Book Review: A Case of Conscience by James Blish and Greg Bear (four stars)

Book Review: A Case of Conscience (After Such Knowledge #4) by James Blish and Greg Bear (four stars)

Almost all knowledge, after all, fell into that category. It was either perfectly simple once you understood it, or else it fell apart into fiction.

Published in 1958, this novel is simultaneous outdated and relevant. First contact of a non-Trekkian kind demands deeper introspection. A good read.

“This is not a question of information. It is a question of whether or not the information can be used. If it cannot, then limitless information is of no help.”

Folks under thirty may have trouble identifying with a Jesuit scientist or politicians of the 50s. The absence of integrated circuits and microcomputer-based information transfer is striking.

It was right and proper to pity children, but Ruiz-Sanchez was beginning to believe that adults generally deserve any misfortune that they get.

Book Review: Irona 700 by Dave Duncan (three stars)

Book Review: Irona 700 by Dave Duncan (three stars)

There were more hints and clues floating around this conversation than gulls around a fishing port. 

A stand-alone fantasy by one of the twentieth century’s master of fantasy series. Chronicles the life and times of the titular character. World building draws from this world’s seafaring nations.

“The secret is to choose the course of action that does the least amount of harm.” 

While everything Irona touches turns to gold in politics, her personal life is marked by feet of clay and an intractable son. Adds depth to an otherwise too easy conflict resolution.

“Sometimes I think you’re crazy.” She sighed. “Most times I know I am.” 

Unfortunately, even though Duncan writes believable female characters he edges toward treating them—and having them treat themselves—as sexual commodities. Cost him a star.

“Chaos is our ally and our reward.” 

Book Review: The King’s Fifth by Scott O’Dell (four stars)

Book Review: The King’s Fifth by Scott O’Dell (four stars)

“It is your duty to save souls,” Mendoza said. “It is mine to save lives. Our lives.”

Excellent historical fiction for young adults. O’Dell drops the reader into the periphery of a well-known historical event—Coronado’s exploration of the American southwest during the sixteenth century—and spins an engaging

But as the two men left the camp and went up the trail with the bags and implements loaded on a mule, I said to myself, “I shall never in this life see them again.”

Published in 1966. Historical fiction of this quality is now rare. O’Dell recognizes issues present in his narrative, but doesn’t derail the story by sermonizing. Current offerings tend to emphasize message over history.

“Let your manner be courteous. Do not forget that when there is no honey in the jar, it is wise to have some in the mouth.” 

Book Review: Beyond by Mercedes Lackey (three stars)

Book Review: Beyond (The Founding of Valdemar #1) by Mercedes Lackey (three stars)

“Are you sure of this?” “Well, of course I’m not sure. It’s magic. 

Too easy. Ever wondered how a story about an ensemble of Mary Sues might go? Here it is. Nothing ever goes wrong, all the breaks go their way, their luck is beyond luck. Boring. Nothing wrong, just not engaging.

“You’re smarter than you look.” “If I wasn’t, I’d also be deader than I look.” 

Presumably written for … fans. Others will find it tedious. Not Lackey’s best writing.

“I think I like your Record Keeper. It has all the good sense the Duke lacks.” “I heard that.” “You were meant to.” 

Book Review: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini (three stars)

Book Review: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini (three stars)

“Sorry. I haven’t got the faintest idea what’s going on.” “I’ll tell you what’s going on. War.”

Immense, slow moving epic tale of first encounters and pending apocalypse. Inner voice of protagonist propels narrative in realist atmosphere of self-doubt and concern for others.

“So what would the Soft Blade do if you die?” “I … I’m not sure. I’d guess it would return to its dormant state, the way it was on Adrasteia. That or it would try to bond with someone else.” “Well, that’s not alarming in the slightest.”

Lost a star over gratuitous language. Okay, one character was salty, but once that’s established pouring on more profanity more detracts. Despite Paolini’s serious attempt at hard science fiction, many non sequiturs knock the serious reader out of the spell of the story.

“Nothing you can say is going to make this any better.” “Just listen; it’s another story.”

The ending is appropriate to the story, but not satisfying.

“I’d rather struggle and fail on my own than be coddled as a slave.” “So you do have principles.” “Careful now. Don’t tell anyone or you’ll give them a bad impression.”

Book Review: Fate and Fortune by Shirley McKay (four stars)

Book Review: Fate and Fortune: a Hew Cullen Mystery # 2 by Shirley McKay (four stars)

‘Your greenness does you credit, I confess. I will be almost sad to see it clouded by experience. Nonetheless, you want to lose a little of that trust.’ 

By far McKay’s best Hew Cullen book yet. More complex plot combines with her signature deep character conflicts propels the story forward. Leavened with humor and affection.

‘Do you wish for the convolute answer, or the straight one?’ ‘Giles, you have never given a straight answer in your life.’ 

Unlike Books 1 and 3, Fate and Fortune highlights the prejudices and incivility of sixteenth-century Scotland. Hew’s rank and humanity are casually stripped away by officialdom and amateurs. His modern sensibilities crash into a stone wall of status quo.

‘Do not give way to bitterness. It is more vicious than the pox, and infectious to the core.’ 

McKay skillfully reveals the villains as Hew remains clueless. Good read.

‘He died,’ Hew whispered wretchedly, ‘and I did not know him.’ ‘And perhaps you never will,’ his friend allowed. ‘Yet we may judge a man as much by how he dies, as how he lives. And a good death, in part, is measured not by how we die, but by what we leave behind.’ 

Book Review: Hue & Cry by Shirley McKay (three stars)

Book Review: Hue & Cry: a Hew Cullen Mystery: Book 1 by Shirley McKay (three stars)

‘May I observe,’ Hew said pleasantly, ‘that if you mean to use that cudgel on my horse, then I shall have to wrap it round your neck. Which would prejudice our friendship, don’t you think?’

Intricate, engaging historical fiction. Readers are deeply immersed into sixteenth-century Scotland, without the impossible to decipher dialects which often plague such stories. Humor.

‘Remind me, Giles, why we are friends.’
‘You for the sake of my wit, and I for the sake of your sister.’

Everyone has their own agenda and, even when they’re trying to help one another, they are often at cross purposes. Pretty normal. Like at Bard, most of McKay’s action is off stage and described by witnesses.

Sadly, it is the way of our world that we perceive corruption in the purest heart, and see wickedness where it was never meant.’ 

Lame denouement. It’s only rationale is that it connects to an actual historical event. Still, it was a too convenient solution to Hew’s dilemma. 

Stay awhile and show yourself. Else I must think you like the king who sweeps us up and sets us down like pieces on a board but does not really care how he disposes us.’