Half A King


I read an earlier Abercrombie trilogy. I gather this is the start of another. Thrilling with many twists and turns, but it ultimately felt rather lightweight for a novel in the so-called grimdark genre. If it is easy to find in the library, I may read the rest of the series, but I won’t rush to do it.

‘First Love’ By Turgenev


After finishing it, I felt that I must have read it before.

Many years ago, when I first moved to DC, I read some Turgenev, definitely reading Fathers and Sons. I can actually remember being on the metro and reading it. Did I read this too?

Alternatively, the story is just so universal that it feels familiar. A man in early middle age who even now cannot bear to speak the story, but writes it down. The canny, experienced reader realizing early what is happening, but the young version of the narrator incapable of truly seeing. The girl is what might now be called a manic pixie dream girl, but because this is Turgenev, more complex than that cinematic savior of sensitive, white men.

Revelation Space


I appreciated that ‘hardness’ of the science fiction, by which I mean that it doesn’t, for example, hand wave moving faster than light; travel can take centuries because ships can only approach light speed. I am most reminded of Dan Simmons’ Hyperion.

And though it may disappoint one of my closest friends, I much prefer space opera to this. It doesn’t help that none of the characters are terribly likeable. But, within the genre, I must admit it is good and if you like more scientific science fiction, you will enjoy this.

‘Jade City’ By Fonda Lee


Sort of fantasy, but not really. More like science fiction, in some ways, set on a fictional world resembling the late forties detente that followed World War II. This, perhaps, threw me off and it took me a while to get into it.

What is worthwhile is a fascinating locale, resembling an Asian nation, ostensibly a constitutional monarchy, but in reality governed by rival criminal families (I could be wrong, but it seems modeled on earlier eras in Hong Kong or Macau, when Triads had a hand in much of the economy). Also, while most of the characters are men, the one, major POV protagonist, Shae, is absolutely compelling. One wishes that the author had written more strong women into the book and that sequels will feature Shae and other women more prominently.

Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell Into Tyranny


I was forced to confront that I did not know as much Roman history as I assumed. Watts documents the breakdowns in republican norms that ultimately led to Augustus, nee Octavian, Caesar.

He is also, one assumes, drawing a bright line between Roman acceptance of the collapse of norms and our current crisis of democracy. Admirable, if maybe a bit tacked on. History does not exist to fit our notions.

The earlier crises are better reading than the final crisis, because I was left with a sense of knowing figures like Pompey the Great, Sulla, and Tiberius Gracchus. But vital, late players like Marc Antony and Octavian remain opaque in Mortal Republic.

For you Ciceronians, this quote might amuse or gall:

Cicero was an equestrian with a gift for long-wonder, self-congratulatory orations that nevertheless often proved extremely persuasive.

Cicero does not come out of Mortal Republic with much dignity intact.

Biographical Sketches Of Famous Men


The only three included (I don’t know if there were more, but I must assume so) are of Washington, Franklin, and Wythe. Franklin here suit my own preconceived notion of him as a sort of wise clown, deflecting conflict with humor and contributing through a sort of peacemaking between parties. One wonders his feelings on the underlying subject of the Washington sketch, which is, like war, politics by other means: Republicanism vs Federalism.

Symposium


An irritating edition in some ways (the parenthetically suggestions to compare to Aristotle’s Politics are not helpful).

I had forgotten, if, indeed, I ever knew, that it (in this dialogue, at least) was Eryximachus who tells the tale of a single creature split in half and who then seeks his missing half). I know that this is one of his most popular dialogues, on account of its frank eroticism (Alcibiades’ account of his attempts to seduce Socrates are funny, to be sure), but I don’t feel very enlightened tonight. Probably just my mood.