William Morris discovered the most tedious way to tell a story, and he demonstrated his discovery in "A Tale of the House of the Wolfings." I find it...moreWilliam Morris discovered the most tedious way to tell a story, and he demonstrated his discovery in "A Tale of the House of the Wolfings." I find it hard to believe that he was once offered the office of Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland, upon the death of Lord Tennyson, given how poor the meter and rhyme of his verse in this book is — perhaps the council which presented it to him did so in jest. I applaud Morris for turning it down on the pretense of political differences rather than merit.
That said, I still give this book 3 stars (perhaps beyond my better judgment), because if one can get past Morris's absurd archaicism and defective balladry, the story is actually fairly engaging. Perhaps this supports C.S. Lewis's argument in An Experiment in Criticism that some stories are universal, regardless of their form. (less)
While there are some humorous moments — such the chapter "Of how Imbaun Spake of Death to the King" ending with Imbaun being led away, "And there aros...moreWhile there are some humorous moments — such the chapter "Of how Imbaun Spake of Death to the King" ending with Imbaun being led away, "And there arose prophets in Aradec who spake not of death to Kings" (indeed, the procession of prophets who die itself is kind of funny) — they are not enough to offset the tediousness of the mock-serious scriptural tone that Dunsany adopts throughout the book. While I generally like irony and subtle humor, I could not shake the feeling the each chapter is a knowing half-wink by Dunsany asking, "See what I did there?" Yes, I see what was done, and while I don't deny the cleverness and insight behind the story (is it even a story? more like a collection of vignettes...), I am not a huge fan of stories that point out their own cleverness and insight.
A lot of people have praised Dunsany for his cleverness in coming up with his own cosmogony, something which (the claim is made) had not done before him but which has been repeated frequently afterwards by writers ranging from Tolkien to Terry Pratchett, and beyond. I think critics in general have not properly placed Dunsany's work here as a logical byproduct of the comparative religious studies taking place in the mid-to-late 19th and early 20th centuries. Books like The Golden Bough brought together strange gods and goddesses from different lands, and I suspect for people like Dunsany, many of these gods seemed silly and obviously invented. This is not to say that The Gods of Pegana is an imitation of such comparative studies, but that they appear around the same time seems significant. I would have to look further into it, however, to know if there is a more direct connection.
I also think there is a loose, but important, connection between Dunsany's idea of an invented cosmogony and the creation of angelologies and demonologies, particularly in the medieval and renaissance periods. These types of hierarchies drew from classical and biblical stories, but there were many which seem to have simply invented new angels and demons, or given new powers and authorities to old ones. Such works arguably link back even further to things like Ovid's "Metamorphoses."(less)
Being a fan of Joss Whedon, it's no surprise that I liked this book. Pascale does a great job of describing the situations, development and impact of...moreBeing a fan of Joss Whedon, it's no surprise that I liked this book. Pascale does a great job of describing the situations, development and impact of Joss Whedon's work — not just the stuff he has become famous for, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Avengers, but also things that are little known, such as his 1990s script doctoring work, or things that never came fully to fruition, such as his film Goners. Perhaps the most successful aspect of the way Pascale weaves Whedon's story is in showing how engaged and prolific he is. Although the chapters are split into somewhat discrete project-based units presented in chronological order, there is still a great sense of overlap, and messiness, to the order in which Joss took on those projects. For example, I never realized before that Nathan Fillion's appearance on Buffy and Gina Torres' and Adam Baldwin's appearances on Angel all occurred afterFirefly was canceled.
If there's one significant criticism I have, it's that I wish there were more information about Whedon's movie In Your Eyes, which was released released in April this year as a digital-only rental. There are four references to the film throughout the book, which give minimal information about the film as it was produced by Bellwether Pictures (Joss and Kai Cole's production company, which also produced Much Ado About Nothing) and released online. Joss has stated that the film came "from an old script" he wrote, and the film's female lead, Zoe Kazan, has dated that script in or around 1992—the same year that the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie came out. I can understand why Pascale wouldn't be able to write about the movie's impact (or lack thereof) upon its release, but even a sentence or two about the initial writing of the script in the early '90s would have been a nice bit of detail, and certainly such detail would be germane given the references to a number of other scripts which never were produced.
