Book Review: Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor (Three Stars)


Book Review: Just One Damned Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St. Mary’s #1) by Jodi Taylor

(Three Stars)

“Gripping the edge of the console, I shouted, ‘No, no, no, no!’ and began to thump the panel. Strangely, this failed to work at all.

A fun time travel fantasy told from the point of view of a “disaster magnet” protagonist, who is too stupid to live. Unfortunately, it’s those around her who die. Fascinating to see what new ways she invents to endanger herself and everyone around her.

“Always nice to see someone who’s even more of a disaster magnet than I am. ‘Maybe we’ll cancel each other out,’ he whispered. ‘Like white noise.’ Fat chance!”

Perky, snide inner voice which adds perspective as well as humor. Clear, conversational prose propels the reader forward; that and curiosity of Continue reading

Book Review: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson (Three Stars)


Book Review: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

(Three Stars)

“Shugli believed his falconers. It took a watcher to recognize another watcher. Against an unknown enemy, only one strategy would succeed: stealth.”

Better-than-average science fiction series opener, which admittedly is a low bar. For all that, the character development and storytelling is exceeds the norm. While the close of this story resolves nothing, it is a closing, rather the usual abrupt cut.

“Stay away from the me-me-me. Clients want you to talk about them.” “I didn’t realize we needed to make the client feel good about themselves. It seems dishonest.” “This is Continue reading

Book Review: The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley (Three Stars)

41444470Book Review: The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley

(Three Stars)

”Everything that’s going to happen has already happened. You just haven’t experienced it yet. We are, all of us, caught within a massive loop of time, bouncing around in the spaces between things.”

Innovative fold-timeline, time-travel story. Narrative follows the protagonist as she tries to figure out when and where she is, what’s happening, and whether she can do anything about it. Hurley worked hard at this; it shows. It could have been the big story of this generation, but it isn’t.

“You all right?” “No. None of us is all right.” “I’m not the bad guy.” “No. We all are.” “I don’t think that’s true.” “Whatever helps you sleep.”

A few decades ago I would have found this cutting edge; now it’s just Continue reading

Book Review: Earth’s Last Citadel by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore (Two Stars)


Book Review: Earth’s Last Citadel by  C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner

(Two Stars)

“They were from — outside. They wore light like a garment, and to them humans were–vermin. They cleansed the earth of them.”

Classic, but not all that good science fiction. Eligible for 2019 retro Hugo Award consideration, but not up to snuff. Liberal borrowings from H. G. WellsTime Machine.

“How great a man this was, who could speak so coolly while death marched down upon him!”

Old fashioned, manly men who acted more than thought. Female supporting cast not well developed.

“Fighting it was like defying the lightning.”

We know now that the moon is gradually getting farther, not closer, to Earth, but the image of the moon looming large and huge tides is a good one. The hotter sun, a real trend, leads to a desiccated landscape.

“Far back in Alan’s mind, behind the helpless horror, the terrible revulsion, the more terrible taint of kinship with this being whose dreams he had known–lay one small corner of detached awareness.”

Book Review: Sterkarm Handshake by Susan Price (Four Stars)


Book Review: Sterkarm Handshake by Susan Price

Four Stars

“To them, to kill in revenge was a duty; to forgive the killing of a kinsman sin.”

Excellent science-historical fiction mashup. Avoids the time travel paradox by having travelers visit a past in a world a few dimensions away from our earth, but recognizably similar.

“… always worrying about someone getting hurt, as if people could keep from getting hurt.”

Changes point of view often–paragraph by paragraph–but with sufficient clues to keep the reader oriented. Deep into the minds and emotions of all the principle characters (who vary enough to reflect vastly different mores and experiences), to the point that we understand the motivation and worldview of those we might normally consider villains. Female lead has near-terminal conscience and indecision problems, which makes her the perfect lens into the story.

“Lovers divided by family and feud made good stories, but in life it was nothing but misery.”

Excellent immersion into medieval culture: not just sights and sounds, but smells and taste …. And all that filth. Music and folk tales deepen our cultural engagement. A skilled archer misses; hooray!

“It was like the music stopped and I had no chair.”

Quibble: Land Rovers haven’t had hub caps for decades.

If I had but a swan’s wings

Far over hills and sea I’d fly–

To my true love’s arms I’d fall at last

And in her arms I’d gladly die.

Book Review: Arcadia by Iain Pears (Three Stars)


Book Review: Arcadia by Iain Pears

Three Stars

“Outrageous coincidence was more normal that carefully formed, reasoned action.”

Excellent world building. Complex time-travel plot with 60s England focus. Having one character a later member of the famous Inklings is a nice touch, including his depreciation of his more talented friends.

“You go and sit down and contemplate your own genius for a bit, and come through when you think you can stand straight.”

The narrative suffers from too many point-of-view characters. The many threads finally come together, but the first hundred pages is heavy going. Extra credit for finishing it all in one go.

“You may have got that from The Wizard of Oz. You steal ideas from everyone.” “I do?” “Yes.” (Pears also borrowed from Fahrenheit 451.)

