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Imajica, by Clive Barker

The Earth is one of five Dominions, and a wizard wants to Reconcile them, which may or may not be apocalyptic.


HarperCollins, 1991, 824 pages

Imajica is an epic beyond compare: vast in conception, obsessively detailed in execution, and apocalyptic in its resolution. At its heart lies the sensualist and master art forger Gentle, whose life unravels when he encounters Judith Odell, whose power to influence the destinies of men is vaster than she knows, and Pie "oh" pah, an alien assassin who comes from a hidden dimension.

That dimension is one of five in the great system called Imajica. They are worlds that are utterly unlike our own but are ruled, peopled, and haunted by species whose lives are intricately connected with ours. As Gentle, Judith, and Pie "oh" pah travel the Imajica, they uncover a trail of crimes and intimate betrayals, leading them to a revelation so startling that it changes reality forever.

A weird, sprawling epic of parallel worlds, bizarre creatures, unpronouncable names, and really bad sex.

My complete list of book reviews.

Chinese Fairy Tales and Fantasies

Chinese Fairy Tales and Fantasies by Moss Roberts

A bit inaccurately named. Many legends and anecdotes, generally with magic or ghosts or other uncanny business, quite a few without. Many moral tales, many tales of Taoist masters, tales of fools or tricksters.

Aru Shah and the End of Time

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

Three of Aru's schoolmates discover she lives at the museum and come to scorn her and the statues of Indian gods there, and bait her into lighting the lamp she knows is cursed.

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description of wishful drinking:

Finally, after four hit novels, Carrie Fisher comes clean (well, sort of ) with the crazy truth that is her life in her first-ever memoir. In Wishful Drinking, adapted from her one-woman stage show, Fisher reveals what it was really like to grow up a product of 'Hollywood in-breeding,' come of age on the set of a little movie called Star Wars, and become a cultural icon and bestselling action figure at the age of nineteen.

Intimate, hilarious, and sobering, Wishful Drinking is Fisher, looking at her life as she best remembers it (what do you expect after electroshock therapy?). It's an incredible tale: the child of Hollywood royalty -- Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher -- homewrecked by Elizabeth Taylor, marrying (then divorcing, then dating) Paul Simon, having her likeness merchandized on everything from Princess Leia shampoo to PEZ dispensers, learning the father of her daughter forgot to tell her he was gay, and ultimately waking up one morning and finding a friend dead beside her in bed.

description of shockaholic:

This rollicking follow-up to Carrie Fisher's' New York Times bestselling memoir and Tony Award- and Emmy Award-nominated, one-woman Broadway show Wishful Drinking is packed with madcap memories from her star-studded life: her friendships with Michael Jackson and her once-upon-a-very-brief-time stepmother, Elizabeth Taylor; her dates (and brawls) with senators; and her love affair with electroconvulsive therapy. But it's also a tender chronicle of her rollercoaster relationship with her father, Eddie Fisher, whose unconventional approach to life -- to say nothing of parenting -- sometimes drove Carrie to the brink, but also taught her about the nature of family, and love.

Wishful Drinking is the better of the two. It's kind of hard to describe why.

Maybe because the first one is like Fisher saying "Here's my messed-up life & how it shaped me" and the second one is more like "You didn't get enough in the first book? Well, here's some of the crap I held back." Plus even more creative cursing than the first one.

The best part of Shockaholic, IMHO, is her verbal sparing with the late Senator Ted Kennedy. Who apparently was a major jackass. Especially when he drank.

In Memoriam: Suzette Haden Elgin

I'm a bit late (she passed away in 2015), but Suzette Haden Elgin was a well-known if never best-selling author in the science fiction community. She was notable for writing feminist SF (her novel about a dystopian patriarchy, Native Tongue, came out a year before The Handmaid's Tale), xenolinguistics (she was a Professor of Linguistics, and a conlanger, and created a complete "women's language" that still has a small community of devotees today), and creating the Science Fiction Poetry Association.

Fellow LiveJournal old-timers will remember her as ozarque.

Suzette Haden Elgin

My retrospective and thoughts about her books here.


Understanding Conflict

Understanding Conflict: (and What It Really Means) by Janice Hardy

A how-to-write book.

What is conflict, how it relates to tension, how it differs from character arc (which you may not need), the importance of goal and motives for everyone, obstacles and whether they move the story forward -- and more.
Robert Reich is an economist and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkley. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Cabinet of President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1997 and was a member of President-elect Barack Obama's economic transition advisory board. Dr. Reich presents himself as a voice of reason in these highly polarized political times, with one of his signature issues being a deep concern over the growing gap between rich and poor and the rise of income disparity. He once again addresses this subject, though from a different angle, in his 2018 book The Common Good. In the book, Dr. Reich makes the case that there has been an alarming shift in the public attitude from one of working for the benefit of the populace as a whole, to one of personal gain and gratification, a win-at-all-cost,"what's in it for me?" mentality. He makes the case that there is an urgent need to change this way of thinking and return to the philosophy espoused in John F. Kennedy's famous statement about asking not what the nation can do for the individual, but what the individual can do for the greater good.

