Book Review: Far-Seer by Robert J. Sawyer (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Far-Seer (Quintaglio Ascension #1) by Robert J. Sawyer

Three Stars

“I cast a shadow in your presence.”

A great premise: What if Galileo was a sentient theropod on a Jovian moon? Good development of raptor culture and metaphors. Good unraveling of the astronomical puzzle. Okay storytelling.

“Your heroism saved my life.” “It was nothing.” “My life? Or your deed?” “I’d like to think that in either case, that’s not true.”

Got the dynamics of planetary body movement and observation correct enough to make it fun for science nerds, while enough social, language and philosophy filters through to please right-brain-dominant readers.

“No God meant no meaning to it all, no higher standards by which everything was measured.”

The protagonist is certainly The One. Everything is too easy: hunt, astronomy, love, and politics. He swims in secret allies. One pops up whenever he needs. People conveniently die on cue too. (Cover quibble: saurian looks too like a T. Rex. More spoilers in that cover than this review.)

“The world might be coming to an end. But they’d worry about that tomorrow.”

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Book Review: Words Are My Matter by Ursula K. Le Guin (Two Stars)

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Book Review: Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016, with a Journal of a Writer’s Week by Ursula K. Le Guin

Two Stars

“Listening is an act of community, which requires space, time, and silence. Reading is a means of listening.”

I wanted to like this book because I respect Le Guin as an author and a person, but two stars was a gift. This drivel seems tossed together to justify the selling price. It won awards perhaps because it says all the right things. Or it was her turn.

“There seems to be a firewall in my mind against ideas expressed in numbers and graphs rather than words, or in abstract words such as Sin and Gravity.”

She has opinions and states them well, but with precious few facts. She feels rather than thinks, and she’s proud of it. Yet she prefers “the fierce reality of true fiction” over “wishful thinking.”

“I’d rather follow a narrative than a thought, and the more abstract the thought the less I understand it. Philosophy inhabits my mind only as parables and logic never enters it at all.”

Le Guin admits she writes fantasy because she can’t do the math for real science fiction. That’s legitimate. Others should be as honest. But then she degrades hard science fiction as elitist and reactionary. That’s hardly fair. I like fantasy–her kind of fantasy–but I like science fiction that makes me think about velocity vectors and Hohmann transfer orbits.

“… the critics increasing restriction of literary fiction to social and psychological realism, all else being brushed aside as sub literary entertainment.”

Skip the reviews. They’re good but she both tells you too much and tells you how to think. Many folks like to be told how to think, but even when I agree with her I’d rather find my own way.

“The New York/East Coast literary scene is so inward-looking and provincial that I’ve always been glad not to be part of it.”

Her defense of abortion, whatever you may think on the topic, is among the best I’ve ever read. I wonder what her child would have thought.

“It’s hard to ask a child to find a way through all that [reproduced voices, images and words used for commercial and political profit] alone.”

Movie Review: 12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen (Four Stars)

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theatrical release poster

Movie Review: 12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen

Four Stars

“I don’t want to survive; I want to live.”

Non-fiction descriptions of the ravages of slavery on America always beat the fictionalized accounts, no matter how dramatic. Twelve Years a Slave (on which this movie is based) and The Life of Frederick Douglass: an American Slave are more vivid and hit harder than even the melodrama of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s more famous Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

“No man of conscience can take the lash to another day in and day out without doing damage to himself.”

This 2013 award-winning production of Solomon Northup’s 1840 ordeal loses none of its power for its modest budget and straight forward story telling. Brutal but realistic … unfortunately.

“Slavery is an evil that should befall none.”

Book Review: Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (Four Stars)

 

Book Review: Chains (Seeds of America #1) by Laurie Halse Anderson

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“She cannot chain my soul.”

Award-winning young reader account of the plight of slaves in colonial North America. Being in Rhode Island or New York was no protection in 1776. Isabel was probably more articulate in her feelings, but those emotions ring true. Honest look at the errors and hypocrisy of both sides.

“It mattered not. My bones were hollow and my brainpan empty.”

Anderson skillfully wove historic facts–battles, destruction of the king’s statue, the fire, Hessians–into plausible descriptions of the life and observations of a young enslaved girl. The whole has a readable, authentic feel.

“Both sides say one thing and do the other.”

