Saturday, July 23, 2016

Book Blogger Hop July 22nd - July 28th: 164 Is the Smallest Number That Can Be Expressed as a Concatenation of Two Squares in Two Different Ways

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Do you always put a book cover in your posts when you are mentioning books or just text?

I use book covers quite a bit, but don't use them every time I mention a book. I always include the relevant book cover in a book review post, and I use tiny book cover pictures essentially as bullets on several pages where I am listing books. I also include book covers in some posts where I am talking about specific books outside of reviews, but this is not a consistent practice of mine.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, July 22, 2016

Follow Friday - Archimedes Designed the Archimedes Screw in 265 B.C.


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and a single Follow Friday Featured Blogger each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - The Broke Book Bank.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: What are two of your favorite Book to Movie adaptations?

1. The Lord of the Rings

This shouldn't really come as a surprise to anyone, given how much I like Tolkien's work. Despite the fact that I have some issues with the way Jackson translated the trilogy to the big screen, on the whole, I think it is a well-executed adaptation of one of the great works of fantasy fiction. When the movie gets the broad strokes of the plot, the tone of the work, and the overall atmosphere correct, I'm not going to worry about niggling details like the exclusion of Tom Bombadil, some specifics about the plot such as what the army of the dead actually did were changed, or the fact that whenever they strayed away from Tolkien's own dialogue the movie suffered. Overall, I think that Jackson's adaptation of the Lord of the Rings is probably the best adaptation we could have realistically hoped for, and better than what I expected when I first heard it was being done.

Jackson's adaptation of the Hobbit, on the other hand, was atrocious.


2. The Killer Angels

This novel was adapted into the movie Gettysburg. While it isn't a great movie, it is a remarkably faithful adaptation and a great depiction of the events as described in the book. As the book was a well-researched piece of history, and the movie takes its cues from the novel, this is a fairly rare film that is reasonably historically accurate, although the fake beards worn by many of the actors really do look like fake beards.


Follow Friday     Home

Monday, July 18, 2016

Musical Monday - Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra


What happens when an issue blows up at my day job and consumes the better part of the last week's worth of my time? Well, as far as this blog is concerned, it means that I dash off a quick note complaining about the volume of work that has been on my plate for the last several consecutive days and post the next Brandenburg Concerto as my Musical Monday selection.


Freiburg Baroque Orchestra     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Book Blogger Hop July 15th - July 21st: The Square Root of 163 Appears in the Ramanujan Constant

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Name an author or authors that you have read most of his or her books and would recommend to others.

Andre Norton



I have read a lot of fiction by Ursula K. Le Guin, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, and numerous other science fiction and fantasy authors, but I can't say I have come close to reading most of their books (and in some cases, I would not recommend those books to others without several caveats). Even though Andre Norton has written a lot of books, I think I have read most of them, and would recommend them to anyone who was interested in genre fiction. She was one of my first loves in science fiction, and I still love all of her books.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, July 15, 2016

Follow Friday - The First Punic War Started in 264 B.C.


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and a single Follow Friday Featured Blogger each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - The Broke Book Bank.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: What is your favorite character archetype(s)?

Smart characters. And by smart characters, I mean characters that the author shows doing smart things. This seems to be a fairly difficult portrayal to pull off well for many authors. All too often, a character will be described as being smart, but will be shown making decisions that are simply not. Alternatively, an author will try to portray a particular character as being smart by simply having them surrounded by characters who are incredibly stupid, so the highlighted character's rather ordinary decision making will seem brilliant by comparison.

But a well-written smart character in a book is a thing of beauty.


Follow Friday     Home

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

2016 World Fantasy Award Nominees

Location: World Fantasy Convention, Columbus, Ohio

Comments: Because Alisa Krasnostein and Alexandra Pierce were nominated for their work on the book, this seems like the right place to talk about Letters to Tiptree. This book is mostly a collection of letters written by contemporary figures in the science fiction community addressed to the late Alice B. Sheldon, who used the pen name James Tiptree, Jr. for most of her career. Most of the letters discuss what Sheldon and Sheldon's writing meant to the letter writer specifically, and the science fiction community in general. Thus far, the book has been honored with a Locus Award and a Ditmar Award, and nominations for the BSFA Award and British Fantasy Award, and now, for a World Fantasy Award. This book is an important part of the conversation concerning the genre, and likely will be for some time to come.

