Book Review: “Burning Books for Pleasure and Profit” by K. J. Parker (four stars)

Book Review: “Burning Books for Pleasure and Profit” by K. J. Parker (four stars)

The very finest kit and materials will only take you so far. The rest has to come from inside

Entertaining short fiction. Parker once again creates a world with a few words. It’s easier when that world is an analog of Medieval Europe, but it’s well done. Protagonist has a conscience but also other, more profound motives.

Raising another interesting hypothetical question: If you don’t remember something and neither does anyone else, did it ever happen

Loses a star for pointless profanity. Yes, one phrase can do it, when it’s phrase like that. Wanted to rate this five.

Evidence, he told me with a grin, is Truth, and Truth never dies; instead, they lock it up and throw away the key

Book Review: “L’Esprit de L’Escalier”, by Catherynne M. Valente (four stars)

Book Review: “L’Esprit de L’Escalier, by Catherynne M. Valente (four stars)

Music is just the sound of time blowing across the lip of their nothingness.

Creative novelette which strums all the right chords. The story of Orpheus and Eurydice has been retold many times over the millennia, but none quite like Valente’s take. Thorough knowledge of Greek mythology required to appreciate, but not required to enjoy it.

Sunlight from the kitchen windows creeps in and sits guiltily at her feet like a neglected cat.

Forces the reader to think. Excellent word pictures. The length is just right. Gratuitous f-word cost her a star; do the math.

He wanted himself as she saw him.

(2022 Hugo Awards Novelette finalist)

Book Review: Smith of Wootton Major by J. R. R. Tolkien (Five Stars)

Book Review: Smith of Wootton Major, Extended Edition by J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by Verlyn Flieger (Five Stars)

“He had returned sooner than was expected, but none too soon for those that awaited him. ‘Daddy!’ she cried. ‘Where have you been? Your star is shining bright!’”

A visit to Faery.* Beware. It may touch your soul.

“Tolkien himself called it “an old man’s book, already weighted with the presage of bereavement”, and taking their cue from him, many have read Smith’s surrender of the star as Tolkien’s farewell to his art.”

Unlike The Lord of the Rings, which Tolkien labored over for decades, Smith came to him in a flash, and he dashed it off whole. It has a rough quality which betrays both that inspiration and that lack of refining. Nonetheless, it should entertain and enrich any reader who appreciates “Farmer Giles of Ham” or “Leaf by Niggle”. It was the last story he wrote and the last published in his lifetime.

“He stood before her, and he did not kneel in courtesy, for he was dismayed and felt that for one so lowly all gestures were in vain.”

This expanded edition includes the original illustrations by Pauline Baynes as well as notes concerning the writing and revisions of the original. An excellent companion for “On Fairy Stories”* from The Tolkien Reader, since Smith of Wootton Major is just such a fairy story.

‘Yet you have given up the star. I hope it may go to someone as worthy. The child should be grateful.’ ‘The child won’t know,’ said the smith. ‘That’s the way with such gifts.’

BTW, it is only on the second or third reading that the wonder grew upon me. The first time through, I read it like any story–and of that it was quick and crude. Subsequent readings, the Faery grows upon you.

“Roger Lancelyn Green, who noted in the Sunday Telegraph for 3 December 1967 that, “To seek for the meaning is to cut open the ball in search of its bounce.” Tolkien treasured the comment, and wrote Green to thank him.”

After my sixth reading, it still grabs me as (usually) only real fairy tales do. Most modern fantasy seems so contrived. Tolkien had a grasp for what really works.

“When wisdom comes the mind though enriched by imagination, having learned or seen distantly truths only perceptible in this way, must prepare to leave the world of Men and of Fayery.”* JRRT

*Tolkien was notorious for his various spellings of this word.

Book Review: The Secret Life of Bots by Suzanne Palmer (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Secret Life of Bots by Suzanne Palmer (Four Stars)

“We have served admirably for many, many years. Abandoned?” “It is the fate of all made things,” Ship said. “I am grateful to find I have not outlived my usefulness, after all.

A pleasant excursion into the minds—albeit small—of the electro-mechanical minions of a superannuated spaceship on what may be a suicide mission. Both the central computer and the bots have an opinion about that. Who knew?

“Ship, find your damned bots and get them cooperating again.” “Yes, Captain. There is, perhaps, one other small concern of note.” “And that is?” “The positron device is also missing.”