Dr. Reich addresses his subject over 184 pages in three parts. In the first part he attempts to define what is meant by the "common good", focusing on the example of vulture capitalist Martin Shkreli, who justified raising the price of the essential medication Daraprim from $13.50 to over $750 per pill overnight, by claiming that his duty to maximize profit for his company's shareholders was more important than any moral obligation to those requiring the medication. Reich goes on to discuss the societal transition from public good to private gain in many fields, including politics, education, sports, and in the corporate world, noting how the focus has changed from one of concern for the good of society as a whole, to a self-centered focus on making as much money as possible, while staying one step ahead of arrest.

In the second part of the book, Dr. Reich attempts a historical analysis of how this transition occurred, citing four events in particular as giving substantial impetus for this chance in societal character. In the final section, he proposes a number of remedies to get society back on the right track, including changes in education, appropriate honor and shaming, vigilance against distortion of news and information distribution, and a commitment to and a plan requiring public service, much like the military draft that was once in place. The most convincing part of the book is in Dr. Reich's analysis of current corporate leadership. He notes that there had once been the view that corporate leadership took in a multitude of interests besides shareholders: employees and their families, unions, consumers, and the environment. He notes how this has changed to the point where attention by CEOs to anything other than the financial bottom line is not only highly discouraged, but in fact punished.

Much of this book is an attack on President Donald Trump, citing him as a central example of how the common good has been sacrificed in favor of selfish gain at the expense of civility and integrity. These portions will delight the President's detractors, while causing his supporters to write off the rest of the book as partisan rhetoric. On the one hand, it is understandable how the author may wish to illustrate some of his points by using examples of the win-at-all-costs philosophy committed by leadership at this level. On the other hand, it is problematic for the author to get his message of abandoning partisan interest in favor of the common good and the need for unity on this issue by participating in the political polarization, alienating a large segment of the population, and giving them a reason to dismiss his important message as poorly-veiled partisanship. Readers will have to objectively discern for themselves the correctness of this approach.

The central message of this book is an important one, not only at a political and corporate level, but at an individual level. At its core, this book asks us how much we as individuals are willing to put aside our individual "what's in it for me" approach in favor of one that is rooted in a "love thy neighbor" philosophy. It is one thing for all of us to point fingers at politicians and corporations for being selfish and driven by personal profit. But are we as individuals willing to engage in such a paradigm shift when doing so means that our own personal wealth may be adversely affected? Dr. Reich deserves high marks for making us think about such an important question so vital to our future and that of coming generations.

Transpecial, by Jennifer Povey

First contact, and humans fired first.


Musa Books, 2013, 238 pages

A ship has vanished in the dark, in the very outer reaches of Earth's solar system. Alien invaders sweep through the void, destroying outposts and threatening humanity. The truth is known only to a few: We fired first. We fired on aliens whose very appearance and body language sent all humans into a flying rage. All but a few. Now a brilliant, autistic woman from Mars and an alien diplomat seek peace...while some on both sides desire only conflict. Suza McRae and Haniyar must bridge the gap between their species, or risk a war that will destroy everything and everyone in its path.

Lots of ideas, could have been a SF classic, but it's a really rough first novel.

My complete list of book reviews.

Carthage Must Be Destroyed

Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization by Richard Miles

A history of Carthage. Insofar as it can be reconstructed.

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Birds in the Ancient World: Winged Words

Birds in the Ancient World: Winged Words by Jeremy Mynott

What ancient Greeks and Romans thought about birds. Arranged by topics.

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The Presidents Adams, father and son, were each incumbents who were defeated in their bid for re-election by a populist opponent purporting to espouse "democracy", while in reality sowing the seeds of strong partisanship that would evolve into the political polarization that we know so well today. In their recent work The Problem of Democracy: The Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of Personality, the authors Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein trace the history of the famous father and son Chief Executives in a manner than only two classical academics would, with lengthy analytical prose of Goldilocks proportions: sometimes too superficial, sometimes too deep and sometimes just right.


John Adams was the second President of the United States, and is sometimes described as a "party of one". Though nominally a Federalist, he was rejected both by Thomas Jefferson's Republican faction, as well as by Alexander Hamilton's wing of the Federalists, as he tried to steer a course between monarchy and the mayhem of populist rule. Labelled as an aristocrat and an elitist, the strong-willed and strongly principled Massachusetts lawyer and diplomat was respected for his service to his nation, but never loved by the populace. His son would share many of his father's experiences as well as his political beliefs, though he was clearly his own man. But he too would fall to defeat at the hands of a populist challenger and would also be assailed by demagogue tactics that sought to label him derisively, like his father, as an elitist and an effete, out of touch pedant.

The authors do a superb job of exploring and explaining the relationship between these two intellectual and political giants and how they shaped their careers and their ideologies. The second and sixth Presidents carried on a lifetime correspondence that is ably canvassed and mined by the authors. The letters exchanged between the two provide some of the best insight into many of the more mystifying aspects of their respective presidencies and political careers, including the younger Adams' defection from the Federalists and each man's reluctance to respond in kind when their political opponents were turning presidential elections into popularity contests.

The book's failing is its inconsistency. Parts provide too much detail, especially in aspects of their lives that are less relevant to history, such as which books and other works each man read, with accompanying speculation about how such might have shaped the political decisions each made. Parts of the book offer too little information, particularly on some substantial issues during each man's presidency. Very little is also said about the younger Adams' outstanding career as one of the nation's leading Secretaries of State. Parts of the book are too unctuous or fawning. For example, the authors fail to take the elder Adams to task for his role in the Alien and Sedition Acts, which ended up being used as a tool to silence political enemies. Nor is any criticism offered of John Quincy's failure to realize that he needed congressional support to make his policies reality.

