Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Come Tumbling Down

Seanan McGuire
Completed 9/28/2021, Reviewed 9/29/2021
3 stars

This fifth book in the Wayward Children series picks up shortly after the second book, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, ended.  It follows Jack as she tries to get her body back from her twin Jill.  Perhaps I’ve read too many of these in a row for I felt less enthused about this story than the others.  Perhaps I didn’t want to revisit Jack and Jill and was looking forward to something a little newer.  The prose is still tremendous.  However, I thought the plot was less interesting.  The world-building also wasn’t quite up to par, as it had already been done in the second book.  Still, this book got a lot of love from the fans, as it was nominated for Hugo this year in the Novella category.

The book begins with Jack coming back to the Home for Wayward Children in a flash of lightning, carried in the arms of her lover Alexis.  She’s returned from her home fantasy world because her twin sister Jill has exchanged bodies with her.  Jill had been killed and resurrected by Jack, making her body no longer able to become immortal as a vampire.  Jack, who has terrible OCD, wants her body back and wants to put an end to Jill’s reign of terror.  She recruits our main characters, Kade, Christopher, Simi, and Cora, to return to her world and help in this quest, despite one of the rules of the home is No Adventures.  Eleanor, the home’s owner and guardian, acquiesces nonetheless.  So they all go back to the world of vampires, werewolves, and other monsters to right this wrong.

The big new item in the world-building is that Jack can come and go between worlds using lightning, rather than waiting for a window to appear.  Jack, as an apprentice mad scientist, has learned to harness lightning for many things, including resurrections.  The other big item is that Cora, who is a mermaid though her scales are under her skin in the regular world, is called to the sea in Jack’s world by the sea monster-gods.  She runs away from group and leaps into the sea unaware of the danger and horrors within.  The sequence where the group must try to reclaim her is quite exciting.

I give this book three stars out of five.  There’s a lot of good action in this book, including the riding of two undead horses, one resurrected and one a skeleton.  The climactic scene where Christopher plays his bone flute to call an army of skeletons is also exciting.  Despite all these exciting parts, this book felt a little meh to me.  The sum of its parts did not produce an exciting whole.  I think I’m going to read a few non-McGuire books before I read the sixth one.  Maybe I’ll be able to come to it in with a fresher perspective.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

In an Absent Dream

Seanan McGuire
Completed 9/26/2021, Reviewed 9/26/2021
4 stars

The fourth book in the Wayward Children series, this book follows Miss Lundy, a teacher and therapist at the Eleanor West’s Home, and her journey into Fae and Fantasy in her childhood.  This world is a little different than the others in that Lundy gets to go back and forth easily between worlds until her eighteenth birthday.  In the other books, the way back into Fantasy after leaving once was not easy.  Once again, it’s great prose and world-building and a Lundy has a great character arc.  I am just loving these stories, even though they are dark and in the case of this one, rather depressing.  Like the others, this was nominated for a Hugo for novella.

Katherine Lundy is the daughter of the school principal.  Her life has been very rigid.  She learns rules and adheres to them.  She has no friends, being the daughter of the principal is not conducive to having friends.  One day, a door appears in a tree.  It has five signs in it, the first being “Be Sure”.  The door leads to the Goblin Market.  There she meets Moon, a young girl who befriends her and teaches her the meaning of the five signs.  She also meets the Archivist, an adult who also tries to teach her about life in the world of the Goblin Market.  It’s not exactly easy there.  The economy is based on bartering and fair value.  If you incur debt, you begin developing characteristics of a bird.  Lundy manages, though, and even helps Moon with her debt.  But when she goes back to her home world, her parents enroll her in an academy that doesn’t permit her any alone time, which is necessary for a doorway back to the Goblin Market to appear.

I feel like I’m becoming a broken record with these reviews.  Gorgeous prose, amazing world-building, and excellent characterization.  Lundy, as Katherine is known in the Goblin Market, existed as a secondary character in Every Heart a Doorway.  Here we get a full backstory and the connection to that first book.  She’s sure of her desire to stay in the Goblin Market world until her younger sister starts to grow up, demanding Lundy be a sister to her.  Guilt gets the better of her and she struggles with her desire to be a good sister and to go to the Market which she now calls home.  I think this is one of the reasons I really liked this book.  The struggle was very well done.  I could empathize with Lundy trying to follow her heart when it is in two places.  

