Book Review: Past Imperative (The Great Game #1) by Dave Duncan (three stars)

Book Review: Past Imperative (The Great Game #1) by Dave Duncan (three stars)

“None of it made real-world sense, nor ever would. You could not expect Sherlock Holmes if you already had Merlin.”

Engaging story of people and places who are not what they seem, or even what they themselves believe them to be. Draws on English archetypes and supposed religious prophecy on an almost-parallel world. Bounces between fantasy and science fiction as easily as between the universes portrayed. A small side of historical fiction. Previous exposure to Shakespeare not required but enhances the fun.

“She ducked into a doorway and made herself as flat as paint.”

Both protagonists are unwitting and unwilling pawns in a greater game. Drawing them toward each other compounds their confusion. Great fun for the reader.

“How can I tell if they’re friends or enemies?” “Well, look out for johnnies in black gowns like monks. They’re called ‘reapers’ and they’re deadly. They can slay a chap with a touch. Otherwise—friends will help you. If they try to kill you, assume they’re enemies.” “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Book Review: Age of Ash (Kithamar #1) by Daniel Abraham (three stars)

Book Review: Age of Ash (Kithamar #1) by Daniel Abraham (three stars)

“It was as if she’d known all along that the dream was only a dream, and that someday she’d have to wake up. The only difference between then and now was that the day had come.” 

Well-written quasi-Medieval fantasy with strong female characters. Believable inner voice of friends who become adversaries as they try to figure out who they are and how they fit.

The sunlight felt weak, strained through the clouds like milk through cheesecloth. 

Plot involves many well-handled handoffs between point of view characters. Occasional, mild humor. Excessive and gratuitous profanity.

She felt something loosen in her chest. Relief flowed into her, so profound it could have been sorrow. 

Book Review: Time and Again by Jack Finney (four stars)

(cover of ebook I read, not paperback)

Book Review: Time and Again (Time #1) by Jack Finney (four stars)

“Has it occurred to you that we may all be nuts, and that you’ve wandered into an immense booby-hatch?” “That’s why I joined up.” “Good; obviously you’re the type we need.” 

Excellent story. May be fantasy, historical fiction, humor, social commentary, or romance, but not science fiction, though that’s what most people call it. Folks learn to time travel by positive thinking. Kind of like Dorothy without ruby slippers. Well developed, well written. Lots of neat trivia about 1880s New York City. “This kind of research becomes time-wasting foolishness, but fun,” Finney. Fun reading, too.

‘We don’t care very much about what happens to our poor, but the nineteenth century cared even less, it seems to me.’ 

Published in 1970. A time capsule of life that is as remote to many current readers as the Middle Ages. Even the differences between 1970 and now are striking. Nice illustrations. Logic and continuity gaps, but they hardly spoil the fun. Many unsupported opinions but that’s why people write science fiction, or whatever this is. New Yorkers will enjoy it most.

‘He developed and printed his own films; there were a couple dozen of them strung out on a line like a washing.’

Quibbles. Photography in 1882 was expensive, awkward, and stinky. Unlikely someone would do it in their boarding house room. Travelers seem locked in place and time, except when they’re not. Almost like wishing on a star. Several dateline anachronisms. The protagonist doesn’t understand what low profile means; he calls attention to himself at every turn.

‘It is becoming more and more certain, as science uses an almost brand-new ability to pull apart the deepest puzzles of the universe, that we need not and should not necessarily do something only because we’ve learned how.’ 

“In the [Somewhere in Time movie], [Christopher] Reeve’s character consults with a Dr. Finney …, a time travel theorist. This is a deliberate nod to author Jack Finney, whose novel Time and Again, published five years before Richard Matheson’s 1975 novel Bid Time Return, on which this film is based, features an almost identical theory on the mechanics of time travel.” Wikipedia

‘If in my own time I couldn’t stand by and allow the life of a girl I knew and liked to be destroyed if I could prevent it, I finally knew that I couldn’t do it here either.’ 

Book Review: X Troop: The Secret Jewish Commandos of World War II by Leah Garrett (four stars)

Book Review: X Troop: The Secret Jewish Commandos of World War II by Leah Garrett (four stars)

‘Although he had escaped internment, as he said later, the impact of being classified as an enemy alien had a profound effect on [Colin Anson]. It made him feel, as he said later, as if he had to “apologize for every breath of English air.”’

Well-documented history of a unique unit of the British army in World War Two consisting almost exclusively of young German and Austrian Jews who had barely escaped the wrath of Hitler only to be mistrusted by the British. Wherever and whatever the mission, if it was important one or two X Troopers probably led the way.

“We were reborn in Aberdovey [training site]. As far as I was concerned, five years living as a pariah and four years of being an enemy alien were behind us, and we were somebody new now.” Manfred Gans

Garrett writes a clear and compelling story of courage and heroism. She deserves credit for assuring this tale is documented and recorded. The text begs proofing and tightening.

‘Of the forty-five X Troopers who had landed in Normandy on D-Day, more than half, twenty-seven, had been killed, wounded, or taken prisoner.’

The sad epilogue to these men’s service was that the country for which they sacrificed, and many died, begrudged them recognition. They were patched up, promoted, and sent back into the fight. When it was over, they were again classified as enemy aliens and barred from further service. They were eventually granted citizenship, but to this day their Jewishness is obscured.