And yet, despite its many other honors, Letters to Tiptree did not receive a place among the Hugo finalists. While no work is ever entitled to become a Hugo finalist in the abstract, this is exactly the sort of book that one would normally expect to receive one. The reason for this lack of Hugo recognition this year is quite obviously the Puppy campaigns, which promoted a collection of Related Works onto the Hugo ballot that range from mediocre and forgettable down to juvenile and puerile. Leaving aside the fact that the finalists pushed by the Puppy campaigns are of such low quality, it seems relatively obvious that, given the Puppy rhetoric on such issues, Letters to Tiptree is exactly the sort of book that they want to push off of the Hugo ballot. After all, it is an explicitly feminist work, with all of the letter writers and most of the other contributors being women discussing a writer whose fiction was loaded with feminist issues. This book would seem to represent, at least in the eyes of many Pups, the recent encroachment of feminism into science fiction.

Except it doesn't. Alice B. Sheldon died twenty-nine years ago. Her best fiction - including Houston Houston, Do You Read?, The Girl Who Was Plugged In, The Women Men Don't See, and The Screwfly Solution - was written between forty and forty-five years ago. For most of the more prominent Puppy advocates, Sheldon's very feminist fiction has been part of the science fiction landscape for longer than they have been alive. And Sheldon is not the only woman who was been writing in this vein that long or longer ago: Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Joanna Russ, Suzy McKee Charnas, and so on. Feminism in science fiction isn't new, rather it has been part of the fabric of science fiction for as long as most of the Puppies have been reading, and in many cases, longer than they have been alive. When a Puppy says that feminism is encroaching upon the the science fiction field, they are revealing that they are either ignorant of the history of the genre they claim to love, or they are attempting to rewrite that history and erase the contributions of figures such as Sheldon.

Whether they admit to it or not, the rhetoric of the Puppy campaigns has had the effect of suppressing women's writing, and the exclusion of Letters to Tiptree from the Hugo ballot is just a symptom of that fact. As I've pointed out before, the Puppy campaigns ultimately won't be able to accomplish any of the objectives that their proponents laid out for them in their many manifestos on the subject, mostly because fans will simply move away from the Pups to other awards. Letters to Tiptree isn't on the Hugo Award ballot, but it was on the Locus Award ballot, and it is on the BSFA Award ballot and the World Fantasy Award ballot. It is a remarkable work that will be remembered for years. On the other hand, the only thing that is memorable about the Puppy-driven selections on the Hugo ballot is how poorly they compare to works like Letters to Tiptree.

Best Novel

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Chimes by Anna Smaill
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
Savages by K.J. Parker
Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Best Novella

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Farewell Blues by Bud Webster
Guignol by Kim Newman
The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn by Usman T. Malik
The Unlicensed Magician by Kelly Barnhill
Waters of Versailles by Kelly Robson

Best Short Fiction

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
The Heat of Us: Notes Toward an Oral History by Sam J. Miller
Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers by Alyssa Wong
The Neurastheniac by Selena Chambers
Pockets by Amal El-Mohtar

Best Anthology

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Aickman's Heirs edited by Simon Strantzas
Black Wings IV edited by S.T. Joshi
Cassilda's Song edited by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.
The Doll Collection edited by Ellen Datlow
She Walks in Shadows edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles

Best Collection

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Bone Swans by C.S.E. Cooney
Get in Trouble by Kelly Link
Leena Krohn: The Collected Fiction by Leena Krohn
Reality by Other Means: The Best Short Fiction of James Morrow by James Morrow
Skein and Bone by V.H. Leslie
You Have Never Been Here by Mary Rickert

Lifetime Achievement

Winner:
David G. Hartwell
Andrzej Sapkowski

Other Nominees:
None

Best Artist

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Richard Anderson
Galen Dara
Julie Dillon
Kathleen Jennings
Thomas S. Kuebler

Special Award, Professional

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Neil Gaiman, Dave Stewart, and J.H. Williams, III for The Sandman: Overture
Stephen Jones for The Art of Horror
Robert Jordan, Harriet McDougal, Alan Romanczuk, and Maria Simons for The Wheel of Time Companion
Joe Monti
Heather J. Wood for Gods, Memes and Monsters: A 21st Century Bestiary

Special Award, Non-Professional

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Scott H. Andrews for Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Jedediah Berry and Eben Kling for The Family Arcana: A Story in Cards
John O'Neill for Black Gate
Alexandra Pierce and Alisa Krasnostein for Letters to Tiptree
Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas for Uncanny
Helen Young for Tales After Tolkien Society