While the women characters are well differentiated, the men all sound alike. Not sure why one character’s narrative was in first person while Continue reading

Book Review: There Will Be Time by Poul Anderson (Four Stars)


Book Review: There Will Be Time by Poul Anderson

Four Stars

“A man can do but little. Enough if that little be right.”

I’ve read this book before–long, long ago. Knowing the story, but having it told anew was a treat. Perhaps the height of Anderson’s skill as a storyteller. A slightly different take on time travel, but aren’t they all?

“Scientific information is only a glimmer on the surface of a mystery.”

Written in 1971, it grappled with the increasingly dangerous Cold War, which is remote to modern readers as World War One was to Anderson. “Try to understand your world in 1951.” Most of us have trouble imagining our world today; we don’t even try to learn the past, with Santayana’s forecast result.

“We need all the diversity, all the assorted ways of living and thinking, we can get. Inside of limits, true.”

His protagonist creates an instrument “built to his specification in 1980, to take advantage of the superb solid-state electronics then available.” Before you chuckle, consider Continue reading

Book Review: Lest Darkness Fall & Related Stories by L. Sprague de Camp (Four Stars)

Book Review: Lest Darkness Fall & Related Stories by L. Sprague de Camp

Four Stars

“This was a harsh, convulsive world … you’d get caught in the gears sooner or later.”

An outstanding collection of stories led by de Camp’s 1939 classic. For a hard science fiction author who rejected time machines and faster than light travel as not possible, de Camp wrote an excellent story of a twentieth-century man dropped into six-century Rome.

Comparison with Mark Twain’s 1889 A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is inevitable. De Camp’s story is better. Twain focused was on social commentary of his own era; de Camp worked at getting both the history and the technology right. Twain’s wit satirizes; de Camp’s makes you think.

“You’re persecuted because heretics … are not?”

Lest Darkness Fall is all the more enjoyable because, despite being written before World War two when “Benny the Moose” still ran Italy, de Camp created a timeless story which works in the twenty-first century. Sure things work too easily, but all the breaks seem to go against the protagonist.

“Feels like I stepped into a sewer full of big rats.” “That’s what adventures are like.”

Published with de Camp’s tale is an assortment of shorts riffing or inspired by it. A worthy bundle.

“[Time travel] sounded metaphysical and he was a hardened empiricist.”

John Campbell defined science fiction for Astounding magazine as “good, logical and possible.” De Camp was a major contributor. But Campbell was wise enough to also publish Unknown to explore “alternate possibilities.” Most of today’s science fiction writers and readers hardly blink at including FTL travel, time machines, transporters and replicators with no idea how it’d work. Magic labeled as science. That a few authors pay attention to the laws of physics, chemistry and biology enrich the reading for the rest of us.

“History had … been changed. Darkness had not fallen.”

Book Review: 15 Minutes by Jill Cooper (Four Stars)

Book Review: 15 Minutes (Rewind Agency #1) by Jill Cooper

Four Stars out of Five

Think: The Matrix meets The Time Machine with a more likable protagonist than either.

Ahha! Cooper demonstrates that young adult novels can be engaging without substituting childish or adult behavior. The first person, present tense point of view not only works, but keeps the reader tightly engaged with this time travel “thriller.”

Lara is a believable person thrown into unbelievable circumstances, and we’re dragged along. She responds with intelligence, even as she suffers confusion and doubt. The romantic interactions and depicted violence are age appropriate. Her determination and self-sacrifice more than offset her missteps. The plot is necessarily convoluted, though (spoiler: the purple-haired woman’s identity was readily apparent. Telling you that much is a spoiler).

A quick, enjoyable read. Perhaps not four stars on any absolute scale of literature, but compared to similar young adult offerings.

The Just City by Jo Walton (Three Stars)

The Just City by Jo Walton

Three Stars out of Five

Think: Plato’s Republic meets Short Circuit (or WALL-E, for you Millennials). Lots of dialogue punctuated by monologue, but very little action. Boring.

Neat premise: Suppose the gods of Homer’s era were real, and all other gods before and since (including the Greek perceptions of them during the Classical Greek period) were not … maybe. And suppose a couple of gods decide to create Plato’s Just City. You know, as an experiment. There you have it.

Having the point of view jump between two female characters and one god is not so confusing as having it jump back and forth during their time—that is, of the experiment. I almost quit before page 100.

Then Sokrates shows up. Excellent. Yeah, that Socrates. He’s good for comic relief. “‘You can’t trust everything … Plato wrote.’ Said Sokrates.” The closing dialogue shows much like those recorded by Plato, and just as artificial.

As you can imagine, the wheels start wobbling–if not coming off–early.  Still, Walton tries to make it work almost as hard as Athene, despite some improbably physical attribute, food and work distribution problems. “Children love philosophy.” Improbable, even with divine and high-tech help. Oh, about that help …

A fun read, but not engaging enough to attract me to the rest of the series.

The opening scene might be illustrated by this incredible statue by Bernini (except that WordPress routinely messes up the proportions). The marble twigs supporting the laurels leaves are about one tenth inch in diameter. Amazing sculpture.