Since I didn't finish this book, this isn't an actual review, only an explanation of why I didn't finish. I debated whether to even write this much, a...moreSince I didn't finish this book, this isn't an actual review, only an explanation of why I didn't finish. I debated whether to even write this much, as I don't want to be unkind to the author (and I wouldn't presume to rate the book). If I'd gotten the e-book for free as a personal gift, I'd have written nothing; but since it's one that's offered for free to the general public, I thought I owed it to other readers to offer some explanation.
Angela Lockhart's character is a type I find intriguing, and up until Chapter 6 I felt the book might be a five star-read. At that point the plotting and character consistency completely fell apart, with both Angela and Christian, the Agency operative working against her boss' organization (both of whom are supposedly top-notch in their field), started taking actions and decisions so amateurish and stupid they could only be described as idiotic. This was obviously done to get them into a dating relationship; but that was being accomplished at the expense of any shred of credibility, and simply torpedoed the book amidships, beyond any hope of recovery (at least from my perspective).
Despite my disappointment with this book, I'll state that I did like the author's other series opener, The Lost Continent; I gave that one three stars, and intend to buy a paperback copy.(less)
This isn't an actual review (and I wouldn't do a rating), since I didn't finish the book --just an explanation of why I didn't! When I started the boo...moreThis isn't an actual review (and I wouldn't do a rating), since I didn't finish the book --just an explanation of why I didn't! When I started the book, I was hoping that Morris' vision of his ideal society as agrarian, pastoral and decentralized (as opposed to the typical Utopian visions of his day) would produce a novel markedly more interesting than the other Utopian fiction of that era. Alas, it didn't; the basic components of his vision are still the same clueless optimism about human perfectibility through socio-economic change, and the same total naivete about the workings of social and economic life, that characterize the writings of his contemporaries. And the delivery is the same boring, lecture-style essay in the loose guise of fiction.(less)
This isn't really a review (since I didn't finish the book), but just an explanation of why it's on this shelf --again, unlike most of the books here,...moreThis isn't really a review (since I didn't finish the book), but just an explanation of why it's on this shelf --again, unlike most of the books here, it isn't because I didn't like it! I got hold of a copy of the first volume of this when I was a child (I couldn't have been more than eight), and actually found much of it quite fascinating. (Iowa is my real native state, though I wasn't born there; I was raised there, and didn't move away permanently until I was 25.) It's older historiography, in the 19th-century tradition, very detailed narrative history (of course, there being about 110 years less of history to write about at the time, Gue and other historians of that day had scope to be much more detailed with the subject matter they had!). The accounts of the Moundbuilders, early exploration (Iowa being on the Mississippi, it was directly on Marquette and Joliet's route in the 1600s) and settlement, the lawlessness and vigilante action in the eastern part of Iowa when it was still a territory, the Spirit Lake massacre and the events before and after it, all made quite an impression, and I can still recall details and factoids of these and other events. At the time, though, I was bored (though I wouldn't be now) by the strictly political history that dominates the later part of the book, and didn't finish it. I'd love to read the whole thing now; but alas, it's out of print, and there's only one copy in the entire OCLC system (held by, I think, the Iowa Historical Society), so any chance of getting it by interlibrary loan is pretty far-fetched! :-((less)
This is a book which I haven't known how to shelve here for some time. I picked it up at a used book sale in the early 80s on a whim, and read the fir...moreThis is a book which I haven't known how to shelve here for some time. I picked it up at a used book sale in the early 80s on a whim, and read the first chapter; but I never got back to it, and eventually donated it to the library here at Bluefield College. It's sat on my "maybe-to-read" shelf for awhile; but realistically, I'm facing the fact that in the years I have left, there are too many other subjects I want to investigate more than the themes in the rest of this book. So, "started -not-finished" is the more honest shelf choice. In this case, though, that's not a negative judgment on the book; on the contrary, I liked and benefited from what I read --I think that chapter was, from my personal perspective, the real "meat" of the book anyway!
The book is organized in terms of broad common themes running through a large number of the world's religious traditions (with particular attention to "primitive" religions), over a worldwide geographical range. And the first of these to be treated is the idea of a transcendent Creator sky god, not identified with any heavenly body --a surprisingly widely distributed concept, including not only the Semitic El, but such deities as the Siberian Bai Ulgen, etc. To me, that chapter was fascinating, and IMO, the facts presented strongly suggest primitive monotheism. (Eliade himself stops short of drawing that conclusion; but he does present several bibliographic references to other scholars who do draw it.)
