Saturday, January 28, 2017

Book Blogger Hop January 27th - February 2nd: Galen Published His "Treatise On the Various Temperaments" in 189 A.D.


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: How many books have you started, but just couldn't finish?

Not many. One of my sundry powers is the ability to plough through terrible prose. I can't remember the last book I started but put down with the intention of not finishing it. Sometimes it takes me more than once to get through a book - it took me three tries to get through Samuel Delany's Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand - but I do eventually finish such books.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, January 27, 2017

Follow Friday - Chapter 17, Line 290 of the "Odyssey" Describes Ulysses Finding His Dog Argos After Twenty Years Away from Ithaca


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and a single Follow Friday Featured Blogger each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - Romance Lover Anonymous.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: What are some tips that help you with blogging?

Some tips. Well, I've been at this a while, and I don't know if I'd say I was particularly successful, but then again, success blogging is what you define it as. I suppose that's the first piece of advice about blogging: Define success for yourself. Some people will tell you that you have to get a certain number of hits per day, or publish a certain number of articles, or some other milestone that you must hit to be a "success" with your blog. My advice is to ignore such people. Figure out what you want and what you think counts as success, and then do that.

A lot of people suggest posting on a regular schedule. That's not a bad idea, but my advice is to post on a schedule that you are comfortable with. Nothing is surer to burn one out than trying to adhere to an artificially imposed schedule that is too onerous. In an ideal world, I'd post three book reviews or other substantive posts a week, and then three posts like this over the weekends. In reality, I usually am lucky to get one or two book reviews published per week, and I sometimes miss the weekend posts as well. I missed posting all of this past week because I was sick. If you beat yourself up over missing days like that, then blogging will become a chore that you will hate. Just let a lost day or lost week or posting go, and move forward.

My last advice would be to write what you would want to read. Some people say you should write what your audience wants to read, and if that matches up with your preferences, that's great advice. But if you write about stuff that you aren't particularly enthusiastic about, this will probably show though in your writing. If you love what you write about, then that will show as well. It may not be any good, but at least you'll enjoy reading it, and you'll probably enjoy writing it too, which means you're more likely to keep at it, and without that, there's no blog at all.

My advice boils down to this: Write what you like, when you like, and measure success by your own personal yardstick. It's your blog after all. Do it in a manner that suits you.

Previous Follow Friday: Strip 289 of xkcd is titled "Alone"

Follow Friday     Home

Monday, January 23, 2017

Musical Monday - It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine) by R.E.M.


Four days in and the new administration is already setting about dismantling what Americans have taken to be the normal state of affairs for at least a generation. With the assistance of a compliant Republican Congress, it is likely that the Trump administration will move to eliminate many of the programs and policies implemented as part of the New Deal, Great Society, and even Nixon era initiatives like the Environmental Protection Agency. In some cases, it appears that the Republican majorities would like to revert some of the policies and programs that were put in place in the 1890s, such as a nonpolitical civil service, and the very idea that there should be national parks. The administration seems dead set on eliminating the collection of post-World War II alliances and treaties that has allowed the United States to take a leadership role in international affairs.

There is a dangerous complacency among certain segments of the United States electorate, insofar as they have constructed a myth about themselves that says that they are the architects of their own success and prosperity. The reality is, much of what Americans take for granted as "normal" has been held up with support from Federal government policies and programs through their entire lifetimes. Now the GOP wants to eliminate those supports. I have a feeling that a lot of people who never realized how much they owe to the Federal government are about to find out, and it won't be pretty. The world as we knew it is likely over. I just hope the damage that ensues isn't too great to overcome.

Previous Musical Monday: Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday
Subsequent Musical Monday: You Ruined Everything by Jonathan Coulton

R.E.M.     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Book Blogger Hop January 20th - January 26th: Casey Jones' Final Journey Was a 188-Mile Run from Memphis to Canton


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: What was the one time you thought the movie was better than the book?

