8.17.2010

Blogging Around: The "Book Reviews I Greatly Enjoyed" Edition

Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century — Michael Dirda reviews this biography of Heinlein.
It's important to stress Heinlein's undoubted importance as a genre writer because much of this first installment in William Patterson's two-part life focuses on a man who never intended to publish fiction. Indeed, Patterson -- editor and publisher of the Heinlein Journal -- views his subject as culturally far more than just a writer. As he says, in his sometimes flowery way: "The story of Robert A. Heinlein is the story of America in the twentieth century." Patterson even asserts -- and will presumably discuss more fully in Vol. 2 -- that Heinlein "galvanized not one, but four social movements of his century: science fiction and its stepchild, the policy think tank, the counterculture, the libertarian movement, and the commercial space movement."

Frames — The Paragraph Farmer reviews this murder mystery and manages to work in the word "confuzzlement" (yes, I noticed!).
This is nominally a murder mystery, but you can't read three consecutive paragraphs in the book without encountering a cinematic reference of some kind. Sometimes the allusions are unobtrusive, but more often than not, they read like what you'd get if everybody in a room were trying to outsmart each other. These characters have a patter.

A Phantom Lover — Dust & Corruption calls our attention to this Victorian ghost story that has modern psychological sensibilities.
Mr. Oke is a nice enough guy, but bland and uninteresting. Mrs. Oke...Alice...is different. Exotic, beautiful, intense, and intelligent, she's also obsessed with the story of an ancestor who had a passionate affair with a local poet. Said ancestress later murdered, assisted by her husband, the poet, for unclear reasons. And now Alice seems to be having an affair with the poet's ghost.

Mistborn — SciFi Catholic does such a good job talking about The Mistborn that it almost makes me want to forget I stopped reading halfway through because I just didn't care about the characters and pick it up again. Almost. Most people love this book so go read the review and don't listen to me.
At least recently, most books I've read that are this grim are both less positive in their themes and more disgusting. Sanderson demonstrates that a skilled writer can build a believably grisly world without getting mired in its decadence. He creates characters who have suffered a great deal yet managed to maintain some level of integrity even though most of them are thieves, the only occupation that allows them to rebel against the Empire. The story is one of heroes and survivors who continue to put their faith in goodness even when confronted with great wickedness.

Supernatural Reality: Stoker's Dracula Hidden in Plain Sight — Black Gate has a brilliant piece about what Dracula was really about. Dracula is a favorite book of mine and this piece hits home, although this focus never really occurred to me. A brilliant, must-read piece even if you don't plan on reading the book (though, of course, you should).
Rare is the literary critic who looks at the recurring theme throughout the book of the difficulty modern man faces in accepting the supernatural as reality.

From its first page to its last, this is what Stoker is most interested in shaping his story around. The book has become so ingrained in our culture that millions who have never read it have absorbed the gist of the plot from the past century of adaptations, rip-off’s, and parodies in film, television, theater, and books.

This is part of the reason why the concept is missed, but the greater reason is the one Stoker illustrates time and again in his book – we deliberately ignore what we can’t comfortably explain.

The Godless Delusion — subtitled "A Catholic Challenge to Modern Atheism" and so it was very interesting to see how former atheist The Curt Jester's review pointed out some of the flaws in the authors' challenges to atheists. His points are well taken and, as a former agnostic, I concur with his general comments. However, the book sounds worthwhile overall and Jeff Miller (The Curt Jester) goes into a good amount of detail.
This book is certainly an excellent resource for those who want to refine their argument when talking with atheists or to just get a firm understanding of just how contradictory radical materialism is. For those honest atheists who consider truth more important than congratulating themselves by calling themselves brights — then this is well worth reading. I certainly wish that I had been introduced to the arguments contained within this book much sooner in my own life.

The Oprahfication of Religion — Steven D. Greydanus reviews the movie Eat Pray Love. However, he clearly has read the book and this piece contrasts and compares both, while simultaneously reviewing both.
Don’t expect much attention to central Hindu ideas like karma and reincarnation, in any case. Even Eastern religion is all very well up to a point — or, as Liz’s Balinese medicine man puts it, “Not too much God, not too much selfishness.” It’s the Oprahfication of religion; the movie is ultimately no more authentically interested in Hindu or Indian culture generally than it is in Italian culture. Liz’s time in India is spiritual tourism, as her time in Italy was culinary tourism; it’s all a self-help consumerist approach to world cultures.

Roberts is both an asset and a liability — an asset because we can’t help liking her and a liability for the same reason. One of the book’s more winsome qualities is a sense of self-critical frankness that the movie can’t bear to apply to our adorable Julia. This is a problem from the outset, since the movie has no idea why Liz is suddenly so unhappy in her marriage after eight years with her husband. (In the book, Gilbert describes her husband watching her “fall apart for months now, behaving like a madwoman (we both agreed on that word).” Nobody wants to see Roberts behaving like a madwoman, but the down side is that her discontent seems rooted in nothing.

The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang — I'm a Ted Chiang fan and this SF Site review of his new book both interests and worries me.
There are, essentially, two strategies. You can cherry-pick key moments along the timeline, describe those moments in detail and allow the reader to imagine what might fill in the gaps. At its most extreme, this means offering just the beginning and end of the process. This strategy allows full novelistic depth for those points along the line, but at the expense of any full representation of, and hence awareness of, the time scales involved.

Alternatively, you can present a synopsis of the entire period. This gives a clear impression of the time scales involved, the various forces that come into play shaping and directing the flow of history. But it necessarily skims across the surface, refusing the depth that allows us to share the individual experience of the historical momentum.

This dilemma becomes more pronounced, of course, the longer the period that has to be encompassed by the story. And this dilemma lies at the heart of the new novella from Ted Chiang, the longest and perhaps the weakest fiction he has published to date. He proposes that Artificial Intelligence is not something to be created fully formed, but needs to be raised as a child is raised. To that end, he must necessarily follow the education of his "digients" over decades, and all within just 140 pages. His solution is a mixture of the two strategies, though as so often happens in such circumstances, highlighting the worst elements of both.

False Religions. The Church of Tehlu. — Will Duquette is undertaking an interesting enterprise. Aside from reviewing various books he reads, he is also examining their treatment of any established religion within a book's world. Fascinating. This piece examines Patrick Rothfuss’ novel The Name of the Wind.
The essential question to ask about any religion, fictional or otherwise, is “Is it true?” Some fictional religions are intended to be true within the fictional world, and some are not. I’ll use the world theosphere to connote the supernatural reality of a fictional world.

So, is the Church of Tehlu true within the theosphere of Rothfuss’ world? ...

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the Dracula article. I thought it was really insightful. When I first read Dracula I was pretty disturbed by the use of the Eucharist in fighting the vampire. Reading in this article how Stoker took it very seriously is reassuring. I should read the novel again.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It was very thought provoking, wasn't it? Glad you liked it! :-)

    ReplyDelete

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