The worst parts of the book are the authors' own speculations and their overly academic and pedantic analysis, especially in the book's 30 page introduction and in its concluding chapter (pretentiously named "exordium" and "ad consummandum" respectively). Much of the book's nearly 500 pages are unnecessarily verbose ramblings that dilute other parts of the book in which the authors tell the story of the Adams presidents brilliantly.

It is difficult to decide whether or not to recommend this book given these inconsistencies in style and substance. For those with a deep interest in John Adams and John Quincy Adams, it offers an comprehensive, if partially incomplete, analysis of each man. For those with more of a Joe Friday approach to history, wanting "just the facts", there are better accounts of their lives and of their presidencies to be found.

Cloak of Dragons

Cloak of Dragons by Jonathan Moeller

Nadia is back, in a new series. Spoilers ahead for the first.

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Yiddish Folktales

Yiddish Folktales by Beatrice Weinreich

A collection of nonsense tales, parables, fairy tales, tales about crafty tricksters and plain old fools, and legends -- particularly legends. A wide variety.

I was particularly interested in the fairy tales. There's a Kind and Unkind Girls variety that plays out normally; a Love Like Salt tale where Sorele finds herself at a rabbi's house, not a royal court; an East of the Sun, West of the Moon variant where it's the son who sets out to find his father, not the bride her bridegroom; a Master and Pupil where he marries the sorcerer's daughter, and a number more.


Fade by Daniel Humphreys

First book, but while it has obvious sequel hooks, it stands alone.

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The Art of Dragon Magazine

The Art of Dragon Magazine: 30 Years of the World's Greatest Fantasy Art

An interesting collection of fantasy art. Tends to the dramatic. Much of it good to excellent. Some themes to organize it, but it's an art showcase, so it was not chosen to illustrate points.

Infinite, by Jeremy Robinson

Inception meets Passenger.


Breakneck Media, 2017, 400 pages

Searching for a new home....

The Galahad, a faster-than-light spacecraft, carries 50 scientists and engineers on a mission to prepare Kepler 452b, Earth's nearest habitable neighbor at 1400 light years away. With Earth no longer habitable and the Mars colony slowly failing, they are humanity's best hope.

After 10 years in a failed cryogenic bed - body asleep, mind awake - William Chanokh's torture comes to an end as the fog clears, the hatch opens, and his friend and fellow hacker, Tom, greets him...by stabbing a screwdriver into his heart. This is the first time William dies.

It is not the last.

When he wakes from death, William discovers that all but one crew member - Capria Dixon - is either dead at Tom's hands, or has escaped to the surface of Kepler 452b. This dire situation is made worse when Tom attacks again - and is killed. Driven mad by a rare reaction to extended cryo-sleep, Tom hacked the Galahad's navigation system and locked the ship on a faster-than-light journey through the universe, destination: nowhere. Ever.

Mysteriously immortal, William is taken on a journey with no end, where he encounters solitary desperation, strange and violent lifeforms, a forbidden love, and the nature of reality itself.

...he discovers the infinite.

Jeremy Robinson, the master of fast-paced and highly original stories seamlessly blending elements of horror, science fiction, and thrillers, tackles his most ambitious subject matter to date: reality itself. An amalgam of the works of J.J. Abrams and Ridley Scott, Infinite is a bold science fiction novel exploring the vastness of space and a man's desire to exist, find love, and alter the course of his life.

Tries to be mind-bendy, but it's just a light SF romp.

My complete list of book reviews.

Changeling, by Molly Harper

A YA fantasy that is charming despite being a predictable, derivative assembly of cliches and jejune worldbuilding.


NYLA, 2018, 271 pages

If 14-year-old Cassandra Reed makes it through her first day at Miss Castwell’s Institute for the Magical Instruction of Young Ladies without anyone discovering her secret, maybe, just maybe, she’ll let herself believe that she really does belong at Miss Castwell’s. Except Cassandra Reed’s real name is Sarah Smith and up until now, she lived her whole life in the Warren, serving a magical family, the Winters, as all non-magical “Snipes” are bound by magical Guardian law to do. That is, until one day, Sarah accidentally levitates Mrs. Winter’s favorite vase in the parlor....

But Snipes aren’t supposed to have magical powers...and the existence of a magical Snipe threatens the world order dictated during the Guardians’ Restoration years ago. If she wants to keep her family safe and protect her own skin, Sarah must figure out how to fit into posh Guardian society, master her newfound magical powers, and discover the truth about how an ordinary girl can become magical.

A little bit of Harry Potter, a little bit of Pretty Little Liars, a little bit of Jane Austen, a lot of silly charm.

My complete list of book reviews.

House of Windows, by John Langan

A weird, literary haunted house story.

House of Windows

Night Shade Books, 2009, 256 pages

When a young writer finds himself cornered by a beautiful widow in the waning hours of a late-night cocktail party, he seeks at first to escape, to return to his wife and infant son, but the tale she weaves, of her missing husband, a renowned English professor, and her lost stepson, a soldier killed on a battlefield on the other side of the world, of phantasmal visions, a family curse, and a house... the Belvedere House, a striking mansion whose features suggest a face, hidden just out of view, draws him in, capturing him. What follows is a deeply psychological ghost story of memory and malediction, loss and remorse.

