Book Review: The Four Million by O. Henry
“’Tis a weary thing to count your pleasures by summers instead of hours.”
First published in 1906, this collection still resonates with wit and insight. Each story ends with a twist, usually but not always pleasant. Even knowing its coming, the reader is rewarded with a surprise.
“The almanac lied and said spring had come. Spring comes when it comes.”
O. Henry loved New York City every bit as much as Walt Whitman, if not so poetically, though the NYC they heralded may be as distant as the hanging gardens of Babylon.
“Gabriel had played his trump; and those of us who couldn’t follow suit ….”
O. Henry loved words: big words, French words, slang words, puns. His stories are a verbal fuselage. Modern electronic readers will find themselves seeking help deciphering his prose.
“In Soapy’s opinion the law was more benign than Philanthropy.”
Over a hundred year old, this story reflects some attitudes now discarded. O. Henry seemed to love his neighbor, even if he expresses himself in a manner which might set modern teeth on edge. (You’ve been warned.)
“We can’t buy one minute with cash; if we could, rich people would live longer.”
Book Review: Rogue Protocols (Murderbot Diaries #3) by Martha Wells
“The only smart way out of this was to kill all of them. I was going to have to take the dumb way out.”
Wells hits another home run. She hones the voice and character of her snarky rogue security unit, the titular murderbot. This plot is convoluted enough that any comments risks being a spoiler, so I won’t. Love the cover art.
“… and your SecUnit prayed for the sweet relief of a massive accidental explosive decompression, not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.”
The stories are standalones but there is a background story arch which makes more sense if the stories are read in order.
“Or Miki was a bot who had never Continue reading
Book Review: The Robot Who Looked Like Me by Robert Sheckley
“Incredulity is not an appropriate attitude in this age of Heisenbergian physics.”
A better-than-average collection of Sheckley’s short stories and novelettes from the early 70s. The title story is among the better. Some humor. The number co-written with Harlan Eislson is sick, as you’d expect.
“When you come right down to it, life was a disappointment and the best it has to offer was never quit good enough. I realize now that I can’t be happy by owning things.”
Book Review: The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
“Travel is fatal to bigotry and prejudice and narrow-mindedness.”
In 1867 young Samuel Clemens joined one of the first cruises for an extended voyage from New York City to the Holy Land. He serialized his impressions as they went, then sold the aggregate as a book. It was his best-selling book during his lifetime.
“The impressible memento-seeker was pecking at the venerable sarcophagus [inside Cheop’s Pyramid] with his sacrilegious hammer.”
Regular readers of Twain will enjoy this cynical, but less bitter younger version. Despite distancing himself from the “pilgrims” (conservative New England Christians who were the bulk of the party), Twain betrays many of the prejudices of the day. He was particularly critical of the Americans defacing ruins, taking mementos.
“One must travel to learn. Every day now old Scripture phrases that never possessed any significance for me take to themselves a meaning.” (at Beth-El)
I affirm that many of his impressions of the Mediterranean and Levant are Continue reading
Book Review: Artificial Condition (Murderbot Diaries #2) by Martha Wells
“You need to make better threats.” “I don’t make threats, and I’m just telling you what I’m going to do.”
Love the voice! For having no emotions, he’s so funny.
“Being asked to stay, with a please and an option for refusal, hit me almost as hard as a human asking for my opinion and actually listening to me.”
He’s not a murderous rogue robot; he’s a security unit who has hacked his control module. Self-controlled. An augmented human, human-killing machine construct, a cyborg perhaps. But not a murderbot. Just as comfort units are not Continue reading
Book Review: Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore
“You’re going to have to learn to lie.” “I feel like I’m here to tell the truth.” “Yeah, but not now.”
Hilarious. Sacrilegious, yes. Teen boy humor, yes. Speculative, yes. Historically unsupported, yes. What’s your point? It’s humor. Well-conceived and well-executed. The more familiar one is with the Bible, the more one will get the joke. Many subtle references.
“I don’t know the Torah as well as you, Joshua, but I don’t remember God having a sense of humor.” “He gave me you for a friend, didn’t he?”
Hidden among the slapstick is a sensitive, introspective look at religion in general and Christianity in particular. Moore borrows elements from Continue reading
Book Review: Artemis by Andy Weir
“I have a plan.” “A plan? Your plans are … uh … should I hide somewhere?”
The good news is that Andy Weir is not a one hit wonder; he writes gripping, realistic science fiction. The bad news is his reliance on profanity to express his characters. (Cost him a star.) Good plotting, good foreshadowing. The usual superabundance of happy coincidences and good luck
“People trust a reliable criminal more readily than a shady businessman.”
Jasmine is a totally unsympathetic character. If anything she’s pathetic. Given choices, she will always take the more self-centered and antisocial. It’s hard to like her, but she has grit and standards. A wet, shivering, but rabid pit bull puppy.
“I only forgave you because I thought I was going to die.”
Quibbles: Pressurized oxygen pipe on the moon’s surface? “We don’t have weather.” But you do have meteorites. “I might have been on the run my whole life, but I wasn’t willing to go without email.” (Will email exist in 10 years, let alone 60 or 70?)
“When does your victimhood expire?”
Weir understands economics better than some Nobel laureates I could name.
“Building a civilization is ugly, Jasmine. But the alternative is no civilization at all.”
Book Review: The Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter (Riyria Chronicles #4) by Michael J, Sullivan
“Are you two always like this?” “He is,” they both said in unison.
Perhaps the best Riyria book yet. Both Royce and Hadrian have more depth. Their relationship is more complex. The storytelling, especially the inner dialogue, is superb. Several distinct and distinctive female characters. Sullivan clearly signals changes in point-of-view character. Why not five stars? See my quibble.
“You just hate being happy.” “I have no idea. What’s it like?”
For those unfamiliar with Riyria (Royce and Hadrian) the fourth book of the second series seems the wrong place to try them out. Not so. Winter’s Daughter is a self-contained, rich Continue reading
Book Review: Age of Swords (Legends of the First Empire #2) by Michael J. Sullivan
“Some things are unimaginable right up until you are looking at them, and even then, you might not want to believe. Love is that way, so is death.”
If anything, better than the first book, Age of Myths. Superficially Sullivan is not an epic fantasy writer like Rothfuss or Tolkien, but he weaves an excellent story amid afresh, if derivative world. Part of the fun is his tongue-in-cheek homages to classic fantasy.
“I hated my brothers. Dead for three years and they’re still trying to kill me.”
Satisfying conclusion with appropriate hooks into the next stories. Well done. Leavened with humor. Not so much as the Riyria stores, but enough. Waited for second volume for magic school, hooray! And the training was organic, taking the reader inside Continue reading
Book Review: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
“Genius may have its limits but stupidity is not thus handicapped.”
Extraordinary writing. A rich blend of science fiction with philosophic inquiry. The casts (there are two stories, tangentially connected) are deeply and realistically developed to clash, promote, love and hate one another. A first-contact story of the best kind. Humor.
“None of you will ever know what it was like and I promise you: you don’t want to know.”
Folded timeline irritates at first, but is gradually revealed to be Continue reading