All in all, however, this biography will definitely appeal to anyone who has enjoyed Whedon's work, and likely to many who have not enjoyed his work, but who are interested in artistic process.
I was a bit disappointed by this story. It's set up is great, with Poddy's intelligence and ambition shining through. Then, slowly, that all fades, as...moreI was a bit disappointed by this story. It's set up is great, with Poddy's intelligence and ambition shining through. Then, slowly, that all fades, as Poddy becomes more and more reliant on her male family members (Uncle Tom and her brother Clark) and questions both her desire and capability to become a starship pilot.
At the same time as Poddy's agency diminishes, so does the thrust of the story. What starts out as an adventure to explore new (to Poddy) worlds, turns into a frustratingly slow-paced abduction tale in which Poddy repeatedly shows how incapable she is of doing anything on her own. As I read, I kept hoping that Heinlein was going to subvert the increasingly misogynistic trajectory somehow. He never does, and the worst offense comes at the end when Tom calls Poddy's father to blame him for Poddy's condition because he didn't make his wife stay home more to take care of the kids.
Still, poor Heinlein is better than most other stories. Plot and character problems aside, the book is well written. His turns of phrase are typically humorous, and I'm always a sucker for a good anti-government quip or two. The planetary societies are well thought out and described. I just wish that he had put the same effort into the story itself.(less)
Goodreads allows 20,000 characters for book reviews: Is it possible to provide an acceptable review of Moby-Dick in so few bytes? I suspect not, so th...moreGoodreads allows 20,000 characters for book reviews: Is it possible to provide an acceptable review of Moby-Dick in so few bytes? I suspect not, so this is not a review so much as some memorable moments.
The tale begins with a plentitude of clippings from and references to historical sources about whales, giving the story a sense of depth that can only be described anachronistically as decidedly Tolkienian. I confess I did not read them all, and I don't believe it was strictly necessary to have done so. Upon recognizing, not merely intellectually but emotionally as well ("Thinking is, or ought to be, a coolness and a calmness; and our poor hearts throb, and our poor brains beat too much for that"), that there exists more recorded history and lore about whales than you ever realized before, you have fully entered the Faërie which Melville has prepared for you. For make no doubt: Moby-Dick is, above all, the story of man's journey into the Perilous Realm.
I was unprepared for how existential and atheistic (or at least deistic) the story is. In particular, the ending of the story proper, ignoring the requisite closing frame of the epilogue, could have swapped places with the last paragraph in A Canticle for Leibowitz: “Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.” — I half-expected Melville to have added, "He was very hungry that season."
Forgive me if I don't try to describe the entirety of the text between that opening barrage and the closing swell.(less)
Read for research on my paper about the use of Moloch as a metaphor of sacrifice in a burgeoning industrial age (vs. the Miltonian war-like Moloch). C...moreRead for research on my paper about the use of Moloch as a metaphor of sacrifice in a burgeoning industrial age (vs. the Miltonian war-like Moloch). Cf. esp. Alexandr Kuprin's "Moloch" and Fritz Lang's "Metropolis."(less)
Asimov is one of the greats for his ideas, if not exactly his prose. There's a lot to quibble about with respect to the artistry in this book —in part...moreAsimov is one of the greats for his ideas, if not exactly his prose. There's a lot to quibble about with respect to the artistry in this book — in particular, the yawn-worthy, pseudo-Socratic exposition (only a scientist could think that two scientists talking to each other makes for a fascinating story). But getting past those stylistic inadequacies, and a few anachronisms, it's still interesting to think about the technical, ethical, social and political problems presented by robots and "machine men."
