Behind The Throne


This is a good old fashioned space opera. The technology is well thought out and reasoned to (mostly) logical conclusions, but this is not hard sci fi. This is blasters and space empires.

And pretty good ones. It’s exciting and fast paced, breezing you past some iffy world building to keep you in the action (which is the point; space operas don’t make complete sense, so it’s the author’s job to make sure it’s thrilling and interesting enough to keep your disbelief suspended).

A matriarchal space empire, founded, apparently, by folks from India, with a plots to steal the throne, poison the empress and inspire a rival space kingdom to invade. And the protagonist is a princess who fled to find her father’s killer and became a smuggler and gunrunner before circumstances force her to return and (eventually, I don’t think it’s giving much away) become Empress of the Indaran Empire.

I look forward to reading the next volume.

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Oathbringer


I read some mediocre reviews of this novel, but I enjoyed it. In general, I’ve enjoyed the series (known as the Stormlight Archive; I find the use of the word ‘archive’ to be positively ridiculous).

It was exciting, with some interesting expansion upon the world building (Sanderson is very good at world building; his fantastical locales are well thought out, generally consistent and, while detailed, do not let the world building get in the way of a decent story). There was a sort of big reveal – a dark secret at the heart of this particular fantasy world – which I didn’t find nearly as morally earth shattering as, apparently, I was supposed to find it. But that’s a small(ish) thing.

A few things felt silly, but, c’mon, it’s a fantasy novel. In the end, it’s just quality pulp, right? Don’t be so hard on him for these things. The stakes felt high and while I wish he wouldn’t feel compelled to write such enormous, backpack busting tomes, it didn’t drag for me.

I suppose that I could try and describe the plot and events, but as the third book in a series where each book is longer than it’s predecessor (the first was, if I remember, eight hundred odd pages; this one is over twelve hundred pages), that seems like a fool’s mission.

Ice


Ice is considered a sort of lost classic and it didn’t disappoint. Technically science fiction in a post-apocalyptic mode, it takes place after an event (probably man made, but the unnamed protagonist honestly does not know for sure) results in a quickly creeping ice age enveloping the earth, constantly narrowing the band of habitable land and resulting in civil breakdown, wars for ever more scarce resources and the rise of local warlords.

The protagonist is obsessed with a girl with pale skin and nearly white hair who has known since she was a child. Abused in some way, she is drawn to abusive men. The protagonist, it is made clear, is probably no more than the best of a bad bunch.

The tone is stark and nameless (no names of people nor countries) and matched by the first person narration of a soldier for hire who is driven by his obsession/love/nostalgia for this mostly unattainable woman (partly because she is often kept by more violent and powerful men than he).

I hate to use this term, but I kept on thinking of this as Kafkaesque. The lack of definite names and quest for something close, but unattainable and also incomprehensible.

Great book. Really. Great.

Most Blessed Of The Patriarchs: Thomas Jefferson And The Empire Of Imagination


I, uh… I am not sure what the second half of that title is doing there. While I am sure that Jefferson was imaginative, that’s not really what this book is about (and most folks, including the authors, do not consider Jefferson to be an original thinker). And while you could make a strong argument for Jefferson having helped create an American Empire (the Louisiana Purchase and also the war against the Tripoli pirates).

But the first part makes a great deal of sense, because the authors’ main line seems to be that Jefferson saw himself and the world through the lens of an agrarian view of the family, with the patriarch at the head. Even democracy was a democracy of small patriarchs. It’s well understood that the Founding Fathers were deeply invested in protecting the rights and political prerogatives of landowners, so this isn’t that different, but the emphasis on family – and most especially on the role of the head of the family – is where they make their mark.

If you read my last post, you know I am struggling with Jefferson right now.

So also, I think, are Gordon-Reed and Onuf.

They want to praise Jefferson, but like Antony to Caesar, they seem rather to have ultimately come to bury him (yes, I know, a literal reading, rather than a true understanding of Antony’s intent in that speech).

They cannot get beyond his hypocrisy, because their unearthing sees it everywhere in his ideas. Even worse, they see him as being less and less committed to even the idea of ending slavery as time went on.

Like many writers, they view his time in Paris as crucial. But they see a sort of reaction wherein Jefferson reinvented himself in his mind as uniquely American (and also invents an image of America) that pushes him away from criticism of slavery, because he saw many European thinkers as inherently critical, so he wound up dropping the subject within himself.

On Having No Time For Thomas Jefferson’s BS


I’m reading my fourth book on Thomas Jefferson over, roughly, the last year. And after I finish this one, I’ll likely start on a fifth (a selection of Jefferson’s writings).

I posted a picture on social media of the current one (Most Blessed of the Patriarchs) and friend made this comment:

I find him so annoying, so self-absorbed and extremely petty. How he was able to accomplish anything is amazing with these as his driving traits.

My first instinct was to respond with a defense, of sorts. Acknowledging his many faults, but still defending his role in our history and, ultimately, his role as a generally admirable person.

Here’s where I should mention that the commentator is a black woman.

Which is much of reason why I paused.

Because it’s easy for me to make a nuanced case for his virtues, in spite of his rank hypocrisy on the issue of slavery. But… I’m white. That’s a pretty simple for me to do, isn’t it?

And isn’t it also a fairly obvious reaction by someone whose ancestors were enslaved, were sexually assaulted by slaveholders like Jefferson (and while he may have loved Sally Hemmings, lets be clear that when you own a person, genuine consent is not possible)?

I can’t say, despite my desire to like Jefferson, that she is wrong to effectively state, ‘I have no time for his BS.’

Shadowheart


He, umm… he did not, shall we say, stick the landing.

The final volume of Shadowmarch series managed to both be frenetic and also to drag terribly, an impressive accomplishment, but not fun to read.

Much of the book is an extended battle sequence – a series of engagements around the primary locale (Southmarch, if you’re interested) that are so frequent that they cease to hold the attention.

The climactic battle, involving a freed/awoken (though not ‘woke’) god, depended on some world building that the book didn’t earn. And some story lines turned out to be absolute nothings. There was, for example, a potentially interesting and morally weak poet named Tinwright who managed to take a large quantity of pages only to not do anything important or meaningful, in the end. It was like someone fired Checkhov’s gun, but missed and then did nothing more with it.

Finally, the ending went on for something like two hundred pages after the climax. Sure, Tolkien did that… but he was Tolkien. I didn’t know Tolkien, but I read a lot of his works, and you, sir, are no J.R.R. Tolkien.

Not Catching Up


I am trying and not completely succeeding in catching up on my periodicals. The more timely ones like Foreign Affairs and The New Yorker are first and Poetry gets relegated because its news doesn’t get old.

But if you find this one somewhere, it has a great poem by Aracelis Girmay (another Floridian, by the way).