From what I did read and skim, I would say that for any readers who have a serious interest in comparative religion, this would be a great introduction to that field. (During his lifetime, Romanian scholar Eliade was a world-class authority on the subject; he served as editor-in-chief for Macmillan's monumental 1987 Encyclopedia of Religion, and also wrote Shamanism in Siberia, the definitive study of that phenomenon.)(less)
A friend of mine (who's not on Goodreads), who's reading this book, recommended it to me as one I might like. Whether or not I actually would, I don't...moreA friend of mine (who's not on Goodreads), who's reading this book, recommended it to me as one I might like. Whether or not I actually would, I don't know --I admire strong heroines, but not villainesses, and it sounds like Perez-Riverte's title character here would be more apt to be the latter. But I told him I'd give it a try sometime later on, so I'll give her the benefit of the doubt in the meantime!
Aug. 24, 2009 Well, I gave this book an honest try; but I'm not going to finish it, and will be putting it back on BookMooch where I got it. It has all the usual characteristics of the contemporary noir school (which effectively reminded me of why I don't like that school in the first place :-)): a general tone of moral cynicism, an unremitting emphasis on the sordid and the grungy, exploitative sexual content, and an off-putting plethora of bad language, including the f-word --which is probably highly unrealistic in the mouths of Spanish-speaking characters! While I didn't wish Teresa any ill, and felt sorry for her in much of what she went through, her drug use and her choice of a second drug-running boyfriend, after the first one was killed (the label "learning-disabled" comes to mind --though, granted, we're all slow studies at times, and we all make mistakes) made her hard for me to relate to, as did a certain distancing effect just from the author's self-consciously "literary" style. Perez-Reverte's books have gotten a lot of favorable notice in library circles, so I'm glad to have had the opportunity to investigate his work; but I wouldn't see myself reading any more of it. (Modified March 14, 2012.)(less)
Nov. 5, 2010 Of several annual "year's best" genre collections, editors Datlow and Windling's annual summation of the related, supernatural/magic-based...moreNov. 5, 2010 Of several annual "year's best" genre collections, editors Datlow and Windling's annual summation of the related, supernatural/magic-based fields of fantasy and "horror" enjoys one of the best reputations among library reviewers and serious fans. This is my first exposure to the series; I picked up this volume several years ago at a yard sale, and finally turned to it recently while I was waiting for an ILL book. Obviously, the overviews of 1994 developments in each genre, and of the treatments of both in the media and in comics in 1994, as well as the list of obituaries of genre writers dying in that year, are primarily of interest to very serious students of the field, who read each of these annual overviews as they come out and can set the trends in that context. I admittedly didn't read any of these, and don't plan to. (However, I did do enough skimming to tell that they're detailed and substantial.)
Out of 53 selections by 51 contributors (Jane Yolan and A. R. Morlan are represented twice) 47 are short stories, making up the bulk of the 542 pages here; there is one essay, and five poems. These "odd" forms, being easy to comment on as a group, were among the first selections I read (as usual with anthologies, I'm not reading this one in order). Swanwick's essay, cast in the extended metaphor of a voyage through uncharted waters, is a creative and insightful exploration of what he calls "hard fantasy," that is, works that are (when written, at least) sui generis, really unique in style, subject matter or approach. He has an eclectic and broad definition of fantasy, and his taste runs more to the surreal and experimental than mine does. Many of the works he profiles are new to me, and I'm not tempted to read most of them. But his discussion is really educational and fascinating in itself, and written in a style as pleasurable to read as any work of fiction!
Poetry, by definition, often communicates in a non-linear, intuitive way, characterized by much similie and metaphor, or symbolic imagery. This is especially true of poetry that's surreal, as are three poems here. But even surreal poetry is supposed to communicate; if the surreal quality of the imagery confuses communication rather than enhances it, the poem fails artistically. For me, that was true of "The Village of the Mermaids." On the other hand, "The Stone Woman" by Native American writer Linda Weasel Head and Darrell Schweitzer's "He Unwraps Himself," though their imagery is surreal, are clearly metaphors for understandable realities that they succeed in making real and immediate. Yolen's "Marchen" and Rachel Wetzsteon's "Bottom's Dream" are both basically accessible and well crafted, but both are closely related to other literary works that form a context for understanding them; in the latter case, if you haven't read or (as I have) seen A Midsummer Night's Dream performed, you'll have some trouble understanding the poem.