One of the things that struck me as odd is the persistent insistence by characters — who are typically scientists or engineers — to call various outcomes or reasonings "impossible," only to be shown that such outcomes or reasonings are, in fact, quite possible. I have not decided yet whether this repetition is a grand insight on Asimov's part, i.e., a commentary on the tendency of humans to set artificial boundaries against their own imaginations, or whether it is simply a quirk of the author to need characters who express objection in the superlative to provide some level of tension in an otherwise rather mundane and technical conversation.
Much is made of Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics," which are invoked significantly throughout the stories in this book. While I've run across the laws in others of Asimov's stories, I was a little dismayed to find that in this book they aren't treated quite as rigorously as I had been led to believe. In fact, there seems to be some inconsistency in how exactly the laws function. In some of the stories, it is stated that the laws are, somehow, integral parts of the positronic brain, and that it is "impossible" (there's that word again) for robots not to follow them. In other stories, we got robots who are deliberately modified to ignore parts of the three laws or who are damaged in some way so as to not be able to follow the laws appropriately. I suppose one could explain "positronic inherency vs. programmatic function" with a "nature vs. nurture" metaphor — but I'm not sure it quite works.
Overall, this is a decent collection that mostly holds up. If nothing else, it provides some insight into the ideas that science fiction writers in the early to mid 20th century were thinking about. If they take a different form than today's ideas, well, we can't blame them for that....
Incidentally, it's unfortunate that the terrible, terrible Will Smith movie is featured on the cover of this edition, not only because the movie itself sucked, but also because it has almost nothing to do with any of the stories in this book, beyond a common title.(less)
This book is a great introduction to not only the language and text of Widsith, but also to its story, and the stories that led to its development. Wh...moreThis book is a great introduction to not only the language and text of Widsith, but also to its story, and the stories that led to its development. While a lot of additional scholarship has been done in the last century, Chambers' presentation still does a great job of providing a readable, consolidated view of those who studied the poem before him, with plenty of notes, references and other details available for those who want to dive in deeper.
My favorite part of the book is the chapters on "Stories Known to Widsith," in which Chambers elucidates the myths, legends and historical accounts that the writer(s)/compiler(s)/copyist(s) (and contemporary hearers/readers) of Widsith likely would have been familiar with. Given the amount of name dropping that goes on in Widsith's "catalogs," Chambers' work is much appreciated, both for helping to understand the flow of the poem itself and for providing context as to why the names mentioned were important.
This book is likely to please anyone interested in either the Anglo-Saxon/Old English language or the ancient stories told by the people who spoke it. If you happen to be interest in both, as I am, then double the pleasure.(less)
Very interesting story. Having worked for a multinational financial corporation during (and slightly after) the most recent financial crisis, I was in...moreVery interesting story. Having worked for a multinational financial corporation during (and slightly after) the most recent financial crisis, I was intrigued by the many parallels Bujold establishes between the real estate investments that what (in?)famously became known as CDOs (collateralized debt obligations) and the unsupportable voting scheme that the "cryocorps" come up with in this book. Far from taking an idea to the extreme, the premise seems eerily plausible, given an adequate technological basis.
I like how Bujold has continued to develop different character voices. Throughout the Vorkosigan Saga, we see a variety of character viewpoints, but I think this particular story hits a pinnacle with respect to both pacing and perspective as observed variously by Miles, Roic and Jin.
And then, the ending. How sad. I find it interesting that the one story Bujold has written so far after this one was set prior to it according to internal chronology. Perhaps she's not ready to deal with the fallout of that ending yet. That's pure speculation on my part, of course, but I wouldn't blame her if such were the case.