I give this book four stars out of five.  It continues McGuire’s hitting streak.  I have one more novella in the series by her and a standalone which I may not get to until next year.  We’ll see.  But I do think she’s a smart, elegant writer with a vivid, diverse imagination.  I’ll continue to acquire books by her as they come up on sale and read them from the library as well.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Beneath the Sugar Sky

Seanan McGuire
Completed 9/24/2021, Reviewed 9/24/2021
4 stars

This is the third in the “Wayward Children” series.  It’s another terrific novella, this time following the improbable story of a young girl from a different fantasy world coming to the Home for Wayward Children to look for her mother.  The fantasy world is called Confection and it is comprised of sweet treats, like gingerbread houses, graham cracker sand, and candy corn stalks.  The ocean is strawberry rhubarb soda.  It sounds kidified, but it is as dark as the previous two novellas.  The prose and world-building are once again tremendous.  The character development is also strong as it fills in some gaps of the main characters from the first book.  This is another multiple award nominee in the novella category.

The majority of this book is told from Cora’s point of view.  She’s a new student at Eleanor West’s Home.  Her journey to a fantasy world was as a mermaid.  In our world, she struggles with peer acceptance and bullying because of her weight.  At the school, she actually makes a friend, Nadya, another student who visited a water-based world.  While playing around at Turtle Pond, a young girl appears out of nowhere and falls into the pond.  Her name is Rini.  They bring her back to Eleanor where they find out that her mother is Simi, who was killed in the first book.  Rini is trying to find her mother to prevent herself from fading out of existence and save the world of Confection.  So Kade, Christopher, Cora and Nadya accompany Rini and Simi’s skeleton back to Confection to try to bring Simi back to life and correct the twisted timeline.

I was pretty happy to go back to Miss West’s Home because it gave me a chance to get to know the main characters from the first book a little better.  While the POV is mostly from Cora, it tells more backstory on Kade, Christopher, and Nadya.  We also get to visit Nancy in her own Fae world.  I liked the characters much more on this second visit to the Home.  They are all a little broken and strong at the same time.  Even though I didn’t connect with them well in the first book, they were like old friends in this one.    

The world of Confection is simply marvelous.  It’s a Nonsense world, so logic doesn’t hold too well within it.  Everything is made of candy or baked goods, including armor and clothing, and no one dies from vitamin or nutrient deficiencies.  The world was created by a god who came to the world and began baking it into existence.  Our little fellowship must find the Baker and ask for help in restoring Simi to life so that Rini doesn’t fade away and the Queen of Cakes can be overthrown.  

I give this book four stars out of five.  I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to see what McGuire reveals to us in this massive universe of fae and fantasy.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Down Among the Sticks and Bones

Seanan McGuire
Completed 9/22/2021, Reviewed 9/23/2021
4 stars

I enjoyed this book much more than the first, Every Heart a Doorway.  This one was very different than Doorway, telling the tale of how two of the first’s characters grew up, found, and then were expelled from their Faerie world.  The world-building was terrific, the prose gorgeous, and the character development much more complete.  Overall, it was much more focused, yet didn’t skimp on details.  I got this and the next three novellas in the series free from Tor publishing.  I’m so glad I did because now I’m hooked.  This book was nominated for a Hugo novella award in 2018, among others.  

Jacqueline and Jillian are twins, born to a prosperous couple who didn’t want children until everyone else in their social circle started to have them.  Their father wanted a son and their mother wanted a daughter, so Jacqueline was raised as a girly-girl and Jillian was raised as a tomboy.  Their roles were very tightly controlled by their parents.  Their only respite was their grandmother who lived with and helped raise them for five years.  When they were twelve, they found their doorway to another world, one of vampires, werewolves, and a scientist who brings people back to life a la Dr. Frankenstein.  There, Jillian gets “adopted” by the Master, a vampire who controls the nearby village.  He molds the tomboy into a young lady, complete with frilly dresses, in hopes that one day she will become a vampire and heir to the Master.  Jacqueline becomes the tomboy, apprenticing to the mad scientist, and falling in love with a local girl.  But as they grow older, things begin to unravel as Jillian becomes jealous of Jacqueline and misreads the Master’s wishes.  