Subverting two tropes: the ghost story, and the college professor who rediscovers himself by banging a hot young grad student.

My complete list of book reviews.

Tiamat's Wrath, by James S.A. Corey

Book Eight in the Expanse series.

Tiamat's Wrath

Orbit Books, 2019, 534 pages

Thirteen hundred gates have opened to solar systems around the galaxy. But as humanity builds its interstellar empire in the alien ruins, the mysteries and threats grow deeper.

In the dead systems where gates lead to stranger things than alien planets, Elvi Okoye begins a desperate search to discover the nature of a genocide that happened before the first human beings existed and to find weapons to fight a war against forces at the edge of the imaginable. But the price of that knowledge may be higher than she can pay.

At the heart of the empire, Teresa Duarte prepares to take on the burden of her father's godlike ambition. The sociopathic scientist Paolo Cortázar and the Mephistophelian prisoner James Holden are only two of the dangers in a palace thick with intrigue, but Teresa has a mind of her own and secrets even her father, the emperor, doesn't guess.

And throughout the wide human empire, the scattered crew of the Rocinante fights a brave rear-guard action against Duarte's authoritarian regime.

Memory of the old order falls away, and a future under Laconia's eternal rule - and with it, a battle that humanity can only lose - seems more and more certain. Because against the terrors that lie between worlds, courage and ambition will not be enough....

Upping the ante, killing off characters, dragging out the finale.

Also by James S.A. Corey: My reviews of Leviathan Wakes, Caliban's War, Abaddon's Gate, Cibola Burn, Nemesis Games, Babylon's Ashes, Persepolis Rising.

My complete list of book reviews.

Ghost of a Chance

Ghost of a Chance by Dan Willis

Arcane Casebook book 2, with some connection to the earlier book.
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The Book of Feasts & Seasons

The Book of Feasts & Seasons by John C. Wright

A collection of short stories. Fantasy, SF, genre-blenders. Connected more or less loosely to holy days. Interesting ideas -- the stories are heavily philosophical.

People of the Talisman

People of the Talisman by Leigh Brackett

Stark and a dying friend of his have made camp in the wilderness. The friend gives Stark a talisman to return to his native city, where he stole it.

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In Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, Sebastian Junger explores the human need for community and connection, an especially timely subject at a time in history when membership in organized groups and community organizations are declining and when social media entices many people into a solitary existence behind their keyboards, as they pretend to collect Facebook and Twitter "friends". Isolation is a major symptom of a number of social disorders, and as Junger observes, humans will endure many hardships for the sake of community. As the author explains in his introduction, this is why "for many people, war feels better than peace and hardship can turn out to be a great blessing and disasters are sometimes remembered more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations."

Junger looks back at the history of tribal societies, gleaning some interesting phenomena. For example, in frontier times, indigenous captives who were forced to assimilate into American society generally struggled to return to their communities, while conversely, it was common for captives who were adopted into indigenous societies to have no desire to return to their former homes. Junger examines the reasons why tribal society with its inclusive culture was the more attractive option over that in which the indigenous captives were viewed as heathen lesser beings. He also examines life for soldiers in wartime, noting that while conditions are life-threatening and dangerous, the cohesion and bond among the soldiers creates a feeling that cannot be recovered in peacetime. He gives the example of his mistaken assumption that, since his Vietnam vet father saw that war as an unjust one, his father would support Junger's decision not to sign his selective service card. The author describes his epiphany of understanding his father's admonishment and realizing the importance of being something bigger than himself that comes with service.

The author uses the aforementioned examples and many others to underscores the simple but very relevant point about the need for human being to serve the greater good and to be a part of some larger purpose. He makes the case that it is the loss of this closeness that causes many returning vets to experience high rates of PTSD and suicide. Junger argues that the difficulties experienced by these soldiers are made worse by the fact that they are leaving a place of belonging for a return to an individualist society with its culture of "every man for himself".

At 133 pages, Tribe can be read in a couple of hours, but it has a message that resonates. Even is the reader is not a veteran or a first responder to trauma, this book's insight on the importance of community and of being part of a some larger purpose in order to find meaning in order to stave off feelings of emptiness and irrelevance is one that has relevance for everyone.
Nancy Morrison has lived a fascinating life as a lawyer, a grassroots politician, a judge on two different courts, a feminist, and as a mentor. Her five decades in Canadian law have resulted in a delightful memoir, cleverly entitled Benched: Passion for Law Reform. Written it almost seventy short, sharp chapters, it chronicles the life of this interesting, accomplished and modest Canadian jurist, from her time as the daughter of a small town lawyer in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, to her career as a respected member of the Supreme Court of British Columbia. Told in the conversational style of one friend talking to another, and replete with nostalgic and "groovy" photos from the past, this is an enjoyable memoir that carries the reader along a time capsule from the mid-20th century to the present, with some beneficial life lessons learned along the way.