The Marvel movie rendition of Civil War was leaps and bounds better than the book version. As I laid out in my review of the book, I had a lot of issues with the Marvel Civil War storyline as written by Marc Millar, mostly due to the shocking moral vacuousness of the "pro-Registration" side and the inherent internal contradictions contained within the story. To be blunt, the story really went off the rails when Maria Hill attempted to arrest Captain America when he declined to help S.H.I.E.L.D enforce a law that had not even been passed yet, and by "arrest" I mean immediately set about trying to shoot him to death.

In this context, for Captain America: Civil War to be better than the book, it merely had to not be a disastrously awful failure. While there were some places where the movie was less than satisfying - Baron Zemo's plan, for example, required a level of foresight to be successful that was simply ridiculous - on the whole, it was well done. The characters mostly acted in character, and their reactions to events were mostly sensible, at least from their particular points of view. Overall, the movie was miles and miles better than the book was.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, January 20, 2017

Follow Friday - Strip 289 of xkcd is titled "Alone"


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and a single Follow Friday Featured Blogger each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - Whole Latte Books.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: What movie from a book coming out in 2017 are you most excited about?

Although they almost certainly not going to be direct adaptations of books, I am looking forward to the various movies derived from Marvel properties that are coming up this year: SpiderMan: Homecoming, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Thor: Ragnarok, and even Logan despite the fact that I have never been especially enamoured of the character of Wolverine.

As far as direct book adaptations go, I am most excited about the upcoming Dark Tower movie. I am really hoping that the producers are able to pull off a good rendition of the story.

For the record, here is the xkcd strip Alone.


Follow Friday     Home

Monday, January 16, 2017

Musical Monday - Strange Fruit by Billie Holliday


Rebecca Ferguson was invited to sing at President-elect Trump's upcoming inauguration scheduled for January 20. She said that she would agree, provided she was permitted to sing Billie Holliday's Strange Fruit as part of her performance. This is not a request that should have come as a surprise to anyone - after all, Ferguson recorded the song as part of her 2015 album Lady Sings the Blues on which she recorded a number of Holliday's jazz classics.

On the other hand, the request was quite a pointed one. Trump ran on a platform that displayed a casual, almost unthinking racism: He opened his campaign by asserting that a disproportionate number of Hispanic immigrants were rapists of murderers (the opposite is true), and then moved on to claiming that a Mexican-American judge could not be relied upon to carry out his duties impartially solely due to his heritage. He then moved on to calling for a complete ban on Muslim's coming into the United States, and moved on to laying the groundwork for a registry of all Muslims in the country. Most recently, after congressman John Lewis pointed out the illegitimacy of trump's presidency as a result of factors such as his losing the popular vote, the Russian efforts to interfere in the American electoral process in his favor, and so on - Trump lashed back with his usual reflexive and unthinking racism, claiming that the district Lewis represents was a disaster, specifically saying it was "falling apart" and "crime infested". The reality is that the district Lewis represents includes Atlanta, one of the economic powerhouses in Georgia, and something like 40% of its adult population holds a college degree. The crime rate in Atlanta, like that in many major cities in the United States, has been in decline for years. Nothing about Trump's claims concerning Lewis' district rally stands up to any kind of scrutiny. Calling areas with majority black populations a disaster without checking to see if they are is, however, right in line with Trump's behavior in the past. This sort of reflexive reaction to majority black areas reveals the racism that is at Trump's core.

Strange Fruit, based on a poem written in 1937, and originally recorded in 1939, is a song explicitly about lynchings of African-Americans, which were horrifyingly commonplace in the U.S. South of that era. When Holliday recorded it and started including it in her live performances, she was fearful of retaliation. She would sing it to close her show, and would not give an encore afterwards. The lights in the house would all be turned off except for a single light on Holliday, and if she was performing in a nightclub, the waiters would stop serving before she performed the song. Columbia, Holliday's recording label, and John Hammond, her regular producer, refused to record the song, worried about the negative reaction that would be provoked in the Southern states. Instead, she received a one-session release from Columbia and recorded the song with the Commodore label. The song had, and has that kind of power.

