‘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.

Letters From A Stoic


Coming at a difficult period (a toxic work climate and the passing of a beloved family member), I read this slowly. It is exactly the sort of consolation one might want from a collection of Stoic writings. How to deal with bad influences, grief, old age, and illness. How to appreciate friends.

Because he mostly writes these letters from a sort of pastoral exile (at one point, from the house that once belonged to Scipio Africanus), it also reinvigorated my own fantasies of a wealthy, rural exile.

In a more academic sense, it does not necessarily delve too deeply into things like Stoic atomism and not at all (except by noting it exists) Stoic logic (for which, I gather, they were most famous; I haven’t read any of the school’s treatises on logic but I gather they are mostly concerned with “and” and “or” statements).

‘The Necromancers’ By Robert Hugh Benson


It is not nearly so lurid nor horrific as the title might lead one to believe. It’s really just an Edwardian ghost story.

The comparison I kept coming to is a wholesome, English take on J K Huysmans Le-Bas, which I now want to read again. A young man who is vulnerable to the deductions of occultism, but ultimately rejects it after going nearly as far as one can, and returns to his faith in the end. Benson was an Anglican minister who converted and became a Catholic priest and Huysmans a writer within the French Decadent movement who had a Pauline moment and became a devout churchgoer and eventually an oblate.

Anglo-Saxon


I suppose my eyes passed too quickly over the extended title because when I came to the end, I was surprised to see this was intended for part of instruction at the Jefferson founded University of Virginia, which he intended to include instruction in Anglo-Saxon as part of its curriculum.

I have not Jefferson’s apparent talent for picking up languages, but I remember reading about him harassing the supposed translator of Ossian for the original Gaelic texts (who always put him off because, of course, they didn’t exist).

I almost purchased a recent book about the University and its Jeffersonian founding, but better, I thought, to keep reading what the man himself wrote than what others have written about him, having read enough of the latter in recent years.

Raiders From The Rings


A decent, exciting yarn: pretty standard fare for sixties pulp science fiction (if you remember that most of it wasn’t written by Heinlein or Dick).

I am mostly thinking back to how many of these stories of conflict within the solar system use aliens as a deus ex machina or science fiction magic. From Agent of Chaos to the more recent Leviathan Wakes.

Richard Blade: Slave Of Sarma


I knew about Richard Blade because the first fifteen or so pages of the first Doctor Who novelizations I ever read contained an essay by Harlan Ellison extolling the virtues of the good Doctor vis-a-vis Star Trek and Star Wars and a teaser for the Richard Blade novels.

They are basically Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars novels, but with more modern pseudo-science (a fancy computer sends Blade to Dimension X, which seems normally to be a series of worlds teeming with swordplay, derring-do, and beautiful women; and also with a less chivalrous attitude towards women (did we have to know that Blade made the captured princess pee in front of him and his new friend, because they couldn’t let her out of their sight, because I know that I could have done without; likewise with Blade’s rapturous self recommendations of his own sexual prowess).

Honestly, they are not as fun as Burroughs’ planetary romances. The action doesn’t feel as lively and while Blade may be less of a goody two shoes than Burroughs’ two dimensional protagonists, he is also a grade A prof.

Surfacing


A beautiful book. Perhaps not as rapturously good as the Washington Post‘s review, but beautiful. A poet’s book, as befitting a collection of essays by a poet.

The tent pole pieces, which appear at the beginning (making the latter third a tad disappointing), are fabulous. They are both about visits to archaeological sites of Stone Age settlements. One is in Alaska and the results are inspiring local people to rediscover their cultural history. The other is in the Orkney Islands and is about to be destroyed by erosion. If nothing else, it makes you want to visit a dig site.