Book Review: Arcadia by Iain Pears (Three Stars)

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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)

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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.

Book Review: The Book Of Kells by R. A. MacAvoy (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Book Of Kells by R. A. MacAvoy

Three Stars out of Five.

A well-told tale with a unique twist. While some might call it a fantasy and others a science fiction tale, it’s neither and both. Intentional, predictable time travel figures prominently in propelling the plot forward, but it’s invoked by neither science nor magic. The means of the time hopping (and the fact that the jump is consistently one thousand years) drives the intrigue. (No, I’m not telling.) Yes, the historic Book of Kells figures in the plot.

Well done. The characters and settings are well developed and, if not believable, at least consistent to the point that the reader is willing to go along with the fun.

Warning: Has unexpected soporific power. Three times while reading it, I fell asleep. Several more I almost nodded off. It’s not a boring story: honest. But it had that effect on me.