Book Review: Willful Child by Steven Erikson (Three Stars)


Book Review: Willful Child by Steven Erikson

(Three Stars)

“You, me, and the chicken—what could go wrong?”

Raucous and ribald rip off of Star Trek in general and William Shatner’s Kirk in particular. Not as cerebral as John Scalzi’s Redshirts; more like Terry Pratchett, but raunchier. Some will appreciate all the gratuitous profanity; not me.

“After all, in the long run—” “You idiot, there is no long run, unless Continue reading

Book Review: The Allegory of Love by C.S. Lewis (Five Stars)


Book Review: The Allegory of Love by C.S. Lewis

(Five Stars)

Reader beware. This book was probably C. S. Lewis at his worst: an academic tome written in 1936 about his day job, long before he’d reached his peak as a communicator.

However, the payoff is modern readers’ greater understanding of a time and place which served as the background for many contemporary fictional fantasies. (See below)

It traces the rise and decline of the love allegory as a mainstay of European literature in the late Middle Ages. I read it to mine the nuggets of Lewis wisdom scattered through the dry strata of Latin, Greek, French and Middle English. The footnotes, when they weren’t the usual op. cit., lop. cit., and ibid. silliness, were even in Latin and Greek. (No, I don’t read those languages. Paradoxically, it only slowed rather than prevented understanding.) Try this sample of Middle English, now often found on Continue reading

Book Review: Avalon by Anya Seton (Four Stars)


Book Review: Avalon by Anya Seton

(Four Stars)

“Nobody can live a continuous lie and find serenity. I can see that you are not at peace with yourself.”

Well-written historical romance set in the tenth century. Melds what we then knew about both England and the Vikings. Excellent inner voice with historically appropriate attitudes. Better-than-average rendering of dialects.

“Always we live on islands of one kind or another.”

The era before the Norman conquest of England is as much terra incognita to most moderns as Viking exploration and settlement in North America, both of which Seton provides excellent (sometimes fictional) eye witness accounts.

“Now we’ll go to the church, and mind ye, m’lord, whatever we find’ll be God’s Will.”

Could not be written today, not only because it violates current political correctness, but it treats matters of faith with a tolerance no longer the norm in western literature.

“Is she Christian?” “She’s been baptized,” said Orm defiantly. “But what does all this water-sprinkling matter! We Norse do it too.” “I’m not sure how much it matters, if the Spirit isn’t there.”

Book Review: “Redtooth” by Brian Rathbone (Three Stars)


Book Review: “Redtooth” by Brian Rathbone

(Three Stars)

“What did I say?” “You said: ‘I love you all, and I would like to cuddle, but I have a nuclear device in my ear.’”

A humorous science fiction cautionary tale for those who have trouble with auto-completion, auto-translators, and auto-spell correctors. A riff on the intersection between voice-activated assistants and ear buds. This technology is probably not that far away.

“I’m not cheap. I’m just resistant to change.”

Basically an extended gag. The concept is that not all technology advances are improvements, especially to late adopters. Nice cover art.

“The man to your right is a German spy who thinks you’re a CIA double-agent.” “What about the thick-fingered man from the pawnshop? Who does he think I am?” “He’s pretty firmly convinced that you’re an idiot.”

Movie Review: Little Women, written and directed by Greta Gerwig (Three Stars)


Movie Review: Little Women, written and directed by Greta Gerwig

(Three Stars)

“If the main character is a girl, make sure she is married by the end. Or dead. Either way.” 

Imaginative retelling of Louisa May Alcott classic nineteenth-century coming of age novel. However, the folded timeline assumes—no, depends on the viewer already knowing the story. Otherwise it’s not nearly as marvelous.

“I may not always be right. But I am never wrong.”

Nice Sets and costumes. Good music and photography. Excellent performance by Saoirse Ronan. Other than for poster presence, they wasted their money Continue reading

My Reading List for 2019

1226 to read pile
Click here to see the 204 books I read in 2019. Every year I list my challenge goal on as 111 books because I’m too lazy to determine a more meaningful goal. I usually make it. In 2019 I almost doubled it.

Not all were books. Some short stories (as short as a single page) which I read in order to vote intelligently for the 2019 Hugo Awards. Well, I read what I voted on. I also read at least two works not listed, one of them over 300 pages long. The shorter was “‘No Pagan ever loved his god’: Tolkien, Thompson, and the beautification of the Gods,” by Megan Fontenot, available here. The longer was the unpublisher (yet) The Girl in the Wall by Dr. Helen Foster, which she honored me by requesting to beta read. A great, based-on-real-events story about World War Two spies and … if I tell you more I’ll spoil it. Hopefully, you’ll have the opportunity to read it someday.

