Okay, this series can be a hard sell: the language is deliberately (and beautifully) flowery, the setting is antiquated and almost story-book, and the...moreOkay, this series can be a hard sell: the language is deliberately (and beautifully) flowery, the setting is antiquated and almost story-book, and the ethos requires admiring evil men for their honor and purity of purpose while accepting that good men will fight one another for the same reason. Plus, it wasn't finished when the author died and some of the chapters in the middle are replaced by notes describing what would happen in them. The cheesy frame story doesn't help.
But it's well worth it. It redeems itself with its ontology and with why its characters act the way they do.
In Mistress of Mistresses we are introduced to Zimiamvia, a fantasy land of dukes, princesses, and armies. There is one magician, described as a philosopher, who works his wonders in the garden instead of the battle-field. Our first hero is Lessingham, the perfect specimen of the fighter: a daring general, a dashing leader, and known kingdom-wide for his honor and his mercy. Our second hero is Duke Barganax, the perfect specimen of the lover: painter, devoted to his lover Fiorinda, and known for ruling his prosperous dukedom with kindness and generosity.
If they merged into one protagonist, you would have a book by Heinlein. Instead, the prince's death, an uncertain primogeniture, an unmarried princess, and Lessingham's sense of duty to his evil cousin puts them at the head of opposite armies in a succession war.
The military story is fine: Lessingham and his cousin, the Vicar Horius Parry, versus the combined might of the country's admiral, the duke's own soldiers, and the armies of his allies. In between engagements they and their agents engage in politics, betrayal, and persuasion among the nobility and among criminals.
And of course, whenever they encounter one another--as on the night before hostilities break out, when everyone knows tomorrow will be war so they hold a garden party--they treat one another with civility, leading to some wonderful court insults, lies, and honesty.
A Fish Dinner in Memison drives us deeper into the philosophical side of the story. It takes place during the third book, shortly before a pivotal battle, when the principals come together for an evening and discuss the meaning of life. Trust me, it isn't as boring as it sounds; this isn't My Dinner With Andre, it's a chance for gods and goddesses to make themselves known and for the world's mage to explain why the battle makes sense and what the purpose of their sacrifice is. This is an idealist's version of the Bhagadvagita and it explains many of the stranger moments in the first book.
The Mezantian Gate brings the story to a close by going back to before the first book. We see the politics and relationships that led to the war and in many ways resolve the political story that actually hasn't begun yet. This is the most political and "courtly" of the books and it's a wonderful chance for great character interactions.
Some people will try to tell you to read the books backwards, so you get the story in "chronological" order.
Nonsense and heresy.
The events of The Mezentian Gate don't work as well if you haven't yet read A Fish Dinner in Memison, A Fish Dinner... doesn't work as well if you don't know the characters as antagonists from Mistress of Mistresses, and A Fish Dinner... spoils too much of the character development in Mistress... by telling you why the universe needs the characters to develop as they do.
These aren't light fantasy, but they aren't nearly as heavy as some other, more popular, books. Give them a try. Read some of the text out loud to get a sense of the beauty of the language. Skip the framing chapters at the beginning of Mistress if they bother you (but go back and read them later; they will make sense then).
Get this omnibus edition with the forewards by Thomas and Winter if you can. They make the series a much more rewarding read.(less)
Let's get the simple stuff out of the way: Yes, this is largely a book of Smullyan's well-known Knights and Knaves puzzles. However, it has a lot more...moreLet's get the simple stuff out of the way: Yes, this is largely a book of Smullyan's well-known Knights and Knaves puzzles. However, it has a lot more.
Beginning and ending sections include jokes about logic and logicians that teach a huge amount about logic itself. A section in the back teaches about Godel's Theorem in a simple way anyone can understand (perhaps more elegantly than Hoftadter did, perhaps not). He gives a feeling for what logic is and why we understand it the way we do.
But back to the main thing: the puzzles. First, not all are Knights/Knaves. He has some (slightly silly) puzzles of other varieties (such as the title puzzle: what is the name of the book, after all?).