Oft I listened to the chime, To the dulcet, ringing rhyme,

Of the bells of Aberdovey. I first hear them years ago

When, careless and light-hearted, I thought not of coming woe,

Nor of bright days departed; Now those hours are past and gone,

And when the strife of life is done, Peace is found in heaven alone,

Says the bells of Aberdovey.

Book Review: Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel (three stars)

Book Review: Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel (three stars)

‘When have we ever believed that the world wasn’t ending?’

A multi-folded plot reminiscent of a Heinlein novel. Time travel provides the means and a pandemic the motive for this tangled skein. Technically sufficient but unconvincing.

“When I say it’s a dangerous job, I mean I wouldn’t want anyone I love to do it.”

Characterizations are solid, if stolid. Hard to become attached to even the well-meaning protagonist. Very much a pandemic novel. Strokes all the correct keys but fails to make music.

‘If definitive proof emerges that we’re living in a simulation, the correct response to that news will be So what. A life lived in a simulation is still a life.’

Book Review: The Hard SF Renaissance, David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, editors. (Three stars)

Book Review: The Hard SF Renaissance, David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, editors. (Three stars)

“We’re not building a future, we’re building weapons.” 

Much better-than-average SF anthology, which is admittedly a low bar. Most of the stories engage the mind as well as the emotions of the reader with a variety of characters and plots. Published in 2002. A monolithic worldview.

“Hey, wait—if you’re dead, then how can you be here?” “Because I’m not here, silly. I’m a fig-newton of your overactive imagination.” 

Many stories represent the best of their respective authors. Unfortunately, even here there’s some sloppy science. Certainly the cream of the last two decades of the twentieth century. From a certain point of view. (see below)

‘School was a place where mostly they taught you stuff that had nothing to do with the real world. Jonathan secretly reckoned that quadratic equations just didn’t ever happen outside the classroom.’ 

When are people being political? When they declare—time and again—they’re not political. That applies here, though not so overt and insulting as the rants from both sides now.

“Fast, cheap, and out of control.” “Exactly, man. If this stuff ever got loose in the real world, it would mean the end of everything we know.” 

Book Review: Devices and Desires by K. J. Parker (four stars)

Book Review: Devices and Desires (Engineer Trilogy #1) by K. J. Parker (four stars)

“It’s remarkable the truly stupid things people can do just because it’s expected of them, or they think it’s expected of them.”

Engaging quasi-steampunk tale of technology and love. Renaissance northern Italy vibe. Well-developed, believable characters. Most everyone knows they don’t know what they’re doing. The few who think they do are wrong. Except maybe one.

“Be specially polite to people who annoy you. True feelings are for true friends.”

Believable, deeply introspective large cast of people whose competing desires drive them to manipulate themselves and others. Meaning well is not enough.

‘He’d learned something important today, and he had no idea what it was.’

A bunch of sub-system maximizers, whose assumptions, goals, and efforts misalign with everyone else’s. And often with their own. I’ve known engineers like these.

“I’ve been a politician now for fifteen years, I wouldn’t know my depth if I fell in it. But I’m sure there’s something I’ve missed, and I don’t know where.”

Satisfying end with hooks to draw readers to next story. It can be done. Just because Tolkien didn’t do it, everyone thinks they have a bye. Judicious use of profanity, no sex, lots of deceit, even more well-meant bungling.

‘Love’s always the most dangerous thing; so much of the unhappiness and quite a lot of the evil in the world comes directly out of it.’

Book Review: World Without Stars by Poul Anderson (four stars)

Book Review: World Without Stars by Poul Anderson (four stars)

“Earth’s no place for a live man to live any more.”

Published in 1961 before we launched a man into space, let alone walked on the moon (not to mention a couple years before Star Trek debuted), this story of extra-galactic exploration holds up well.  Hardly hard SF as humanoid aliens abound, Anderson respects science enough to at least address faster-than-light travel, etc.

‘At least, there was no conscious hatred. Down underneath, I don’t know. We threatened their whole existence. You see, they were gods.’

Ahead of his time in hinting at social and sexual trends a half century away, Anderson nevertheless writes an all-male adventure story related as much to war as space exploration. The climax is telegraphed sufficiently that it will not surprise many readers.

“Don’t be romantic. You haven’t got the face for it. The object of the game is to stay alive, and get back our people and our stuff.

Anachronisms abound. Cigars and pipes portrayed as normal. Patriotism assumed, hardly the case in anything of this century. Microelectronics not conceived of.

“When free folk know what freedom costs and how to meet that cost, they are hard indeed to overcome.”

Book Review: Tales of the Thieftaker D. B. Jackson (four stars)

Book Review: Tales of the Thieftaker (Thieftaker Chronicles #0.5) by D. B. Jackson (four stars)

“That’s probably more than we deserve.” “What we deserve and what befalls us are seldom one and the same.”

Better than average anthology of shorter stories. Many explore Ethan Kaille’s history, but “The Ruby Blade” is an essential background story for Thieftaker readers. “The Witch of Dedham” is poignant. All are standalone tales therefore necessitating much repetition of backstory.

“We don’t call ourselves witches. We’re conjurers, spellmakers, spellers even. Preachers rail against witchery as a tool of the devil. I don’t believe there’s evil in what I do.”

Eighteenth-century Boston and seafaring details enhance credibility. Anachronistic public displays of affection and “living in sin” which would have been as bad as witchcraft in that day, but mild to modern sensibilities.

“And I couldn’t stand to be relegated to such a place.” “And that’s your problem. You see a place. I see a life. There’s a difference.” “Dear God, I don’t know whether to weep or vomit.”