Monday, February 22, 2010

Book Review: "Acorna"

"Acorna" is a book by Anne McCaffrey and Margaret Ball. It contains a series of episodes following the discovery of an alien escape pod by three human asteroid miners. It is the first of the books in the series.

Over all it is an easy and enjoyable read. Acorna proves to be an interesting character, along with the three miners, Rafik, Callum, and Gill. The story ends setting the stage for the next book in the series, "Acorna's Quest".

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Book Review: "Acorna's Quest"

This book by Anne McCaffrey and Margaret Ball is the second book in the series dealing with Acorna, the unicorn girl. The foe changes as the story advances. Initially there isn't one. Then the Starfarers are the foe. These are defeated in a chapter or two and the main characters start cleaning up the mess that was created. Then the Kleevi show up as new enemies. They take a couple more chapters to drive off.

Over all it's an easy read. There are several interesting characters including Hafiz Harakamian, Johnny Greene, and Karina a fake psychic. The plot isn't terribly memorable, but it suffices to put the characters in a variety of situations. The overall writing is easy to read, easy to digest, and even the less interesting characters are pleasant to read.

Book Review: "Ezra Pound Early Poems"

This book, a Dover Thrift Edition of Ezra Pound's early poems, contains selections from "Personae", "Exultations", "Ripostes", all of "Cathay", and the first nine sections of "Hugh Selwyn Mauberly".

If you have never read any of Ezra Pound's poetry this could be an excellent book to find out with. It is inexpensive, contains 66 poems from his various early collections, and doesn't include much in the way of distractions. Indeed as I read this book I realized that I don't much care for the poetry of Ezra Pound. The best of the poems in this book, from my perspective, would be one of poems from "Cathay", perhaps the "Poem at the Bridge of Ten-Shin".

Book Review: "Acorna's People"

This book by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough is the third in the series about Acorna, the unicorn girl. It is an easy read without being particularly noteworthy.

The plot, in brief, is that certain of the Piper's associates from the first book are looking for ways to get revenge on Acorna. They would also like to make a great deal of money using the healing powers of Linyaari horns. The Red Bracelet mercenaries, seen in the second book, are recruited to capture as many Linyaari as possible. They do so while posing as members of the Federations armed forces. This plot comes to light slowly as the book progresses, and Acorna learns what it is like to live with those Linyaari that would never normally go into space. Eventually she leaves the Linyaari homeworld in the company of Aari, a Linyaari that survived being tortured by the Kleevi, the insectoid race that likes to destroy worlds, and Joe Becker a salvage expert to go to the aid of Hafiz Harakamian, her "uncle". They arrive, save Uncle Hafiz, and learn of the larger plot. A chapter later a plan has been devised in put into motion allowing Acorna to turn the tables on the Red Bracelet mercenaries. Real Federation soldiers arrest the mercenaries and the universe is again made safe for the Linyaari.

As I said at the beginning it is an easy read. It's pleasantly written with several very memorable characters, notably Becker and the over the top, and underhanded, Hafiz. However the villains are hardly ever seen and they are so swiftly overcome they seem almost like an excuse to get Hafiz into space so that the reader can see him and his new bride being outrageous.

This was neither the most interesting book these authors have written, nor was it the most memorable, but it was a quick, easy, and pleasant read.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Book Review: "The Abolition of Man"

This set of three lectures by C.S. Lewis begins with "Men Without Chests". This lecture or essay examines problems that he sees in a book for use in teaching English. In it the authors regularly debunk value statements as being statements about "mere" emotions. Lewis proceeds to demonstrate that some value statements are not merely statements of emotion. Some things are properly described as repulsive and others are properly described as noble. This act of debunking makes it harder for the students later because trained emotions, metaphorically seated in the heart or chest, are necessary for people to do the right thing. Hence the title "Men Without Chests", that is men who haven't got the trained emotions and are therefore made less able to behave morally.

The second lecture "The Way" takes the book that triggered the first lecture and generalizes to a philosophy of the time. Specifically, Lewis attacks the idea that morality can be based on something that admits of proof, and the idea that such a proof is required before a person ought to believe in an objective morality without proof. He demonstrates the problem with social utility and instincts, two things that some authors of the time used in their attempts to build new moral frameworks. Both run into the problem of moving from an "is" to an "ought". He then goes on to point out a difficulty in "seeing through" things. The point of "seeing through" is to see something on the other side. If you see through everything then everything is transparent and you are effectively blind. This difficulty serves as the justification of accepting the claim that people should accept the existence of an objective morality. Another way of making the claim: everyone acts like there is an objective morality; therefore they must believe that such exists.

The third and final lecture "The Abolition of Man" moves on to the broader interaction between Science and morality. It largely consists of an examination of the claim "Man is conquering Nature". Lewis uses radio, airplanes, and contraception as examples in his demonstration that the "conquest" is a matter of some people getting more power to impact the lives of other people. In the case of contraception it is power by people of "this" generation over those that would otherwise be in future generations. This concern moves into education and raises the problem of individuals that free themselves from the "Tao", the term used in these essays for objective morality, as humanity gains the knowledge to use unfailing conditioning to control and shape students. This interaction leads to an argument regarding the necessity of objective morality by scientists and those pursuing science.