Minor chronological errors, but closer to fact than many popular Revolutionary War dramas.

“I was chained between nations.”

The Seeds of America series continues with Forged, previously reviewed.

Book Review: Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin (Three Stars)

Book Review: Fifth Season (The Broken Earth #1) by N. K. Jemisin

Three Stars

“Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall; Death is the fifth, and master of all.”

I wanted to like this. Great concept: a geologically active world with people who can interact with earth and stone. Periodic global catastrophes give rise to “stone lore” and a churning of society. Well written.

“You certainly weren’t expecting to have to deal with the end of the world on top of everything else.”

However, the three main story threads are further confused by varying person and tense, not to mention chronology. (Sometimes second person (“you”) and present tense.) Distracts.

“Survival is not the same as living.”

Unnecessarily crude and pornographic. Almost quit two-thirds through. She invented a clever world-appropriate set of curses, but peppered the text with offensive Anglo-Saxon words.

“Who misses what they never, ever even imagined?”

Jemisin is a talented writer, but am not inclined to try her works again. This book won Hugo and Nebula awards, whatever that means these days.

“Neither myth nor mysteries can hold a candle to the most infinitesimal spark of hope.”

Book Review: The Cay by Theodore Taylor (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Cay by Theodore Taylor

Four Stars

“I remember smiling in the darkness. He felt neither white or black.”

Award-winning young readers novel set in the Caribbean Sea during World War Two. A white boy and an old black sailor find themselves adrift with little hope of rescue … and the boy is blind.

“Voodoo is silly, I knew, but also frightening.”

Published in 1969 this is good story telling. The eleven-year-old protagonist sounds and feels real. His attitudes and reactions ring true. He grows … a lot.

“But dis year [1942], d’sea is angry wid all d’death upon it. D’wahr.”

The text is straight-forward and should be easily read by young readers, except the pidgin spoken by Timothy. While Taylor’s dialogue captures some of the lilt of Caribbean, it makes hard reading. The dialect could have been eased, reflecting Phillip’s greater understanding of Timothy’s tongue.

“Timothy are you still black?”

Many good lessons about life and death. All its recognition justified.

“Take him, God, he was so good to me.”

Book Review: Song of Time by Ian R. MacLeod (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Song of Time by Ian R. MacLeod

Four Stars out of Five

“Life … is a series of acts which we eventually grow tired of performing.”

Thrilled and disappointed simultaneously. Subtle future technology juxtaposition with timeless issues of living and dying. Literary post-apocalyptic science fiction. Unfortunately, self-consciously literary.

Brilliant imagery, clumsy storytelling. Occasional homophones or similar faulty word choice. Several epigrams could become catch phrases for the culture were they not so ineptly worded. As if it was dashed off, but not re-read. Knocks the reader out of the story’s spell. Needed a good editing, if not a rewrite.

Two threads, before and after the collapse. Lots of forward and back flashes. Sometimes confusing. Many clichés. The usual suspects (both cultural and personal stereotypes); little originality in characterization. Excellent evocation of a pop culture fifty years in the future. Believable future developments in technology, ecology, culture and legal issues.

“No wonder people believe in God, now that they’ve realized just how useless politicians are.”

Will read differently depending on the age of the reader. After reflecting a while, I may adjust my rating up or down.

Paradox: While reading this book, terror attacks struck Paris. Dinner conversation turned (in a different context) turned to the potential for a Yellowstone cataclysm.

“If you don’t believe in hope, and in love as well, what was the point of anything?”

Book Review: “Lights in the Deep” by Brad R. Torgersen (Fiver Stars)

Book Review: Lights in the Deep by Brad R. Torgersen

(Five of five stars)

“What I think fiction … ought to do, more than anything else [,is]: Illuminate the way, shine a spiritual beacon, tell us that there is a bright point in the darkness, a light to guide the way, when all other paths are cast in shadow. If our stories can’t do that for us … what’s the point?”

In his essay “On the Growth of Fantasy and the Waning of Science Fiction” author Brad R. Torgersen notes that modern science fiction has become a nihilistic exercise in pessimism (my terminology) while fantasy has retained the buoyant optimism of the last century. A notable except is the science fiction of Torgersen himself.

This anthology of the break out stories of a fresh new voice of hard science fiction is proof that Continue reading