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

Book Review: The Inimitable Jeeves (Jeeves #2) by P. G. 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 gentleman’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 Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie butchering their roles, and I mean that in the kindest possible way.

‘A dashed pretty and lively and attractive girl, mind you, but full of ideals and all that. I may be wronging her, but I have an idea that she’s the sort of girl who would want a fellow to carve out a career and what not. I know I’ve heard her speak favourably of Napoleon. I think she’s a topper, and she thinks me next door to a looney, so everything’s nice and matey.’

Quaint, in the worst sense of that word. Hopelessly dated. Don’t waste your time. It stems from a time when upper-class London was thought to be all the best of English culture, just as we used to believe New York City the best of American culture.

‘Burnish the old brain and be alert and vigilant. I suspect that Mr Little will be calling round shortly for sympathy and assistance.’
‘Is Mr Little in trouble, sir?’
‘Well, you might call it that. He’s in love. For about the fifty-third time. I ask you, Jeeves, as man to man, did you ever see such a chap?’
‘Mr Little is certainly warm-hearted, sir.’
‘Warm-hearted! I should think he has to wear asbestos vests.’

Book Review: “Alan Bean Plus Four” by Tom Hanks (Four Stars)

Book Review: “Alan Bean Plus Four” by Tom Hanks (Four Stars)

“Travelling to the moon was way less complicated this year than it was back in 1969, as the four of us proved, not that anyone gives a whoop.”

Short story published in Oct 27, 2014 The New Yorker magazine. Just long enough to make his point; short enough to enjoy at a single sitting. Fun read.

“She is ever doubtful of my space-program bona fides. She says I’m always ‘Apollo 13 this’ and ‘Lunokhod that,’ and have begun to falsify details in order to sound like an expert, and she is right about that, too.”

Humorous apocryphal tale of Hanks and three friends circum-lunar space shot. Shades of Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon and C. S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet.

“Yes, I told her, I had gone all the way to the moon and returned safely to the surly bonds of Earth. Just like Alan Bean. ‘Who?’ she said.”

Book Review: Selkirk’s Island by Diana Souhami (Four Stars)

Book Review: Selkirk’s Island: The True and Strange Adventures of the Real Robinson Crusoe by Diana Souhami (Four Stars)

“‘Our Pinnace return’d from the shore’ Woodes Rogers wrote in his journal, ‘and brought abundance of Craw-fish, with a Man cloth’d in Goat Skins who look’d wilder than the first Owners of them.’”

The prototype for Robinson Crusoe was more extraordinary but less uplifting than Daniel Defoe’s fictional hero. His humanness as well as that of scallywags with whom he sailed—and who marooned him in the South Pacific—bursts through in Souhami’s meticulously researched volume.

“[Dampier] bragged ‘that he knew where to go and could not fail of taking to the value of £500,000 any Day in the year’.† He was not believed. This captain, when it came to action, hid behind a mattress and gave no orders. He was cowardly, incompetent and usually drunk.”

Alexander Selkirk’s “rescue” comes halfway through his story. It goes downhill from there. He was a born buccaneer, despite a Scot Presbyterian upbringing and the four years isolation. Sadly, this tiger didn’t change his stripes, even though contemporaries whitewashed his story as a modern (eighteenth century) Pilgrim’s Progress. Defoe met Selkirk and undoubtedly recognized that he was not the morally uplifting hero the public needed. Hence his fictional re-incarnation.

“He was, he thought, a better cook, tailor and carpenter than before, and a better Christian too.” Followed by a discussion of his sexual relations with the goats.

Souhani tells Selkirk’s tale “warts and all.” The telling is occasionally tedious, occasionally shocking. But the truth tells through.

“This plain Man’s Story is a memorable Example, that he is happiest who confines his Wants to natural Necessities; and he that goes further in his Desires, increases his Wants in Proportion to his Acquisitions; or to use his own Expression, I am now worth 800 Pounds, but shall never be so happy, as when I was not worth a Farthing.”

Book Review: The Thirteenth Man by by J. L. Doty (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Thirteenth Man by by J. L. Doty (Three Stars)

“It could be worse—­you could be de Lunis.”

A fun if obvious space opera. Popcorn for the brain. Linear plotting. While there are certain overarching challenges, the protagonist is never seriously threatened. Yes, half the chapters end with him unconscious, but we don’t feel the menace. The roles and presentation of females is antediluvian. Profanity overused.