Nancy Morrison looks back on a rich and eventful life that began in a small city in east-central Saskatchewan where her father was one of two or three lawyers in town, and at a time when the thought of women in law was unthinkable to most people and mocked and obstructed by many in the profession. Assisted by supportive and forward-thinking parents, Morrison began her journey through law school and through her early years of practicing her profession. She experienced difficulty in finding a place to practice law, rejecting the easy option of joining her father's firm. She began job hunting in what was then a male-dominated profession at a time when the prevailing assumption within the old boys club was that women were a bad hire because they all planned to leave as soon as they got pregnant. Fate smiled on Morrison when she met the dynamic Judy LaMarsh, a Federal cabinet minister in the Liberal government of Prime Minister Lester Pearson. The experience of taking over LaMarsh's law practice not only gave Morrison her baptism of fire as a lawyer, but also introduced her to the world of politics and her involvement in the first round of Trudeamania (the original 1968 version, not the 2015 2.0 edition).

Morrison remembers her experiences as a young lawyer in three provinces (Ontario, Saskatchewan and British Columbia), as well as her forays into the rough and tumble world of politics. This led to a life replete with fascinating experiences and good friends, as a successful lawyer, a prosecutor and Provincial Court Judge in Vancouver, and later as a judge of the Supreme Court of British Columbia. She also recalls her personal life with the enigmatic and colorful Bruno Gerussi, star of the long-running 1970s and 80s TV show The Beachcombers. Through it all, Morrison looks back on a life filled of strong friendships, great social change, sobering and serious issues, but always set on a foundation of strong ethical principles and the proper mix of compassion and social justice.

There are two threads running through the memoir that enrich the value of this book. Firstly, there are many examples of the fundamental importance of ethics. Morrison displays a solid ethical foundation in how she conducted her profession and in all other aspects of her life. This is an important lesson not only within the legal profession, but in all professions and callings. Younger professionals who may be tempted to dismiss this book off nostalgia from their parents' era would benefit from all that this book has to teach about the importance of strong ethics.

Secondly, this book offers a valuable primer on the history and importance of feminism. This is especially beneficial for those who are quick to disparage feminism as the product of meaningless political correctness. Morrison offers jarring examples from her days in the trenches acting for marginalized and victimized women at a time long before community property was an accepted concept, and in an era when domestic violence was the fodder of comedians' acts and not accorded the attention as a shameful social issue that it has eventually been recognized as. Without seeking any recognition or credit, Morrison firmly and modestly establishes her credentials as a courageous foot soldier in the battle to bring about important changes in the way we function as a society today when it comes to approaching the ideal of gender equality.

Nancy Morrison has lived a life that offers a model for all professionals, young and old. She provides an example of how to live a well-rounded life, combining professional excellence with a rich friendships and an unselfish devotion to creating a better world for those to come. That she is able to do all of this without appearing to sound boastful or self-aggrandizing adds to the enjoyment of this outstanding reading experience.
The inner jacket of 21 Lessons for the 21st Century references author Yuval Noah Harari's two previous books (Sapiens and Homo Deus), noting that the former explored the past, while the latter explored the future. The author's most recent product is said to be an exploration of the present. It's title is a trifle misleading, in that it isn't so much a primer on how to navigate the next four decades, inasmuch as it is a collection of insightful observations about the pace of change and mankind's ability to perceive and adapt to that change in a brave new world populated by algorithms, AI, "fake news", extreme income disparity and a job market that will not resemble in any way the one that previous generations have experienced and that we have come to expect.

Harari combines an engaging style of writing with a brilliant but humble and self-effacing intellect, as he tackles some very controversial subjects including religion, immigration, nationalization, social media, terrorism, secularism, education and justice. His take on religions, on nationalism and on terror will be seen as especially controversial to some, though his positions are based on logic rather than emotion or dogma. If they are the product of some hidden agenda, it is one that is very well hidden.

The author begins by noting how the world evolved into three major political paradigms, two of which (fascism and communism) history has proven to be unworkable failures. He refers to the third as "liberalism", but lest conservatives be put off by this label, what he is really talking about is democracy. Harari speculates on how the third political structure is experiencing its own problems as it encounters a changing world that is unsure how to deal with rapidly advancing technology that will leave many in the labour force behind, and that is hatching the populist rejection of many established institutions. What are we to make of this, and what will be left in its wake?

Harari doesn't teach "lessons" as his title might suggest. This isn't a book about how to navigate the rapid change that we are in the midst of experiencing. As algorithms and AI replace the great minds and are able to determine (or even shape) human trends, he doesn't offer suggestions of how to personally profit from this, what career path to follow or how to plan retirement. Instead he tries to alert the reader to the pitfalls of manipulation through past myth and story-telling, through emotional appeals and computer-generated trends, in order to remind us to think for ourselves, to discern the information we are fed and be discerning about what we are told. Harari offers a message that does not tell the reader what to think, but rather how to think for himself or herself.

The book builds to a final crescendo, and without giving away any spoilers, the final chapter is both unexpected and yet surprisingly satisfying. The world has become an extremely complex place and it would be suspicious if any author claimed to be able to have all of the answers tied up in a neat little bow. Yuval Noah Harari focuses on trying to structure an ethically based manner of thinking about these problems that is not based on dogma, manipulation of emotions, or herd mentality. It is a tall order during these times. Reading this book is a worthwhile endeavour for all independent thinkers striving to fend off an avalanche of information in an age moving faster than the speed of thought.

The Secret of Sinharat

The Secret of Sinharat by Leigh Brackett

Stark is on the run from the authorities -- gun-running -- when they catch up to him.  One, it turns out, is his foster father Ashton, who tells him of impending war, the trouble it will bring, and the possibility of escaping prison if he can foil it.  Stark agrees.