That may sound like a lot of plot, but we already know some of the outcome already from Doorway.  So the ending is no surprise.  The joy of this book is in the storytelling.  There’s a good amount of tension between the two sisters throughout the story.  And the world-building is wonderful: a land of moors, a frightened village, a scary castle, and an isolated windmill.  The village lives under constant fear of the Master, but also benefits from his protection from the other horrors of the moors.  It seems like a strange world for the Fae, but it turns out that everyone who opens a door opens it to a world for which they’re suited and longing for.  

The twins (and yes, they are eventually called Jack and Jill) are an interesting pair.  McGuire really gets you into their heads, seeing not just how, but why they turn out the way they do, and why they end up as they do in their secret world.  The parents are very interesting as well.  They are over-achieving yuppies who are not good, attentive parents.  They try to shape the children into images they want, rather than letting them be who they are.  They completely miss the point of having children, unlike the grandmother who understands what it means to have children.  

The Master and the scientist, Dr. Bleak, are intriguing adversaries.  They have a deal that as children come in through doorways, they alternate who gets them.  And there are others who have come before, namely Mary, the maid of the Master’s castle.  It is said their rivalries have escalated in the past and one wonders if they are going to escalate again.  

I give this novella four stars out of five.  I was much more engaged with it than with the first book.  However, I believe that McGuire must have been doing a lot of writing for the rest of the series because the first book is beginning to make more sense, now that we have Jack and Jill’s back story revealed.  I’ve already started the third book in the series, Beneath the Sugar Sky, and it confirms my theory that McGuire had a detailed outline of all the characters and their different worlds.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Every Heart a Doorway

Seanan McGuire
Completed 9/19/2021, Reviewed 9/20/2021
3 stars

This is the first novella of the Wayward Children series.  It’s about a home for children who have returned from Faerie to unbelieving parents and heavy despair.  It’s not the typical magic school trope.  Rather, it’s a fresher take on it.  Still I wasn’t able to quite get into it.  Being a novella and only about 170 pages, I think its quick dive into the plot left me unable to really sink my teeth in the characters and immerse myself in the eventual murder mystery plot.  I found myself not really caring that much about anyone.  Nonetheless, this book won the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novella a few years back, among others.  

The book begins with the arrival of Nancy at the facility.  She’s just come back from the land of the dead, and like every other child who has found a doorway into the realm of Faerie and returned, she longs to go back.  No one understands her now.  She doesn’t even consider it home anymore.  As a last resort, her parents bring her to Eleanor West’s facility in hopes of getting their old daughter back.  The reality is the facility doesn’t exactly change the children.  It helps them accept that they might not go back.  Shortly after her arrival, her roommate is murdered.  Everyone initially blames her because as the newest student, she’s the obvious suspect.  But then another child is murdered and accusations fly all over the place.  Nancy bands with a few other students to try to figure out who the murderer is.  

The group of students Nancy meets are quite unique in their experiences of the realm of Faerie.  There’s Kade, a girl who returned as a boy; Jack and Jill, twin sisters who went through a doorway together; and Simi, Nancy’s roommate who is quite nonsensical.  The children range in ages, with Nancy and a few others being around 16 or 17-years-old, and they are all angsty because they want to go back to Faerie and believe they can.  They are the type of characters I should have at least been able to empathize with.  But instead, I found myself keeping my distance from them.  Perhaps it’s because Nancy, as the main character, was keeping her distance as well.  Nancy herself is asexual, though not necessarily aromantic.  She actually falls for Kade who is trans.  But in general, she does not really open up to the other students, nor does she let them get too close to her.

The world-building however is quite excellent.  I found it interesting that McGuire chose to have each student discover and return from their own experiences of Faerie.  Some realms are logical, some nonsensical, some dark, some dangerous.  Of course time in Faerie doesn’t match time in the real world, some of the students had been gone for years, but came back six months later by our time.  The one common theme is that they all want to go back, and believe that they can if they can just find the doorway again.  They’ve all been changed by their experiences and no one believes where they’ve been.

The murder mystery aspect of the book is interesting in that it does a lot to flesh out the characters revealing more about them and the what they experienced in their realms.  And I was surprised when the murderer is revealed.  That may be because I found myself disassociated with the characters so I didn’t see it coming.  Nonetheless, I thought it wasn’t badly done.  

I give this book three stars out of five, which is a good in my book.  I was just expecting something better.  I like McGuire’s prose, and it’s actually quite beautiful.  It’s the lack of empathy for the characters that dragged this book down from a four-star rating.  I’ve already started the next book in the series, and find it leaps and bounds better than this one.  We’ll see how it holds up.

