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Stupid History by Leland Gregory

November 28, 2010 Leave a comment

I finished a trifle book, Stupid History: Tales of Stupidity, Strangeness, and Mythconceptions Throughout the Ages by Leland Gregory, which was offered as a free Kindle book through Amazon.com.

Lightly entertaining, this book is a collection of short pieces of trivia covering odd news events, ironic meanings behind words, and misconceptions about incidents in (mostly) American history. Examples include Paul Revere, William Tell, lost nuclear weapons (the author seems fixated on this topic), lemmings, and multiple April Fools Day jokes.

One interesting story was about Des Moines natives, the Cherry sisters, who in the late 1800s were billed as “America’s Worst Act”.  When the sisters found out that the billing wasn’t just for publicity, they sued for libel, but quickly lost when they demonstrated their singing and dancing for the court.

Certainly diverting and highly fit for waiting rooms, it definitely isn’t a serious tome.  Frankly, I quickly became tired of the puns which ended each story.

2 1/2 out of 5 stars (finished November 27, 2010)

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The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

November 28, 2010 Leave a comment

I finished the final book of the Mistborn trilogy, The Hero of Ages, before the Thanksgiving holiday and it was a fitting end to the plot line.

In this final volume, Brandon Sanderson ties up all of the remaining loose ends and, in the last 75 pages hurtles into into the conclusion — it certainly did not suffer from the middle-book-of-the-trilogy syndrome that I felt the second book did.  I particularly enjoyed the brief commentaries at the end of each chapter which were refreshingly to the point, although they did rather obviously reveal at least one survivor of the battles.

I am constantly amazed at how well authors are able to foreshadow or hint at a broader, deeper story later.  Minor details in the first two novels are seamlessly revealed to be more meaningful than previously thought (the character of Zane, the swirling of the mists, and one other object that I won’t spoil here).

The character of Spook is also much fleshed out in this book.  I found his sullen, taciturn nature intriguing in the first two books and it was nice to see him come into his own, even if ultimately misguided.  (As a side note, I listened to all of the books via audio.  In the first two books, the voice used for Spook seemed very sullen.  I was a little surprised to hear the narrator use a light southern accent to represent the character’s street background which I think he was using earlier, too. It was just that his sentences were so short and withdrawn, it wasn’t detectable to me.)

The main adversaries of Ruin and Preservation, who fight through their human (and otherwise) intermediaries, were fascinating.  I was reminded of the dualistic gods of gnosticism which are constantly at war.  One of light, one of darkness.  One of the spirit, the other of the material world.  One of life, the other of destruction.

At its conclusion, my immediate thought was similar to that of Mozart in the movie Amadeus:

No, no! One hears such sounds, and what can one say but… “Salieri.”

However, unlike Mozart, there is no criticism.  The feeling I had at the end of the book was similar to that I felt at the end of Sanderson’s novel, Elantris, which I very much enjoyed.

5 out of 5 stars (finished November 15, 2010)

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The Shadow of Night by Chris Walley

November 24, 2010 2 comments

The Shadow and Night (The Lamb Among the Stars, Book 1) by Chris Walley is the first two books of The Lamb Among the Stars series, previously published as The Shadow at Evening and The Power of the Night.

12,000 years in our future, the people of Earth are fulfilling the commandment to fill the universe by emulating their Creator, terraforming worlds and colonizing them. These Made Worlds were made possible by launching sophisticated terraforming ships which analyze the suitability of each new world and then shape the world to be fit for humankind: slowing the rotation of the planets, adding atmosphere, blasting areas for seas, and seeding the world with bacteria and other life. These ships then build what is essentially a hyperspace or wormhole Gate back to previously settled worlds with Gates, thus networking the human civilization.

Farholme is the farthest outpost that humankind has colonized. The world is described as a frontier where foresters and oceanographers continue to monitor the effects of the earlier terraforming and are ensuring a balance. Farholme is part of the Assembly of Worlds, a confederation of Christian peoples who are living in harmony and without apparent sin. The conceit is that after the Great Intervention (an event not yet fully explained or explored in this novel), humankind is living in what I’d call a pre-Fall state. There are no wars, there is no strife, and each person is fulfilled.

The Assembly had dealt with a Rebellion some 10,000+ years earlier and had laid down a series of strictures which prohibit certain activities which, when followed to their ends, may border on sin.

Now, on Farholme, disturbing events begin to unfold: a man modifies a copy of a historical voice to fill in for a musical part he was missing, residents begin to lock their doors and fear the night, certain town precincts begin to feel that their neighbors are looking down on them, and engagement and commitment traditions fall to the wayside.

Merral of the forestry service and Vero, a Sentinel whose profession was created to watch for spiritual problems, come face-to-face with the return of evil to the Assembly and must relearn how to misdirect their adversary, train soldiers who may have to react with violence, and come to grips with new moral failings in their own lives.

One thing that I found fascinating, particularly in the first half of the book, was the surprisingly odd tone, inflection, and almost stilted language of Farholme. Part of that, I am sure, was due to creating a distance between our civilization and theirs in time, but it also seemed to me that it reflected the differing motivations of the pre-Fallen. There is no deception, there is no intention of hurting another, and there is a contentment in one’s profession and relationships. (I’m choosing to believe that this was an intentional writing style.)

The book is a bit of a slog at least through the first quarter or so, because Walley has to do a bit of world building and show a bit of how the world exists before the darkness begins to spread. The last third moves at a much higher pace.

I’ve read a number of Christian science fiction and fantasy novels, but this one is unique. Looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

4 out of 5 stars