Trump's racism is not as virulent as that depicted in Strange Fruit, but it is still racism just the same. Lewis spent his youth fighting for Civil Rights, while Trump spent his being sued by the Justice Department for refusing to rent apartments to black tenants. When asked about how he can connect with and address the concerns of African-American voters, Trump's immediate response is to start talking about crime and poverty in the inner cities. It is clear that when Trump thinks "black" he reflexively thinks of crime and poverty. This kind of unconscious racism pervades Trump's personality, and is revealed by what he says that pass for pronouncements on matters of public policy. The one common thread that runs through Trump's thinking is that non-white people are sources of violence, crime, and poverty, and must be watched and monitored. Everything he says and everything he proposed ties back to this one truth. This is, fundamentally at odds with the ideals the United States aspires to, but sadly, it is perfectly in line with the practices that have dominated the history of the United States.

I had thought the United States had become better than this. I had thought that although there was still much that could be improved, the era of openly expressed racism from our political leaders was in our past. Apparently, I had thought wrong. The United States is still mired in racism, and there is still a lot of work to do to overcome it.

Previous Musical Monday: Diamonds Are Forever by Shirley Bassey

Billie Holiday     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Book Blogger Hop January 13th - January 19th: Samuel L. Jackson's First Headlining Movie Role Was in the Film "One Eight Seven"


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Is every day a reading day for you?

Yes. I read for at least part of every day. I may not read a lot on a given day, but I do read something. I'd like to read more than I do, but frequency is not a problem for me, but rather sustained volume is.

Previous Book Blogger Hop: POX 186 Is a Small Galaxy

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, January 13, 2017

Follow Friday - Lodge 288 of the Freemasons Covers the Ashburn-Sterling, Virginia Area


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and a single Follow Friday Featured Blogger each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - One Reader's Thougts.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Best and worst reads for 2016. Which would you recommend, which would you not?

Best: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. There are many good dystopian novels. There are many good post-apocalyptic novels. This is the only novel I can think of in which a dystopian nightmare of a civilization descends into an even worse post-apocalyptic nightmare. Relentlessly harsh and jarring, this novel is not for the faint of heart, but for those who make the effort, there is a gem of a story contained within its pages.

Other Recommendations: Uprooted by Naomi Novik, Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho, The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley, Updraft by Fran Wilde, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear, and Nimona by Noelle Stevenson.

Worst: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. I went into this in depth in my review, but the book is simply dull and overly windy. It is padded out with too much filler and too few characters worth caring about. There are a handful of interesting ideas in its pages, but they are swamped by the piles of boring and poorly presented crap that surround them.

Subsequent Follow Friday: Strip 289 of xkcd is titled "Alone"

Follow Friday     Home

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Review - The KGB Against the "Main Enemy": How the Soviet Intelligence Service Operates Against the United States by Herbert Romerstein and Stanislav Levchenko


Short Review: An account of how the Soviet the intelligence services operated from their inception through to the dying twilight of the nation they served.

Haiku
Useful idiots
Then, hardened mercenaries
At last, ruthless pros

Full review: This book is a very dense review of the operations of the Soviet intelligence services throughout the history of the Soviet Union from the earliest days of the Bolshevik revolution through the mid-1980s (the book was published in 1989). The authors are both former members of the intelligence community - one a former analyst for various committees of the House of Representatives and USIA and the other a former KGB officer who defected to the United States. Together, they weave together the various pieces of public information on the operations of Soviet intelligence to show how the KGB (and its predecessors the OGPU, NKVD, and all the other piles of alphabetical acronyms used by the Russian intelligence services) targeted those designated as enemies of the Soviet state, especially the United States.