Turning to the stories, I started with most of the writers whose work I've previously read and liked (though for Judith Tarr, I'd only read a single story before). Bradbury's "Unterseeboot Doktor" is not his best work; it's (for me) the fictional equivalent of Bradley's poem above, a work that flops because it's so surreal that it ultimately fails to communicate. King's "The Man in the Black Suit" is as well-written as any of his tales I've read, masterful in its "you-are-there" evocation of the early 20th century in his home state of Maine, and genuinely horrifying and scary. (Structurally, it has much in common with Dan Simmon's "Iverson's Pits," another story I recently read; both have octogenarian narrators looking back to 1913-14, when as boys of nine or ten they encountered the supernatural and radical evil --here, the ultimate evil of Satan himself.) But King manages both to trivialize the Devil and give him too much credit. The real one has more profound purposes than simply eating humans like a ghoul, nor would a nine-year- old kid be apt to physically outrun him, even with "luck;" and the story itself will not bear the tacked-on weight of its "existential despair/cosmic horror" moral, any more than most stories with that theme successfully do. But de Lint's "Coyote Stories" and Tarr's "Mending Souls" are masterpieces! The latter, with its skillful use of the Coyote motif, could give Bradbury lessons on how to use surrealism (like pepper in a stew, it's best applied with a shaker, not a ladle); and it's a poignant, heartbreaking but hopeful evocation of the modern urban Native American experience and a socially-constructive message that speaks to it from the heart of cultural tradition. This is a work that gives the lie to the canard that writers (and readers) of one race can't possibly understand the problems or culture of another. And Tarr's tale is a gem, set mostly in early 1800s Ireland, written in perfect Irish diction, and making wonderful, creative use of Irish folkloric elements. (Tarr is one of many writers I need --and want-- to read more of sometime, when I get through the list I've already got!)
Dec. 7, 2010 On this round of reading, I finished six more stories, picking those by the remaining author whose work I'd read some of before and liked (Kress), those with authors whose names I recognized (excluding the ones whose work I'd sampled before and disliked), and one by a writer new to me, Emily Newland. They were definitely a mixed bag.
Charles Grant's "Sometimes, in the Rain" was the biggest disappointment, since I'd heard a lot of good things about his work. This is an extremely dark, depressing tale of dead-ended lives, toxic family relationships, infidelity and malice that survives death, unrelieved by any optimism of any kind, and marred by gratuitous profanity. (I'm still willing to give Grant another chance, but despite this story, not because of it.) Newland's "Who Will Love the River God?" draws, apparently, on folklore about "waterbabies;" but since the author presupposes an acquaintance with that lore that I don't have, the story lost a good deal for me, and the sexual aspect of it was handled in such a way as to be a major turnoff. (I'm also not a fan of copout endings, that simply leave the protagonist with an unresolved choice.) Gaiman's "Snow, Glass, Apples," one of two stories out of the six that re-vision specific traditional fairy tales, is like Tanith Lee's "Red as Blood" (1979) a reinterpretation of Snow White as a vampire story, with the princess as a child/teen vampire and the stepmother on the side of good. But where Lee powerfully depicts the triumph of redemption, Gaiman's stylistic and technical skill (which, based on this story, is considerable) is used to create a very dark portrait of the triumph of evil. (This story also has a much more pervasive eroticism than Lee's --and unlike hers, most of the eroticism here is decidedly warped.) For me, it disgusted rather than pleased.
On the other hand, while McKillip's "Transmutations" was a slow starter, in the sense that it drops you into the action en medias res and makes you deduce a full understanding of the setting and situation for yourself, that effort is worth it: this is a really engaging story that deals, in a very winsome way, with a fundamental philosophical issue. Jane Yolen's "De Natura Unicorni" is an excellent medieval-flavored fantasy --and to my surprise (having read her "Scientific Creationism"), explicit Christian symbolism is the very heart of this story. Finally, Kress' "Words Like Pale Stones," a new look at the Rumplestilskin tale, is as stylistically sumptuous and emotionally evocative as the Gaiman story (and not Pollyanna-ish in its optimism --the story's resolution comes with painful cost), but it moves in a different and vastly more wholesome atmosphere. (Previously, I'd read some of Kress' SF short fiction; this work suggests that she's every bit as able with fantasy.)
