Book Review: Ordained Irreverence by McMillian Moody (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Ordained Irreverence (Elmo Jenkins #1) by McMillian Moody

(Three Stars)

“I felt like the refuse of the rich and famous. If this is what it was going to be like working full-time in a church, I didn’t want anything to do with it.”

An engaging funny, and at the same time sad opening to a series about a young man becoming a Baptist minister. (The denomination is only mentioned once or twice, but it’s obvious from internal evidence.) Moody captures many internal dynamics which are true of all bureaucratic organizations, especially those with undue power an influence vested in those who have their own Continue reading

Book Review: I, Libertine by Theodore Sturgeon (Three Stars)

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Book Review: I, Libertine by Theodore Sturgeon

(Three Stars)

“Because never in my life have I had life’s permission to develop the taste for simple pleasures, I shall pursue dark ones.”

Historical fiction as if done by Terry Pratchett. The intriguing background for this book can be found elsewhere. Knowing it only adds the Sturgeon’s accomplishment: he wrote a book which had supposedly already been written and did so with meticulous attention to historic detail and plausibility.

“We must present you as rake, not defiler; libertine rather than lecher.” “Libertine—I?” “Men have made greater sacrifices for king, country, and career.” “And how on earth am I to find just a proper scandal?” “Manufacture it, lad.”

Though set in 1770s England, the story is something of a send up of Continue reading

Book Review: The Death and Life of Miquel de Cervantes: A Novel by Stephen Marlowe (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Death and Life of Miquel de Cervantes: A Novel by Stephen Marlowe

(Three Stars)

“But history is—” “Truth?” Cide Hamete supplied. “Because it’s documents? But why should the ledger be truer than the legend? The merely measureable truer than the truly memorable?”

Monumental effort: for both the author and the reader. Extrapolating from Cervantes’ great fictional work Don Quixote and contemporary history, Marlowe casts this tongue-in-cheek autobiography. Lots of literary and historical references.

“It’s bad enough when, in relating Don Quixote’s story, you keep interrupting yourself to tell what other characters are doing, but to be guilty of the same lack of focus in your own death and life is positively absurd.”

Marlowe recreates Cervantes style to mind-numbing effect. The reader has no doubt where the story is going—or isn’t—but the ride becomes tedious. A hundred pages could be excised and the story would be so much the better.

“To submit to fate was the folly of the weak, and in those days I worshipped at the altar of free will, the folly of the strong.”

True believers will love it. Others will find treasures among the dross.

“The first thing writers of fiction have to do is willingly—not just willingly but joyfully—suspend their own disbelief.”

Movie Review: Downton Abbey, directed by Michael Engler (Three Stars)

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Movie Review: Downton Abbey, written by Julian Fellowes, directed by Michael Engler

(Three Stars)

“I see a Machiavellian look in your eye.” “Machiavelli is frequently underrated.”

Disappointing. They simultaneously try too hard (to replicate the TV series) and not hard enough (to rise above that genre). This movie is more of the same; a fix for Abbey addicts suffering withdrawal, but little to commend itself to a new audience.

“Let’s not argue.” “I never argue. I explain.”

While the setting, costumes and such retain a century-old appearance; the story/stories feel more Continue reading

Book Review: Sewer Gas and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy by Matt Ruff (Two Stars)

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Book Review: Sewer Gas and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy by Matt Ruff

(Two Stars)

“But Aristotle has written—” “Forget Aristotle. [He] only covers research and development. This is consumer marketing.” “Which philosopher should I have studied to comprehend consumer marketing?” “Munchhausen.”

Absurd? Of course, it’s absurd; that’s the point. But better written than many similar tales of the silliness of modern life. Better-than-average advocacy fiction.

“So you lied to yourself.” “The first symptom of true intelligence. Selective self-deception. How’s that for a Turing test?”

Still, I don’t recommend this to sensitive, introspective readers. It’s satire, as subtle as a Mack truck. Rude, crude and full of platitudes, though Ruff allows viewpoints other than his own stage time—if only to knock down their strawmen. And lots of profanity.

