Book Review: The Mongrel Mage (Saga of the Recluse #19) by L. E. Modisett, Jr (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Mongrel Mage (Saga of the Recluse #19) by L. E. Modisett, Jr (Three Stars)

“Trying to be something you’re not always makes one weaker.”

The latest installment of Modisett’s long-running Recluse series. Where other multi-part series tend to go sideways, with little character or plot motion, Modisett pushes forward in time and cast. Lots of pithy aphorisms. Too easy plot resolution, but that’s the bane of these never-ending tales.

“Beltur carefully replaced the letter in the envelope and slipped it inside his tunic.”

A quasi-medieval culture would not waste paper on envelopes. Lower rating because recurring illogic knocks the reader out of the story to mull what Modisett means. A good story, but ….

“He glanced around the small room, no more than four yards across and perhaps slightly more than three deep.” Small?

Quibbles: despite (or maybe because of) the depth of world building, Modisett avoids common American units of measure, like miles and feet. But the result is ambiguity. He measures moderate lengths in yards, which can’t be nearly as long as ours. Why? And his “k” distance measure, while apparently a kilometer, could be a thousand anything. His horses never wear out or throw a horse show despite traveling on cobblestones when softer surfaces are available.

“Unhappily, the knowledge to see things in advance comes with experience, and experience is a costly tutor.”

Book Review: Islands in the Sky by Arthur C. Clark (Three Stars)

Book Review: Islands in the Sky by Arthur C. Clark (Three Stars)

My reason told me that I was perfectly safe, but all my instincts shouted, “You’ve a five-hundred-mile fall straight down beneath you!”

A pleasant if improbably bright teen “wins” a two-week vacation in space. What could possibly go wrong? (Quite a willing suspension of disbelief is required.) Light-hearted young adult adventure which, aside from the alien references, hews close to 1952 reality.

This was the moment when I really knew that I had reached space at last, and that nothing else could ever be the same again.

Written only five years after the invention of the transistor, Clark’s errors in electronic technology are understandable. On the other hand, he gets more science right than many modern author apparently raised on Star Trek pseudo-science. He correctly forecasts geosynchronous communication satellite, for example.

All, that is, except the Morning Star. As everyone knows, she made the first circumnavigation of Venus, back in 1985.

Not nearly the storytelling expected of Clark, but a fun romp through a teen’s wish fulfillment in space minus the bleak themes which dominate modern science fiction.

I want to make one thing quite clear. Although the word “stowaway” has been used, I don’t consider it at all accurate. No one had actually told me to leave the ship, and I wasn’t hiding. … But nobody did, so whose fault was that?

Book Review: The Vikings: A New History by Neil Oliver (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Vikings: A New History by Neil Oliver (Three Stars)

“If you ask me, a fascination triggered by a story heard in childhood — be it from a novel, action-movie or whatever else — is the purest of all.”

A comprehensive investigation into the roots and impact of the Viking expansion period in the ninth and tenth centuries. Much of the pop culture image is wrong, but we knew that. Not that Oliver hews to high academia. Think of this as one person’s informed musings.

“The Vikings were a long time coming. The product of 8,000 years’ worth of lives lived — hunters, farmers and metal-workers; masters of boats, carved in stone and crafted from timber; traders in amber, furs and oil; warriors and kings; clients of Rome.” (True of all western Europe)

Stars slowly and follows many extraneous rabbit trails. Two hundred pages of scholarship spread among two hundred pages of opinion. No archeology project too small or too unrelated to fail to distract Oliver from touting his favorite field.

“the so-called ‘Near East’ of Mesopotamia”

Quibbles: He gets lots of details wrong, which uncuts the credibility of the rest.

“one story suggested by …” “I like to imagine …” “Maybe some of the inspiration for those elegant craft had come …” “I even like the thought that …” “it is hard to resist the notion that …”

Oliver trashes his sources but then builds on their unreliable testimony anyway. He passes off his opinions as fact. Most of the above quotes all occurred on one page. The book’s big weakness is also makes it so readable: Oliver repeatedly injecting himself into the narrative. Reads like the script to reality television.

