Book Review: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within (Wayfarers #4) by Becky Chambers (Three Stars)

“Remember children, their shells still white.”

A gentle take on Enemy Mine. Agenda-driven story. An appropriate agenda, but Chambers so carefully checks off each item that this story with be dated ten years from now. The plot, such as it is, is a framework on which to hang sermons.

‘You engaged in bloody theft and you called it progress, and no matter how much better you think you’ve made things, no matter how good your intentions are.’

A disparate group of dissimilar species (including no humans) are trapped together. Most have to deal with their inclinations, if not their xenophobia, to get along. Stress, verbal conflict, and a crisis to draw them together. Assumes every species everywhere chooses its gender, and it’s the biggest deal of their lives. Gratuitous profanity.

‘What are we, if not strangers and not friends?’ ‘I have no idea.’

The biggest character shortfall is that all the disparate creatures think, feel, and will like humans. There’s no sense of other about them. Entertaining discussions of cheese, dancing, and tickling. Occasionally stumbles over her own effort at pronoun sympathy.

There was only one absolute in the universe, Roveg was (relatively) sure of, and that was the fact that there were no absolutes.

This series started well, but apparently commercial and ideological considerations overcame the urge to quality. They’re still good books; just not as good as Chambers demonstrated she’s capable of.

Vehlech hra hych bet,’ ‘May it be to your liking.’

Book Review: Absolute Surrender by Andrew Murray

Book Review: Absolute Surrender: How to Walk in Perfect Peace by Andrew Murray

“God does not ask you to give the perfect surrender in your strength, or by the power of your will; God is willing to work it in you.”

An extraordinary example of this type of literature. Vastly better written than many contemporary exhortations toward Christian living.

“Do not be afraid He will command from you what He will not bestow. He is living in your heart by Hid holy Spirit.”

Murray thrived in South Africa over a century ago, but his many works on theology and Christian living reverberate with today’s readers. His scholarship and doctrine are at the same time orthodox and lucid. This particular edition was “revised for readability and clarity,” greatly improving the accessibility of Murray’s original text.

“Why have you not experienced it? Because you have not trust God for it, and you do not surrender yourself absolutely to God in that trust.”

Murray’s counsel is arranged in compact chapters, each well-written and organized.

“We are far more occupied with our work than we are with prayer. We believe more in speaking to men than we believe in speaking to God.”

If you read only one devotional this year, read this one.

“As the Spirit reveals Christ to us, Christ comes to live in our hearts forever, and the self-life is cast out.

Book Review: The Story of the Greeks by Hélèna A. Guerber (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Story of the Greeks by Hélène A. Guerber (Three Stars)

The beginning of Greek history is therefore like a fairy tale; and while much of it cannot, of course, be true, it is the only information we have about the early Greeks. It is these strange fireside stories, which used to amuse Greek children so many years ago, that you are first going to hear.

The key word in the title is story. Do not confuse this book with a history of the Greeks, rather a dumbing of Greek history for an assumed audience of young readers. Very young. Guerber commits several errors about the role of myths in culture. (Interested readers may consult J. R. R. Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories” in The Tolkien Reader.)

The Greeks used to tell their children that Deu-ca´li-on, the leader of the Thes-sa´li-ans, was a descendant of the gods,

While a rehash myths and legends, the author engages young readers at the level they are most likely to be interested—even to the point of indicating the syllabication of daunting Greek names. Compared to Thucydides, Guerber tells more readable stories.

Northwest of Sparta, in the country called E´lis and in the city of O-lym´pi-a, rose a beautiful temple for the worship of Ju´pi-ter (or Zeus), the principal god of the Greeks.

First published 125 years ago, the book reflects Guerber’s Anglo-Christian point of view. One wonders why she refers to the Greek gods by the names of their Roman counterparts. (Nice, if inaccurate, cover art.)

Thus ends the history of ancient Greece, which, though so small, was yet the most famous country the world has ever known,-the country from which later nations learned their best lessons in art, philosophy, and literature.

Book Review: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine (Four Stars)

Book Review: A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan #1) by Arkady Martine (Four Stars)

“You should be flattered; someone wants you dead artistically, Ambassador.”

A fresh take on the politics and morals of interstellar civilization. Told from the point of view of a new ambassador from a platform-based independent civilization with a population in the tens of thousands, on the fringes of a galaxy-spanning mega-empire whose capitol planet population numbers in the billions.

