Reading in 2014

For the few of you who care, I read 180 new titles in 2014. That number includes a few short stories but not books I quit or books that I read multiple times (of which there were several).

I posted reviews of most on, and of notable books here. I don’t post books that I quit after a few pages, but do review books that I invest fifty or a hundred pages in before abandoning. Those reviews are only on

Saw twice as many movies in December (two) than I normally see in six months. Don’t watch TV either. That’s how I can read so much. Or maybe it’s vice versa: reading crowds out TV and movies.

Most of my reading is on a B&N Nook, though I recently bought a used iPad and will read on it, if I can figure out how to get back into the fool thing. I also read a significant number of paper books. Just saw a report that reading physical books is better for you. (Some one has too much time or research grant dollars on their hands.)

If reading preserves our cognitive skills, I’m about pickled.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman (Three Stars)

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

(Three Stars out of Five)

“I got my heart’s desire and there is where my troubles began.”

Grossman delivers a snarky, post-modern take on a thinly-disguised Narnia from the point of view of a young man who adored the stories so much as a child that all he wanted in life was for it to be true. But along the way to learning whether it is, he gains things (some of which he didn’t want) and loses things (lots of which he didn’t want to lose). The voice of Quentin is spot on, mixing pride, confusion, hope and terror in a most natural-seeming way.

Grossman creates a much better fantasy world than Rowling. Almost as good as Rothfuss or Tolkien. His magic is thought out and makes sense. And Brakebills is no Hogwarts. No quidditch. And they have the grace to lose at welter. Good foreshadowing, though he telegraphed a few of his punches.

Along the way Grossman explores the idea that words matter. At best, they meld into reality. Life finds meaning in story—whether great literature or pop fiction. Words help us define ourselves, change ourselves, reform ourselves.

But, because words matter, Grossman’s gratuitous obscenities can’t be winked at. Where he skillfully handles the recreational sex and drugs, he scatters profanity—words that he’d never use in front of his mother—throughout the text. But, you say, that’s how teens talk. Well, they do those other things, too, but Grossman doesn’t force them on the reader. They broke the spell of the storytelling. He’s skillful enough to give us the idea without the words. It’s almost as if the words are inserted for reasons of marketing, not art. If not commercial, at least lazy.

Even with three stars, I’d hesitate to recommend this book to anyone, let alone young readers.

“A magician is strong because he hurts more than others. His wound is his strength.”

Book Review: The Pagan Lord by Bernard Cornwell

The Pagan Lord by Bernard Cornwell

(four stars out of five)

Another rousing tale of the wars that created the land we call England.

Cornwell blends just enough fact–little enough is known of the tenth century–with his intimate knowledge of warfare and warriors to create a breath-taking saga focused on a fictional leader who was a critical part of the process. Uhtred of Bebbanburg, exiled from his home in the north, helped King Alfred of Wessex stop the tide of Danes from drowning the remnant of Saxon culture from Britain, but now Alfred is dead and Uhtred finds himself exiled and cursed.

Both bother him, but not much. He’ll Continue reading

Book Review: The Martian by Weir (4 stars)

The Martian by Andy Weir

4 out of 5 stars

Read in February 2014

“Mars keeps trying to kill me. . . .  Mars and my stupidity keep trying to kill me.”

Totally awesome! Think Michener’s Space with a full orchestral treatment of “I’d like to Teach the World to Sing” as theme music.

Nail-biting suspense on top of solid, hard science. With more than a dash of humor. Really, really good storytelling. The best hard SF I’ve read in years.

Quibbles? Sure, but none which materially affected the story, with the possible exception of the drama-enhancing gaps in imagination and communications. In fact, what threw me out of the tale most–and most often–was the gratuitous profanity. Yeah, I know, soldiers and sailors (and presumably, astronauts) cuss a lot. But it’s too simplistic to load the script down with profanity. It wasn’t necessary, and it showed laziness. Weir did such a fine job of making his cast real and individual that it detracted.

Nice cover art.

“Live Another Sol”

October 4, 2015 Addendum:

Mr. Weir could learn something from Hollywood, specifically Ridley Scott. The Martian movie handled the profanity much better. The viewer has no doubt that Mark Watney had strong emotions and expressed them strongly without being assaulting by it.