“In any event its appearance in a village on a Swedish island is as surprising as would be the discovery of a pair of Swedish skis beneath the paved floor of a Thai temple.”  (Not so.)

Book Review: Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold (Four Stars)

Book Review: Penric’s Demon (Penric and Desdemona #1) by Lois McMaster Bujold (Four Stars)

“Pen blinked, starting to wonder if he had fallen not ill, but into some bard’s tale.”

Bujold opens a new series in the world of the five gods with this fish-out-of-water tale of a young noble who gives aid to an older woman in distress and finds his life turned inside out. Good point of view character and a touch of ironic humor. (Think Miles Vorkasigan in a tunic and a functional body.)

“Blessed, if I speak, will the god hear?” The sheep’s-wool eyebrows twitched. “The gods hear you at all times, speaking or silent. You hearing the god . . . that is more rare.”

Bujold demonstrates her master of storytelling outside the genre which brought her fame, if not fortune. Of course, magic easily substitutes for high technology—especially of the science fiction sort.

“It all seemed tolerably accurate and complete, from a certain point of view.” (Emphasis added)

Reviewing this out of order; sorry. Having read but not reviewed this, I’m rectifying my error. You needn’t read them in order, but don’t miss this one. Nice cover art.

“You looked a god in the eyes. And spoke for me. There is nothing in my power that I will ever refuse you, after that.”

Book Review: Dawnshard by Brandon Sanderson (Four Stars)

Book Review: Dawnshard (Stormlight Archive #3.5) by Brandon Sanderson (Four Stars)

“The sea was a strange mistress indeed. Open. Welcoming. Inviting. Sometimes a little too much so.”

Fantasy fiction set in the world of Sanderson’s Jordanian Stormlight Archives. A good, self-contained tale. Good character development and conflict and unusually appropriate denouement.

“But don’t tell anyone else. It’s politics. The annoying kind.” “There’s another kind?”

Independent of the greater Stormlight series, this fantasy assumes a lot of background is known by the reader but still provides a cogent story and well-developed characters. Readers of the greater corpus will probably enjoy this more.

“Being betrayed by someone you trust is painful beyond explanation,” Rysn whispered. “But that is never a reason to pretend it can’t happen.”

My friends know my dislike for sprawling, disjointed ramblings like Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time and Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives. The difference is that Sanderson is a much better writer.

“Sometimes you need to accept what you’ve lost, then move forward. Then you can instead realize what you’ve gained.”

Book Review: The Veil by Blake K. Healy (Five Stars)

Book Review: The Veil: An invitation to the Unseen Realm by Blake K. Healy (Five Stars)

Seeing in the Spirit is all but worthless if you can’t hear the voice of God.

This book was “written by a Christian targeted at Christian about a Christian topic.” It will make little sense to non-Christians and even many Christians. An experiential-based discussion of Healy’s gift and how it offers a closer walk with God for those who seek it.

Knowing who God says you are is just as important as knowing who God is.

Purely on the level of communication, this book surpasses ninety percent of Christian theology and literature. Even non-believers will understand most of what Healy is saying even if they don’t think as he does.

You need the voice of the Holy Spirit in your life for everything. Without it anything can be twisted, but with it anything can be redeemed.

He includes several chapters on practical aspects of obtaining seeing and dealing with blockages, and closes with a helpful appendix of biblical references, but his decision to keep his text conversational increases the potential that the reader will understand and receive his message.

Seeing isn’t a privilege; it’s your destiny.

Book Review: Penric’s Fox by Lois McMaster Bujold (Four Stars)

Book Review: Penric’s Fox by Lois McMaster Bujold (Four Stars)

“You’re feeling guilty about lying to a fox?” Des asked, amused. “Only you, Pen”

Despite the confusing numbering system, this is Bujold’s third novella in the Penric thread. Part of a greater corpus but stands well by itself. The right balance of backstory and plot momentum.

“There is no question people can get theology wrong, too.” “People can get almost anything wrong,” sighed Oswyl. “Theology cannot be an exception.”

Fuller development of characters and the usual spate of ethical issues. Bujold uses fantasy as adeptly as science fiction to challenge her readers to think.