Yskandr was more political than she was. More political and more dead. The inheritor of an imago-line was supposed to learn from her predecessor’s mistakes.

The plot is about who the ambassador meets and learns to trust (or not) as she sorts through an incipient civil war of which her little archipelago of stations may be both a trigger and an afterthought. She gets hurt often; eating, drinking and sleeping seem optional—to her distress.

“Just once, I’d like you to imagine I might do something because it’s what a person does.” “Mahit, most people don’t—” “Get ambushed by strangers with terrifying weapons in their own apartments while evading their only political ally in order to have a secret meeting on a foreign planet? No.”

For all the futurism, all the technology except the coveted imago is oddly twenty-first century. Of course, this is not hard SF but at least a nod to something new would seem appropriate.

Poetry is for the desperate, and for people who have grown old enough to have something to say.

Solid conclusion, leaving lots of hooks to follow-on installments.

I am a spear in the hands of the sun.

Book Review: Planetside by Michael Mammay (Four Stars)

Book Review: Planetside (Planetside #1) by Michael Mammay (Four Stars)

“It might have been my imagination. My brain does funny things when my own people try to kill me in an ambush.”

Military science fiction with an undercurrent of humor. War isn’t funny, but an old colonel’s take on how and why one fights are laced with realistic irony. Certainly, everything is not what it seems. Reflections on authority and responsibility.

“It’s one of my skill sets, Lex. I can’t really explain it. I fill my brain with stuff, and expect that it will pop back out when it matters.”

Sent to investigate a strange disappearance of a politically-sensitive soldier, the protagonist discovers much isn’t quite right at the front. Character development and plotting are focused on the insights of one who has “been there; done that.” Well done.

“Thanks, sir. For everything.” “Don’t mention it. I got you blown up. I owe you.”

Book Review: The Good Shepherd by C. S. Forster (Five Stars)

Book Review: The Good Shepherd by C. S. Forster (Five Stars)

“This is the captain.” Long training and long-practiced self-control kept his voice even; no one could guess from that flat voice the excitement which boiled inside him, which could master him if he relaxed that self-control for an instant. “We’re running down a U-boat. Every man must be ready for instant action.”

The best Forster ever. Better than Hornblower. Out techno-babbles Clancy. The reader feels Krause’s pain. Immediate and real.

“A U-boat for certain, and Keeling was rushing down upon her at twenty-two knots. We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement.”

Krause’s entire life comes into focus during two days in 1942 in the North Atlantic. His Christian upbringing, his being “passed over”* for promotion, his failed marriage, but most of all his rigid sense of duty before self all animate the inner dialogue which is the heart of this amazing story.

“Every man shall bear his own burden, and this was his—that was a text from Galatians; he could remember learning it, so many years ago—and all he had to do was his duty; no one needed an audience for that. He was alone with his responsibility in this crowded pilothouse, at the head of the crowded convoy. God setteth the solitary in families.”

Cannot imagine how this could be made into a movie. How does the camera capture the inner conflict. That the name change to Greyhound suggests some dilution. Regardless, read the book first.

“Krause found himself in the position of a man whose casual remark turns out to be true. Now that he had announced that he wanted to go to the head he was in a state of overwhelming anxiety to do so. It was shockingly urgent. He could not wait another minute.”

*Military idiom for officer considered for but not being promoted.

Review: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer (Five Stars)

Review: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany by William L. Shirer (Five Stars)

“Once we have the power we will never give it up. They will have to carry our dead bodies out of the ministries.” Joseph Goebbels

I should have read this book fifty years ago. You should read this book now. Shirer dug deep into the public and private and secret words of Hitler and his cronies documenting who said and did what during the two-decade advent and destruction of Nazism.

“Never in my life have I been so well disposed and inwardly contented as in these days. For hard reality has opened the eyes of millions of Germans to the unprecedented swindles, lies and betrayals of the Marxist deceivers of the people.” AH on the Great Depression

Shirer was a reporter in Germany during the 30s and again after World War Two. He accessed the unprecedented written records the Allies won from the Axis powers in Europe. His not being an academic improves the book’s readability. Footnotes aren’t to the opinions of other academics.