Thursday, September 16, 2021


Madeline Miller
Completed 9/16/2021, Reviewed 9/16/2021
4 stars

I read a kid-ified version of the Odyssey around 4th or 5th grade and I became hooked on mythology.  I don’t remember if I ever read the Odyssey itself, but I did remember Circe turning Odysseus’ men into pigs.  This book is a retelling of the Odyssey through Circe’s eyes, from her birth to the Titan Helios, to her development as a witch, to her exile on the island that Odysseus visits on his ill-fated journey.  Like Miller’s first novel, The Song of Achilles, it’s a terrific book.  There’s so much more than the basic story of Odysseus, drawing from other sources for Circe and building on that with wonderful prose and world-building.  This book won The Kitchies: Red Tentacle Award for 2018 and was nominated for several others.  

The story is told in first person by Circe.  She begins with her childhood, where she’s made fun of by her parents and siblings for being ugly, having a terrible voice, and being basically an embarrassment to divinity.  Her self-esteem is terrible, needless to say, and she’s very naïve.  Eventually, she discovers that she can perform magic.  She uses it when she is challenged by another naiad for her love interest.  After turning her into a hideous monster, Zeus exiles her to a remote island.  While continuing to work on her magic abilities, her path crosses with Hermes, the Minotaur, Jason of the Argonauts fame, and Odysseus.

Circe is a multi-dimensional character who despite being the child of a Titan, has little understanding of how to act as a goddess.  She’s makes naïve and generally well-intentioned choices which backfire with terrible consequences.  It was frustrating to watch her develop from awkward child to awkward teen to lonely exile.  It wasn’t until she started turning men into pigs that she started to take care of herself, and even then, she has a tough time coming into her own personhood.  Things become more interesting when Odysseus shows up.  He relates the stories of the Trojan War and his travels afterwards, though not all at once in a big info dump.  It comes out as their relationship develops.  It was good to see Circe finally have something nice in her life even though we know from the source material that it must end.

Probably the most interesting thing about the book is how the Titans and Olympian gods are all basically very shallow and petty.  We normally think of them as being great and powerful, which they are, but they are worse than humans in their jealousies and rages.  I guess I hadn’t really thought about them for quite a while, but it makes sense thinking back on all the mythology I’ve been exposed to.  Thinking about this now, it makes me very interested in Stephen Fry’s mythology duology which I picked up cheap but have not read yet.  That will probably come later this year.

I give this book four stars out of five.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, despite Circe being bullied and abused by her kin.  She does experience some self-actualization at the end in a surprising way, making for a very satisfying conclusion.  How she gets there is very dramatic and worth the read.  

Sunday, September 12, 2021

The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home

Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor
Completed 9/11/2021, Reviewed 9/12/2021
4 stars

Another good conclusion of a trilogy whose second book I didn’t care for as much.  I really liked the first book, Welcome to Night Vale.  The second was It Devours.  This volume mostly took place outside of Night Vale.  It had a more ordinary story telling style, giving the life history of the featured ghost from Night Vale when she lived in Europe and then told how she became a ghost and attached to the family she haunted.  It’s a story of innocence and its loss, followed by a lifelong obsession of revenge.  I found it intriguing and enjoyable, though it is a very dark tale.

The bracketing story follows the Faceless Old Woman who haunts Craig in Night Vale.  She watched over him as a child and nudges him from being directionless to having some meaning in his life.  Between these episodes, the woman tells of the major episodes of her own life which began as a motherless girl living with her father somewhere on the Mediterranean.  She lives a life of innocence, loving her dad, but not understanding what he does.  She eventually finds out he’s a smuggler.  His business partner is Edmond, his complicit accountant who she considers an uncle.  One day the treacherous Order of the Labyrinth burns down their house and kills her father.  Devastated, she plans her revenge on everyone involved.  The episodes continue through her being a thief and assassin, followed by a swashbuckling life on the sea, all the while seeking to satisfy her need for revenge for her father’s death.

The world building was really good.  A good part of the action dealt with a fictional small country in Europe, and only a few actual cities were named throughout the book.  It was all very believable, taking place in the 1800’s.  The characterization was pretty good.  It wasn’t outstanding, with the Woman being only two-dimensional with her revenge obsession.  Still, I felt empathy for her and her little ragtag group of criminal allies.  I think it was the prose that kept me going, infusing life into the characters by the descriptions of the action.  It was their well-described adventures, including their successes and failures, which made me appreciate them.