Go to previous year's nominees: 2015
Go to subsequent year's nominees: 2017

Book Award Reviews     Home

Monday, July 11, 2016

Musical Monday - Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra


A few weeks ago, I used Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 as my Musical Monday selection because it was played at my son's high school graduation. I also said it was one of my favorite pieces of music, but I didn't elaborate further. The truth is that I love all of the Brandenburg Concertos because they are great music to write to - especially when writing role-playing game scenarios. The music is unobtrusive enough to serve as a non-distracting background, but interesting enough that one's ears don't get tired of hearing it. These pieces of music (along with a few others) have served as the accompaniment to which I have written thousands of hours worth of gaming material over the last couple of decades.

Because they have so influenced my gaming writing, over the next couple of weeks, I'll be posting the remaining five of the six of the concertos. Here is Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 to get things started.

Previous Musical Monday: The Egg by William Daniels, Howard Da Silva, and Ken Howard

Freiburg Baroque Orchestra     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Book Blogger Hop July 8th - July 14th: Major League Baseball Teams Play 162 Regular Season Games

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: What is your preferred method of following blogs?

My primary method for following blogs is Bloglovin, from which I get a daily e-mail summary of all activity on the blog I am following. This works reasonably well, giving me notice when the various blogs I follow have new activity and giving me the opportunity to choose which updates to follow up on. I also use Linky Followers, but that system seems to have far fewer users, so as a practical matter I use it far less. I used to use Google Friend Connect, but that service was crippled a couple of years ago, and just doesn't have much use any more, although I still have the link on my blog's sidebar.

For blogs that don't use Bloglovin or Linky Followers that I still want to follow, I mostly use an ad hoc system based upon what options they have for following them. If the blog owner is on Google+, I might follow them on that, or if they are on Twitter, I might use that as a means to follow them. My last resort is just to bookmark the blog and check back once every few weeks or so.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, July 8, 2016

Follow Friday - 263 Is an Irregular Prime and a Balanced Prime


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and a single Follow Friday Featured Blogger each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - Love, Literature, Art, and Reason.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Color Favorites: Show us beautiful book covers in your fave color!

This question raises what to me seems to be an interesting meta-question - do we regard book covers as beautiful because they are beautiful in and of themselves, or do we regard them as beautiful because our perceptions of them are colored by our experience reading the book they contain? I consider each of the book covers below to be a beautiful and evocative piece of art, but my assessment might be colored by the fact that I love all of the books that these covers represent. I will admit that I don't have much of a color theme in evidence here, unless blue, orange, red, grey, purple, and green counts as a color theme. I don't really care though: These are some of my favorite book covers, so these are the ones I am picking.



For reference (and for those whose eyesight might not be good enough to read the titles on the covers), the novels shown here are The Citadel of the Autarch by Gene Wolfe, The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe, Dune by Frank Herbert, Exiles of the Stars by Andre Norton, The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand by Samuel R. Delany, The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien, Victory on Janus by Andre Norton, and The Word for World Is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Previous Follow Friday: The Poet Philemon Died in 262 B.C.
Subsequent Follow Friday: The First Punic War Started in 264 B.C.

Follow Friday     Home

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Review - Elements of Mind by Walter H. Hunt


Short review: James Esdaile refuses to hand over an artifact of tremendous mystical power to William Davey, sending Davey on a journey that will take him from London to Paris and then to Egypt and India and back.

Haiku
The Crystal Palace
Is where the story begins
Also where it ends

Disclosure: I received this book as a review copy. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Full review: Elements of Mind is a Victorian-era alternate history (or more accurately, secret history) novel that imagines that the magic of mesmerism is real, and that a hidden conflict spanning three continents took place between roughly 1845 and 1861 over a mysterious artifact that holds the key to great power and poses a threat to mankind's very existence. In what seems to be a clear effort to evoke the novel Dracula, the story is told in epistolary format, in the form of letters and testimonials by the various characters recounting events after the fact. If there could be such a thing, this book could best be described as a "comfortable thriller", with stakes that the characters all regard as being of the highest order, but which they set about dealing with for the most part in the most proper and gentlemanly manner.