This year’s list was swelled by my straight-through reading of Ellis Peter‘s twenty Chronicles of Brother Cadfael. I read history, biography, science fiction and fantasy. I found several good works analyzing the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, each reviewed separately.

I am grateful to live at a time and place where I can read pretty much whatever I want. It wasn’t always so; it may not always be so.

Boxing Day in Virginia 2019

1226 boxing day

With the mercury hoovering just below freezing, we were treated to a soft, glowing dawn in central Virginia.

1226 to read pile For the first time in quite a while, my “to read” pile is a physical pile. Usually I read e-books on my cell phone and tablet; with a different book open on each. Generally, I read on the tablet at home and on the cell phone when I’m out.

First, I must make pancakes for the visiting grandchildren.

Book Review: “‘No Pagan ever loved his god’: Tolkien, Thompson, and the beautification of the Gods,” by Megan Fontenot (Five Stars)

Review: “‘No Pagan ever loved his god’: Tolkien, Thompson, and the beautification of the Gods,” by Megan Fontenot

(Five Stars)

“We, who love the gods, do not worship them. The ancients, who worshipped the gods, did not love them. Whence is this?” Thompson

An insightful investigation of the influence of Catholic mystic Francis Thompson on the worldview and writings of J. R. R. Tolkien. Because not only the ancient pagans but modern Christians no longer love their god, this investigation reverberates with immediacy. Not that Tolkien agreed with Thompson at every step, but that Thompson may have introduced some themes and conclusions Tolkien spent his life exploring.

“We are grown older and must face the fact. The poetry of these old things remains being immortal, but no longer for us is the intoxication of both poetry and belief.” Tolkien

Fontenot’s award-winning essay is written as if to discourage readers. Eschewing simple, straight-forward wording, she tortures the reader with convoluted sentences common to academia.

“Elves are there (in Tolkien’s tales) to demonstrate the difference” between “the devices and operations of the enemy” (magic), and “those of the Elves,” and that “their ‘magic’ is Art, delivered from many of its human limitations: more effective, more quick, more complete. And its object is Art not Power.”

Read it anyway. It’s worth the effort. Quotes from the essay may give a feel for the scope of the essay, but neither this review nor the excerpts to justice to the richness of the work.

“Absolute Nature not in our life, now yet is lifeless, but lives in the life of God: and in so far, and so far merely, as man himself lives in that life, does he come into sympathy with Nature, and Nature with him.” Thompson

“I think that … he understands his impulse to appropriate pagan stories as the impulse toward redemption. To find the good and true at the heart of paganism, in this framework, is to participate in the work of redemption and evangelium—but throughout time rather than space.” Fontenot

“All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know.” Tolkien

Book Review: Questing Beast by Ilona Andrews (Three Stars)


Book Review: Questing Beast by Ilona Andrews

(Three Stars)

“Sean Kozlov … groped the surface of the desk for a pen. The pen felt moist and cold. Suspiciously like a nose.”

Competent short science fiction about folks in a jam who find a creative—perhaps too creative—solution to an apparently insolvable problem. And the clock is ticking. (Nice, if inaccurate cover art.)

“There are only two ways to break down a third-order AI like Nanny: a chaotic protocol or a goal-oriented protocol.”

Creating a chimera on a newly-discovered—perhaps develop-able, perhaps left as a sanctuary—world would be irresponsible. But it may be the only solution. What could go wrong?

“…sheathed its body. A long silky man flared on its sinuous neck.”

Book Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi (Three Stars)


Book Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi (Second Reading)

(Three Stars)

The following is my 2014 review (with non-spoiler quotes added):

“I’ll try, sir,” Dahl said. “Try’s not good enough,” Abernathy said, and clapped Dahl hard on the shoulder. “I need to hear you say you’ll do it.” He shook Dahl’s shoulder vigorously. “I’ll do it.”

Sometimes the practice of offering early chapters of a book free backfires. I read the first chapters of Redshirts and, assuming I knew what it was all about, decided to pass on the whole novel. Wrong. This book is great, and it’s so much more than a send-up of science fiction television series. I can’t believe I waited to read it.

“If Q’eeng’s leading the away team, someone Continue reading