The Knights and Knaves puzzles are followed by other truth/not-truth variants. In increasing difficulty we get people who can lie or not, people who are insane and think true is false and false is true, people whose tendency to lie changes by the day of the week (which is something always unknown, of course) and take side trips into caskets with truth or lies on them and other variants.
The important piece there is "in increasing difficulty." This book is a disguised master course in boolean logic. Repeatedly, a puzzle will step back and ask you to solve a general case, without knowing exactly what situation it will be applied to.
By the end of the main puzzle section, we come to the actual Riddle of Dracula, which presents the problem of writing one solution that works for every puzzle up until then, across several chapters of the book. Smullyan isn't teaching how to solve a puzzle, he's teaching how the system of these puzzles works.
In the later chapters he discusses this openly and (lightly) applies the same principles to other varieties of puzzles, whch leads into his discussion of Goedel. That turns this book into a class not just on Boolean logic, but on the learning and the synthesis that form the basis of all science.
This book doesn't need another review saying how great it is, so let me just add some observations about reading it.
It is easy to see this book as bei...moreThis book doesn't need another review saying how great it is, so let me just add some observations about reading it.
It is easy to see this book as being about Hinduism or Buddhism. I've read reviews here on Goodreads that analyze the book that way. Zelazny wasn't especially interested in either belief, though: Sam reinvents Buddhism not because he's a Buddhist, but because he believes it offers something necessary to the existing society and he believes that his current opponents can't predict or respond to it. Much of Zelazny's work is about the value of the individual and the value of the community and how to balance those. LoL is his greatest foray into that.
He also loved to touch on the moral issues of those with access to technology versus those without that access, whether that technology is science or magic, or even if that distinction is meaningful. This is a major theme in LoL. As always, Zelazny's heroes do good for society through the act of doing good for themselves. He didn't create (or trust) pure crusaders.
A key point in LoL is the relationship between friends, companions, enemies, and people who simply disagree. Alliances change throughout the book (especially when the two time frames are compared--the book employs a frame-story structure with an extensive end to the frame) and throughout the book Sam interacts with people he's opposed before, opposes now, or plans to oppose. These people are also his only link to his past and the only people on the planet who can understand his history. He knows that winning doesn't always have to mean defeating, another frequent Zelazny point.
There is also something of an atonement story in LoL; Sam sees himself as having made many mistakes that hurt people (and non-human creatures). The atonement is kept in the background, for the most part, but is an interesting aspect to watch for.
LoL covers a lot of the same ground as Creatures of Light and Darkness, but takes more time to explore the details the and implications outside of the culture of the "god-like." CoLaD is very much a YA book on the same general concepts as LoL.
Summary: EF Russell's best-known book, Wasp is an excellently told story of one man working undercover in wartime to build enemy paranoia and confusio...moreSummary: EF Russell's best-known book, Wasp is an excellently told story of one man working undercover in wartime to build enemy paranoia and confusion in preparation to a (less-bloody) invasion. Funny and clever idea- and story-SF with little character development and an "alien" culture clearly based on the Axis powers.
Eric Frank Russell worked in British military intelligence during WWII, in a group that dreamt up strange tricks to counter Axis intelligence. As one of the most inventive minds in that era's SF scene and a strong believer in human ingenuity, he must have been fabulous at it.
This story follows James Mowry, a somewhat-unwilling recruit in Earth's war against the Sirian empire. Mowry had lived on a Sirian world when young, spoke the language fluently, and was physically acceptable for the part: undergo cosmetic surgery and blend in to the populace of a world Earth has targeted for attack.
The concept is familiar to Russell's fans, that one person, prepared and willing to act extremely creatively, can outwit a larger, more organized group that doesn't expect the attack. In this case, it's by inventing a rebellion group and ensuring his cover story doesn't connect to it. In The Space Willies it's one man pretending that all humans have invisible symbiotes that need propitiating.
Mowry's recruiter tells him the story of four criminals in a get-away car fleeing a crime. They are only caught because a wasp flies into the far and the driver panics. Mowry is asked to be that wasp to the Sirians. Earth trains him, drops him on his target world with a large cache of clever supplies, and trusts his ingenuity to apply their tricks in order to slowly increase the government's level of abreaction until it becomes self-sustaining.