“‘Joyfully he learned/joyously taught.’ Went about in rags, poor man, which I thought quite unfair.”
“Probably had spent all his money on copyists. One must make choices, after all.”

Book Review: Daughter of Dragons by Jack Campbell (Four Stars)

Book Review: Daughter of Dragons by Jack Campbell (Four Stars)

“The future rarely happens as people expect, and even those people with the firmest belief in what their future will hold can be very mistaken. Especially when that person is the daughter of the two greatest heroes of her world.”

A pleasant science fiction series opener set in a world Campbell established in his earlier, Pillars of Reality, series. Humans cut off from Earth become mechanics, mages, and common folks. Though published in 2017, Campbell’s storytelling harks back to the heyday of science fiction for young adults several decades ago. That’s a compliment.

“Why weren’t you staring at my butt?” Jason shrugged. “I didn’t think you wanted me staring at your butt.” “I don’t.” “Then I don’t know why we’re having this conversation.” “Um…yeah.”

The protagonist and friend are less-than-legal-age teens and act like it. Plot, language, and situations reflect their self-awareness of relationships with parents, society, and the opposite sex.

“It figures that some person back on Earth would claim credit for the idea. ‘Plagiarize! Let no one else’s work evade your eyes!’ he said, singing the words.”

Pleasant juxtaposition between a surly earth-raised teen and one from a culture emerging from its industrial revolution. Lots of pop cultural references, which the Dematrians don’t understand, but readers will. Nice cover art.

“How can you find yourself when you’re part of an infinite crowd and everybody is yelling?”

Book Review: Agent of Byzantium by Harry Turtledove (Three Stars)

Book Review: Agent of Byzantium by Harry Turtledove (Three Stars)

“An oath is only the man behind it, and you suit me well enough without one.”

James Bond does ancient Constantinople.One of Turtledove’s better alternate histories. Apparently a series of short stories gathered into one collection, revealed by the repetition of background elements in each chapter. Didn’t disrupt the flow too much.

“Had they not been taken ill, I never would have stumbled across the truth that will save so many more from a like fate. Truly I am but an instrument of His will.” “Oh, hogwash,” the doctor said. “What of all the others who got sick and died in the epidemic? If God killed all of them just so two would draw your attention, He strikes me as bloody wasteful.”

Turtledove at his best: playing “what if” with a key element of history, in this case the impact of the conversion of Muhammad to Christianity rather than founding a new religion. The characters, beliefs, events are all enjoyably believable. The increased rate of invention, and the role of the protagonist in many of those advances, is independent of the background thread.

“After the hippodrome, theology has always been Constantinoples favorite sport.”

Interesting that a major author could write of religious controversies and history in the late 1980s with the hope of engaging his audience. Few authors today would dare.

Not much room for divine intervention in any of that.” “Wasn’t it you who said we’d have to help the Holy Spirit along? God works through men; that is why He created them, to unfold His scheme for the world. You were also the one who pointed out that God had to become a man to save mankind.” Both men crossed themselves. “Yes, but that was a miracle,” Argyros persisted. “Must all your miracles be showy?”

Book Review: The Address Book by Deirdre Mask (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power by Deirdre Mask (Three Stars)

“House numbers exist not to help you find your way, but rather to help the government find you.”

Entertaining book about the evolution and impact of house addresses. Unfortunately marred by several agendas which have little to do with the subject. Lots of emotion, suggestion, and fabrication.

“The employers’ blatant discrimination is based in part on mistaken views of who the homeless really are.”

Unfortunately, Mask often strays from facts into assumptions and opinion. Opinions are fine if presented as such.

“If they couldn’t number you, if they couldn’t conscript you, if they couldn’t see you, they didn’t own you—you really were a free man.”

How does it merit three stars? Lots of good, if trivial facts among the politics. Mostly because Mask’s concerns are well-founded, if not well presented.

“We don’t know what the near future is going to look like—technologically or politically. Change seems to come more outrageously every year. And the more things change, the more we feel the need to anchor ourselves to the past. Street addresses have become one way to remember.”