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Ivory Vikings

Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them by Nancy Marie Brown

A discussion on topics suggested by the famous Lewis chessmen: medieval chess figures carved from walrus ivory.

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Feudal Society, Volume 1

Feudal Society, Volume 1 by Marc Bloch

An extensive and rather academic study of feudalism from the beginning.

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The Trouble With (an) Old Space Opera

I don't remember for sure when I first realized that stories were written by actual people, by writers. Probably, it was a gradual process that led to my understanding that stories didn't just exist, like lakes or forests or mountains, but that they were made.

I do remember when I realized that television shows were also written by actual people. That came about when I found a paperback book, one that featured a colour photo of William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk, wearing a harassed expression while up to his shoulders in tiny furry animals that us cognoscenti knew as tribbles.

That paperback carried the name of my favourite episode of Star Trek: The Trouble With Tribbles. The author was called David Gerrold, and the book was a memoir of sorts, the story of how Gerrold came to write the episode and what he learned during its production.

At the time — I'm going to guess it was 1974 or 1975, which would have made me nine or ten years old — I thought it was both a bravely honest and an insightful book, and it's been so long since then that I won't argue with my younger self. Certainly it was interesting enough the I happily found the wherewithal to purchase his follow-up, The World of Star Trek, and both books have a warm, if by now pretty vague place in my long-term memory.

What strikes me as strange, is that — though I read a few of his short stories because they were in an anthology or magazine I'd purchased anyway — I never sought out any of Gerrold's fiction. Considering that "The Trouble with Tribbles" still holds up as good television writing, and that it was an episode I'd loved as a kid, I can't really explain why I didn't, unless it was a bit of subconscious snobbery that saw television as a lesser order of literature than prose.

(If so, maybe I was actually displaying pretty good critical judgement; even the best television drama of those days — and well into the 21st century — was simply too formulaic to rival the best of literature. But I digress.)

In any case, a chance finding of an almost 40-year paperback has finally seen me sample Gerrold's fiction, a novel that nevertheless had its initial origin as a rejected proposal for an episode of Star Trek, a novel first published in 1972, then revised for a second lease on life in 1980.

And what an oddly dated novel it is.

I am sick of reviews that are almost entirely synopses, so I won't be providing you with one here. Suffice it to say that Yesterday's Children (now titled Star Hunt) is set in a far future remarkably similar to the Trek universe. Earth is the centre of a interstellar federation of sorts, called the United Systems. The US is involved in a long-running war that, if it is not losing, is certainly taking its toll, including maintaining as operational starships which are overdue for decommissioning.

Enter the USS Roger Burlingame, a decrepit warship with a demoralized, poorly-trained crew and a captain who spends most of his time in his cabin, leaving the day-to-day operations to First Officer Jon Korrie, an ambitious man who longs for combat and the glory of a successful kill.

An enemy ship is spotted, the Roger Burlingame gives chase and the game is on.

Yesterday's Children is a tightly-plotted story: a cat-and-mouse piece of military SF and a psychological mystery, as it gradually becomes clear that the enemy being chased might, or might not, be real. Until the very end, Gerrold keeps the reader wondering whether they are reading a straight-forward war story or a riff on The Caine Mutiny.

And on both those levels, it is a story pretty well-told.

But I said it is also a very dated novel, and it is. In the first place, the narrative voice and the psychological aspects echo not the 1970s, when the novel was written, but the 1940s and 1950s. With the elision of the very occasional "fuck", it would not have seemed out-of-place as a serial published in John W. Campbell's Astounding.

Jon Korrie is, or believes he is, a mentally superior human, an adept of something called psychonometrics, a hand-wavium which permits him to manipulate his crew (or to believe he is manipulating his crew) with cold calculations that can be brutal. Suffice it to say that I found psychonometrics about as plausible as Asimov's psychohistory: a conceit I could accept for the sake of the story, but not one I could believe was actually possible.

What is even more dated about Yesterday's Children (and something that I suspect would make it simply unreadable for a lot of readers under, say, 35) is that it includes not a single female character.

Granted that first world militaries of the 1970s were pretty much all-male, especially on-board the real-world equivalent of starships, but Gerrold cut his writer's teeth on Star Trek, so the idea that women might belong onboard a starship wasn't exactly unheard of in 1972, nevermind 1980, when then book was re-published in an updated edition. In 2019, it seems merely bizarre to read a novel in which women are simply absent.

Despite that absence, I enjoyed Yesterday's Children well enough. I wanted to find out what would happen next and whether or not Korrie was sane, but it's not a story that will stay with me over the long term. Even a week after I finished it, the details are fading fast.

In Plain Sight

In Plain Sight by Dan Willis

Arcane Casebook book 1, but stand alone. A private investigator and rune-wright in a magical New York 1930s.

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The Wrath of Cons

The Wrath of Cons by Robert Kroese

Rex Nihilo book 3. Spoilers ahead for the earlier ones.

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Deadly Assessments

Deadly Assessments by Drew Hayes

Fred, the Vampire Accountant book 5. Spoilers ahead for the earlier books.

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An interesting, fictional, look at F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald's marriage and work.

