Book Review: Letters to America by Tom Blair (Three Stars)


Book Review: Letters to America: Courageous Voices from the Past by Tom Blair

(Three Stars)

“I don’t measure a man by the size of his wallet.”

An insightful collection of “letters” by varying individuals spread through America the last 200 years. Lots of philosophy of living. Follows many characters to their life’s end. Non-chronological order distracts. Writing is good, if obvious. Some humor, but mostly depressing.

“We mortals corrupt the purpose of life, and then we question God’s being.”

Introductions to many letters tells the reader what to think. Semi-autobiographical section marred by Continue reading

Book Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

(Four Stars)

“I was out the door and down the back stairs before I’d had time for anything so mundane as conscious thought.”

Entertaining historical fantasy set in the turn of the century (nineteenth to twentieth) by this world’s reckoning. Excellent inner voice of young female protagonist. Many a good turn of phrase.

“It’s much easier to break the rules of reality when you don’t know exactly what they are.”

Plotting starts in the middle and expands naturally outward. Nobody gets a break; whenever things seem to be settling into a comfortable pattern, Harrow tosses a sabot into the loom.

“… the desperation of an old man who understands that time is a precious and finite thing, beating away like a second hand in my chest.

Few quibbles. “Silver coin-knife” Silver is much harder than gold, such that forming the weapon/tool described with the materials described would take much, much longer.

“I intend, after all, to spend the rest of my life diving in and out of the wild in-between—finding the thin, overlooked places that connect worlds, following the trail of locked Doors the Society left behind and writing them back open. Letting all the dangerous, beautiful madness flow freely between worlds again.”

That January succeeds is demonstrated by the dissolution of the proud, orderly civilizations of her days into the chaos and horror of the Great War and worldwide pandemic. Good job. (Wink)

“A dividing point between here and there, us and them, mundane and magical. It is at the moments when the doors open, when things flow between the worlds, that stories happen.”

Book Review: Willful Child by Steven Erikson (Three Stars)


Book Review: Willful Child by Steven Erikson

(Three Stars)

“You, me, and the chicken—what could go wrong?”

Raucous and ribald rip off of Star Trek in general and William Shatner’s Kirk in particular. Not as cerebral as John Scalzi’s Redshirts; more like Terry Pratchett, but raunchier. Some will appreciate all the gratuitous profanity; not me.

“After all, in the long run—” “You idiot, there is no long run, unless Continue reading

Book Review: The Inimitable Jeeves by J. P. Wodehouse (Three Stars)


Book Review: The Inimitable Jeeves by J. P. Wodehouse

(Three Stars)

“Jeeves is a master mind and all that, but, dash it, a fellow must call his soul his own. You can’t be a serf to your valet.”

Tales of the idle rich told with tongue firmly in cheek. British humor is, I am told, lost on the colonials. These tales support that theory. Without a thorough grounding in class distinction and idle riches, and gentlemen’s gentleman much of the humor is lost on us Yanks.

‘Bit of a snob, what?’ ‘He is somewhat acutely alive to the existence of class distinction, sir’

Having seen neither Jeeves and Wooster nor By Jeeves, I am free of the taint of interpreting the books through the eyes of others. I have no trouble imaging Continue reading

Book Review: Network Effect by Martha Wells (Four Stars)


Book Review: Network Effect (The Murderbot Diaries, #5) by Martha Wells

(Four Stars)

(Second read in progress: Provisionally lowering the rating to four stars. I’ll explain why when I finish the read and revise the review.)

“I’m back online.” She smiled. “I’ll warn everybody.”

Fear not, those who thought Murderbot might survive the transition to novel-length. Our favorite … uhm, construct strides through three hundred pages with his self-doubt and existential crisis—not to mention his armature and drones—intact.

“What are you? You’re a bot?” Thiago said, “It’s a security unit. A bot/human construct.” Target Leader didn’t seem to believe him. “Why does it look like a person?” I said, “I ask myself that sometimes.”

Hasn’t quite the immediacy and edge of the shorter stories, but equally entertaining.

(If I got angry at myself for being angry I would be angry constantly and I wouldn’t have time to think about anything else.) (Wait, I think I am angry constantly. That might explain a lot.)

It’s the parentheticals. Not everyone can sustain so many snarky asides without dissolving into silliness. It’s a knack, and Wells has it. (Don’t look for it in her other stories; it’s not there.)

(Confession time: that moment, when the humans or augmented humans realize you’re really here to help them. I don’t hate that moment.)

Book Review: “An Explorer’s Cartography of Already Settle Lands” by Fran Wilde (Two Stars)


Book Review: “An Explorer’s Cartography of Already Settle Lands” by Fran Wilde

(Two Stars)

“This is a map of my mistakes. These lines were good defense for generations.”

Satisfactory writing, but a pointless short story. Whatever the author had in mind is not conveyed.

“A map of errors, laid over another map that also contained errors, could, in the right light, reveal truths and a way forward.”

Book Review: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (Five Stars)


Book Review: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

(Five Stars)

“Come. There is a way to be good again.”

Insightful look at modern life in Afghanistanand America. Growing is inevitable; growing up optional. They don’t always happen together. Hard to say anything without giving away too much.

“But better to get hurt by the truth than comforted with a lie.”

Told first-person by narrator baring his soul through his failures and redemption. Everything he thought he could count on betrays him; starting with Continue reading

Book Review: The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (Three Stars)


Book Review: The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

(Three Stars)

“He was forced to admit that as far as war was concerned he knew nothing of himself.”

For someone who had never seen a battlefield, Crane captured the wild swings of emotions in soldiers before and during battles. Crane vividly portrays the hopes and fears of a recruit facing fire for the first time. His red badge of courage—a wound inflicted by a fellow union soldier—is in fact a mark of his dishonor, but the youth’s early cowardice is the seedbed of his later courage.

“Since he had turned his back upon the fight his fears had been wondrously magnified. Death about to thrust him between the shoulder blades was far more dreadful than Continue reading

Book Review: To Be Taught, if Fortunate by Becky Chambers (Four Stars)


Book Review: To Be Taught, if Fortunate by Becky Chambers

(Four Stars)

“It’s difficult to assign value to discovery when you haven’t sorted out the parameters of reality yet.”

Exquisitely good hard science fiction solidifying Becky Chambers as among the best in that genre today. Unfortunately marred by advocacy and technical errors. Despite that, it’s a great story. Maybe 4.5 stars.

“To properly survey a place, you need boots on the ground. You need human intuition. You need eyes that can tell when something that looks like a rock might be more than a rock.”

While I agree that definitive science is best done by a human observer, effective and more efficient observation at long range Continue reading