Jan. 4, 2011 Modern writers who want to be considered "literary" by the critics, of course, don't sully themselves with "genre fiction." But surrealism is a staple technique for this group, and some speculative-fiction genre editors will claim works in that vein; and certainly writers in this club also produce work that could at times be called fantastic and horrific (though devoid of any features like appealing characters, optimism, moral vision, and, usually, coherent plotting and resolution, which might brand it as disgustingly plebian). Tempted, probably, by the Lorelei-song of Literary Respectability, Datlow and Windling evidently collected quite a few stories in this vein, and this time around I suffered through five of them: "The Brothers" by Oates (whose win-loss record for short fiction, in my estimation, is now 0-3; I'm discerning a pattern here); the ones by Jonathan Carroll and Nicholson Baker, both of which signally fail to achieve the "willing suspension of disbelief" that's essential for fiction if it's to succeed; Pagan Kennedy's "Elvis's [sic] Bathroom," which is redolent with moral and physical grunginess, and Leroy Quintana's "La Promesa." If Quintana were an Anglo, his demeaning and stereotypical portrayal of Hispanics would be called racist; and he probably holds the distinction of being the worst prose stylist of his generation (he's the king of the overused parenthetical phrase).
Jan. 30, 2011 The highlight of this round of reading in the volume was definitely Gregory Feeley's "Aweary of the Sun" (Shakespeare buffs will recognize the Macbeth allusion). Set in the theatrical world of London in 1613 (which it brings to perfect life) it furnishes an imaginative gloss on obviously well-researched actual events. Textured, nuanced, filled with complex and vital characters who practically walk off the page, it's a masterpiece. The only quibble one might make here is that it isn't clearly supernatural fiction, except for being published in a supernatural venue (the only way that plotted, well-written descriptive historical short fiction can see print nowadays --unless it's a mystery!). One character is a self-described witch, and the viewpoint character believes her, but nothing in that premise or its outworking here departs from what could plausibly have happened in the "Burning Times;" there's no indication that her powers are real. (But with a story this good, who cares?)
Alas, the other five stories I sampled (four I didn't finish) fell far short of Feeley's. David Garnett's "A Friend Indeed" (which I did read through) is marred by a completely implausible ending that doesn't ring psychologically true. If one takes it as veering into surrealism at the end (which might constitute its only claim to be "horror;" surrealism, of course, can now be passed off as any genre that offers a marketing prospect), then it doesn't ring artistically true --the abrupt abandonment of the completely realistic unfolding of almost the entire story comes across as a fraud or gyp perpetrated on the reader. I did skim Cuban-American writer Margarita Engle's story, and understand (and even sympathize with!) what she's trying to do with this particular exercise in surrealism, and how she's trying to do it; it just doesn't work for me personally. (To me, the maid's tales to the fifteen sisters, instead of being exciting, transformative, alluring, liberating, seductive/subversive, etc, etc., were just tedious, boring and pointless verbiage that I was glad to not wade through.) A. R. Morlan's first story here and Nicholas Royle's "The Big Game" both came across as too disgustingly obscene to finish --the first one because of an unremitting, every-sentence wallow in coarse smuttiness that grated like sandpaper, and Royle's because of a subject matter dealing with violent, sadistic sex abuse. And Ian McDonald's "Blue Motel" finally descended into that territory as well --a particular disappointment, because it started off well as a clever and even witty riff on Alred Hitchcock's Psycho.(less)
This isn't a review, just a note as to why I didn't go forward with reading this. The anthology was a flea market purchase several years ago; I'd neve...moreThis isn't a review, just a note as to why I didn't go forward with reading this. The anthology was a flea market purchase several years ago; I'd never read any of Moorcock's Elric series (or any of his other work), and I thought this might be a good introduction to the character and world(s). Unfortunately, it soon became clear that this is really a collection aimed at seasoned fans of the series; without that background, one quickly becomes lost in the quicksand bogs of presupposed information, without a compass. If I'd read it, it would have to be after reading more of the original corpus; and it was also apparent, from Moorcock's own lead story, that the corpus itself was not apt to be something I really wanted to invest the necessary time in, with all the other books out there that I'm actually anxious to read! So, I decided it was prudent to cut my losses. :-)(less)
One of my sons-in-law is an Aussie, and shares the currently (though not historically) typical British/Canadian/Australian horror of civilian gun owne...moreOne of my sons-in-law is an Aussie, and shares the currently (though not historically) typical British/Canadian/Australian horror of civilian gun ownership, and particularly of civilian gun use in self-defense. Since my views on the subject are very dissimilar, we have some interesting discussions. :-) (As Christians, we both would prefer a world where nobody owned weapons, nor wanted or needed any --but that's unfortunately not the case in the world we're stuck with.) When the library where I work discarded this edition in favor of the recent new one, I took it to give to him, but decided to read it first.
