I don't much like reading books about time travel. Mostly it just makes me dizzy, I don't deal well with paradoxes. I loved the scene at the end of the new Star Trek film when Spock I and Spock II do the Vulcan equivalent of snicker over Kirk's gullibility as to the dangers of time travel paradoxes.
There are a few exceptions, like Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp and Time and Again by Jack Finney. John Varley's Millennium is another that has taken up permanent occupancy on my bookshelves, and I've been puzzling over why.
I think it's because the premise for time travel in this novel is practical. The future is robbing/mining/harvesting/exploiting the past to save the future, to ensure the survival of humankind. It isn't a bolt of lightning or a self-induced hypnotic state, no, this time the future creates a time travel machine specifically for this purpose and none other.
The motivation is great on a character level, too. Louise and the rest of her Snatch Team are sacrificing their own lives for the sake of the rest of the human race, and FAA investigator Bill Smith's job and personal curiosity, not to mention his love for Louise, pushes him inexorably toward solving this mystery.
One of the best robot characters ever created in SF, and in the best self-referential science fiction tradition each chapter heading is a shout-out to that which has gone before, including on page 23 one to Robert Heinlein. I'm definitely feeling the love.
In fact, time to reread it again...
(The film version of Millenium, with Cheryl Ladd and Kris Kristofferson, isn't bad, either.)
A fully enfranchised flapper in Melbourne after the first War, Phryne Fisher is a heroine after anyone’s heart, and Kerry Greenwood’s prose does her full justice. Take this, for example: Phryne Fisher had a taste for young and comely men, but she was not prone to trust them with anything but her body. Or Phryne,…
Hilary Mantel has given a wonderful voice to Thomas Cromwell in this novel of an eyewitness perspective on Henry VIII's split from the Church of Rome. All the usual suspects are present, Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas More, along with a wonderful supporting cast of fully realized minor characters, whether fictional or historical. I don't know which is more painful to watch, Thomas More being viciously abusive to his wife and daughters over lunch, or Cromwell as a child watching a Lollard burned at the stake. Unless it's the progress of Henry's relationship with Anne.
What gives me the most writer envy is that Wolf Hall is written in third person present tense, which normally leaves me cold. This time I was so mesmerized after the first page that I barely noticed. A must read for anyone who loves good writing and/or this period in history.
High up in the bough of a tree a bird, smaller than all the rest, trills out three pure, clear notes on a descending scale. The woman raises her face into the last rays of the setting sun, and she smiles.—-The Singing of the Dead You know the bird that sings every time Emaa wants…
It's Banned Books Week, folks. Click on the link to find ideas and resources to spread the word.
Here are some of the reasons why.
4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
13. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
33. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
40. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
56. Jazz by Toni Morrison
79. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
81. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
90. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
95. Kim by Rudyard Kipling
Safe to say I wouldn't have made it through childhood without some of these books. Go here to read the full list.
Letting someone tell you what you can or can't read is downright unAmerican. There is an Amazon buy link beneath each title. Please do feel free to click on them to buy a copy.
I’m just saying. You know how the West was won? By the federal government, that’s how. The federal government bought Louisiana. The federal government sent Lewis and Clark to Oregon. The federal government sent the US Army to invade California and steal it from Mexico. The federal government sent the US Army to kill every…
I hope this is as close as I ever get to being shot at. This book is that real, that immediate. Junger follows the 173rd Airborne’s Battle Company into the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan, and next to the definition of Hell on Earth in the dictionary? That’s the Korengal Valley. The weather (“Summer grinds on: A hundred degrees every day and tarantulas invading the living quarters to get out of the heat.”) and the terrain (“The last stretch is an absurdly steep climb through the village of Babiyal that the men call “the Stairmaster.””) would have challenged Atilla the Hun, except that Atilla was smart enough not to invade Afghanistan.
As if the weather and the terrain aren’t bad enough, they’re also fighting the culture. “Most Korengalis have never left their village and have almost no understanding of the world beyond the mouth of the valley. That makes it a perfect place in which to base an insurgency dedicated to fighting outsiders. One old man in the valley thought the American soldiers were actually Russians who had simply stayed after the Soviet army pulled out in 1989.”
