Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Moon and the Sun

Vonda N McIntyre
Completed 12/29/2020, Reviewed 12/31/2020
4 stars

I was prepared to hate this book.  It is an alt-history of a period I don’t particularly like, the French court of Louis XIV filled with excruciating detail about clothes and social station.  The heroine is a poor lady-in-waiting who was abused by nuns when she was raised in the convent in the French colony of Martinique.  And an inordinate amount of time is spent on court drama and relationships, licit and illicit.  But after about a quarter of the way through, I found myself caught up in all this drama as it supported the main plot of this story, the bringing of a human-like sea monster to Louis’ menagerie of animals. 

Marie-Joseph de la Croix is the lady-in-waiting to the sister-in-law and niece of Louis XIV.  Her brother Yves is a Jesuit scientist-priest who has captured two sea monsters, killing one and bringing the other back to France.  Louis is convinced the sea monster has an immortality organ and commissions Yves to find it.  Marie-Joseph, who assisted Yves scientific experiments as a youth, once again assists him by caring for living female and drawing pictures of the dead male as he performs an autopsy on it.  Marie-Joseph finds she can communicate with the living one and figures out she is human, or at least human-like, having almost the exact anatomy of a human.  She fights for the right of the sea monster while Louis is bent on eating it to acquire its property of immortality. 

This is another book about a strong woman who doesn’t remain in her station, trying to buck the system with her intelligence despite her lack of power in society.  Not only does she try to convince the King, but also the Pope who is visiting and happens to be the King’s cousin.  Of course the Pope is convinced the sea creature is just an animal and soulless.  Yves struggles with his scientific background and his allegiance to the King and the Pope.  The only person who believes Marie-Joseph is Lucien, close friend and confidant of the King, who also happens to be an atheist and a dwarf. 

In addition to the main plot, there are subplots involving Marie-Joseph’s slave, a Turkish woman who becomes a popular servant at the Louis XIV court, and the making of a match for Marie-Joseph with the man who is the lover of Louis’ brother.  These with the main plot made for a very well-thought-out story that rivaled the lush alt-history style of Guy Gavriel Kay in The Lions of Al-Rassan.

The characters, like the details of the story, are very detailed and developed.  Marie-Joseph is a very likeable character.  Rooting for her is easy.  It is also very easy to empathize with Yves, her brother, as he struggles with his duties as subject of France and Rome versus his training as a scientist.  Lucien is also very likeable with details about his struggles in life as a little person in the 17th century.  The other characters vary between likeable, relatable, and deplorable, but they are all extremely well drawn.  Even the King and the cad are complex.  There are simply no one-dimensional major characters. 

McIntyre captures the opulence and decadence of the French nobility, with jewels, entitlement, and promiscuity everywhere.  The story mostly takes place at Versailles but there are few times when the King must go through town and someone from the crowd pleads with him about taxes or poverty.  But this was the Sun King who basically saw himself as God.  There are statues and paintings of Roman gods everywhere.  Specifically, there’s a statue of Apollo who should be facing the direction of the sun, but instead faces the direction of the Sun King.  Eventually, I felt slimy from reading about diamond encrusted shoe buckles, with peacock feathers, gold, and other jewels in everyone’s clothes.

I give this book four stars out of five.  It won the Nebula for 1997.  It is beautifully written and extremely well researched.  Most of the characters are historical, except for Marie-Joseph and Yves.  Yet McIntyre breathes life into all of them and really captures the essence of the 17th century privilege.  It’s very different from her Hugo and Nebula winner Dreamsnake, being a period piece, but definitely worthy of an award itself.  

Monday, December 28, 2020


Gail Carriger
Completed 12/26/2020, Reviewed 12/28/2020
3 stars

This was fun fluff.  It’s a Victorian comedy of manners with a powerful heroine, vampires, and werewolves.  I’ve had this on my bookshelf for quite a while and finally pulled it down.  I was pleased that I enjoyed it and will eventually get around to reading some others in the series.  The prose is quite nice.  It is very easy reading.  This is just what the doctor ordered after reading the terse Tolkien History of Middle Earth Series.

Alexia Tarabotti is a spinster (age 24!).  She’s not considered marriageable because she is a little dark skinned from being half Italian and has a prominent nose.  Her mother and stepsisters are more concerned with fashion and marriage than anything more substantial.  So Alexia never tells them that she has no soul, that is, she’s a preternatural.  When she touches a supernatural being, they are made powerless.  When she touches a vampire, its teeth retract.  When she touches a werewolf, it reverts back to human.

The story begins where Alexia is at a ball and meets a rove vampire, one that is not associated with a hive.  Unlike all the registered vampires, this one does not seem to know she is a preternatural and attacks her.  She fights it off and kills it with her trusty parasol and a wooden hairpin.  This raises concerns with the local hive and the Queen’s department of the paranormal.  The investigation is led by Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and a werewolf).  Maccon and Alexia constantly trade barbs as their attraction to each other grows.  But amidst this romance, Alexia is pursued by the local vampires and a mysterious wax-faced creature that appears superhuman and is not affected by her touch.  Maccon and Alexia try to get to the bottom of the mystery of the appearance of rove, unregistered vampires and the strange creature.

The characters are well crafted.  Alexia is a strong-willed young woman in the 19th century world of repressed women and mores.  She’s instantly likeable.  Maccon is great at the Scottish alpha werewolf investigator.  He falls in love with Alexia despite their constant bickering.  Alexia falls for Maccon as well, but she constantly, comically misreads his advances.  Lord Akeldama is a great supporting character.  He is an ancient vampire who is no longer associated with hive.  He’s a flamboyant, gay fop who seems to know a little about everything that’s going on in the supernatural world.  He’s Alexia’s best friend and confidant.  There are several other supporting werewolves and vampires that round out this universe, as well as annoying humans including Alexia’s mother and stepsisters. 

On the positive side, it’s always great to read a genre book with a strong female lead, especially in a Victorian setting.  It’s also a delightfully different take on alternative history, where the supernatural have “come out” and have integrated into gentle society after centuries of living in the shadows.  My one problem with the book is that it took too long for Alexia to comprehend Maccon’s intentions.  This is a problem I have with most comedies of manners.  People in these types of stories misread each other and I get aggravated with how thick they can be.  But I guess that’s what makes for the comedy. 