In an interesting twist, the novel starts with the climatic showdown between Dr. James Esdaile and the Reverend William Davey, a confrontation that leaves Davey disappointed and Esdaile dead. Esdaile, a Scottish surgeon, is accompanied by his wife, who has been possessed by a cthonic spirit that serves as his guardian. Davey, ostensibly a clergyman, is the chairman of the secret Committee of English Mesmerists. When they meet in the famed Crystal Palace in London, Davey demands that Esdaile hand over an artifact with mysterious powers to the Committee, as the doctor had promised to do. Esdaile refuses, and then, in a twist that Davey did not see coming, commits suicide, denying both Davey and the cthonic spirit their prizes, as the very architecture of the Crystal Palace interferes with the quasi-mystical mesmer powers that both purportedly possess.

This inconclusive (albeit fatal) encounter sends Davey on a years long investigation that finds him traveling to India and back, crossing both Europe and Africa along the way. Much of the story is told in the form of interviews, as Davey tracks down a particular person who might have information concerning the disposition of the missing artifact and then engages in a well-mannered interrogation of them. One of the defining features of this book is quite simply how almost unfailingly polite everyone is throughout - even when they are allegedly incensed with one another. This is probably an effect of Hunt trying to write the characters in a way that is appropriate to the historical period, but it does result in the interpersonal conflicts feeling somewhat tame and underwhelming. At several points characters remark upon the crude and brutal nature of Davey's methods of maintaining control of the Committee, but to a modern reader he seems almost incurably genteel in his activities. This highlights one of the greatest challenges an author faces when writing historical fiction: How does one keep the characters true to the period from which they supposedly hail, but also keep a modern reader engaged and entertained. In Elements of Mind Hunt manages to navigate this treacherous waterway reasonably well, but when he errs, it seems that he errs on the side of historical accuracy.

The book is something of a historical fantasy, melding actual events from the Victorian era with fantastical elements - in this case the mystical power of mesmerism and the presence of a variety of cthonic spirits that are variously indifferent and malign but which generally disguise themselves as humans or natural weather-related phenomena. There isn't anything in the book that would contradict actual history, and as a result, the events described in it form something of a hidden or secret history, or an account of what might have happened that sits alongside what actually did happen. As is the case in many secret histories, the protagonist's path is crossed by actual historical figures such as British authors Charles Dickens and Thomas Carlyle, noted hypnotherapist Dr. James Braid, French nobleman Charles Dupotet, and British Army officers Alexander Roberts Dunn and Evelyn Wood. These cameo appearances serve as little Easter eggs for those who are well-versed in Nineteenth century British history, and are woven into the story seamlessly enough that they shouldn't throw those who are not so well-versed out of the narrative flow.

If one takes the story on its own terms, it is a tale of dark danger: The artifact that Davey seeks is alleged to contain a malevolent spirit with the power to open the "Glass Door" to a realm where a host of other malignant spirits await the opportunity to descend upon mankind. Along his journey, Davey encounters children who summon spirits to commit patricide, powerful spiritual beings who seek to aid him in a roundabout manner, an Egyptian playing a dangerous game with his own collection of malignant spirits, a powerful water creature that threatens his life, and finally, a variety of both perils and allies in India. Eventually his journey takes him all the way back to England, where Davey finds himself frustrated by chance and powerful enemies. All of this takes place behind the scenes of everyday life, with those not part of the "mesmer" world completely oblivious to the dangers that lurk around the spiritual corner.

The most obvious way to read the book is to imagine that the fantasy described in it is actually true, and the events it describes are an account of a dire threat to the very existence of humanity. However, the mystical elements of the book are described in such a vague manner that there is an alternate way to read the book. Because the mesmerism practiced by the various mystically inclined characters in the book is described as creating no effect that isn't explained by mundane causes, one can read this book as a collection of Victorian men and women comically waggling their fingers at one another and imagining that they are causing various results. As far as Davey is concerned, he is so confident in his own power that every time he encounters someone who tries to use the mesmer finger signs against him, he determines that their failure to have any effect is due to his own skill with the art. One can only imagine the other characters thinking the same of Davey's efforts against him. In one of the big confrontations in the book, Davey resorts to threatening someone with a gun rather than trying to use his mystical powers to persuade the target to do what he wants. On at least three critical junctures the power of mesmerism is held to be completely ineffective, although two of those occasions are ascribed to the dampening properties of the Crystal Palace. Time and again, the mystical powers prove to be elusive enough that it seems quite possible that they don't actually exist anywhere outside of the minds of those devoted to believing they are real.