How tough are these guys? “Battle Company is taking the most contact of the battalion, and the battalion is taking the most contact - by far - of any in the U.S. military. Nearly a fifth of the combat experienced by the 70,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan is being fought by the 150 men of Battle Company. Seventy percent of the bombs dropped in Afghanistan are dropped in and around the Korengal Valley.”
Good thing they’re tough, because everyone is shooting at them (“The bullet you dodge will pass you with a distinctive snap. That’s the sound of a small object breaking the sound barrier inches from your head.”). And that’s just when they’re staying “safe” (hah!) behind the wire of Restrepo, an outpost named for a medic who died in combat. “Restrepo was extremely well liked because he was brave under fire and absolutely committed to the men. If you got sick he would take your guard shift; if you were depressed he’d come to your hooch and play guitar.”
This is an on the ground, eyewitness account of men at war, today, this minute, our guys in Afghanistan at work. The prose is clear and sharp and while Junger is inevitably a part of the story, he doesn’t put himself forward too often and he never makes the mistake of thinking anything but the men of Battle Company are the subject.
The larger subject is, of course, war, and Junger does go there later in the book. Armies have a vested interest in figuring out what makes a man fight and fight well, and Junger cities a lot of studies and makes a praiseworthy attempt at explaining why men fight. Testosterone and other hardwired biological stimuli come into it, as you knew they would, but that’s not all there is to it. “The willingness to die for another person is a form of love that even religions fail to inspire, and the experience of it changes a person profoundly. What the Army sociologists, with their clipboards and their questions and their endless metanalyses, slowly came to understand was that courage was love.”
The men of Battle Company love combat, and this book is as close as most people will get to understanding that. “Civilians balk at recognizing that one of the most traumatic things about combat is having to give it up.”
But mostly? You come away from this book thinking, Okay, if it is biologically inevitable that young men are going to go to war? We should pick our fights with more care. These guys are too good to waste.
Junger and photographer Tim Hetherington filmed a documentary based on this same material, Restrepo. Already in my Netflix queue.
Dick Francis' death in February inspired me to reread everything of his that's on the shelf in the Homer Public Library.
To the Hilt is still my favorite. Painter Alexander Kinloch, nephew of a Scottish earl, is summoned from his aerie in Scotland by his mother to tend to his step-father, whose prosperous brewery has been ripped off to insolvency by its disappeared comptroller. There are wonderful characters, contained but loving mother Vivienne, dithery but honorable step-father Ivan, proud, stubborn, hilarious uncle Himself, viperous but charming step-sister Patsy and her execrable husband Surtees, and one of the more capable and most amusing sidekicks ever, the private investigative team of Young and Uttley. Francis' villains are never that obscure, by their mark of Cane-ish behavior shall ye know them, but the creation of the portrait of Zoe Lang is mesmerizing and revelatory, both for the window on the technical side of the craft of painting and the agony it puts the artist through.
Reflex, Straight, Banker, Proof, Decider and Longshot are also wonderful. Yeah, Francis was a jockey and there is always a horse around somewhere but the books are often only peripherally about racing. Part of the fascination of his novels lies in the different worlds he explores in each of them, painting in To the Hilt, photography in Reflex, gemstones in Straight, venture capitalism in Banker, wine in Proof, architecture in Decider, and the art of survival in Longshot.
Francis writes pretty much the same character every time, first person male, young, stubborn, honest, honorable, never a whiner, always calm and cool in a crisis and on occasion astonishingly forgiving. Maybe it's always the same narrator, but it's someone you want to spend time with, and the writing is excellent. Read Proof for the telephone conversation between English Tony and French Henri, a definitive illustration in less than two pages of the differences between those two nations. You will come away a novitiate to the Church of Francis.
I get a lot of comments here at stabenow.com and on Facebook wanting a list of all the books Kate has ever read and all the songs she has ever listened to.* Okay, I heard you. While I was doing the copyedit of Though Not Dead, the eighteenth Kate Shugak novel, I kept track of…
Go here to read librarian Nancy Pearl's most recent feature on NPR talking about good books to read. She's so well-read and so articulate and so enthusiastic, my to-read pile gets longer just listening to her.
And, glory of glories, she has a blog. And it's got an RSS feed. If, you know, you were into that kind of thing.
She even has her own action figure.
With Nancy on the case, there is absolutely no reason for anyone to be sitting around whining that they don't have anything to read. Yes, you do! Or you do if you listen to Nancy.