The book focuses heavily on those who worked for the Soviets as willing agents, from the early naive and idealistic recruits of the 1920s and 1930s who believed in the worker's paradise, to the purely mercenary operatives of the 1960s and 1970s, to the evolution of the KGB into its final evolution as a service comprised of highly professional intelligence officers. The book is still extremely relevant, because even though the Soviet Union and the KGB are gone now, the intelligence apparatus they represented still lives on in the Russian state, and appears to still be using much the same tactics and with much the same aims as they were during the heyday of the U.S.S.R.

The most interesting elements of the book feature the early Soviet intelligence service - including those who worked in the United States before the U.S. government had even recognized the U.S.S.R. It is hard now to conceive of individuals so idealistic and naive as to believe that the Soviet leaders had their best interests at heart, but it is a historical fact that people signed up to fight as part of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War only to be horribly betrayed by constant OGPU monitoring and purges. Many of these idealists found themselves on the wrong side of Soviet factional fighting when Trotsky split with Stalin (and Stalin developed an almost obsessive desire to eliminate Trotsky and his followers), and wound up being killed by those they had placed so much faith in. In the early days, it seems like working for the Soviet intelligence service was a good way to get killed by Soviet agents as cynical apparatchiks in Moscow killed off those they considered unreliable, those who had picked the wrong horse to back, or just those they simply disliked (anti-Semitism seems to have been a very big factor in Soviet decision-making).

The authors detail the use of Communist groups in other countries as fronts for Soviet intelligence operations, focusing especially upon the importance of the Spanish Civil War in spreading Soviet influence through the world before and during World War II. The book goes into great depth concerning the methods used by Soviet intelligence such as putting out numerous forgeries (many so clumsy as to be ludicrous, and despite this, many people seem to swallow them hook, line, and sinker), and showing how the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (and Hitler's subsequent betrayal of that pact) coupled with Stalin's purges crippled Soviet intelligence operations for a generation by disillusioning the idealistic cadre the Soviets had relied upon and forcing the Soviet intelligence service to turn to bribery and blackmail as their primary means of gaining information afterwards.

Much of the book depends on assembling information from many sources, often using wispy-thin connections as evidence. Some might say that Romerstein and Levchenko make too much of some alleged connections; on the other hand, the subject matter is intelligence operations so all of the connections are supposed to be entirely secret - even having some out in the open is evidence to a certain degree. In my estimation, the authors don't stretch their evidence beyond its value, and support their contentions reasonably well, using testimony from Congressional hearings, letters and statements made by various individuals both inside and outside the Soviet intelligence service, and the known actions of individuals. Where contradictory evidence is known to exist, the authors explain why such contradictory evidence is either reliable enough to provide doubt, or why they discount it.

The picture of Soviet intelligence depicted in this book is not a pretty one: The service seems to have been a combination of brutality and clumsiness. One wonders how truly effective the KGB has been, given their propensity to kill their own almost at random, and the almost inept ways they operate at times. That said, the vicious nature of the organization seems to have engendered a level of ruthlessness and paranoia that continues to fuel Russian thought even to this day. In a very real sense, the history of the security apparatus that underlaid the entire U.S.S.R. is the history that best informs us of how modern day Russia came to be. On the whole, the book is a chilling reminder of where Putin and many of the other leaders of modern Russia came from, and how they have been trained to view and deal with the rest of the world.

Herbert Romerstein     Stanislav Levchenko     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Random Thought - High School, Expectations, and Literature

This post is inspired by the Book Blogger Hop question I answered on December 31, 2016. The question made me contemplate the classic works of literature I had read, and I realized that I read a large proportion of those when I was a student. Specifically, when I was in high school, the curriculum I read a lot of classic novels and other works of prose and poetry. From my memory, the list is something like this:

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
L'Etranger by Albert Camus
Les Jeux Sent Faits by Jean-Paul Sartre
Light in August by William Faulkner
The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
Rhinoceros by Eugéne Ionesco
Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

I also read a number of plays by Shakespeare (to the best of my recollection I read Hamlet, Henry IV, Part I, Julius Caesar, and Romeo and Juliet, and Twelfth Night) as well as Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. I also read substantial portions of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and Milton's Paradise Lost. I also recall an entire trimester devoted to studying poetry.