This is a WWII resistance/partisan story with an SF setting and some fun SF technology (the chalk that acid-etches the surface it's on if you try to wash it off is a favorite). It's relatively light, it's quite engaging, and it comes from a time when SF writers were happy to praise individual action and personal creativity as the highest virtue of humanity and to show that creativity without irony.
This book is clearly from a certain era of SF, but it has aged very well and still reads as fresh and enjoyable, with very little of the "making allowances" much older SF requires. One of the best-known and most-loved SF books most people have never heard of :-)(less)
I gave this book 5 stars. - As science fiction it would get 2 - As philosophy it would get 1 (the world-view it argues for is much better discussed in...moreI gave this book 5 stars. - As science fiction it would get 2 - As philosophy it would get 1 (the world-view it argues for is much better discussed in other books--some of them even by RAW) - As humor it would get 3. Maybe 4 on a good day - As conspiracy theory it would get 4 - As research it doesn't even rate 1 - As a good guide to things to research for yourself, it's a solid 4 (great game: open to a random page and pick 5 things to look up in a library)
But it crosses the line on two things: * Cultural references that make points and explain things in the SF/geek/outcase/introvert subcultures. The Roberts nailed the experience of believing you're different and believing that what you want or experience is different and wanting to share it with the world. The terms and phrases that come out of this (fnord, illuminati, AUM, "You'll like it inside the apple," All Hail Discordia, Law of Fives, Aneristic Illusion, Paratheoanametamystichood, etc.) may not all be original, but they have built a part of a culture. Much like it's worth seeing Monty Python even if you don't "get" the humor to understand the "code."
It inspired two (excellent) card games and a wide variety of "bits" of other games, books, comics, and so forth.
* This book is one of the best tools for an adolescent or young adult (not YA--young adult) colonostickectomy. A young person hiding their creativity and trying to be "serious" so they can make it through life will get a huge amount of value from this book. You have to forgive them for believing the viewpoint for a few years and then you have to forgive them for rejecting it for a few. In the end, they'll probably come to a happy medium, but they'll always be gratefull for getting that damned uncomfortable thing out of their butt.
Oh yeah... the first 100 pages suck. Really. They're bad. But they're never referenced again (well, until the last 100 pages, which you really just skim looking for jokes), so skim them or skip them. You really don't need to start reading until the words "Egyptian Mouth-Breeder" appear on the page.
Actually, that might be the simplest and best review of all: You really don't need to start reading until the words "Egyptian Mouth-Breeder" appear on the page. (less)
By far one of the best in the (25+ book) series. It's not the funniest and it isn't the zaniest, but it shows Discworld and Pratchett mixing humor and...moreBy far one of the best in the (25+ book) series. It's not the funniest and it isn't the zaniest, but it shows Discworld and Pratchett mixing humor and insight in beautiful ways.
The book cam be summed-up in its four most powerful words: "Old gods, new jobs."
We've heard about the Hogfather throughout the series--he's a Santa-like character who comes and visits during midwinter for children to appreciate. Someone wants him dead and Death gets involved trying to keep things together.
Along the way we get the expected Death behavior--equal parts sardonic observation and broad slapstick--and the wonderful interactions of our Usual Gang of Suspects, but the story builds to a reminder that our civilised rituals come from somewhere. And that the figures we see today used to be very different. Anyone messing with the happy, present-bringing Hogfather should remember the dark midwinter rituals that created him.
Death has been around a while. He knows what's happening. As always in Discworld, watch Death. He isn't the fool he pretends to be.
Discworld always has a lot to say about human nature. Hogfather is one of the few that focus on the "what we believe" aspect, as opposed to "what we do" Small Gods and the less-effective Pyramids are the other two in the "gods trilogy"; Night Watch joins their company now. (less)
Aylett is the Mozart of science fiction: he descends from somewhere bearing complex, beautiful work that defies convention as strongly as it follows c...moreAylett is the Mozart of science fiction: he descends from somewhere bearing complex, beautiful work that defies convention as strongly as it follows conventional forms and he uses his language--words, in Aylett's case--with deft humor that hides how carefully-placed each piece is.