No matter which way one reads Elements of the Mind, it remains a highly entertaining book. With a plot full of twists and turns that serves in part as a travelogue across the British Empire of the Nineteenth century coupled with a collection of interesting fictional characters whose lives intertwine with some colorful historical figures, the novel will engage the reader from the outset and keep them intrigued to the end.

Walter H. Hunt     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Review - The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin


Short review: The end of the world has come, and Essun sets off to find her kidnapped daughter amidst the chaos.

Haiku
Roggas are despised
But they still serve the Fulcrum
Until one doesn't

Full review: There is a vague and indistinct region in between the genres of fantasy and science fiction. While some books rest comfortably on one side of this division or the other, others are happy to rest in that ambiguous zone between them, maybe from some angles a work of fantasy, and from others a work of science fiction. The Fifth Season is one of those books, with elements that make one think that the story is a pure fantasy, and others that are squarely within the realm of science fiction. Against this backdrop, Jemisin weaves a brutal story of enslavement, oppression, and anger that is at once intensely personal and breathtaking in its scope.

At the outset, I will say that this book is an extremely difficult book to review. This is because one of the elements that makes this book so good is the structure of the novel, and how that structure is used to tell the story. Unfortunately, revealing exactly how the structure of the novel works to elevate this book well above the ordinary would serve to ruin it for anyone who has not read it. So instead, one must write around what can only be called the central genius of The Fifth Season, which makes trying the discuss the brilliance of the book something of a frustrating experience.

The story is told from three distinct viewpoints: Essun, an older woman who must deal with the death of her son and the abduction of her daughter, Damaya, a young girl ostracized by her home community for her powers over the Earth who is taken in by the Fulcrum, a mysterious order comprised of such gifted individuals, and Syenite, a young woman of the Fulcrum, fully trained in the ways of "orogeny", and on an assignment to prove her worth, actually a dual assignment, the full measure of which result in some rather startling revelations about the world and society in which she lives. Though these three stories are separate, they eventually link together into a coherent whole, and the way in which Jemisin does this is a masterful example of skillful writing. Each of the three viewpoint characters adds something to the whole, allowing Jemisin to both give the reader an increasingly clear window through which to see the fictional world she has created and three simply devastating personal journeys.

The skill of orogeny, is one of the cornerstones of the science fiction in the book. In a nutshell, orogeny is the ability to "feel" the Earth's changes, and also to draw upon its power to manipulate it as well. From a certain perspective, one could call orogeny "Earth magic", and that is how those who don't have the skill seem to view it. Those who have ability with orogeny are called "orogenes" or, if one is intending to be insulting "roggas", and despite their power, they are feared and despised as dangerous and unstable elements within what passes for society in the book. Where orogeny comes from and how it works is not explained, just that it does. At several points it is asserted that orogeny is an inherited quality, and this does seem to be borne out somewhat by the abilities of the characters in the book, but like so many of the other assertions made by characters in the book, it is unclear if this is actually true, or merely folk wisdom and confirmation bias.

Another cornerstone of the book is the world itself. All of the events in the book take place on or around "the Stillness", a massive continent that stretches pole to pole that is anything but still. In fact, the geological instability of the Earth is the defining feature of Jemisin's imagined world and drives almost every other element. With an unpredictable and oftentimes hostile world under their feet, the society in which the characters live is almost relentlessly bleak and depressing. Virtually everything about the society is driven by the need to survive the deprivations of the periodic "Fifth Seasons" of extended winter that are triggered by unexpected seismic activity or other environmental changes. This has resulted in a "civilization" that has had almost everything that makes for a civilized life stripped away. People are categorized into castes based upon what utilitarian role they will play during a fifth season. Communities (called "Comms" in the book) all follow the rigid and harsh dictates of "Stonelore" that direct, sometimes in exacting detail, how such communities are to behave during times of crisis. The society that has evolved in the face of repeated global disaster is ruthlessly utilitarian and cruel.

Jemisin populates this harsh environment with suitably hardened characters, which some people have found to be off-putting. In the context of the story, however, almost anything else would have rung false. Essun is angry and enraged because the world she lives in is fundamentally callous and unfair. Syanite's story opens her eyes to the true injustice that forms the foundations of the society she works within and serves. Damaya's story shows how she is indoctrinated into believing that slavery is the natural and expected way of life, and that cruelty is love. These three stories are melded together to tell a unified tale, interacting in ways that make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. As an example, when Syenite discovers exactly who the node maintainers are, and the conditions under which they perform, this account is intertwined with Damaya dealing with being bullied by some particularly difficult trouble-making classmates, and the resulting punishment that is meted out by the Fulcrum's instructors. Told separately, these stories would be interesting interludes. Told together, they amount to a brutally effective tale of horror and misery.