“They rolled over and the man was on top of him … The cabin door burst open. … one of them lifted the man off him.”

The protagonist is something of a Mary Sue: no matter what happens he comes out on top. The is not so objectionable as the fact that usually it is some other character who is the means of Charles’s survival. For the hero to be saved over and over by others weakens his status.

“He writes full-­time now and continues to focus on speculative fiction, but never with lasers as a weapon, since most writers invariably get that wrong.”

Quibbles: In his acknowledgements Doty admits to eschewing lasers as weapons, but he makes just as many errors relative to space travel and orbital dynamics. Since faster-than-light travel seems impossible to current science, he’s free to posit whatever physics he wishes. And he does. “His Majesty, Lucius the First …” No, the first monarch of a name is not called the first.“ Charlie watched his screens as Roger firewalled the sublight drive, accelerating at well over ten thousand gravities.” Without some sort of defined compensation, the crew should be reduced to a pinkish slime on the aft bulkheads.

“But should the headsman miss his prey, the thirteenth man will rise. And rule the headsman’s ax one day, no limit to his prize.”

Book Review: Feast of Souls by C. S. Friedman (Three Stars)

Book Review: Feast of Souls (The Magister Trilogy #1) by C. S. Friedman (Three Stars)

“Tonight . . . tonight that last precious spark will go out. And if she is lucky, if she is strong, if she is above all else determined … something else will take its place. Whether she can endure living with that something is another question entirely.”

Semi-epic fantasy fiction following a woman who becomes a Magister, thought to be impossible in her world. Based on the athra (soulfire) witch magic of a previous Friedman series, these stories ramp up the sorcery through men, who obtain their power through the soulfire of others, not themselves. But it’s not so simple. Slow paced series opener, establishing atmosphere and characters.

“You dare not regret what you are. Not even for a moment. Human sympathy is anathema to the power that keeps you alive.”

 Lots of emotion and misdirected motives. Good conflict and inner voices.

“Tomorrow could not be better if one failed to survive today.”

Manages a satisfying conclusion to the first story with sufficient hooks to draw the reader into subsequent books. Satisfying is a relative term, as some readers will be shocked and dismayed at the denouement of this story.  

“He will not be a hero himself, though he will help bring a hero into existence. His strength will never be measured, but he will test the strength of others. He will attend upon Death without seeing it, change the fate of the world without knowing it, and inspire sacrifice without understanding it.”

Book Review: A Pope and a President by Paul Kengor (Three Stars)

Book Review: A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century by Paul Kengor (Three Stars)

“If you are good at disinformation, you can get away with anything.”

Three stars is a gift, based on the good story hidden among the twaddle. As published, this text was written by a Roman Catholic for Roman Catholics, not a dispassionate pursuit of the facts. Non-Roman Catholics will have to sort through a lot of religious detail.

“This book is a work of historical investigation, not a religious apologetic.”

Not an apologetic; propaganda. His Marian hagiography may be well received by Roman Catholics but strike other Christians as blasphemous idolatry. Often interrupts the narrative to note which day of the Catholic calendar each event happens on.

“The point is you must understand the role of the ‘secrets of Fatima’ to gain a full understanding of how the relationship between the pope and the president changed the world.”

Glacial pace; no rabbit trail too small to be pursued. Quotes are often preceded and followed by explanatory text, as if Kengor doesn’t trust the reader to understand. Three books are interleaved: how Pope John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan won the Cold War; how the Soviets tried to kill the pope and did kill many other clerics; and how Catholics believe the Virgin Mary guided and empowered the process. Wanted to like this more but couldn’t.

“‘This book needs to be short; no more than 100-200 pages.’ … I handed [his editor] a manuscript well over a thousand pages.”

Should have been 200 pages. Fast and loose with citations, disguising opinions and quoting himself. There’s lots of good material among the religious musings and opinion, but its not well presented. Documents role of Franklin D Roosevelt causing the Cold War and the New York Times complicity in covering up the Soviet role in the pope’s shooting.

“’Atheist education is an inalienable constituent part’ of the ‘transforming force’ of Marxist-Leninist ideology.” (Pravda)

Cuban Missile Crisis Remembered

One of the first U-2 reconnaissance
images of missile bases under
construction shown to President
Kennedy on the morning of
October 16, 1962 (Wikipedia)

I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was thirteen. We’d just moved to Virginia.

My father worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency at Arlington Hall Station, Virginia, working with reconnaissance photography of the missile buildup. He was gone a lot, and when he was home he was grim. He thought we were going to war.