I thought the ending was quite remarkable.  It was a huge twist that revealed truths to the Woman which she had not seen her whole life.  I didn’t see it coming either.  It was very well done and then segues into how she finally ends up in Night Vale haunting Craig.  The narrative of her swashbuckling life was exciting, but the ending was phenomenal.  

I give this book four stars out of five.  It’s billed as a horror story, as the other volumes were, but there’s not much typical horror.  Instead it’s a rousing story of revenge and destruction and finally pathos.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

The Rosewater Redemption

Tade Thompson
Completed 9/6/2021, Reviewed 9/6/2021
4 stars

Hooray!  I liked this conclusion to the Wormwood Trilogy.  I was worried because I did not like The Rosewater Insurrection at all.  This book made a lot more sense, having only two narratives, one being first person narration by Bicycle Girl from the first book, Rosewater, and one being a third person, relatively straight-forward narration by her of the main plot.  Yes, perspective bounced among the main characters, but for the most part, everything followed linearly.  It was not nearly as messy as the second book.  There was also a lot less politicking and more directed action.

This book takes place after the insurrection of the second book.  The mayor, Jack Jacques, seems to be losing control of the new city-state government of Rosewood.  He is still under many threats from the Nigerian government and internally.  Koriko, formerly Alyssa and the present avatar of Wormwood, has attained a god-like status among the Rosewater residents as she resurrects the dead.  However, it comes to be known that the walking dead are really the aliens being incarnated in human bodies.  There is a moon full of their dormant minds stored as data waiting to be placed in dead humans.  Koriko wants to accelerate the takeover of human bodies, as opposed to the former avatar, Anthony, who was gaining the trust of humankind and approaching the takeover slowly.  Bicycle Girl, whose real name is Oyin Da goes time-traveling to figure out how to defeat the aliens.  She also navigates the xenosphere as does Kaaro, the sensitive from the first book.  It’s pretty clear now that the aliens are dangerous and all efforts are now geared to killing them or at least getting them off of Earth.

There isn’t much character development in this book, as the characters were pretty well described by the second book.  Everyone acts as expected.  I still liked Lora, though she doesn’t have as large as a role in this book.  Kaaro had a larger role and I got into his character about as well as in the first book.  Layi, the fire guy from the first book makes a major comeback in this book, coming out as gay and wanting to march in the first Rosewater Pride march.  Consisting of only twelve people, it’s more symbolic as the names of all the queer people who have been imprisoned or been executed at the hands of the Nigerian government are going to read over a loudspeaker during the parade.  They plan this parade even while the city of Rosewater is falling apart around them.  It’s one of the few positive things that happens amidst the chaos of the battle against the aliens.

I don’t have too much more to say about the book, besides praise for it being so much less messy than Insurrection.  The writing felt a little tighter, probably because the world is pretty much built and the characters developed at this point.  I give the book four stars out of five.  It was exciting and paced well.  The end was a little derivative of a lame trope, but it had a twist that made it believable.  Overall, I’d give the trilogy three and half stars.

Monday, September 6, 2021

The New Moon’s Arms

Nalo Hopkinson
Completed 9/4/2021, Reviewed 9/6/2021
5 stars

Another terrific book by Hopkinson.   This one combines the Caribbean myth of sea people with magical realism of a woman named Calamity entering menopause.  Not only does she experience physical changes, but is forced to confront and adapt to changes all around her.  It’s about change and self-discovery narrated by Calamity herself as she experiences the strange things around and within her.  It’s an imaginative story, a little less traditional than the average story in that if features a more mature woman as a main character.  It was nominated for multiple awards, winning Canada’s Aurora Award for 2008, which I believe is equivalent to the Nebula Award here in the states.

The book begins with Calamity at the funeral of her father whom she cared for in the last few years of his life.  She had been estranged from him because she got pregnant at fifteen.  Calamity’s mother died under suspicious circumstances when she was about eight.  Calamity begins finding objects from her past, which eventually seem to be connected to when she gets hot flashes.  Then, after a drunken and stormy night on the beach, she finds a strange boy with a broken leg caught in a large clump of seaweed.  She gets the right to temporarily care for the boy until a foster family is found.  But the boy does not appear to be human, seeming more like the mythical sea people that supposedly live around the island.  Through the experience of caring for the boy, she must deal with her estranged daughter, Ifeoma, Ife’s father Michael who’s gay, and a few potential romantic partners.