I give this book three stars out of five.  It’s very fun and a good fluff read.  I probably would have given it four stars if I hadn’t gotten so aggravated over the slow pace of Alexia’s coming around with the romance.  I still look forward to reading more of this series as it is a great read after heavy novels. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Record of a Spaceborn Few

Becky Chambers
Completed 12/22/2020, Reviewed 12/22/2020
4 stars

This is the third standalone book in the Wayfarers series. Like the first two books, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit, it is a character study. Unlike the first two books, it doesn’t have much of a plot. This is basically a slice of life of five people living on a colony ship. There are some intriguing points that cause all the characters to reflect on their lives and relationships. But the main point of the book is that humanity has learned to live in space and have become basically nice, peaceful, cooperating people and this is the story of a few of them.

The story begins on one of 32 colony ships carrying the remnants of Earth’s population, known as the Exodans. One of its sister ships has blown up. They pick up the bodies. Then life continues on for the characters, all of whom are affected by the disaster. Later, one of the characters is killed accidently, and the body is found days later. This affects all the characters, inspiring more reflection on their situations and choices in life. So you see, not much of a plot. The real story is in the characters.

My favorite characters are probably the more complex. The first one, Eyas, named after a young hawk, is basically a funeral director. She preps the bodies of the dead, holds a ritual ceremony for them with the grieving family, and composts them. This is one of the most important jobs on the ship, as it recycles the deceased to support the living. But after dealing with the influx of bodies from the sister ship, she seeks solace in a brothel, which is a legal business on the ships. She develops a special intimacy with Sunny, the male prostitute with the heart of gold.

My next favorite character was Isobel. She is one of the ship’s archivists. She maintains the records of Earth, the history of the ship, and the present happenings. She is one of the grand dames of the ship and lives with her long-time wife. She maintains an interesting perspective on life and events aboard the ship. In addition, she hosts an alien from the Galactic Council who comes to make observations of the Exodans.

The other characters are good, but less complex. There’s Tessa, a working mom of two who also takes care of her ailing father. Her husband works in space and is not home often. There’s Kip, an angsty teen with a questionable friend who wants to leave the ship and go planet-side. Lastly, there’s Sawyer who grew up on a planet and comes to the ship looking to reinvent himself.

The story is told disjointedly, with each chapter being from the perspective of one of the characters. This threw me at first, feeling like there were too many characters. But about halfway through the book, I realized I really cared about what was going on in each of their lives, even the moody teen Kip.

I give the book four stars out of five. My only complaint with the book is that I felt it took too long to get the hang of the changing perspectives from the different chapters. That with the lack of plot makes for a slow burn. But instead of getting bored, I found myself really loving the characters. I got tied up in their personal lives and how the events of the ship changed their perspectives. It ended up being one of those books that warmed my heart and made me wish it wouldn’t end.

Friday, December 18, 2020

The Peoples of Middle Earth

JRR Tolkien
Completed 12/18/2020, Reviewed 12/18/2020
4 stars

This is the final book in the History of Middle Earth (HoME) series.  It was also one of the more interesting.  It covers the appendices from The Lord of the Rings, etymological and phonological changes to names throughout the legendarium, contemplation of logical problems with names and people, and lastly includes two unfinished stories.  I have to admit, the language section was a bit of a slog, giving the development of names and the two elvish language (Quenya and Sindar) versions of the names.  One might argue that most of the HoME series dealt in the development of names, which wouldn’t be a lie, as Tolkien continually changed names and dates as his legendarium developed from 1917 until his death in 1973.  But the rest was more interesting than usual.  

I’ve read the appendices to the Lord of the Rings several times.  They’ve always seemed like just an afterthought to LOTR and definitely a downbeat after the emotional rollercoater of the trilogy.  But really, they are the first taste of the detail of the Tolkien legendarium.  I got a new perspective of them after reading the revisions presented in this volume.   I haven’t read LOTR since reading The Silmarillion and the HoME series, so I wonder if I’d get more out of the appendices now that I have this new insight into the First and Second Ages. 

For example, Arwen is the coming together of two lines of half-human, half-elves.  Her relationship with Aragorn echoes the relationship of Beren and Luthien, who feature so prominently in the First Age.  There’s more history of the presumed evolution of the hobbits, Deagol and Smeagol being members of one of the clans that moved into the Shire during the Third Age.  And there’s more history of the Dwarves and their lineage, from their creation by one of the Valar who couldn’t wait for the Iluvatar’s children to awaken to Thorin Oakenshield and Gimli.

There’s more about Galadriel.  She was created specifically for LOTR.  She proved to be so popular and profound, not just with fans but with Tolkien himself, that he worked her into the legendarium afterward.  She is Arwen’s grandmother and fostered her for a while after Arwen’s mother is attacked by Orcs and dies.  Tolkien also addresses the conundrum of Glorfindels.  He used the name for a character in The Fall of Gondolin as well as in LOTR.  He spent much time debating whether or not they were the same person, as no two elves have the same name. 

Almost all of the writings in this volume are essays which Tolkien produced to further analyze and explain, to himself at least, how everyone and everything fits together in his universe.  In volumes 10 and 11, it was rather tedious.  Here it’s makes much more sense and is much more interesting.

The last two pieces in the book are starts to stories that Tolkien never developed.  The first is called “The New Shadow” and takes place after Aragorn dies, a hundred years into the Fourth Age.  There is a new evil, but we only get a very brief hint of it.  Tolkien felt that the story was too dark, and might be anti-climactic after the epic scale of the fall of Sauron.  The second is called Tal-Elmar and gives a perspective of the Numenorians from the point of view of the Wild Men.  Tolkien didn’t know how he could work this into LOTR and gave up on it.

I give this book four stars out of five.  I would have given this book five stars if the etymological section wasn’t so dry.  The rest of the book I found more engaging than the most of the HoME series.  Having read the whole series, I have to say I’m glad I did, but I’m glad it’s done.  It’s more than the average person would find interesting.  It’s really a huge academic work, not for casual reading.  But I did enjoy seeing the processes Tolkien went through creating his universe.  And it’s the closest one can get to reading everything he ever wrote.  Now all I have left are his translation of Beowulf, a few other non-Middle-Earth books, his compilation of letters, and a book on the Inklings I got for free.  Those will wait until next year.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Nectar of Nightmares

Craig Laurance Gidney
Completed 12/7/2020, Reviewed 12/7/2020
4 stars

I really love Gidney’s writing, even when he delves into weird fantasy, as this novelette does.  It has four chapters, three are stories with their own characters experiencing a strange vision and then tying together in the final chapter.  The first story is about a young girl who dances in a ballet about a swan that is not Swan Lake.  She is so repulsed by the story that she begins to hate ballet.  Then she begins having visions of a Swan Girl.  In the second story, a young woman who gets into a series of bad relationships has a vision of a hairy boy when she takes a swig of a drug-laced drink her girlfriend gives her.  In the third story, a man has nightmares of the church he grew up in.  He decides to research nightmares at a layman’s level.  The final story ties them all together.