There seemed no way the Soviets would back down, and we would be attacking Cuba with mostly Korean War vintage weapons, not to mention the potential of Soviet retaliation.

Khrushchev did back down. Score one for JFK.

The crisis raised awareness of the possibility of nuclear war. No, we didn’t get under our desks thinking it’d protect us from radiation, but from the flying glass. Remember, schools in those days weren’t air conditioned and had huge windows.

Book Review: Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell (Five Stars)

Book Review: Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell (Five Stars)

“Life isn’t like that!” he told my brother. “It’s too pat, too convenient!” “This is the stage, we traffic in dreams.”

The best historical fiction I’ve read this year. Bernard Cornwell’s a gift of engaging, informative historical fiction displayed throughout. The reader feels the grit, smells the filth and shivers—occasionally with the cold.

“I just wish he’d help me more.” “Richard, Richard! … You must be a good player, a good man, and your brother will see it in the end. Don’t look to your brother for help, be a help to him.”

He meters out information only as the plot needs it. Scene and character setting, yes, but no data dumps. Unfortunately, the blurbs give away too much. The reader is several chapters in before Cornwell identifies his famous brother. Cornwell subscribed to Horace’s in media res storytelling. Most chapters end with the initiation of some action, but the following chapter opens after it’s finished, then Cornwell fills in the gap before setting the next cliffhanger.

“My brother … once told me that the art of storytelling was knowing what to leave out, and I dare say he is right, though often, learning lines of his plays, I wish he had left out twenty times more.”

A gift to lovers of both history and theater. If you love either, read this.

“They want to believe,” my brother once explained. “They do half our work for us. They come wanting to be amused, to be impressed, to be awed, to be frightened. And they have imaginations too, and their imaginations amend our work.”

Book Review: The Legend of Huma by Richard A. Knaak (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Legend of Huma: Heroes Book 1 by Richard A. Knaak (Three Stars)

“You are every part the knight that Bennett and his lapdogs are. More so. You’ve not lost sight of the true world.”

A Chosen One tale about a hero who doesn’t see himself as one. Well-written, if pedestrian and linear. No matter how big the obstacle or opponent, the hero muddles through.

“I was lucky.” “Luck is a skill. Were you to live much longer, you might learn that.”

Refreshing to read epic fantasy which takes itself seriously. Owes a lot to Tolkien. The only surprise is telegraphed so vividly that only Huma doesn’t know.

“My head tells me that you are wrong, but my heart listens to you. I think, in this matter, I will go with my heart, for that is where belief begins.”

Not familiar with Dragonlance universe, but I suspect this is an origin tale added later. It has a filling-in-the-blanks feel. Not bad, just not original.

“You understand honor. We say—say ‘Est Sularis Oth Mithas’ in the old tongue. ‘My Honor is My Life.’

Book Review: Hitler’s War by Harry Turtledove (Four Stars)

Book Review: Hitler’s War (The War That Came Early #1) by Harry Turtledove (Four Stars)

“‘We already had one war this century. Wasn’t that enough to teach the whole world we don’t need another one?’ Well…no.”

Classic alternative history from the master of the genre. Retelling World War Two without (so far) any supernatural twists. Things kick off a year earlier and don’t turn out the way they did in our universe. The action spreads across the whole world; most of it disjointed in this volume. The more readers know about World War Two, the more they will enjoy this volume; but even non-scholars will appreciate the story.

“People couldn’t have screwed up the treaties at the end of the war much worse than they did, could they?” “Never imagine things can’t be screwed up worse than they are already. But, that said, in this particular case I have trouble imagining how they could be.”

Turtledove creates believable characters who are archetypes as much as stereotypes. A few, based on actual historical people, are as unique as those he imagined. He seems to go out of his way envisioning Jews in non-stereotypical settings.

“Sergei ended up keeping quiet. Mouradian was bound to be right. If the authorities told lies and you pointed it out, who would get in trouble? The authorities? Or you? Asking the question was the same as answering it.”

Much repetition among episodic experiences of a large, dispersed cast. Some of it establishes the universal experiences of soldier regardless of country or creed; some is merely sloppy writing.

“If we were fighting the Kaiser’s army, we’d wallop the snot out of it. It’s the curse of winning—you get ready to do the same damn thing over again. The Germans lost, so they figured they’d better try something new. Now we’re on the receiving end.” “Lucky us.”