And some will look at it and declare there are "too many notes." Let them.
Only an Alligator is the first of the Accomplice novels: four stories set in the strange, mythical city Accomplice, cut off from the rest of the world by unknown catastrophes and devolving itself into some sort of clockwork parody of degeneration.
Our hero is Barney Juno, a kind and gentle soul who's sole goal is to care for the "winged and stepping creatures of the earth," which puts him completely at odds with everyone else in town. His friends include the town's most downtrodden, eccentric, and publicly artistic miscreants, but what else could he get with 500 eels in his front yard?
Okay... now we head off the main road a little and visit Aylett-land....
The action for the book--actually, the action for the whole series--is set up by Barney stepping into a creepchannel, a sort of nerve running through the earth and used by demons and some humans to travel. While he's there he rescues an alligator.
Yes, an alligator trapped in a demonic nerve through the earth. You're following just fine.
The alligator was left there by the demon Sweeney, who lives below Accomplice, in Hell. Sweeney had been basting the alligator for dinner that night and vows revenge on Juno.
And thus we have the setup: Sweeney and his demons become frustrated by Juno's simple innocence and how hard he is to destroy or subvert, even in a venal and corrupt town like Accomplice. Each failure makes Sweeney even more determined, leading through four books of epic confrontation. And no one in Accomplice finds any of this unusual.
Aylett's genius is misdirection. He puts a pyrotechnic display in one direction, such as his wordplay, and distracts you from the brilliance in the other, such as the morality play and the character development. When I first read the book, I read some sentences out loud to my girlfriend so she could appreciate the humor. After about 10 or 15--stopping for her laughter each time--she realized that these were consecutive sentences in the book. I had read her three paragraphs. Her response was, "It's like each sentence is its own unique thing." Similarly, scenes of surreal humor flew past me before I realized that I understood the plotting so far and recognized the characters and their motivations. Aylett got me laughing and gaping while a strongly-plotted book with well-thought-out characters and wry, if broad, social commentary slipped past my guard and dove into my eyes.(less)
This omnibus collects all 5 YA books in the Weetzie Bat series.
These are fabulous books, although not every book will appeal to every reader equally,...moreThis omnibus collects all 5 YA books in the Weetzie Bat series.
These are fabulous books, although not every book will appeal to every reader equally, of course. The stories follow Weetzie Bat (yes, that's her name) from high school through mid-to-late 20s as she and her beau and their assortment of bohemian, artsy friends grow up and make lives for themselves in and around Hollywood.
Throughout, Weetzie maintains a wild and magical view of the universe. Characters don't get names, they get descriptions and we're told that everyone calls them by that name, even outsiders and family. Her feller is called My Secret Agent Lover Man--by everyone--and one of her children (well, a stepchild to her) is called Witch Baby. The group of friends make movies and never mention other means of support. Wishes are granted, ghosts are appeased, and shamans summon the wind.
But these aren't magical realism. It's clear from the beginning that we're seeing the world through Weetzie's eyes as she magnifies everything for us and filters it through a Hollywood history of fantasy and archetype. Weetzie--and later, her children--shows us more about the characters' and events' impact on one another than their actual mundane behavior. It's a highly effective device in Block's hands.
The books are worth reading on their own. Each addresses typical YA themes: finding love and identity, being the outsider, etc., but doesn't sugar-coat the pain and compromises even though the world is technicolor and liable to break out into a Busby Berkeley number at any time. The book where Witch Baby visits New York City and tries to abandon her mother's fanciful influence is especially interesting.
Whether or not the YA stories appeal to you, these quick reads are a must to prepare for the non-YA, mainstream book Necklace of Kisses, where Block strips away Weetzie's fantasy and shows us the same characters and world in the bright light of modern realism--at least for the first portion of the book. The shock of learning My Secret Agent Lover Man's given name and the normalcy of their day jobs makes the setting, which involves their reaction to the attacks on 9/11/2001 and a middle-aged introspection, will resonate with everyone who has ever wondered where their wonder went.(less)