This book has haunting images drawn by Orion Zangara that capture the feel of these weird stories.  The novelette stands on its own without the images, but they do complement it very well.

Gidney does like to venture into weird fiction, which I am now more acutely aware of having recently read so much Lovecraft.  His last book, A Spectral Hue, employed art as magic.  This time, it’s visions and nightmares.  I love the title of the book in that it invokes a sense not commonly associated with dreams and nightmares.  It adds a dimension to the weirdness that reflects the sensory feel of Gidney’s prose.  In a few short pages, he’s able to create intense atmospheres and well-developed characters. 

I give this short work four stars out of five.  The novelette is only 37 pages, but in that brief space, I felt like I got novel’s worth of texture and depth.  It’s convinced me to read his more of his work next year. 

Monday, December 7, 2020


Hugh Howey
Completed 12/5/2020, Reviewed 12/7/2020
2 stars

This was one of the most tedious books I’ve read in a long while.  I was surprised at this because it has a lot of fans.  In fact, the book was originally self-published as short stories and novellas and then after huge success, the stories were combined into one omnibus when it was finally picked up by a major publisher.  The author went on to write two more books in what’s now called the Silo series.  But I just didn’t like it.  The pacing as mostly painstakingly slow.  The only parts that felt like they moved were the beginning and the end.  I didn’t connect with most of the characters.  And most of all, it felt derivative: the old meme of people living underground after an apocalyptic event.

The action mostly takes place in an underground silo.  The story begins when the sheriff asks to go outside.  This is a treasonous statement, and therefore is condemned to go into the poisonous outside to clean the cameras that monitor the conditions of the outside.  The ranking deputy picks Juliette, a mechanic from far down in the silo to become the new sheriff.  The deputy and the mayor go to retrieve her and she accepts the job, only to be ousted by the head of IT, the second most powerful person in the silo after the mayor.  Juliette is then condemned to a cleaning as well, but survives, causing an uprising in the silo. 

This is one of those books where an inanimate object is itself one of the characters.  The silo is described in so much detail that it has a characterization of its own.  This was what made it so tediously slow for me.  We learn most about the silo when the mayor and the deputy descend from the top floors, where they live and work, down the massive stairwell to fetch Juliette from Mechanical in the depths of the silo.  We discover the layout of the silo, the class differentiation amongst the inhabitants, and most importantly, the location and power of the IT department.  This is the sort of description you’d expect from an author like Arthur C. Clarke, who always seems to pull it off.  I felt like Howey did not.  It just wasn’t interesting enough, nor did it evoke any sense of wonder.

The human characters where okay.  I thought they were actually well-developed, but I didn’t find myself identifying with most of them.  The only character I really liked was Solo, the sole survivor of Silo #17.  He’s not particularly well-developed, but I liked that he was borderline crazy after living alone for thirty years or so.  He had personality whereas the other major characters were just flat.  I also liked Lukas, Juliette’s love interest, who must decide whether he sides with the uprising or the establishment.  Solo and Lukas added color to what I felt were mostly grey, flat characters. 

The writing was actually not too bad.  I felt like it was geared toward young adults, even though this it isn’t about teens.  It just has that YA feel.  The writing style wasn’t simple, just straight-forward, almost journalistic.  There are no luscious prosy descriptions of anything.  The dialogue was realistic.  I didn’t fumble through convoluted conversations.  And even though the book is comprised of five short stories and novellas, it holds up as a single novel.  But there was just nothing to absorb me into the story. 

I think one of the biggest problems for me was the derivative nature of the plot.  People living underground after an apocalyptic event.  It’s been done before in books and movies.  Maybe the author was thinking, “I’ll take this trope and give it a twist, add a revolution.”  The twist was simply not enough to breathe any life into the story.

I give this book two stars out of five.  While some aspects were good, it didn’t work for me overall.  The sum was less than the parts.  There’s a good amount of resolution at the end, but clearly, the author intended to keep the story going.  I have no intention of reading any more of this series, though.  I want to find out what happens to Solo, but not enough to wade through more details about the silo and its uninteresting inhabitants. 

Friday, November 27, 2020

The War of the Jewels

JRR Tolkien
Completed 11/27/2020, Reviewed 11/27/2020
4 stars

This is the eleventh volume in the History of Middle Earth series by Christopher Tolkien.  This one focuses on the development of the later Silmarillion works after the publication of The Lord of the Rings.  This was a companion piece to volume 10, Morgoth’s Ring.  Together, they cover most of the works of Tolkien’s legendarium.  It is not quite as tough a read as Morgoth’s Ring, but it’s still only for the die-hard fan looking for intensive detail into the development of the stories.  The only part that I had trouble with was the final chapter, which was a detailed description of roots and stems of the different Elvish languages. 

The book begins with the Grey Annals, which are a year by year history of the region known as Beleriand.  The biggest sections deal mostly The Children of Hurin, and a little on The Fall of Gondolin and Beren and Luthien.  There are more detailed accounts of these three later in the book as well.  They are also the stories that Christopher Tolkien recreated in separate volumes, kind of creating its own trilogy. It is interesting to see the development of these stories in Tolkien’s later years.  He’s mostly concerned with details here, specifically, the names of the characters, the spelling of their names, and the correct years of the events occurrences.  Sometimes it gets a little tedious, like when the name changes from change an “n” to and “nd”, or vice versa, or the substitution of an “a” for an “e”.  Once again, it shows how he got lost in the details of his work and gives some sense of why the Silmarillion was never published in his lifetime.  It also has some comments by Christopher as to changes he would have made to the Silmarillion had he done more extensive research into all the scraps of writings he found in the many years he spent getting this HoME series out. 

