cynara_1

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Fleet of Worlds

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When I was a kid, my big brother moved out and left most of his science fiction library behind. He invited me to read whatever I wanted, and I did, encountering many interesting and 'interesting' things in the process.I discovered Piers Anthony, Isaac Asimov, and, most of all, Larry Niven. My favourite books were Ringworld, some of the Man-Kzin War books, and Protector; I think Ringworld and the Pak exemplified Niven's superb freewheeling intellectual playfulness, which he usually managed to combine with fascinating aliens. The combination was worth putting up with his often rather flat humans.I was, then, excited when my husband drew to my attention to a new trilogy which featured both the Puppeteers and the Pak.What did I find? Well. A perfectly harmless science fiction story with lots of details of Puppeteer life. It didn't give me any of those "wow, of course" moments of Niven's classic work, but it wasn't a pain to read, and I've always loved Nessus. I'm not sure I found his POV an improvement on seeing him through human eyes, though, and I eventually found it faintly annoying how much of this book was transparently backengineered from Ringworld.We find out why Nessus wears his mane that way! Details of Puppeteer mating! Backstory on Puppeteer politics! Nessus mentions some possible revisions to human law in passing, and they've been implemented by the time of Ringworld! Etc. Eventually I felt like they were relying too heavily on the diminishing thrills of recognition Ringworld readers would get on picking up these in-jokes, and I wished they'd developed more new ideas.I'm going to stick with the series, as I love the Pak, and they haven't shown up yet. We'll see.
A Clash of Kings

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A mixed lot, compared to the first book. Some of the storylines don't actually have that much happen - sometimes it feels like Martin is getting involved in worldbuilding and character-building and losing sight of moving his plot along. It's his gift as a writer that, while you're reading, you're as interested in it as he is. It's only when you finish the book that you realize that some writers would have dispatched most of Danaerys' plot in a single chapter. I was dreading Davos' chapters, which I remembered as being quite dreary, but they were better and fewer than I had remembered. On to the next!
Chased by Moonlight

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Did I complain that not much happened in the last book? Well, Martin is moving things along at a fair clip in this one. My sympathies keep getting more complicated, things mostly keep getting more dreadful (except for one honest-to-god act of altruism which I had totally forgotten), but I'm starting to get inured to the tragedy, and of course I can't put it down for a moment. I have become a machine for doing needlework and reading George R. R. Martin. It's just as well I have some employment coming up, or I'd be forced to admit how truly useless I am when left to my own devices.
Bored of the Rings: A Parody

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Hated it, hated it. Not funny, not insightful, not a fun read. I can enjoy coarse, but obvious....
The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University

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Yes, it's another of my stunt books. Roose comes by the genre honestly, as he was assistant to A.J. Jacobs of The Year of Living Biblically and The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment fame.I had my usual twists of scepticism over the premise (really? You decided to attend Jerry Fallwell's Liberty College because of a fascination with bridging the gap between evangelical Christians and secular culture, not because you're a young author who wanted something wacky to write about?), and the "will I ever be the same ?!?" crises, but they softened as I continued the book. Roose isn't just looking for a freakshow, and he makes a real effort to enter the community and make friends. He does experience some real changes to his outlook, and he's conflicted about it.The difficult or touchy part is, of course, that he did this undercover. Evangelicals do sometimes have a fort mentality (reinforced by mockery from outsiders) and Roose wanted to be inside, not just a politely treated guest. This put him in some morally dicey situations, which he does acknowledge.I think this is most interesting for the character sketches of his hallmates in residence - they vary widely in background, personality, and faith. Roose likes them, and also can't reconcile himself to their generally anti-gay, anti-feminist, salvation-only-through-Christ outlook.This was a quick, fascinating read. Now I'd love to read a book from the female students' side - as Roose says, that would be a totally different story.
The Uncommon Reader: A Novella

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This slender little fiction-slash-pensée on reading is amusing and cozy. The only thing that keeps it from being totally delightful is the self-conscious way Bennett's themes sometimes obtrude into his plot. He's writing about reading as a private activity - even an antisocial one. Also, about reading as a democratic pastime, the perception of the "duty" to read, and perhaps about the sterility of passive reading. Unfortunately I noticed him writing about them, and every once in a while I'd think "yes, the Queen really is a natural character to use; she really throws these themes into sharp relief. Hmmmm." Still, it is amusing and cozy, I agree with much that it has to say, and I can recommend it happily. I've passed it along to my mother.
Destroyer of Worlds

by and

"Destroyer" feels less Nivenesque than "Juggler" on the whole (his books didn't run to family-man heroes, and that's what Ausfeller has become, to his own surprise and ours). It does, however, have lots of Puppeteers, lots of Pak, and even some Gw'oth. My husband loved the Gw'oth the best, and I think they're a worthy addition to Niven's alien species. I don't think either of us will soon forget a Pak being subdued by a two-foot-tall starfish/octopus. I didn't find the ending particularly satisfying, but that's probably due to it being an entry in an ongoing series.
Greek Mythology for Teens

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Hamby's book includes jazzed-up-for-teens scripts for some major Greek myths. There are supplementary discussions about themes, in a similar we're-all-cool-here style and some background. It's a solid book, and I like the idea of the reader's theatre approach. The style & level would be appropriate for an advanced Gr. 7 or 8 class, or a more average group of Gr. 9s, or even 10s if you wanted a break. I only had one little caveat - it's troublesome, having students act out some of this material, even in a simple reading. The women are huffy or dippy stereotypes, mostly, and while this isn't entirely out of spirit for the ancient myth, I got tired of it fast. Also, the dramatization of the story of Zeus & Io was uncomfortable for me - I don't plan to put any student in the position of having to refer to another student's large "udders", and I'd have to think carefully about the whole "you hussy" quickie-in-the-grass dramatic situation. Some groups might be able to handle it maturely, but others... not so much.
Juggler of Worlds

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The second two books in this series of prequels were a decided improvement over the first. Juggler felt like a Niven book, and despite being rather shamelessly cobbled together out of classic Known Space short stories, at least they were very good short stories. If I'd read them more recently I probably would have enjoyed the new POVs very much. If I'd never read them at all, I might have found the story somewhat episodic, but I wouldn't have noticed it was a retread.On the other hand, it was a pleasure to be properly back inside Known Space with Sigmund Ausfeller as guide. I believe there's also a blink-and-you'll-miss-it reference to Louis Wu. I was looking out for it; if you subtitle your series '200 years before the discovery of the Ringworld", and Ringworld's hero very publicly turns 200 just before he leaves to discover the thing, you'd better have his birth pop up somewhere.
Betrayer of Worlds

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Is this a cheap way to get Louis Wu and Nessus working together before the discovery of Ringworld? Yes. Yes, it is. Do I care? Not entirely. Louis has always been my favourite human Niven character, with Ausfeller now second and the rest of them dropping far behind. His agile mind, sense of humour, and genuine emotions put him head and shoulders above the rest. Louis is recognizably himself here, strengths and weaknesses intact, so that's good enough for me. I'm glad I didn't miss this one. While I could have taken the ending as a completion of this 'prequel' series (not an apt description, but there we go), it's the penultimate volume. The last book Fate of Worlds was just submitted to the publisher and will likely be coming out in mid-2012, as per Lerner's blog. I'm in, though presumably they won't find a way to shoehorn Louis into this one, too.
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