Calamity, whose birth name was Chastity, is a very well-developed character.  She’s unusual in that I don’t think there are very many stories of women undergoing menopause in Sci Fi and Fantasy.  So we get a character with mood swings and hot flashes who must reevaluate her life and the relationships around her.  Her relationship with her daughter is strained.  She’s also very homophobic.  This probably comes from the fact that she loved Michael, Ife’s father, when they were teenagers.  He was already aware that he might be gay and she convinces him to have sex with her to figure it out.  When it confirms he is gay, she’s resentful and angry.  As an adult, she a full-blown homophobe.   Despite these problems with her current relationships, she cares for the boy she found on the beach with amazing openness, being the only one to really believe he might a sea person.  

As with all of her novels, the prose is tremendous, with the right amount of smart word choices, rich descriptions and convincing dialogue.  I was really astounded by the inventiveness of the finding of things during hot flashes being a reawakening of her ability to find lost things as a child.  But in adulthood, it is more extreme.  First she finds a pin that was lost or possibly stolen from her when she was young.  Then the items lost escalate until the cashew orchard from the island where she grew up appears on the island she lives on now.

There are also substories distributed through the main text, including flashbacks like meeting a little sea people girl when she young.  There’s also a story that gives the mythological origin of the sea people.  In this book the sea people are sort of a human-seal hybrid.  It’s reminiscent of River Solomon and Daveed Diggs’ The Deep, which is a very recent book.  It makes me wonder if Solomon and Diggs had read this book, or if they came up with their slave escape myth on their own.

I give this book five stars out of five.  It’s another powerful and original novel by Hopkinson.  Even though Calamity is not a very likeable character, she’s strong and smart and has her own metanoia at the end.  She learns the hard way about herself and her character defects.  She’s still not perfect at the end, but better than she was.  It’s perhaps more realistic than a perfect Hollywood ending.  

Saturday, September 4, 2021

The Light Fantastic

Terry Pratchett
Completed 9/3/2021, Reviewed 9/3/2021
4 stars

I really needed this book.  I was in a pretty bummed out space after the last book I read; it was so depressing.  This book was silly and just what I needed.  I thought it was much better than the first book, The Color of Magic.  Even though I read Color five years ago and it ended on a cliffhanger which I don’t remember, I was able to pick this book up with no problem.  It spends a little time catching the reader up on Discworld and then drops you into the crazy plot.  

The plot is pretty simple.  There is a star that’s on a collision course with Discworld.  To avert disaster, eight spells must be said at the same time by eight different wizards.  The eighth spell isn’t in the Octavo, the book of spells.  It has been transferred and seared into the mind of our main character Rincewind, the failed wizard.  He doesn’t know why he has the spell, but he knows he’s being pursued rather violently by the other one of the other wizards, Trymon.  All Rincewind wants to do is get home.  He’s still accompanied by Twoflower, who’s a tourist, and a piece of luggage known as Luggage which has a mind of its own and runs on hundreds of little legs.  They keep getting into deadly scrapes as Rincewind discovers the purpose of the spell and figures out what he has to do with it.

Even though it’s been five years, I picked up on the personalities of the characters pretty quickly.  Rincewind is a sarcastic guy, tired of all the dangerous situations they keep getting into since he met Twoflower.   Twoflower is oblivious to sarcasm and has his own rose-colored view of every situation they get into.  Much of the humor is derived from their relationship and interactions.  Along the way, they pick up Cohen the Barbarian, who is very old and not the big, muscular hero he once was.  They also meet Bethan, a seventeen-year-old virgin who was about to be sacrificed by the Druids.  Both add comedy to the already amusing situation.

The prose is pretty good.  It’s filled with simple jokes, bad jokes, complex jokes.  I know I missed some of them, but in general, I think I caught most of them.  You can see why Pratchett is revered alongside the likes of Douglas Adams and Carl Hiaasen.  I think the humor is little less British than Adams and can be appreciated by a wider audience.

I give this book four stars out of five.  It was the right book at the right time.  It kept me smiling and even made me chuckle out loud a couple of times.  This isn’t great literature, but it’s a great time.  I look forward to the other six Discworld books I’ve gotten over the past few years.  