One very interesting section of this book was the story of Hurin after his children had died and he was released from Angband, Morgoth’s realm.  This was never included in the Silmarillion, or published before this point.  He goes first to the ruined halls of Nargothrond, then to the people of Haleth, his not-so-distant kin, in the forest of Brethil.  Rather than treated as a war hero with respect, he’s arrested and being contemplated for execution.  How this plays out is very interesting, as he reveals himself, the tragedy of his family, and the illegitimacy of the ruler.

But it is clear that the story of Hurin’s children, Turin Turambar and Nienor Niniel, is perhaps the most profound work to come out the works of the Elder Days.  It shows how devious the evil of Morgoth is.  It is also an interesting meditation on the nature of fate.  It seems that no matter how much Turin tried to overcome the evil, he seemed to fall into its hands until fate was fulfilled.  It’s truly a depressing tale, but rich and complex. 

I give this book four out of five stars, as I do all the HoME books.  Even when the reading is difficult or tedious, the wealth of information is staggering.  There’s always something new to discover in each of these books.  But at last, I’m nearly done with the series.  I only have volume 12 left, which I will be reading after a break with a book for book club. 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

The Postman

David Brin
Completed 11/15/2020, Reviewed 11/15/2020
3 stars

I watched the movie version of this book right after finishing it.  What a mistake.  The movie is nothing like the book; it kept just the barebones concepts.  It made me realize just how much I appreciated the book.  It’s not a great book, but it was very good:  interesting, suspenseful, and kept me reading.  The prose was cold, reflecting the stark atmosphere of the post-apocalyptic setting, as well as the weather outside the days I was reading this (haha).  Normally, I wouldn’t like this kind of writing, but it matched the mood the book was trying to create.  I also thought the whole concept of using the mail as a unifying force for the disparate communities surviving after war, plague, and nuclear winter was pretty great.  This book won a couple of awards and was nominated for a few others. 

The story follows Gordon, a loner, trying to survive in a desolate Pacific Northwest USA.  He survives by performing what he remembers of Shakespearean plays and singing songs in the tiny communities he comes across, in exchange for food and shelter.  This doesn’t always work, as many of these communities are suspicious of strangers.  He comes across a mail truck with the clothed skeleton of a mail carrier.  Drenched from the cold rain, he gets in the truck and puts on the mail uniform.  Gordon poses as a mail man for these small communities and is welcomed in readily. 

As Gordon goes from place to place, his lie grows.  He begins commissioning new mail people and actually carrying the mail from town to town.  And he inspires hope for a civilized future.  But the biggest challenge in this post-apocalyptic world is the army of survivalists called the Holnists, named after their megalomaniacal founder.  The Holnists are trying to force a feudal governing system, enslaving most of the people as serfs.  Gordon tries to organize a resistance to combat them.  Despite his lies, he is constantly plagued by his own conscience to keep it going because it gives the people hope and the motivation to fight the Holnists.

Like the prose, the characterization is kind of sparse.  The story is told third person from Gordon’s perspective, so he is well drawn.  He’s is in constant conflict between maintaining the lie by carrying the mail and the message of hope versus just running off after being fed.  It makes him very realistic.  Unfortunately, I didn’t feel the same about many of the other characters since we don’t spend much time with them.  They end up being relatively two dimensional.  This is mostly a function of plot, as Gordon goes from town to town, meeting different people.  But I did like the situations the traveling put him into.

I don’t really have much else to say about the book.  It’s really good, but I think I was expecting something more.  I give the book three stars out of five.  I think I would have found it a four-star book if I thought more of at least a few other characters.  But the basic conceit and message is what’s awesome.  Something as simple as communication through mail reuniting a fragmented nation was genius.  It makes one think about what would happen to today’s society if we lost the internet and instant messaging, now that so few people keep in touch via the mail.  Thinking about how cut-off we feel now when the internet goes down for a few hours due to a storm or maintenance, I think people would be pretty lost pretty quickly if we lost it for good.  It makes me wonder what Brin would have come up with if he wrote the book now, 34 years after “The Postman” was first published.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Morgoth’s Ring

JRR Tolkien
Completed 11/12/2020, Reviewed 11/12/2020
4 stars 

This is the tenth installment in the History of Middle Earth series edited by Christopher Tolkien.  This volume features different revisions of the creation of Middle Earth.  Like most of its predecessors, it’s for the hardcore fans who want to see the evolution of the Tolkien Legendarium.  I found this volume tougher to read than some of the others, mainly because it contained a essays and fictional ruminations on the nature of the Elves, Men, and Orcs; good and evil; and life and death.  While it may sound interesting at first, one must remember that Tolkien was an Oxford professor, so his philosophical writing is very detailed and academic, even the fictional pieces.  He was exploring the deeper nature of his Legendarium as he was trying to develop The Silmarillion for publication.  I got bogged down in it as it seems Tolkien did himself.

A good portion of the beginning revisits the creation story of Middle Earth.  Here we have several retellings of the story of Iluvatar’s Music that generates the Valar, the Middle Earth pantheon, and designs the world, the Elves, and Men.  Some of the biggest differences in the versions have to do with Melko/Morgoth, the most powerful of the Valar, who dissents from Iluvatar right from the beginning, producing discordant music to Iluvatar’s master Music which the rest of the Valar are also singing.  Originally known as Melko, he gets the name Morgoth from the Elves when he deceives them and turns them away from the rest of the Valar.  The major differences in the versions though, and the discussions later on, have to do with the nature of Morgoth, how his evil plans play out, and how if he is so powerful can he eventually be captured and expelled into the Void.  It turns out that Morgoth imbues his own spirit into the earth, marring it and its creatures.  Also, he incarnates, taking corporeal form.  This slowly weakens him, but it is where the book gets its title.  Just as Sauron put his essence into the One Ring, “the whole of Middle Earth was Morgoth’s Ring”. 

A feature in this volume is the debate between Finrod and Andreth, a male elf and a human woman, as they discuss good and evil; life, death, and immortality; and hope and hopelessness.  At first, I was really into this piece, but this is where I began to have problems following the discussion.  It really was like an academic philosophical debate and I got bogged down in their details.  But I appreciated what Tolkien was doing here, exploring the morality of his own creation. 