The first essay is mostly of interest in education, particularly textbook reviews. After all English textbooks should teach the students how to write, not an amoral philosophy. The third is mostly irrelevant. After all science has yet to provide any reliable way of shaping students to be precisely what the powers that be want, and it seems unlikely to do so in the near future or even the not so near future. The second is of greater interest as it fits into the ongoing struggle over the foundation of ethics.

All in all this, along with "Mere Christianity" and "A Grief Observed", is one of C.S. Lewis' books that everyone ought to read at some point. For its lucidity, for the structure of his arguments, and for the conclusions it is a book well worth reading.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Book Review: "3001 The Final Odyssey"

This is the last of the books dealing with the Monoliths written by Clarke. Over all it is an easy and often pleasant read. However, in 250 pages there are only about 50 that actually advance the plot. There are also at least three chapters that were copied verbatim from prior Odyssey books by Clarke. The rest of the book is something of a Utopia by Clarke. Some would describe the society as rather dystopian rather than utopian, particularly given the way criminals are non-persons in 3001.

This is a fine book if you want something easily read and easily put down, so I recommend it for those traveling.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Book Review – "2061: Odyssey Three"

This book is rather boring. It reasonably well written, but the only point of interest that isn't dated is the very short insight into the nature of the monolith. For the rest, the interest lies in the real science and the engineering speculations from the late 1980s. The characters show little or no change over the course of the story, and there are only three or four major events.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Book Review – 1635: The Cannon Law

"The Cannon Law" is the direct sequel to "1634: The Galileo Affair". It continues the story of the Frank Stone and the Venetian CoC, the story of Sharon Nicols and Ruy Sanchez Casador y Ortiz, and adds the youngest Cardinal Barbarini. Also how all of these are impacted by the mad plots of Cardinal Borja.

Of the novels in Eric Flint's alternative history this might be one of the easiest ones to start with. There are only a handful of important characters, the plot is tightly focused, and all the information the reader has to know is included in short asides.

I enjoyed this story as much for the action as for the outrageous character of Ruy.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Book Review: "1634: The Bavarian Crisis"

This book begins with the death of the Duchess Elizabeth Renata, and the events making up the plot are influenced by this event.

This book starts off slowly, introducing the Austrian Habsburgs, Duke Maxamillian II of Bavaria, and Duke Ernst of Saxe-Weimar. It proceeds rather calmly for several hundred pages handling setup, and describing events that are of little interest later in the book. Things pick up after Veronica Dreeson and Mary Simpson are kidnapped by a panicked pair of amateur spies. They are then taken to Bavaria and become a catalyst for more trouble in Bavaria.

I enjoyed this book. It is significantly more focused then "1633" and includes several vibrant characters. Maria Anna is particularly vivid. The plots and politics are well described. This book is well worth reading if you find Eric Flint's project in alternate history fascinating. If you aren't interested this book is not as strong a stand alone novel as others in the series.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Book Review – Samuel Taylor Coleridge "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Other Poems" Dover Thrift Editions

This inexpensive edition includes 23 of Coleridges poems, including "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (with Coleridge's marginal glosses) and "Kubla Khan". Except for a one page note at the front of the book every word is Coleridge's poetry. The note talks about the criteria for selecting poems and mentions that they are arranged chronologically.

This collection is an interesting mix of types and styles of poetry. Some, such as "France: An Ode" and "Fears in Solitude" refer to the French Revolution. Others are long lyrical poems, such as "Christabel". Still others are short and pithy, such as "Cologne".

This is an excellent edition to get if you don't know whether you'll enjoy Coleridge's work. It's also something to consider for college students that need to get a printed copy of the major poems by Coleridge, as the marginalia I found in my copy when I bought it attests.

Personally I rather enjoyed reading some of these poems. "Cologne" was particularly amusing.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Book Review -- "1633"

1633 by Eric Flint and David Weber is the sequel to the novel 1632. It continues the alternative history begun in the previous book.

It is a complicated book, particularly since it follows five distinct groups through the turmoil that ends the year 1633. It follows Rebecca Abrabanel and the delegation to France and the Netherlands, Rita Simpson with Melissa Mailey and the delegation to England, the beginning of the US Air Force, the new US Navy with their soon to be completed ironclads, and the political machinations of Mike Stearns. And that's just the major plotlines.

Another point of interest about 1633 is that it, unlike 1632, is explicitly imagined as part of an ongoing project involving far more authors then just Eric Flint and David Weber. That project has produced the "Ring of Fire" anthologies, as well as the continuing Grantville Gazette e-magazine. Occasionally that understanding leads to some interesting choices in this book. An example is the brief scene between Mike and Harry Lefferts, where Harry promises to get Anne into Amsterdam. Another example is the ironclads. By the end of the novel they still haven't been floated.

I enjoyed it tremendously. Its complex, as real history generally is, with a great many interesting and vivid characters. There are plenty of machinations to be considered. There are also several cases of Americans showing off the power of modern know-how and/or technology. In one case they chase off some pirates, in another they use a small fishing boat to sink a Spanish galleon.

This book, like 1632, can be read online at the Baen Free Library.