I'm a bit saddened, not just by the ending but because I am now done with the saga as a whole. I always hate getting to that point in any series where I've caught up. Much like Miles, I don't like having to wait for whatever comes next. *sigh*(less)
Incredible story. I read this after seeing the movie, and I'm surprised to see that nearly all of the same elements are there, with perhaps a few mino...moreIncredible story. I read this after seeing the movie, and I'm surprised to see that nearly all of the same elements are there, with perhaps a few minor tweaks combining some of Solomon's overseers/owners into fewer personalities, more suitable for film. About the only noticeable scene that's missing from the movie is Solomon's stopover in Washington during the return trip to sue Burch -- not the most painful of Solomon's experiences, but quite possibly the most frustrating.
As for the book itself, Solomon's tale is highly readable still today. The narrative is fast paced, yet provides sufficient detail to give a good sense of the people who made up a significant part of Solomon's life for that rather long interstice of enslavement. I was also intrigued at Solomon's interjections and descriptions of the institution of slavery, which he described as a complex system full of masters and mistresses who are variously benevolent and baneful, pious and puerile, magnanimous and megalomaniacal. Solomon's commentary on the system is as nuanced as it is unforgiving, being critical without becoming too -- tract-y, for lack of a better word. At the end he even acknowledges that if there is any fault of his story, it is that he highlighted "too prominently the bright side of the picture," a sentiment which it would be much too understated to call unexpected at best.
While not always a happy story, this is definitely a great one.
Really interesting collection of stories about what it means to be human. Bujold teases with ideas of biological and social determination in fun and p...moreReally interesting collection of stories about what it means to be human. Bujold teases with ideas of biological and social determination in fun and poignant ways. Perhaps the most interesting moment of these three stories is Miles' realization that Taura can speak, and the immediate shift in perception (and tactic) he has because of it.
I also really liked that Bujold gives us the opportunity to visit other planets. She states in the afterword that with Cetaganda she wanted to make the Cetagandans more interesting than just a stock enemy that's trying to take over the galaxy, a goal she accomplishes it skilfully. Bujold particularly excels at creating, and showing, realistically complex political systems and intertwined personal relationships and motives without getting bogged down in dry exposition.
I have to admit, I kept waiting for Miles to appear in Ethan of Athos, which probably says more about me as a reader than anything else. However, I think it was good to have kept the story focused on Ethan and Elli — the latter of which I had no idea would be making a return, after having last "seen" her several novels ago without a face. And of course, I can only wonder at this point what other minor characters may reappear to seize the stage...
Not Heinlein's best novel. The problem has more to do with the core idea than the technical aspects of the story: Sentence to sentence, his prose flow...moreNot Heinlein's best novel. The problem has more to do with the core idea than the technical aspects of the story: Sentence to sentence, his prose flows nicely as usual, and for the most part, the plot is sufficiently paced (except for the denouement, which is rather abrupt). However, Alec and Margrethe figure out a little too easily what is happening to them, and the last few chapters read like the supernatural parts of Stranger in a Strange Land were left to bloat in a sink full of dirty dishwater. (less)
An interesting book. As usual, Le Guin's prose is nearly flawless, and her ability to convey complex ideas simply is unparalleled.
If there's anything...moreAn interesting book. As usual, Le Guin's prose is nearly flawless, and her ability to convey complex ideas simply is unparalleled.
If there's anything to criticize about this book, it's that Le Guin doesn't take her ideas far enough. The most interesting part, the part where she could have delved further I think, is the meta nature of Lavinia's conversations with "the poet" and the implications on free will, destiny, etc. She does of course touch these topics, but they are explored only tangentially. And of course she could have gone even further — but possibly not without devolving to a frivolous fictional solipsism a la King's Dark Tower VII.
But that I feel she could have done more does not make the story she told unworthy in any way. It is an interesting tale about a marginal character in the popular (though as Le Guin explains in her Afterword, much less known than it should be) story of the Aeneid. It is, in a way, the contrapositive of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead — and if that means nothing to you, all I can say is that I wish I had Le Guin's trick of stating things more clearly.
I doubt this well ever be my favorite Le Guin story, but it was well worth the time spent reading it, nonetheless.(less)