Later, Tolkien has essays on these same topics, including reflections on the debate itself.  These were interesting, but again, I got bogged down in the details and the back and forth discussions.  Even something you might think is as simple as the nature of the Orcs was a heated topic for him.  Did Melko create them?  This was a resounding “No” as he doesn’t have the power to create life.  However, he could capture existing beings and corrupt them to mock the children of Iluvatar.  But there are still questions?  Do they have souls?  Sauron later teaches them language, so isn’t that a sign of sentience or having a soul?  It gets very complicated.  Were they corrupted Elves or Men or something else?  I don’t think that was ever really resolved, but he discussed Orcs in quite a few essays. 

I give this book four stars out of five.  Yes it was hard to read, and I didn’t enjoy it as much as some of the earlier volumes.  But it still is an amazing collection of Tolkien’s other writings.  It’s very well constructed with good comments by Christopher Tolkien.  I think the main point of this volume, and I believe the next, is to see what prevented Tolkien’s completion of The Silmarillion, how he got too deeply into the details and philosophy of his own work.  I’m going to take a break with a science fiction novel, then come back to volume eleven, the companion piece of volume ten.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020


Sue Burke
Completed 11/4/2020, Reviewed 11/4/2020
5 stars

The book is like a collection of short stories about the founding and development of a colony ship from Earth that lands on a planet they call Pax.  The goal is to create a new Earth without making the same mistakes as they did on Earth.  In a way, this book is reminiscent of Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, but the stories go together much more directly and sequentially.  They were not written independently like TMC.  This book is also about first contact, with the life on the planet and with another alien race that had settled on the planet about 400 years earlier.  It’s a marvelous book which sucked me in right at the beginning and held me until the end.  It was nominated for four awards, including the Golden Tentacle which is awarded for a debut novel that meets the criteria of progressive, intelligent, and entertaining.

A colony ship lands on a planet that has evolved one billion years longer than earth.  They find the plant life and some of the animal life to have some form of sentience.  They try to create a new paradigm for civilization.  At first, the plants seem to be symbiotic with them, then they turn against them, then they come to have a relationship with a rainbow bamboo plant that may be the largest living thing on the Pax.  Eventually, they learn to communicate with the plant, named Stevland.  They also find evidence of an alien race that lived in a city of glass bricks and domes whom they call the Glassmakers.  But as with any new group, there is fighting and dissent as they grow and develop, despite the name Pax.  And there is constant battle with the elements, some of the animals, and eventually, the Glassmakers.

The characters development is marvelous.  Each chapter is told from the perspective of one of the characters of that generation, and I became attached to each one.  I hated seeing each chapter end because I wanted more info about their narrators.  But like a collection of short stories, they are each an amuse bouche.  The amazing thing is that each character is very unique as is their speaking style.  While I loved all the narrators, I particularly loved the rainbow bamboo, Stevland.  He (which I use because the other characters do) begins as an aggressive predator trying to draw the Pax community into a symbiotic slavery to care for and nurture it.  But as time goes on, it becomes attached to and eventually part of the community.  Daresay, Stevland becomes human.

The writing is faced-paced, with some sort of conflict propelling the narrative in each chapter.  It’s not very prosy, but Stevland’s narration is very descriptive in how it processes data in relationship to the humans, the other plants, and the native animals it has a symbiotic relationship with.  It’s quite astounding actually, and very believable.  Stevland also goes into detail on how it and other plants can modify themselves to produce substances in their fruit and other parts so that eaten, the consumers have the desired effect.  They can make poison, medicine, narcotics, and nutrients.  That’s how the plants manipulate their environment.  All of this sounds like hard science, but the author makes it all very accessible.  I did not stumble over the science and speculation at all.

The book is about community, change, and xenophobia.  It deals with the other as the humans form symbiotic relationships with the plants and animals of Pax.  The xenophobia becomes much more apparent when the community is confronted with the Glassmakers.  There’s infighting in the group as to whether they can establish friendship with them or should exterminate them.  It is not an easy choice as the Glassmakers see the humans as invaders as well. 

I give this book five stars out of five.  I really loved it.  I found it a fascinating take on first contact.  Reading other reviews, I guess the intelligent plants trope has been done before, like Day of the Triffids or more humorously in Little Shop of Horrors.  But I don’t know if it’s been done to this effect.  The book is very readable despite sounding hard-science-y.  This is the first book of a duology, so the ending is a little less than satisfying, but the ride was so good, I want to read the sequel.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Complete Fiction of HP Lovecraft

HP Lovecraft
Completed 10/28/2020, Reviewed 10/28/2020
3 stars 

I think I learned a lesson with this collection.  Never read a complete works by any author.  After a while, you see the flaws.  I found the same words and phrases used over and over again.  Lovecraft’s approach to horror is to not describe it in too much detail, but to use words like horror and terror repeatedly.  I guess he leaves it to the reader’s imagination, but by the last story in this collection, I was tired of it.  I felt like the only differences between the stories were the settings.  Okay, so not all the stories were repetitive, but the Cthulhu mythos stories got old after a while.  I have to say I was disappointed, but perhaps it was my fault in reading sixty-eight stories consecutively. 

I read this for the WWEnd Halloween Challenge for 2020.  I thought it would be fun to read some horror, and I always felt that I should read some Lovecraft as he is an influence on so many horror and fantasy writers.  So when this book came up as a cheap Amazon Deal of the Day for my Kindle, I bought it.  Well, it took me three weeks to read the 1095 pages.  It started out fun, but soon I began to recognize the formula of the stories.  For a large part of the stories, there’s an introduction to the main character, be it first or third person, that tells you that the person is dead or on the verge of sanity.  There’s a prosy description of the setting.  Then there’s a recounting of the horrific events that lead up to the death or mental breakdown.  This was typical of the Cthulhu mythos stories.

There are other forms as well, such as the stories in what’s known as the Dream Cycle, which I had a hard time understanding.  The stories which are not part of either Cthulhu or the Dreams still sometimes fell into the Cthulhu pattern of storytelling.  You could tell when you were reading some of his early works because they ended in an italicized shocker last sentence.  Those were actually kind of fun.

The prose is wonderful, as I would have expected from writing from this period in time.  However, each story is a big prose-fest.  There is almost no dialogue.  When there is, it’s long, prosy, eloquent monologues or heavily accented backwoods ramblings.  This lack of dialogue made the characters all seem basically the same.  There was not much individual personality to them.  Most of them were men, often academics, who were researching old cults and/or the occult, troubled by dreams, and obsessive.  There were almost no women in any of the stories.