“This burning hatred, which was to infect so many Germans in that empire, would lead ultimately to a massacre so horrible and on such a scale as to leave an ugly scar on civilization that will surely last as long as man on earth.” (Yet only sixty years later some deny the Holocaust happened.)

Twenty-first century American Republicans and Democrats will see parallels in the opposite party but will be blind to those within their own. They’re there. Our unwillingness to see ourselves in this mirror suggests our vulnerability to repeating this horror. Is it a paradox that the totalitarian left which America saved from the totalitarian right in the 1940s bedeviled us the rest of that century as do now the totalitarians (right and left) from within?

“In spite of the hardness and ruthlessness I thought I saw in his face, I got the impression that here was a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word.” Neville Chamberlain. (How many American politicians delude themselves into thinking they can “work with” international liars and bullies?)

Serious reading for a serious time. I recorded seventeen pages of notes; your mileage may vary. Quotations abound which echo into the twenty-first century.

“As an American citizen of German birth I finally testify that I am painfully familiar with certain political trends. Spiritual intolerance, political inquisitions, and declining legal security, and all this in the name of an alleged ‘state of emergency.’ … That is how it started in Germany.” Thomas Mann

Book Review: Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold (Four Stars)

Book Review: Cryoburn (Vorkosigan Saga #14) by Lois McMaster Bujold (Four Stars)

“Let me tell you, young man-the dirty little secret of democracy is that just because you get a vote, doesn’t mean you get your choice.”

Bujold is a master storyteller. Her Vorkosigan tales are classic escapist science fiction. Fun, with dashes of humor and snarkiness. Good reads all. Even this deep into the series, characters grow and change dragging the reader along on their hectic life tales.

“My case budget allows for a lot of discretion, you know.” “Then I wish you’d buy some,” snapped [redacted]. He shut his mouth abruptly, as if startled at what had fallen out of it.

Original 2010 review: Cute, improbable, fun, exhausting–typical Miles tale.

“You’re pretty free with that thing.” “It’s all right. I have a license to stun.” “I thought that was supposed to be a license to kill.” [Redacted] grimaced. “That, too. But you would not believe all the forms that have to be filled out, afterward.”

Book Review: The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christy (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christy (Four Stars)

“But you cannot escape from the logic of facts. Since the thing was so—it must be accepted.”

Mission Impossible meets Miss Marple. One of Christie’s earliest mysteries. Youthful antagonists are easier to identify with than her later, renowned sleuths. Identifiable charters and convoluted plotting are already evident. Mildly political in the sense of anti-Communist.

“I’ve often noticed that once coincidences start happening they go on happening in the most extraordinary way. I dare say it’s some natural law that we haven’t found out.”

This version was first published in 1922. The story first appeared in 1917 during the Great War whose conclusion is the springboard for the current version. Literary sleuths may wish to seek out the original version. It was not written as historical fiction because the politics of that era were current, but contemporary readers will get a good sense of the time and place.

“They are honest men—and that is their value to us. It is curious—but you cannot make a revolution without honest men. The instinct of the populace is infallible. Every revolution has had its honest men. They are soon disposed of afterwards.”

Quibbles: Christie hadn’t worked out the difference between revolvers and automatic pistols. She frequently shifts from one to the other in a character’s hands.

“There’s a difference between stealing a diamond necklace for yourself and being hired to steal it.” “There wouldn’t be the least difference if you were caught!” “Perhaps not. But I shouldn’t be caught. I’m so clever.” “Modesty always was your besetting sin.”

Book Review: The Enemy Stars by Poul Anderson (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Enemy Stars by Poul Anderson (Three Stars)

‘The sea never forgives you.’

Hard science fiction from the dawn of the space age. (First published in 1958) Anderson engages even modern readers with deep characterization and realistic plotting. Plenty of interpersonal conflict, but it’s reality which threatens.

‘Do you expect any trouble?’ ‘One is never certain. The great human mistake is to anticipate. The totally relaxed and unexpectant man is the one prepared for whatever may happen: he does not have to get out of an inappropriate posture before he can react.’

The technical gaffs are less noticeable than many more recent SF stories, though the appearance of a slide rule may give many contemporary readers pause.

‘That is one way to destroy yourself … hoping. You must accept the worst, because there is always more of the worst than the best in this universe.’

English spelling and punctuation.

‘One sin which is punished with unfailing certainty, and must therefore be the deadliest sin in all time. Stupidity.’