The Fifth Season is both a brilliant and difficult book. Jemisin's writing is intense and gripping, and the world she has created is a thing of stark beauty, while the characters who inhabit it are extremely well-crafted and interesting. But the very effectiveness of Jemisin's writing is what makes the book such a tough read, as it makes the truly cruel and bleak nature of her fictional world feel so very real. This harshness makes the book demanding, but anything less would make the book feel superficial and false. In the end, reading this book is a harrowing and sometimes painful experience, but also one that is incredibly rewarding and well-worth doing.

Potential 2016 Hugo Nominees

2016 Hugo Award Finalists
2016 Locus Award Nominees
2016 Nebula Award Nominees

N.K. Jemisin     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, July 4, 2016

Musical Monday - The Egg by William Daniels, Howard Da Silva, and Ken Howard


As today is the Fourth of July, it seems appropriate to pick a song from the 1776 film adaptation, a musical about the creation and signing of the Declaration of Independence. This particular song takes place after the Declaration has been introduced to the Continental Congress, while Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin are taking a moment in the hall to reflect on what it might mean. Of course, they begin debating what bird will be the symbol of the new nation they intend to create, with Jefferson suggesting the dove, Franklin promoting the turkey, and Adams backing the eagle. There is witty banter and good-natured humor here, which is a good thing given the fairly tough sledding that lies ahead in the show as Representative Rutledge from South Carolina centers much of the upcoming debate on the protection of slavery.

Despite being an excellent musical, 1776 is less than historically accurate. Some inaccuracies are minor - Adams and Franklin weren't political enemies, but they weren't friends either, so the relatively warm relationship between the two that is depicted in the play is simply incorrect. Judge Wilson wasn't actually a judge yet, and Cesar Rodney wasn't an old man, although he was dying of cancer. Some inaccuracies are major - the South didn't stage a dramatic walk-out over the alleged anti-slavery paragraph in the Declaration of Independence, and the question of independence didn't hang on deleting it from the Declaration. John Dickinson's objections to the Declaration appear to have been rooted in his Quaker faith, not in a desire to preserve his wealth. And so on. This is not so much a criticism as it is an observation. Drama sometimes requires certain concessions be made in terms of historical accuracy. The play would certainly have been less interesting without the central political conflict at its heart, even if that conflict is technically made up, it certainly reflects the ideological split that would plague the new nation for at least its first century, and whose effects we still feel.

Even with these flaws, 1776 is a fantastic show that captures the spirit of the age it depicts. The fact that it places some sentiments in the mouths of the wrong character, creates composite characters constructed out of multiple historical figures and labels them with a real person's name, or shows characters appearing in Philadelphia who could not possibly have been there (or excludes characters who actually were there) is more or less beside the point. Telling a story of the scale of 1776 in the span of a single musical production requires compromises. What matters in this format is capturing the sense of the story, and this musical does that incredibly well.


William Daniels     Howard Da Silva     Ken Howard     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Book Blogger Hop July 1st - July 7th: The Penal Colony in the Film Alien 3 Would Have Been Named Fiorina Fury 161 (If There Had Been an Alien 3 Film)

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: When you comment on a blog post, do you ask to be notified when there are replies?

Not usually. In general, if I'm interested enough in a blog post to comment, I am interested enough to check back on it now and then for replies, at least for a couple of days after I comment. Any replies that pop up more than a week or two after I have commented are probably so long-delayed that I'd have to reread the entire blog post and comment thread again to be able to respond to, so I generally just stop paying attention after a bit. Plus, getting e-mail notifications of replies to comment threads would serve to fill up my in-box even more than it is already. I have enough incoming e-mail these days without the added messages.


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Friday, July 1, 2016

Follow Friday - The Poet Philemon Died in 262 B.C.


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and a single Follow Friday Featured Blogger each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - Books, Dreams, Life.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Tour your bookcase for us!