My decision not to finish reading the book wasn't based on any disparagement of Lott's methodology or conclusions; on the contrary, I think that in its way, it's a solid contribution to the ongoing debate about "gun control," at least for those middle-ground folks for whom the debate isn't about moral first principles, but a pragmatic one about the perceived balances of social benefits and social costs. Obviously, to those who regard lethal self-defense as morally wrong, and/or as an existential threat to the existence of State and social order, preventing it is a moral duty, just as the prevention of cannibalism would be, regardless of any nutritional benefits that might be claimed for it. But for those who don't view lethal self- defense as a priori morally equivalent to cannibalism, the conclusions of this study are important empirical evidence bearing on the social benefits of civilian gun ownership -- which is why I departed here from my normal practice of not writing any "review" of a book I haven't read completely.
However, while most people would enjoy a drink of cool water from a well, few enjoy chewing on the rope tied to the bucket. The conclusions of many landmark statistical studies may be likened to a bracing drink of healthy clear water for policymakers and citizens, but the technical mathematical operations of the study and data analysis have more in common with the rope and bucket; and a heavy dose of the latter is what's offered here along with the conclusions. Lott is a Univ. of Chicago social scientist steeped in the rigorous statistical method of the modern academic world, and writing largely for that milieu; he was determined to make the study and analysis methodologically impeccable. He succeeded in that; by the canons of social science, his work is impervious to objective criticism for the most part, which is what makes it valuable as a policy resource. As a book for lay people, however, it also makes it deadly dull, heavy reading; what I read left me glassy-eyed. If you're a Math major specializing in statistical method, who just loves page after page of tables and graphs and would look forward to an appendix explaining "statistical significance" and "regression coefficients," then I could confidently recommend this book to you. If you're more like the rest of us, I wouldn't!(less)
Over the last ten years, I've dipped into this book intermittently at times, most recently in 2008, so it's been parked on my "being read intermittent...moreOver the last ten years, I've dipped into this book intermittently at times, most recently in 2008, so it's been parked on my "being read intermittently" shelf since then. But I've recently decided to move it to "started and not finished." It isn't awful as such, like some of the permanently-abandoned books on that shelf; it's just that I've realized that I'm not really excited about finishing it, when there are so many other books out there I actually want to read and would be excited about! (I actually began reading it back when I was projecting the development of a college-level SF class; but when that fell through, the book ceased being vital reading for that plan.) The clincher to the decision to change shelves was the discovery that I'd failed to write a partial review of the material I've read up to now, as I would have if I'd been following my current practice at the time! So, I'll consign it to limbo, with the notation that the stories I read were workman-like SF pulp, but not as worthwhile and most of the content in Adventures in Time and Space: Famous Science-Fiction Stories.(less)
I've decided, in order to give a truer picture of my reading tastes and history, to keep this shelf for books I definitely have no intention of return...moreI've decided, in order to give a truer picture of my reading tastes and history, to keep this shelf for books I definitely have no intention of returning to and finishing. This one qualifies eminently! It was recommended to me several years ago by an Internet pen pal of mine at the time, apparently because he knew I'd written a vampire novella. (There's NO similarity between the two works!) After about two chapters, I had my fill of foul language, unlikeable characters, and moral nihilism.(less)