Most of Lovecraft’s work was published in periodicals, like the science fiction of the golden age.  I think if you read his stories as they came out, over a period of many years, you could really get into it.  You wouldn’t notice the commonly used words and phrases, the lack of growth in the writing, the repetitive themes.  My conclusion is that reading it all at once is a bad idea. 

And what review of Lovecraft isn’t complete without the acknowledgement of his intense racism.  He uses derogatory language for anyone who isn’t white or of British descent.  He used such language for Blacks, Asians, Native Americans, Asian Indians, Arabs, Italians, and people of mixed race.  I’m sure I’m missing a few.  I knew he was racist going into this and chalked it up to the time period he was from.  But I quickly realized that while many authors were racist, they didn’t usually use derogatory words or stereotypical descriptions in their writings.  And Lovecraft goes too far.  He describes every non-white character with a slur.  They are almost always associated with the horror involved, whether perpetuating it or a slave to it.  It made for some really uncomfortable reading.  I really like this quote by N. K. Jemisin from an interview with David Remnick from the New Yorker magazine.  "…His biases were the basis of his horror. ... He does some incredible imagery, it's powerful work, but it's frightening ... because it's a way to look into the mind of a true bigot, and realize just how alien their thinking is, just how disturbing their ability to dehumanize their fellow human beings is."

I give this book three stars out of five.  It was interesting reading this collection after reading so many books by authors of color over the past few years.  And it was interesting reading it during such a troubling time as we are in now.  It reinforced for me how far we’ve come and simultaneously how much farther we have to go.  I think I would have given this collection four stars if it wasn’t for the racism and the repetitive style and language of the stories.  If you’re into prose, you’d see why I’d give it the fourth star.  But in the future, when I read collections, I’ll make sure it isn’t massive.  I like to be entertained and challenged.  I don’t like finding out that an author has a formula and sticks to it their whole career.  And I think I’ll stay away from the racists.  It’s hard enough to do that in everyday life.  I don’t need it in my literature as well.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Children of Blood and Bone

Tomi Adeyemi
Completed 10/6/2020, Reviewed 10/6/2020
3 stars

 I enjoyed this young adult novel, but it felt very formulaic.  It has a good premise.  A girl tries to bring magic back into a Nigeria-like land after it has been eradicated by the monarch.  It’s loosely based on Yoruba mythology.  The primary purpose of each god is to bestow a certain type of magic.  It’s basically a quest story with a kick-ass female main character named Zelie.  Many cool things happen on this quest, but ultimately everything feels like you’ve read it before, right down to Zelie falling for the morally questionable antagonist.  Still, it was an exciting, engrossing story.  I just kept having feelings of déjà vu.  This book was nominated for a lot of awards, winning several including the Andre Norton Award. 

In Orisha, the monarch has eradicated magic from the land and killed all the wielders of magic above the age of thirteen.  Called maji, they’re recognizable by their white hair.  Those under the age of thirteen, though white-haired, haven’t acquired their powers yet, so are considered not dangerous.  Zelie lost her mother to the Raids and is rightfully bitter.  She has white hair and has the potential to be a maji.  Several years after the Raids, she becomes involved with bringing magic back when the Princess steals an artifact from her father that can return magic to the land.  Zelie, her brother, and the Princess take up the artifact and begin the quest to bring magic back.  Hot on their heals is the Prince, who supports his father’s vision of a magic-free land.

The book is told from first person point of view by Zelie, the Princess, and the Prince in alternating chapters.  This form develops their characters really well.  Zelie is a great character.  She’s well-rounded despite being bitter over the death of her mother and the Raids which killed all the maji of age.  She‘s strong, having been trained to defend herself like many of the young girls of her village.  The Princess is also strong and fierce, having been trained by her father to defend herself in case of an uprising, like the one in which he lost his first family.  She struggles with the injustices perpetuated on the maji which emboldens her to steal a scroll which when touched, restores magic to them.  The Prince, despite being the antagonist, is also a well-developed character, getting his own narrative. 

Though the characters are strong, the story feels hackneyed.  That’s not saying it’s not exciting, because it is.  It just feels like it’s been done before.  But the story is well paced, and I often found myself having a hard time putting the book down at several points.  There’s a lot of action and a lot of sequences that are real page turners. 

The one thing I really liked was the realness of the oppression the maji suffered at the hands of the royal guards.  They called them maggots and were heavily taxed.  What they endured was very realistic and often hard to read.  The account of the death of Zelie’s mother is particularly difficult.  It’s an excellent handling of xenophobia and the demonization of the other.  Contrary to the belief of the king, it doesn’t protect him, it merely incites resentment and ultimately violence.

I give this book three stars out of five.  I really liked it, and would have liked to have given it four stars. But ultimately, it felt derivative of other YA novels.  I do highly recommend the book though.  It is a good read and satisfying despite the cliffhanger at the end.  And one more plug.  The cover art of this book and its sequel is tremendous.


Thursday, October 1, 2020

Gods of Jade and Shadow

Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Completed 10/1/2020, Reviewed 10/1/2020
4 stars

I believe this is the first genre novel I’ve read by a Latinx author, perhaps the first of any type of literature.  Moreno-Garcia is Mexican-born and Canadian “by inclination”.  This novel is Mythic Fiction, featuring Mayan gods and a lowly Cinderella-like poor relation.  It is about the battle for the Kingdom of the Underworld between twin brother gods.  It is both light and heavy, with powerful themes of love and self-sacrifice, while sprinkled with a little humor.  I really enjoyed the novel, particularly the exposure to the Mayan mythology, of which I know very little.  And I’m always up for a good fantasy based on mythology.  This book was nominated for several awards including the Nebula.

The story begins in the Yucatan in the roaring twenties, although the town where Casiopea lives is very traditional.  Her father died when she was young and she and her mother moved in with her sickly, cantankerous, and abusive grandfather and equally abusive extended family, including her mean cousin Martin.  She was basically raised as a servant, much like Cinderella.  One day, left home alone while the rest of the family is enjoying a day trip, she finds the small box her grandfather kept in his room.  For the first time, its key is not around his neck, but on the dresser.  She opens the box, finds bones in it, touches it, and a shard of bone enters her hand.  Suddenly, the god of the Underworld, Hun-Kame, appears.  He enlists her to help him retake his throne from his twin brother Vucub-Kame, the younger of the two, who treacherously stole the throne from him.  The story becomes a bit of a travelogue as they journey across Mexico, being chased by Martin who was enlisted by the younger sibling, culminating in an ultimate confrontation between the two divine forces. 