I'm not sure whether to interpret this question as asking for a tour of all of the bookcases that I and the redhead share (which would be a rather substantial undertaking), or just one of them (which would still be a substantial undertaking, but slightly less so). Because the question uses the word "bookcase" in the singular, I am leaning towards interpreting this to mean a tour of one of our bookcases, although I am going to cheat a little bit and give a tour of one bank of bookcases - a cheat I rationalize because all of the bookcases in that particular set are all screwed to one another for stability. I am definitely excluding all of the books I have boxed up waiting for the day when the redhead and I have a home that is big enough for sufficient shelf space to house them all.

So, taking this set of bookcases from left to right, top to bottom, the first thing that is notable about them is that the couple of shelves at the top left don't actually have any books on them. Instead, they hold the overflow of our board game collection from the primary bookcase where those are shelved. The board games are not organized in any particular manner - while we own a lot of board games, we don't own so many that we need to keep them in order or risk losing track of where they are.

Running to the right across the top shelves is a large portion of our graphic novel collection, including complete runs of Saga and Rat Queens as well as a substantial portion of Sandman, Order of the Stick, and Girl Genius. These are mostly organized alphabetically by the primary writer's last name and then for each writer, in either series order or in alphabetical order by title. Careful observers will note that several graphic novels are not properly shelved, but instead are laid across the top of a row of books. These are there partially because they are graphic novels that I have not yet read, but also because the top shelves are not large enough to accommodate all of the graphic novels. I will need to either box up some books or rearrange some shelves to make additional space. I haven't decided which to do yet, or even if rearranging the books on the shelves will work.

On the far right of the top shelf are some books that are more or less out of place, and aren't shelved in any particular order. Most of these are reference works that technically should be placed on the bottom shelf of this bookcase, or on a completely different shelf entirely. Unfortunately, several of these books are simply too tall to fit on other shelves. This slight bit of disorder bothers me, and I'll probably do something about it at some point in the future, but right now there's just no avoiding it.

The bulk of the bookcase is taken up with general fiction, arranged alphabetically by author last name, and within each author, by series order or alphabetically by title.Other than that minimal organization, basically most types of books that I own are found in this section: Science fiction, fantasy, history, law, science, and so on. The only real connection these books have with one another are that they form something of a long-term to-be-read pile. I've have read a few of the books that are shelved here, but of those, I read them so long ago that I'd need to read them again in order to be able to express cogent thoughts on them. The rest are just waiting for me to read them.

On the bottom shelves I have several Time-Life series and some reference books. Most of these are on the bottom shelf as a concession to gravity. I have found that if I shelve these volumes on higher shelves, the weight of the books causes the shelves to bow. The usual remedy for bowed shelves is to periodically flip the shelf over in the bookcase, so that the shelf is slowly bowed back to straight. Unfortunately, these shelves are designed in such a way that the shelves cannot be flipped so that isn't possible. Consequently, the heavy book sets get shelved on the bottom shelf.

To the right of the main bookcases are two small, ancillary bookcases that I have stacked one on top of the other. These hold more general fiction, organized alphabetically by author last name.

There are two piles of books on the shelves that deserve special mention. On the middle shelf, on the right hand side, there are books stacked up in front of the shelved books. One group consists of books and stories that were published in 2015 that I pulled aside to read for consideration as nominees for the 2016 Hugo Awards. The other group consists of books that have been published in 2016 that I have set aside to read for consideration as nominees for the 2017 Hugo Awards. I have not yet read the books in these stacks - in the case of the books I set aside to consider for the 2016 Hugo Awards, I simply didn't get to them in time before the nomination period closed - but they are near the top of my to-read pile.

On a final note, I should point out that my bookshelves are something of a dynamic habitat. The books that sit on them right now (especially in the to-read sections), are likely to move elsewhere in the reasonably near future, to be replaced by other books. Once in a while, I get ambitious and entirely reorganize my books - if I had taken pictures and done a book tour of this set of bookcases a year ago, it would have been entirely different.


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Monday, June 27, 2016

Musical Monday - Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra


As I noted last week, my son recently graduated from high school. At his graduation, the chorus (which included my daughter) performed Time to Say Goodbye. The school orchestra also contributed to the ceremony, performing Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, which happens to be one of my favorite pieces of music. So, to continue the tribute to my son completing the first large hurdle in life, here is the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra playing the concerto.

Previous Musical Monday: Time to Say Goodbye by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman
Subsequent Musical Monday: The Egg by William Daniels, Howard Da Silva, and Ken Howard

Freiburg Baroque Orchestra     Musical Monday     Home