The Engines Of God


I no longer remember where I heard about this book, but it stuck in my mind as something I should read if I got the chance.

I spoke to a fellow aficionado with very specific tastes. Among other features of his personality, he really only considers so-called hard science fiction to be genuine science fiction; the rest is just fantasy with space ships.

By those standards, The Engines of God is not science fiction, but it is closer and I recommended it to him.

It is a science fiction (by my lights) novel, but centered around discovery and investigation and despite having one action sequence with ‘blasters’ (here called pulsers), a sequence that is gritty, unnerving, and realistic in feel, it resolutely not an action book. There are alien ruins but the aliens are long gone.

The highest praise I can give is that it makes a semi-sentient, apocalyptic space cloud seem realistic and explainable.

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives Of The Inklings


This is a somewhat half hearted effort to convince the reader that Barfield and Williams are at least half as important as Lewis and Tolkien, undermined by the authors’ own apparent lack of belief in that aspect of the project and by a consensus of opinion which they seem disinclined to challenge.

Towards the end, they set up poor Barfield, by describing his intent to meet the challenge laid down by his peers’ successes and to write his magnum opus. It’s a big set up, narratively, but ends with the admission that few liked it and barely more than that even noticed it was written.

Structurally, they probably could have just focused on Lewis and Tolkien and then included a wider variety of other Inklings.

But, I learned a lot about them and it was interesting, because I like Tolkien and Lewis. I like ’em a lot.

The Zaleskis, without becoming prurient or even mentioning it again, makes a good argument that Lewis and Mrs. Moore were having a sexual affair, which convinced me. It doesn’t change my opinion of him, it’s merely nice to have some resolution, in my mind, on the matter.

Likewise, I had not realized just how devoutly Catholic Tolkien was nor how important it was to his Middle Earth novels (he went to mass daily for most of his life).

But… I can’t help but be a little disappointed. I had been hoping to learn about another Bloomsbury group or another Transcendentalist circle or another Paris in the twenties, instead, learned about a group of intelligent and interesting academics, two of whom happened to become very, very famous and were very important writers. And I put the book feeling that the authors didn’t really like the works of Lewis and Tolkien all that much, which feels almost like a personal insult to one such as I, raised on Narnia and Middle Earth (though they seemed to like two lesser read Tolkienalia, Farmer Giles of Ham and The Smith of Wooton Major, both of which I loved and read over and over again as a child).

The Steel Remains


Written by the author of Altered Carbon (which I still haven’t read), The Steel Remains is a sort of grimdark fantasy (I hate that term) which partakes of some of the earthier moments of George R.R. Martin’s as yet unfinished septology (is that the word?) but more of the granddaddy (I would say), Glen Cook and his Black Company. Indeed, the three main protagonists would feel right at home in that titular company.

It’s all very good and exciting. The world is well crafted – it’s not unique, but Morgan is good at introducing the world without laying on tons of exposition. There is a sort steampunk overlay, with an alien race that uses barely understood technology that, as Arthur C. Clarke noted, looks very like magic. Of the three protagonists, one is clearly the focus and he’s gay, which is nice to see in terms of diversity (another is from a non-human sort of race that happen to be black).

But then…

He brings all three point of view characters (who also all previously knew each other) together at the very end in a way that just feels entirely too forced; a poorly established deus ex machina. that left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

The Seventh Sword Trilogy


I read the first book, The Reluctant Swordsman, five years ago and recently got an opportunity to read the rest of the trilogy (and a fourth book, but I haven’t done so). I gave The Reluctant Swordsman a middling review; enjoyable but not great. But someone commented and encouraged me to give the rest of the series another try.

And I still think they’re middling. Not bad. Far from great. Far from bad, but closer to bad than great. The plot and character development got increasingly unbelievable (I never could figure out what was causing the hero’s jealous mood swings in the final book), without ever becoming so bad that I had to put it down.

But the real problem – which was exacerbated by the longer format of a trilogy – was that the world building was just inadequate. I just couldn’t believe in this world. The economic and social structures were complex without ever feeling like realistic, within the logic of the world. In a single book, where the premise is that a middle aged man gets his fantasy of being placed into the body of a buff and handsome swordsman, that can be overlooked, but not if you drag it out into two more books.

The Man In The High Castle


The missus and I have become fans of the Man in the High Castle television series and it seemed just wrong not to take advantage of the hiatus between the third and fourth season to read the book.

So, I got it from the library and was once again reminded of how deeply weird Philip K. Dick really is. I was also reminded of how much writers like William Gibson were influenced by him. Not just in Dick being porto-cyberpunk, but in how changes to the world and to technology change language.

The antiques dealer, Robert Childan (also one of my favorite characters from the series, which, in case you have only experienced one and not the other, is, like almost everyone else, wildly different from the man in the tv show), and the way he tries to adopt and interiorize Japanese modes of thinking deeply changes his language and even his inner monologue and that, and other similar adjustments, are the most fascinating part of the book.

The Poppy War


This book got a lot of attention and good press and I was genuinely excited to read it. To add some extra the spice, the author is from right here (Washington, DC; though I guess she has since moved). It lauded as a move away from western-centric fantasy and through some interesting, drug based ‘magic.’

But… aside from the Asian names, it did not actually feel that different from a traditional fantasy (poor girl goes to super school, turns out to be even more super than most, becomes a great shaman, which is to say, a sort of wizard). There were some references to the Journey to the West and other allusions to more classical Chinese culture, but even more thinly disguised references to the 20th century wars between Japan and China, as well as the Opium Wars (the name was barely changed) – so thinly disguised that they felt heavy handed rather than allusive; cheap rather than enlightening.

Just because it’s what I do, I may read the second book when it comes out, but I can’t deny that this one was a disappointment.