Palmer draws the reader slower into an intimate but charged relationship with 9, yet grounds us also in the outer world’s issues. They collide in a humorous, but logical denouement.

“Space did odd, illogical things at jump points; turning space into something that would give Escher nightmares was, after all, what made them work.”

Book Review: The Viscount and the Witch by Michael J. Sullivan (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Viscount and the Witch (Riyria Chronicles, #1.5) by Michael J. Sullivan

(Four Stars)

“Don’t mind him; he was raised by wolves.”

Sullivan at his best. Has vitality of The Crown Conspiracy without the silliness of later books. The relationship between the protagonists is part of the fun, and it’s displayed here in its quintessence.

“Royce was no longer behind him. He often disappeared at times like this. Being more adept at stealth, Royce enjoyed using Hadrian for the noisy distraction he was.”

I’m embarrassed to claim a “book” read for a short story of less than thirty pages. Still, it’s a fun read and the price was right. (Free) May motivate you to read more of the series, which was the whole idea, right?

“You can stay here and die or work for us, and if you work for us, you work sober.” Albert rubbed his bristly chin. “That really should be an easy choice, shouldn’t it?”

Book Review: “Little Wren and the Big Forest” by Michael J. Sullivan (Three Stars)


Book Review: “Little Wren and the Big Forest” (Legends of the First Empire #0.6) by Michael J. Sullivan

(Three Stars)

“She also knew that bad things happened for no reason, and good things rarely occurred at all. Good things needed an excuse, an effort, a payment.”

Pleasant short story from the First Empire. A fair representation of Sullivan’s style.

“This is where things will get bad. This is where everyone went and never came back. The real question is, are they alive in there? Will I be able to see them again?”

I think this is extracted from one of his full-length books. I have read it before.

“Wren stared at the crow. Completely black, it didn’t look like the sort of bird one ought to trust. But then, the sheep had been adorable with its cute little beard, and that didn’t work out so well.”

Book Review: Gears of a Mad God by Brent Nichols (Three Stars)


Book Review: Gears of a Mad God: A Steampunk Lovecraft Adventure by Brent Nichols

(Three Stars)

“Now, don’t get all teary on me. You’ll spoil your dime novel hero image.”

Bit of a yawner. Not very Steampunk, thankfully not very Lovecraftian. The not-very-retro-future technology is consistent with early twentieth-century setting; the bad guys are evil, but not supernaturally so. Hilariously anachronistic cover art. No worse than most big-name author, big-name publisher novels.

Logical inconsistencies abound. “There’s only one ferry each day from Vancouver,” yet clearly other people arrive and depart at various times of day. “He gave her arm another twist, and it occurred to her that he thought he was hurting her.” There’s a difference between Continue reading

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: Roman Britain: A History from Beginning to End by Henry Freeman (Three Stars)


Book Review: Roman Britain: A History from Beginning to End by Henry Freeman

(Three Stars)

“Create history—History is what we think, say, and write about the evidence for the past.”

Its fifty-two-page length tells readers how much history they’re getting: little. An outline at best.

“The modern Celts are not the present representatives of a people who have existed continually for millennia, but constitute a true case of ‘ethnogenesis’—the birth of an ethnic identity—in early modern Europe.” Like several hyphen-American cultures. “Ethnicity is a cultural construct, and may have little to do with the ‘real’ historical background(s) of the individuals and sub-groups concerned.”

Several bibliographic essays about Roman-ness, Celt-ness, and Britain-ess. Little information is imparted, just lots of opinion about Continue reading

Book Review: The Light Princess by George MacDonald (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Light Princess by George MacDonald

(Four Stars)

“He could not tell whether the queen mean light-haired or light-heired; for why might she not aspirate her vowels when she was exasperated herself?”

Fun. Unexpected and untypical (of MacDonald). A trailblazer of modern fantasy, MacDonald’s stories are often deep in meaning and dense with prose. This hundred and fifty year old tale is neither. Light and easy to follow. Raises the suspicion this is a modern paraphrase, yet many of the puns and word plays must stem for the original

“One day he lost sight of his retinue in a great forest. These forests are very useful in delivering princes from their courtiers, like a sieve that keeps back the bran.”

Self-conscious of fairy tale tropes used and abused. MacDonald using and makes fun of standard fairy elements, yet his tale of the redemptive power of self-sacrificial love is typical of his writings.

“She will die if I don’t do it, and life would be nothing to me without her; so I shall lose nothing by doing it.” “Love hath made me strong to go, For thy sake, to realms below.”