Thursday, September 2, 2021


Walter Tevis
Completed 9/1/2021, Reviewed 9/2/2021
5 stars

This book is kind of a cross between Brave New World and “Fahrenheit 451”.  It’s a dystopian, post-apocalyptic novel where reading is outlawed and what remains of the human population lives in a constant drugged, illiterate, sterile, television-obsessed society “served” by robots.  This book got under my skin and kept me in a state of despair.  I was profoundly moved by the decay of civilization depicted.   Tevis is the author of many famous books, including “The Man Who Fell to Earth”, “The Hustler”, “The Color of Money”, and “The Queen’s Gambit.  Yet, I had never heard of him.  In this book, his prose and world-building are excellent.  Reading it is intense as he vividly depicts the end of human life at the hands of a narcissistic robot.

Robert Spofforth is a Make 9, the most advanced robot ever made.  The Make 9s’ brains were cloned from one individual and then modified to have all personal memories removed.  Of course, that never works out perfectly.  He’s one of the last of the Make 9s and basically controls North America through control of the lesser robots.  He is the dean of NYU and has a human faculty member, Paul.  Through the discovery of a film of a children’s reading class as well as some beginner readers, Paul learns to read.  He also discovers a dictionary and chess manuals and his reading ability and comprehension soon escalates.  At the Bronx Zoo, Paul meets Mary Lou who is living off the grid.  She doesn’t take sopor, a drug laced with a fertility inhibitor, or smoke pot.  They fall in love, Paul stops taking the drugs as well, and he teacher her to read.  Spofforth becomes jealous, has Paul arrested for teaching reading and breach of privacy and sends him to prison.  He takes Mary Lou as his wife, though he has no sex organs.  Mary Lou learns Spofforth’s secret plans as Paul tries to find a way out of prison.

North America of this future time is easily an extrapolation of where society is now.  Reading is actually outlawed.  Individuality and privacy were so cherished that when taken to the extreme, community and thus society breaks down.  Robots, originally made to serve humans, keep them enslaved.  Population is maintained by a computer that determines if more or fewer children should be born, spiking the common drug sopor with a fertility inhibitor.  However, there are no children to be seen, except robots.  Television is ultra-violent.  The mantras taught in school are (something like) “Don’t ask, relax!” and “Quick sex is best!”  Even the university teaches nothing but propaganda, without the use of books.  It’s very, very depressing because I see this happening today as Tevis saw this when he wrote the book in 1980.

There are only three characters, Spofforth, Paul, and Mary Lou.  I thought it was interesting that Spofforth is black.  As far as he knows, he’s the only black Make 9 and doesn’t know why he was made as such.  He’s a narcissist.  He controls New York and pretty much all of North America through his advanced intelligence and personality.  He also has some human emotions and remembers dreams from the brain from which he was created.  It’s because of these that does what he does.  He’s trying to recreate something that haunts him.  

Paul gets the most page time.  We learn his story as he records a journal, then as he learns to read and write, writes a journal, so his narration is in first person.  He’s a professor from Ohio temporarily at NYU.  His process of learning is extremely detailed, as one would imagine someone learning something new would experience.  As his learning progresses, so does the complexity of his journal.  And as he comes off the pot and sopor, his emotions become more complex as well.  

Mary Lou probably gets the least amount of book time although she has just as big a part in the story as the other two.  She begins the story free of pot and sopor because they make her sick.  She has learned that the robots were made to serve humans, so she survives by bossing the lesser models around.  This is how she gets food and keeps from being arrested.  She provides the little bit of humor found in the book.  

The writing is excellent.  The book has the feel of a 50’s pulp novel, but none of its flaws.  The prose is mature and intense.  The world-building is also amazing.  I thought the New York of this future was very believable.  Usually in books like this set in the future, everything has already collapsed.  Here, Tevis describes everything in the process of collapsing.  I thought it was extremely well done.  

I give this book five stars out of five.  I was profoundly moved by it, so much so that at times I had to put the book down regularly just to get out of the funk it sucked me into.  Even now, writing this review the day after finishing the book and starting a comical fantasy novel, I am reexperiencing the feelings I had reading it.  This doesn’t happen too often.  Like “Fahrenheit 451” and “Brave New World”, I don’t recommend going into this book unless you are in the mood for something pretty heavy.  It’s an excellent book and very readable, but can put you in quite a bummer state.