Baptism Of Fire


I am done with these Witcher novels. I’m enjoying the Netflix series. I tried playing the video game, but just wasn’t up for learning anything new on that front.

I will simply repeat what I’ve said before: the titular Witcher, aka, Gerald of Rivia, is much better as the star of short stories than as the protagonist of a novel.

The Time Of Contempt


The second novel of the Witcher series, it’s better than Blood of Elves, but not as good as Last Wish nor Sword of Destiny, which were a short story collections. If you’re watching the series, the second season diverges strongly from the books (the first season pulled heavily from the short stories), though viewers of both will pick up on something that was mentioned at the end of the second season and is clearly foreshadowed in the book (though I might not have guessed had I not seen the series).

One interesting thing is that the titular Witcher, Geralt of Rivia, is made smaller. He is badly injured by the end and is also portrayed as being relatively small compared to the power wielded by wizards (including his sometimes lover, Yennefer).

‘The Second Shooter’ By Nick Mamatas


I can’t remember where I read about this novel. I think it was a Washington Post piece by one of their book reviewers, in a round-up piece. But I was inspired to put it on hold at the library and here we are.

Did I like it?

No.

Did I dislike it?

No.

Did I think it devolved towards the end into a poorly explained morass of occultism under a rationalistic veneer?

Yes.

The most interesting part was point of view character (the novel was written in third person limited) of Michael Karras, a writer of leftist and usually conspiratorial books for a small, left wing press. He had a bit of the air of a journalist about him and you are inclined to think of him as being a reasonably smart guy. And he was. But somewhere along the line, you are reminded that he’s also a conspiracy theorist kind of guy and you think back and wonder if you missed things because he’s far less reliable than you initially assume. Oh, and he kills himself at the end after taking an uzi from a guy in an invisibility cloak in hopes, one assumes, that by doing so, his semi-mystical status will make the world better, which, in the epilogue, doesn’t seem to have worked.

Ninefox Gambit


After reading this science fiction novel and then recommending it to a friend (I won’t say it was great writing, though perhaps it is better in the original, but it’s good writing and I just found it very fascinating), he immediately noted the en media res factor, with Lee tossing into a well thought out, but very outre science fiction universe and society. Mathematics based around calendars can, apparently, affect reality in some way that winds up wreaking havoc on technology based around other ‘calendrical’ systems. It’s like if the presence of a vinyl record player caused your all your iTunes songs to either blow up your phone or play nothing but ‘Baby Shark’ at ear splitting volume.

He also commented on how this society placed an emphasis on the wearing of gloves and how that was also part of the society of the Radch Empire in the amazing novel, Ancillary Justice.

This got me thinking and I eventually decided that Frank Herbert’s Dune was the forerunner of all this. The culture and the social and technological mores of that universe were detailed, well thought out, and completely alien to us. While Ninefox Gambit is no Dune, I can see the lineage.

Swords Of Mars


I was, at first, excited that Burroughs had returned to the original hero of the Mars (or Barsoom) stories: John Carter.

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Studying With Miss Bishop: Memoirs From A Young Writer’s Life


I am a fan of Gioia, but more as a figure than a poet (though his translation of Dante is superb and that, too, is poetry). I enjoyed his novella length essay on the Catholic writer in contemporary times and felt he was one of our best Poet Laureates in terms of actually promoting poetry (I love the poetry of Charles Wright, but he was marvelously disinterested as Poet Laureate). I was pleased to read that he was a young fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs and got his start reading At the Earth’s Core (the first of his Pellucidar books).

Beyond our shared love, this is a lovely little book. I wish that he had delved more into his own experiences around class and race, but I also recognize that this is not that kind of book.

He examines how his interactions (mainly as a young poet) with five poets and writers affected him. While he notes a funny encounter with a drunk James Dickey (who resented a negative review that Gioia wrote), the reminiscences are by and large fond and positive.

My personal favorite was the chapter about the classicist, Robert Fitzgerald (I loved his translation of The Aeneid), but section on Ronald Perry, an apparently talented, but mostly unknown poet, is the most affecting. It is a beautiful meditation on mortality, in the end. Perry’s literary reputation was small and his memory limited, most likely, by the lifespan of those who knew him. Most writers will not be remembered.