Casiopea is a wonderful character, named after the constellation by her poet father of Mayan ancestry.  Being her father’s daughter, she is dark-skinned, unlike the rest of her family who are lighter-skinned people of European descent.  The resulting bigotry is what keeps her and her mother oppressed by their own family.  Casiopea keeps to her station, as commanded by her mother, but she does so with dissent and bitterness in her eyes, often arguing, garnering the wrath of Martin, her grandfather, and her aunts.  She is smart, educated, and strong-willed, unlike many of the women of the village.  Then on the journey across Mexico, she brings a freshness and a humanness to Hun-Kame.

What brings Hun-Kame to life is the blood of Casiopea, as it is absorbed by his bone shard lodged in her hand.  It also siphons some of her humanity and personality into him as well.  Ultimately, though, this will kill her unless he can retake the throne and remove it from her.  But if he wants to live, it must remain in her hand, endangering her life.  Hun-Kame is a well-developed character, starting off disaffected and becoming softened by Casiopea’s physical and emotional connection to him.  Vucub-Kame, on the other hand, is hardened and harsh, like Martin.  The contrasts are awesome, and the coming together of the characters and the personalities is well played.

I really liked Moreno-Garcia’s prose.  She writes vivid depictions of people, places, and actions without being overbearing, but still maintaining a mythic quality.  The dialogue is crisp.  There is some exposition as Hun-Kame relates the story of his divinity and the conflict with his brother when asked by Casiopea, but it is written well, told over a several sittings, and is very interesting. 

I give this book four stars out of five.  It was very nearly a five-star rating.  I could empathize with Casiopea and Hun-Kame, but never quite had the emotional response for which I usually reward the higher rating.  Still, I enjoyed it very much.  It is a quick read, with the travelogue and the exposition never being boring.  The final confrontation between the two brothers, the form of which I won’t give away, was dramatic and riveting.  There are a lot of stories out there featuring Norse, Egyptian, Hindu, and African mythologies, but this is first I’ve come across with Mayan.  I highly recommend this book if you’re looking for something with a different flavor than the majority of mythological fiction out there.

Monday, September 28, 2020


Gregory Benford
Completed 9/28/2020, Reviewed 9/28/2020
2 stars

I did not enjoy this book.  It’s classified as hard science fiction, and yes, it’s very hard.  The author goes into excruciating detail about tachyons, hypothetical faster-than-light particles, used to communicate across time.  The book is generally about the scientists from the future attempting to send messages to scientists from the past to get them to do something to avoid an ecological collapse.  But what I felt this book was really about was scientists and their lives inside and outside the lab.  According to this book, it’s not usually pleasant.   There’s in-fighting, jealousy, power struggles, and many problems at home.  Despite this book being published in 1980, it felt more like a book out of the golden age of science fiction, with its racism, sexism, and homophobia.  These are relatively mild except for the depictions of women which are so 1950’s.  This book won the Nebula, British SF, and Campbell Awards.  It was not nominated for a Hugo.

The plot follows two timelines.  The first is 1998 where several scientists at Cambridge are sending signals in the form of Morse Code via tachyons to the second timeline, 1962 (18 years to and from the book’s publication date).  In 1998, there is an algae bloom rapidly spreading in the ocean due to certain long chain molecule pesticides and the destruction of the rain forests.  The message they are sending to 1962 contains details of the pesticides and warnings about what their effects will be on the future.  They are also trying to get funding to maintain their experiments at a time when scientific funding is hard to come by as it is being diverted to fight the ecological disaster.  In 1962, one scientist and his grad student at UC La Jolla discover these messages as interference in their own experiments, but their department head doesn’t believe in it.  The two continue gathering and studying the messages despite being warned to abandon the task and focus on eliminating the noise from their original experiment. 

I liked the basic gist of the plot.  It’s well-conceived and not badly executed.  I actually found the writing to be quite good.  I may not have enjoyed the content, but I thought it was written well.  What I didn’t care for were the subplots, particularly those revolving around the relationships of the scientist, almost all of whom were white men, and their wives, girlfriends, or sexual partners.   The wives of the British scientists were good, long-suffering housewives.  The live-in girlfriend of the American scientist came across as somewhat liberated considering they weren’t married but she was also a Barry Goldwater supporter.  There were a few women scientists, one in 1962 and one in 1998, but only the latter was featured enough to know something about her, that she was bisexual with stereotypical butch tendencies.  The worst subplot followed the despicable Ian Peterson, the government guy directly responsible for deciding the funding for the 1998 project.  He believed every woman was fair game, including the wives of the scientists he was working with. 

That brings me to characterization.  This was interesting because even though there was a lot of background given for Peterson and the main scientists, I didn’t feel like I got to know any of them.  Renfrow and Bernstein were tortured and for that matter, kind of whiny.  Bernstein has perhaps the fullest background, complete with Jewish mother and goy girlfriend conflicts.  I didn’t empathize with either one, although in the beginning, I came close with Bernstein.  I’ve already described Peterson and the women characters, all basically very cardboard. 

The racism is one incident, but it’s there and pretty offensive.  One of the main characters sees a black man hanging around people (presumably all white) waiting for a bus in the rain and the character assumes, in this case rightly so, that he’s a pickpocket.  Granted, there were probably extremely few black people in academic circles in La Jolla in 1962, but there are also none in 1998 in England or California.  The homophobia was quite stereotypical as well.  Besides the butch bisexual women, one of the characters makes reference to how all waiters are gay.  Well, at least the author didn’t comment on limp wrists and swishing behinds.  Still, ugh.

I give this book two stars out of five.  Just because the writing is decent and the science is detailed doesn’t make a book good.  I need to have engaging characters.  I need to find the subplots interesting.  I’d rather have no references at all to blacks and LGBTQ characters than offensive ones.  That way, I could have pretended that the author was writing in the 40’s or 50’s.  I can’t believe this book beat others like The Snow Queen and Shadow of theTorturer for two of the aforementioned awards.  After reading this book, I’m not likely to read anything else by Benford. 

