books about Nazism and American popular culture, explores how Adolph Hitler effectively neutralized Germany’s Christians in his quest to create his Nazi paradise. Lutzer explores seven areas—such as the church itself, education, propaganda, the economy, etc.—where Hitler’s plans eviscerated opposition, leading of course to Continue reading

Book Review: Heir of Sea and Fire by Patricia A. McKillip (Three Stars)


Book Review: Heir of Sea and Fire (Riddle Master #2) by Patricia A. McKillip

(Three Stars)

“There is an instinct in me to trust you blindly. Beyond reason, and beyond hope.”

Moderns whine the former dearth of recognized female authors and lead characters in speculative fiction. Like most generalizations that’s generally wrong. This book is a case in point. Published in 1977, it features a mostly female protagonist and supporting cast. Sadly, but understandably, the series male hero … (Oops, that’d be telling.)

“I know that silence … sometimes I think it’s a silence of living, then at other times, it changes to a silence of waiting.”

Simple, direct storytelling. Great impact. Hate to think how Robert Jordan would Continue reading

Book Review: Riddle Master of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip (Four Stars)


Book Review: Riddle Master of Hed (The Riddle Master’s Game: Book 1) by Patricia A. McKillip

(Four Stars)

“When you open your minds and hands and heart to the knowing of a thing, there is no room in you for fear.”

Sorry I missed this when first published in 1976. Better than most post-LOTR imitators. McKillip may feel that she’s surpassed this earlier effort, but this is a deeper, more satisfying tale than many more famous competitors, which admittedly is a low bar.

“Truth,” the Master Ohm murmured, “needs no apology.”

It took the entire book to get the protagonist interested in his quest, along the way he discovers that everything he thought he knew—and he was a master riddler—about almost everything, was wrong.

“I have lived a thousand years, and I can recognize the smell of doom.”

Quibbles? Lots, but none that diminish the enjoyment of the text. Go with the admittedly shallow flow.

“I’m also wondering why the High One has never acted.” “Perhaps because his business is the land, not the school of wizards of Lungold. Perhaps he has already begun to act in ways you do not recognize.”

Book Review: The Dragon that Flew out of the Sun by Aliette de Bodard (Three Stars)


Book Review: The Dragon that Flew out of the Sun: Stories of the Xuya Universe by Aliette de Bodard

(Three Stars)

“Everything is a lie. Everything is a fragment of the truth.”

The collection contains the titular story plus “Ship’s Brother,” and “The Frost on the Jade Buds.”

“… seemed to be perpetual mourning, as if some spring within them had broken a long time ago.”

Well-written, but lacks depth. Presumably much backstory is developed in earlier Xuya Universe novels. This is not a good place to start.

“Tales for children. Bedtimes stories: the only narratives that can be stomached.”

(Illustration from deBodard’s website, not from collection.)

Book Review: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz (Three Stars)


Book Review: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

(Three Stars)

“The key to autonomy, she realized, was more than root access on the programs that shaped her desires. It was a sense of privacy.”

In exploring the limits—natural and imposed—on robotic autonomy, Newitz directs us to consider what limits and expands human independence and the value of human life. Any book which makes us think deserves extra attention. Autonomous comes packaged in good story telling and many well-developed characters—bot and otherwise. Multiple folded time lines.

“He’d asked Paladin whether he should call her ‘she.’ It’s true that he was asking the wrong question, but if she listened to the words behind the words … he was asking her consent.”

Comparisons with Martha Wells’ murderbot series are inevitable. Very different approaches. I like Murderbot better because it respects the reader more, and is laced with self-depreciating humor. Your mileage may vary.

“Humans, you know—they hate us for the indenture laws. Without bot indenture, there would be no human indenture. Human think bots deserve to be indentured, while humans deserve to be autonomous.”

Unfortunately, the story is also laced with soft porn and foul language. Sure, that’s how the immature talk, but it isn’t necessary to wallow in it.

“Everybody is an outsider, if you go deep enough. The trick is reassuring people that you’re their kind of outsider. Just figure out a way to share their problems” * (“I feel your pain.”)

Quibble: “Atop these desks were several servers and projectors, a chip printer, some fabbers, and a high-powered microscope box for imaging atoms.” Even in a science fiction future, this seems rather much to be cluttered atop a couple desks. (Which was the point.)

“I’m never going to stop making open drugs, sequence wants to be free.”

Newitz changes the gender of one character mid-story (for well explained reasons), but perhaps inadvertently she depicts that much gender identity in in the mind of others, out of control of the self.

“The bot had no choice but to fight for his life. Still, to Paladin, it didn’t feel like a lack of choice. It felt like hope.”

Book Review: Amáne of Teravinea by D. Maria Trimble (Three Stars)


Book Review: Amáne of Teravinea: The Chosen One by D. Maria Trimble

(Three Stars)

“Ever since I can remember, I’d aspired to be brave and strong; to have a mission in life; to be worthy of a quest. But one problem plagued me—I was born a girl.”

A fun fantasy for young readers. Good story with a good heart. Lots of teen angst; little humor. Clunking, amateur writing.

“Gallen anticipated my reaction. He ducked just in time to avoid the spray of tea that spewed from my mouth. ‘Next time you have alarming news to tell her, you could at least refrain from telling her at meal times?’”

If Amáne’s mother and the Healer had any inkling she might be the Chosen One, you’d think they would have trained her and watched her. For who and what they were, they were Continue reading

Book Review: Agamemnon’s Daughter: A Novella & Stories by Ismail Kadare (Five Stars)


Book Review: Agamemnon’s Daughter: A Novella & Stories by Ismail Kadare

(Five Stars)

“To launch the ancient Trojan Wars/ They offered up Iphigenia./ For the sake of our great cause/ I’ll carry my darling to the pyre.”

The unifying theme is the urge to power. Whatever the other motives may be for our actions, Kadare sees that we seek power, even when our actions seem otherwise. And we are just victims with evil, but collaborators.

“We’d taken a path not really knowing where it would lead, not knowing how long it was, ands while still on our way, realizing we had taken the wrong road but that it was too late to turn back, every one of us, so as to not be swallowed up by the dark, had started slicing off pieces of our own flesh.”

The three stories differ in setting time and characters, but are all told from the point of view of a close observer, though not the decision makers. Set in Albania in the early 1980s; parallels to George Orwell’s 1984.

Yakov [Stalin’s son] … had not been sacrificed so as to suffer the same fate as any other Russian soldier, as the dictator had claimed, but to give Stalin the right to demand the life of everyone else.”

Kadare’s critique of Enver Hoxha’s absolutist regime in Albania from 1944 to 1985 can be leveled at many western democracies. Whichever side eventually wins the struggle for power, the impact on the people will be the same—indistinguishable from Albania’s Hoxhaism, China’s cultural revolution, or Russia’s Stalinism. Yes, it could happen here; clues are all around us.

“Let us revolutionize everything … How many years of such a drought would it take to reduce life to a stony waste? And why? Only because when life is withered and stunted, it is also easier to control.”