What most may not know is that Scott (as he was known personally) took a lot of stuff from journals & letters that Zelda wrote for use in his short stories & novels. Plus she wrote a lot of short stories that had either both of their names or just his, because the publisher(s) either wouldn't pay as much or didn't think that anyone would read stuff written by a woman that wasn't about recipes or cleaning tips. (this was the 1920s after all).

Also found out in the book that Ernest Hemmingway was a bigger S.O.B that I thought he was. at first Scott tried to mentor him & mold his work. Hemmingway was at least civil to Zelda later, while still being Scott's drinking buddy, he was hostile to Zelda. Blaming her for Fitzgerald not working on whatever novel he was supposed to be writing at the time. He even seemed resentful of his "good friend." was it because he felt that after he got publish that he didn't need "help" anymore or that Fitzgerald was trying to be too controlling. Or as the novel puts forthspoilerCollapse )Which could be why he said a lot of nasty things about them, especially her, later on.

The novel suggests that Hemmingyway might have been Gay or at least Bi and possibly having an affair with F. Scott. I didn't even know that F. Scott might have gone that way until i read the Wikipedia article on Zelda. If he (Hemmingyway) was, that might explain why he was all about the "manly" activities. boxing, bull fighting, sport fishing, drinking and womanizing. Maybe he was trying to convince the world, and maybe himself, that he was a man.

Tithe to Tartarus

Tithe to Tartarus by John C. Wright

Dark Avenger’s Sidekick book 3, with spoilers ahead for the earlier books. Also Moth & Cobweb 6, with milder spoilers for The Green Knight's Squire.

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A semi-satirical alternate history in which the U.S. threatens Japan with... kaiju.

Shambling Towards Hiroshima

Tachyon Publications, 2009, 170 pages

It is the early summer of 1945, and war reigns in the Pacific Rim with no end in sight. Back in the States, Hollywood B-movie star Syms Thorley lives in a very different world, starring as the Frankenstein-like Corpuscula and Kha-Ton-Ra, the living mummy. But the U.S. Navy has a new role waiting for Thorley, the role of a lifetime that he could never have imagined.

The top secret Knickerbocker Project is putting the finishing touches on the ultimate biological weapon: a breed of gigantic, fire-breathing, mutant iguanas engineered to stomp and burn cities on the Japanese mainland. The Navy calls upon Thorley to don a rubber suit and become the merciless Gorgantis and to star in a live drama that simulates the destruction of a miniature Japanese metropolis. If the demonstration succeeds, the Japanese will surrender, and many thousands of lives will be spared; if it fails, the horrible mutant lizards will be unleashed. One thing is certain: Syms Thorley must now give the most terrifyingly convincing performance of his life.

In the dual traditions of Godzilla as a playful monster and a symbol of the dawn of the nuclear era, Shambling Towards Hiroshima unexpectedly blends the destruction of World War II with the halcyon pleasure of monster movies.

World War II, SF fandom, and a love letter to every monster movie ever made.

My complete list of book reviews.

City of Corpses

City of Corpses by John C. Wright

Dark Avenger’s Sidekick book 2. Spoilers for book 1 ahead -- it really is a single work in three-volumes -- and a few for Green Knight's Squire, too.

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Daughter of Danger

Daughter of Danger by John C. Wright

Book one of Dark Avenger’s Sidekick. Also book 4 of Moth and Cobweb, and there are connections to the first trilogy The Green Knight's Squire, but not so much as within the first trilogy.

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The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 13

The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 13: 1975-1976 by Charles M. Schulz

Sally talks to the school -- the school later falls down -- Charlie Brown has to share a desk with Peppermint Patty with complications. Spike appears and Lucy feeds him up -- later he invites Snoopy to Thanksgiving with the coyotes and misadventures ensue. Snoopy and Linus meet Truffles at her grandfather's farm, but it goes better for Snoopy. Baseball and Lucy chasing Schroeder. Snoopy and Woodstock worry about the tale of the Three Little Pigs. Charlie Brown tries to get hired for odd jobs. Snoopy breaks his leg. Marcie hates sports but wants a baseball cap.

The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 12

The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 12: 1973-1974 by Charles M. Schulz

A lot of gag-a-day comics. Peppermint Patty does badly at school, and has a sequence about ice-skating. Snoopy is a Beagle Scout and gets lost in the woods; writes and submits stories; and does literature as puppet shows. Woodstock accidentally gets a bike for Christmas. Sally talks to the school. Rerun rides on his mother's bicycle. Charlie Brown goes to camp with a sack over his head and does very well.

The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 10: 1969–1970

The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 10: 1969–1970 by Charles M. Schulz

Peanuts, continuing. The red-haired girl moves away without Charlie Brown having the gumption to say Good-bye. Snoopy is a hockey player and a checkout worker -- hangs out with a bird who is finally named Woodstock -- is reported by Frieda to the Head Beagle for not chasing rabbits and has a stint AS the Head Beagle -- and we have the return of "A dark and stormy night" as Snoopy takes up writing entirely. Lucy pursues Schroeder and sees Charlie Brown -- and Snoopy, and Woodstock -- at her booth. And more.