Friday, September 25, 2020

A Spectral Hue

Craig Laurance Gidney
Completed 9/22/2020, Reviewed 9/22/2020
5 stars

When I began this book, I was a bit disoriented.  I loved Gidney’s Sea, Swallow Me and was fully expecting to love this one.  Expectations ran high.  To my dismay, it started a little slowly.  The book is told from multiple points of view and it took me quite a few chapters to really get what was going on.  Then the plot started to sink in and I got it.  I got the layers of meaning, the smart prose, and the colorful characters.  It all wove together into a terrific, non-traditional ghost story, using artistic obsession as its medium.  This book was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award in 2019. 

There’s a museum in the tiny town of Shimmer, Maryland that features quilts, paintings, and assorted other forms of art by people who were not trained artists.  The quilts were made by a young slave woman, the paintings by a drifter with a skin condition, bottle art by someone living off the grid of the 1950s, etc.  All the art pieces have a common color in them, a purplish-pinkish hue.  The people who created the art were all obsessed with their work and this color.  People who see the art are affected in different ways.  Some see nothing but amateurish drivel.  Some see the beginnings of a modern art movement.  A select few see a magic and become obsessed artists themselves and it all points to something in the marsh that surrounds the town.

As I noted above, there are a number of characters through whom the story is told.  Xavier is a grad student who comes to Shimmer to study the quilts.  He first saw one of the quilts, made by Hazel the young slave girl, at a party and became obsessed with them.  Linc is a young gay former crystal meth addict who was kicked out of his home.  He drifts into Shimmer and becomes a janitor at the museum.  Iris was a psychic since childhood, seeing spectres and auras.  She lives in Shimmer, her ex-partner having passed away about a year before.  All these people come to experience the obsession with the art in one way or another.  There is another voice, that of the spectre itself, only known as Fuchsia, who seems to be the source of the obsession.

The character development is quite good for such a short novel.  It’s only 177 pages, but we get a lot of personality out of the characters.  In addition to the characters noted above, we also find out a lot about Hazel through the narration by Fuschia, learning how she deals with being a slave and how she comes to make the quilts. 

The book also deals with race, sexuality, and slavery.  Most of the main characters are black and gay or lesbian.  It’s not pronounced, but racism and homophobia are part of some of the characters’ experiences.  The characterization is subtly written with passing references to things like physical features and gaydar.  More dramatic is the story of Hazel’s enslavement, though she has “kind” owners who don’t whip their slaves at the drop of a hat or cut off fingers or limbs.  They “only” box their ears, sell their children, and beat them when the master’s drunk. 

I give this book five stars out of five.  I really empathized with the characters, feeling their growing compulsion to create.  I especially felt this with Iris and Linc’s stories, although I wish got more of Linc.  His story enthralled me the most, finding it an intense ride.  I loved Gidney’s descriptions of the creation of the art by the different main and secondary characters.  And I love Gidney’s writing.  His prose is spare, but he creates vivid images of the people and their art.   I think you have to read this book slowly because you don’t want to miss any of the words.  It took me about as long to read this book as the it did the last one which was a hundred pages longer.  The beginning is a slow burn, but then I didn’t want it to end.  I just wanted to savor the experiences of the creation of art and the passion of the people. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Lesson

Cadwell Turnbull
Completed 9/20/2020, Reviewed 9/20/2020
4 stars

I found this book by a recommendation of an author I follow on Twitter.  I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it.  It’s a first novel by an African-American native of the US Virgin Islands.  His previous works were short fiction pieces, a few of which have been included in anthologies, including Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019.   It has strong prose without being pretentious.  It has a fairly large cast of characters, much like a disaster movie of the ‘70s – well not that many, but the plot follows quite a few characters to tell the story.  It’s short, but packs a big punch with the horrors of colonialism and slavery as themes.  It wasn’t nominated for anything, but received a lot of good press, and I expect to see very good things coming from this author in the future.  I think he’s one to follow.

The story takes place on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.  In the very near future, an alien craft comes to earth and hovers above the island.  The aliens say they’ve come in peace, wanting to give us new cures for diseases and new technologies in return for peaceful cohabitation.  However, when someone crosses an alien, it quickly and mercilessly kills that person.  This causes misunderstanding and heightens tensions resulting in more violence.  Mera is the Ynaa ambassador to Earth.  She has been around a long time, posing as a slave and after emancipation, as a healer.  Now that the full contingent of Ynaa have arrived, she acts as an intermediary with the people of St. Thomas.  She hires Derrick, a local young man, as her secretary.  With the rise of violence and misunderstanding, Derrick is believed to be a traitor by the locals.  The story follows his childhood friend and one-time girlfriend Patrice and the members of both of their families from the few weeks before the Ynaa arrival to five years later.  It also gives us vignettes of Mera’s previous time on Earth in the 17-, 18-, and 1900s. 

The characterization is pretty good considering the number of characters and the shortness of the book (barely 290 pages).  I felt I could empathize with most of the characters, particularly Derrick, Patrice and her father Jackson.  Jackson is a teacher who retires after the arrival of the Ynaa.  He and his wife Aubrey split and Aubrey falls in love with the local veterinarian Alice.  While Aubrey has moved on with her life, Jackson struggles to find meaning and direction in his.  Mera the alien ambassador is a bit wooden, but it works in that she’s trying to maintain emotional distance from humans, and also because there’s a sort of wooden way she and the other aliens walk and move.  The aliens wear a mask of human features, but can generally be picked out of a crowd by the way they walk. 

The story is really gripping.  It starts with a brief introduction of the major characters in their lives right before the invasion, then jumps to five years later when tensions are high and humans have been murdered after attacking the aliens.  Even with the bouncing timeline to give Mera’s background on Earth for the past couple hundred years, the author maintains a brisk pace and the tensions increase. 

The metaphor for colonialism is pretty obvious, sort of the way District 9 was an obvious metaphor for apartheid.  But it works well, particularly as the author goes back to a slave revolt during the Dutch occupation of the island in the 1700s.  It also calls to question the morality of working with the occupiers in the character of Derrick who is Mera’s secretary.  He took the job because it was high paying and because he was infatuated with this first contact.  But is he the traitor that everyone says he is.  Even his grandmother kicks him out of the house for getting too close to Mera.  He’s sort of like the tax collectors of Roman-occupied Israel in Jesus’ time. 

I give this book four stars out of five.  I think it’s a terrific first contact novel with a different setting in a culture we have too little exposure to, considering it’s part of the United States.  I think the book is well written and pretty imaginative.  In the acknowledgments, Turnbull says that he was a kid with lots of strange ideas.  After reading this book, I’m hoping he gets to write down more of his strange ideas.