“What makes war terrible isn’t that the soldiers are men; it’s that men are soldiers. Let women become soldiers—or politicians, or diplomats—and you haven’t changed war at all.”

Ironic. What actually happening in the first two decades of the twenty-first century was as improbably as what Ruff wrote. (He mentions Cray PCs several times. Many may not recognize that reference to the super-computer pioneer, killed in a stupid auto accident about the time Ruff published.) And wrong. Remember when faxes were a big deal? Remember faxes?

“Thanks to the New York Times, newspaper of record, for confirming that even in a rational universe, ‘far-fetched’ is a relative term.”

Movie Review: The Farewell, written and directed by Lulu Wang (Four Stars)

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Movie Review: The Farewell, written and directed by Lulu Wang

(Four Stars)

“Based on an actual lie” semi-autobiographical movie about a Chinese American dealing with her paternal grandmother’s terminal illness.

High-quality production despite the obvious small budget and lots of on-site filming in Changchun, China. Much tension and comedy as family gathers from America and Japan for a cousin’s supposed wedding.

Book Review: The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi (One Star)

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Book Review: The Consuming Fire (The Interdependency #2) by John Scalzi

(One Star)

“To save as many lives as possible, through every means possible.”

Disappointing. The core of this story is an excellent five-star novella, however as presented I don’t recommend it to anyone. My rating of John Scalzi books averages four stars, but this one gets one because I can’t give it zero.

“If.” “When.” “And you’ve seen this in your visions.” “One does not need visions when one has data. In both cases, however, one does need to be willing to see.”

Scalzi weaves an intricate plot of discovery and betrayal that’s part who-dun-it and part space opera. As usual, his characters are varied and deep. Most of the principals are female. Underlaying the main plot are reflections on the nature of truth and lies and Continue reading

Book Review: The Redemption of Althalus by David and Leigh Eddings (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Redemption of Althalus by David and Leigh Eddings

(Four Stars)

“I don’t want to contaminate a good story with truth. That’d be a violation of my artistic integrity.”

A fun read. Sort of a tongue-in-cheek parody of epic fantasy. World’s great thief (he thinks), competitive divine siblings, threats to end reality. Faint echoes of Star Wars. Didn’t notice much redemption of Althalus, but who cares?

“It’s not the writing that changes, pet. It’s the reading.” “Wait a minute. Doesn’t the writing mean the same to everybody?” “Of course it doesn’t. Everybody reads any writing gets a different meaning from it.”

Reads like a first draft—wordy and repetitious, but Continue reading

Book Review: Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

(Three Stars)

“In Space Everyone Can Hear You Sing.”

Great–almost obvious in hindsight–concept, from the title pun, to the obvious rip-off of Hitchhiker’s Guide, through the also inevitable, but brilliant dénouement (even though Valente telegraphs her punchline). Excellent cultural references to give the story and characters immediacy.

“This was a joke, a very unfunny joke, and whether he was the setup or the punchline, he’d no idea. Humanity was doomed.”

Theoretically better than Hitchhiker’s Guide, but Valente gets lost along the way–and takes the reader with her. Totally silly, as expected, but Continue reading

Book Review: Skyward by Brandon Sanderson (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Skyward (Skyward #1) by Brandon Sanderson

(Five Stars)

“It was awesome!” “You just said you thought you were going to hurl.” “In a good way.” “How do you hurl in a good way?”

Possibly the best story Brandon Sanderson has written. Yes, I know. Better than most of his adult fantasy. Written for young adults, but will engage many readers.

“It’s not your fault you’re a bloodthirsty ball of aggression and destruction.” “I am?” I perked up. “Like, that’s how you see me?” She nodded. Awesome.

Sanderson mostly tells the story from deep inside the head of his protagonist: Spensa. She has a great inner voice. But key scenes include other points of view which increase rather than diminish the conflict.

“I’d always assumed that when I made it–when I finally got here–I’d stop feeling so afraid. But maybe, deep down, I was … worried.”

Your typical Harry Potter/ Top Gun/ Lord of the Rings gathering of misfits, who train, grow and bond, but Continue reading