Ghost in the Tower

Ghost in the Tower by Jonathan Moeller

Ghost Night book 4. Spoilers ahead for the earlier books, and earlier series.
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The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 9

The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 9: 1967-1968 by Charles M. Schulz

Peanuts rolls on. The kite-eating tree finally appears, after all his adventures with kites. Baseball games with some interaction with Peppermint Patty -- she joins the team with a new character Jose, briefly -- and with the usual slew of loss. Linus tells his blanket-hating grandma that she has to give up smoking for him to give up his blanket, with the expected consequence. Camp -- actually that was more Peppermint Patty as tent monitor and her three charges. Snoopy as a flying ace, and a sequence with him skating and planning on the Olympics (until he tries to go and discovers there's an ocean in the way) and some as a vulture. He interacts with a single bird a lot -- still nameless, though. Linus's measles shot has him panicking. And more.

Ghost in the Amulet

Ghost in the Amulet by Jonathan Moeller

Ghost Night book 3. Spoilers ahead for the earlier books and for the earlier two series, too.

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Ex-Isle, by Peter Clines

The Ex-Heroes find more survivors, with an obligatory superhero brick battle.


Broadway Books, 2016, 389 pages

The spectacular fifth adventure in the genre-busting Ex-Heroes series.

The heroes are overjoyed when they discover another group of survivors living on a manmade island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. But there's something very, very wrong with this isolated community and its mysterious leader - a secret that could put every survivor in the world at risk.

The fifth book in a series that seems to be settling in for the long run.

Also by Peter Clines: My reviews of Ex-Heroes, Ex-Patriots, Ex-Communication, Ex-Purgatory, 14, The Fold, and Paradox Bound.

My complete list of book reviews.

Ghost in the Glass

Ghost in the Glass by Jonathan Moeller

Ghost Night book 2. Serious spoilers for both the first book and the prior two series.

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An Indian-flavored portal fantasy by a literary author.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Viking Children's Books, 1990, 224 pages

Discover Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Salman Rushdie's classic fantasy novel.

Set in an exotic eastern landscape peopled by magicians and fantastic talking animals, Salman Rushdie's classic children's novel Haroun and the Sea of Stories inhabits the same imaginative space as The Lord of the Rings, The Alchemist, and The Wizard of Oz. In this captivating work of fantasy from the author of Midnight's Children and The Enchantress of Florence, Haroun sets out on an adventure to restore the poisoned source of the sea of stories. On the way he encounters many foes, all intent on draining the sea of all its storytelling powers.

The feeling of a modern children's classic but the density of a lit-novel.

Also by Salman Rushdie: My reviews of Midnight's Children and The Satanic Verses.

My complete list of book reviews.

The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 8

The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 8: 1965-1966 by Charles M. Schulz

Peanuts rolling along. Charlie Brown goes to camp for the first time; later, so does Linus. Snoopy becomes a WWI flying ace -- and "A dark and stormy night" makes its first appearance, for a sequence of about a week, after which he, having dragged his typewriter to the doghouse in the opening, gets rid of it. Peppermint Patty is introduced taking over the baseball team. Linus evades his blanket-hating grandmother by mailing his blanket to himself, and it goes wrong.

The Twelve, by Justin Cronin

Revolt against the vampire apocalypse.

The Twelve

Random House, 2012, 568 pages

The end of the world was only the beginning.

In his internationally best-selling and critically acclaimed novel The Passage, Justin Cronin constructed an unforgettable world transformed by a government experiment gone horribly wrong. Now the scope widens and the intensity deepens as the epic story surges forward with...

The Twelve

In the present day, as the man-made apocalypse unfolds, three strangers navigate the chaos. Lila, a doctor and an expectant mother, is so shattered by the spread of violence and infection that she continues to plan for her child’s arrival even as society dissolves around her. Kittridge, known to the world as "Last Stand in Denver", has been forced to flee his stronghold and is now on the road, dodging the infected, armed but alone and well aware that a tank of gas will get him only so far. April is a teenager fighting to guide her little brother safely through a landscape of death and ruin. These three will learn that they have not been fully abandoned - and that in connection lies hope, even on the darkest of nights.

One hundred years in the future, Amy and the others fight on for humankind’s salvation...unaware that the rules have changed. The enemy has evolved, and a dark new order has arisen with a vision of the future infinitely more horrifying than man’s extinction. If the Twelve are to fall, one of those united to vanquish them will have to pay the ultimate price.

A heart-stopping thriller rendered with masterful literary skill, The Twelve is a grand and gripping tale of sacrifice and survival.

Getting to the sequel nine years later...
Also by Justin Cronin: My review of The Passage.

My complete list of book reviews.

The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 7: 1963-1964

The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 7: 1963-1964 by Charles M. Schulz

Old friends appear. The little red-haired girl, mentioned once in the last volume, here has a long sequence that turns her into the famous princesse lointaine. 5 appears, a bit-- the gag is a little quickly exhausted. Charlie Brown has trouble with his arm and so with pitching (but the status quo returns). Lucy tries to get someone to call her "cutie." Linus has varied adventures because of the blanket.

The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 6

The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 6: 1961-1962 by Charles M. Schulz

The progress of Peanuts.

Lucy opens the volume stealing Linus's blanket to break him of it, and subjects it to some other abuse over the two years. Snoopy is a stalwart sea captain, and associates with some birds, unindividuated. Baseball goes badly -- more than once, everyone quits. Frieda appears, with her naturally curly hair and insistence that Snoopy should hunt rabbits -- and she gets a cat. Linus gets glasses and preaches the Great Pumpkin. Sally panics about kindergarten. The little red-haired girl gets a single mention.

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