Rhythm Of War


I am officially tired of reading long, unfinished series of fantasy/science fiction novels, with each and every novel being longer than the last. I think this one clocked in at 1300 odd pages. Are you better than War and Peace? No? Then consider tightening your narrative.

Ok.

It wasn’t that bad, I was just ‘over’ this fourth book in the so-called Stormlight Archive about five hundred pages short of finishing it. Which, before you ask, I did finish it.

Sanderson does still write some great action sequences. He has characters (one in particular) who can fly (that’s technically not what he’s doing, but close enough without explaining an unnecessarily complicated magical system) and does a good job at depicting combat in multiple dimensions.

At least, if the author is try to his word, this particular storyline will end with the next book.

The Prisoner Of Zenda


What a great book. I can’t even guess how many times I read this during my school days. A dozen times, at least.

When this article from the Post came out, praising it as a lost classic, I knew I had to revisit it.

And it’s just as good. Thrilling, romantic, brisk. Some fascinating twists and turns. In some ways, it reminded me of my beloved planetary romances, wherein, despite the presence of advanced weaponry, folks still use swords. Similarly, despite there being revolvers and despite seeming to take place in the 1870s or 1880s, characters consistently choose to use swords instead of guns. Why? Because it’s cooler, that’s why! What a silly question.

As the hero says, when asked if he intends to use a gun when surprising a group of six ruffians, “No; steel for me.”

Steel, indeed. Duels, seductions, disguises, nighttime raids. What more can you ask for?

Priest-Kings Of Gor


Like all of John Norman’s Gor novels, Priest-Kings of Gor is a rehash of Edgar Rice Burroughs more enjoyable Barsoom novels, except with some super uncomfortable ideas about the role of women and some crude and unsuccessful stabs at eroticism.

No, I can’t justify having read this book, except to say that, when I was much younger and prowling used bookstores, this series was ever present on the sci-fi/fantasy shelves.

The protagonist visit the home of Gor’s unseen rulers and learns that they are a race of intergalactic spiders who communicate by scent (I’ll say this much, Norman does a good job of describing and explaining this). He sort of forgets that they destroyed his city and scattered its citizens, including his ‘Free Companion’ (sort of like a wife), to places unknown and becomes friends with the spiders and… well, it’s exciting enough, but you’re better off just reading A Princess of Mars.

Just as a note, there is, apparently, a small Gorean subculture who participate in Norman’s deeply awful ideas of gender roles and sex, which mostly involves a belief on his part that women really want to be ruled by men and to call them master. It’s sort of like someone took an occasional, kinky date night idea and decided to do it every day and not just when the kids are asleep. It’s so weird. It also means that every female character is incredibly shallow and two dimensional.

‘The Tiger’s Daughter’ By K. Arsenault Rivera


This book was beautifully written, but maybe not written for me, if that makes sense. In some senses, it is a very long fairy tale about two born for each other lovers.

The lovers are both noble (one, technically royal; the niece of the emperor and his heir, due to a lack of children) and both female. This is not presented as being truly insurmountable. I would compare it to being lesbian in the early nineties or eighties. People know ‘it’ exists and maybe even know some people who are queer, but its acceptance is limited and so are civil protections (which is not to diminish the challenges and harms that LGBTQ+ people faced and still face).

There is some kind of a dangerous threat to the empire from demons who are nearly impossible to kill and whose blood can actually transform someone into a demon. Which all should be a bigger deal than it is. I mean, it appears as a trigger for an important plot point, but the presence of incredibly dangerous demons feels like it should be more of an ‘all hands on deck’ situation for any political body than it is treated here.

I have, until now, skipped over the second item for which this book was best known when it first came out (the first was the queer love story). That is that it is not a western fantasy, but takes places in an empire based on China.

And it gets one big thing very, very right. China is huge. China is diverse. China has tropical jungles, freezing mountains, grasslands, temperate zones, steppes… pretty much every kind of biome you could imagine. From this follows there are many different cultures and languages. Generally, when one thinks of China, in a western context, it is of what primarily emerged from Han culture (I say this being not at all a China expert). This books gets it right. The two protagonists are from different cultures. One is from the ‘Han’ imperial culture. The other is darker skinned and from the steppes.