The point here is not to brag, after all pretty much every classmate of mine read a list of works either identical to or substantially similar to this. The point is rather to reflect upon the fact that I walked away from my high school graduation pretty well read in prominent works of literature. This wasn't really my doing - it was simply part of the school's curriculum, and that is the salient issue here. I'm not endorsing this particular list as being universal - looking at it, I think that there should definitely be more works by women in the selection, and it would have been nice if the list included at least some works by non-white authors. I didn't love all the books on the list - I'm not a fan of Austen, and a really loathed Salinger's work - but I'm still glad that I read them. Fundamentally, for whatever flaws it has, this is a list that provided me with a good grounding in literature.

I attended a private high school named Woodberry Forest School for the last three years of my secondary education, and this list is basically what I read during my sojourn there. I was able to attend this school basically due to a collection of circumstances that had almost nothing to do with me. My family is not wealthy, certainly not wealthy enough to afford to send a teen-ager off to one of the more highly ranked boarding schools in the United States.

This reading list didn't strike me as being out of the ordinary when I was a student. After all, it was the only high school curriculum that I had directly experienced at that time. That sort of classwork was, to me, normal. I have no idea what other high schools were teaching at the time. At the time, I was not exposed to the expectations of public high schools for comparison. More recently, however, my children have attended a public high school, and from what I can tell, the reading requirements were nowhere near as rigorous. Their school isn't a bad high school - it is in fact part of a fairly well-regarded school system, and is itself seen as being a pretty good school. Even so, based upon my observation of my son's high school career, I'm pretty certain that he didn't read even a quarter as much literature as I did in mine.

I think this lowered expectation does a great disservice to students. Fundamentally, one of the goals of reading literature in school is to give the student critical thinking skills: The ability to read a text closely, the ability to evaluate and understand a work, and so on. But that is not the only reason we read literature. Great literature informs us of the culture that we are inheriting, and passes on a reflection of the author's mind. Reading Huckleberry Finn tells the reader a story that reflects what Mark Twain thought about American culture, while reading Faulkner's Light in August tells a very different story about American culture. Students should read literature not just for the mechanical exercise of assimilating and analyzing the work, but also to be exposed to their own cultural heritage. I suspect that my son and daughter have been comparatively shortchanged in this regard.

Some people see this sort of difference and wonder why one should send their children to public schools. They seek to place their children in private schools like the one I attended, or to bring their children home and educate them themselves. Some even try to take funding away from public schools and direct that money towards "school choice". I am of the opinion that this is antithetical to the fabric of the nation in which we live. Fundamentally, it is the right of every child to have the sort of education that I was lucky enough to receive. We should not be dumbing down the public school curriculum and ceding the role of asking only those students fortunate enough to be educated elsewhere to students to stretch their intellectual muscles to a comparative handful of private institutions. We should be working to raise up our public schools and pushing students to read more widely than we do now. Great literature is a source of knowledge, culture, and joy, and we should be making sure that we give a full measure it to every student.

Random Thoughts     Home

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Review - Tolkien: A Dictionary by David Day


Short review: A small reference volume for Tolkien's fiction.

Haiku
If you want to know
Something about Middle-Earth
This is a good start

Full review: Although this book is titled Tolkien: A Dictionary, it probably would be more aptly described as a miniature encyclopedia of Tolkien's fiction. The volume offers a reasonably comprehensive set of descriptions of the major people, places, things, and other features that appeared in Tolkien's fiction related to Middle-Earth. The entries consist mostly of descriptions of names and terms found in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion, all arranged in alphabetical order for easy reference.

Given that this is a reference work, most people will probably not approach this book the same way I did, which was to start at page one and read straight through all of the entries. I suspect that most readers will use this book in the manner that it is obviously intended, which is as a reference work to be consulted when one needs elucidation about who Mim was, or what Athelas is, or where Ravenhill is. Overall, this book is reasonably useful for that purpose, although there are some puzzling omissions - there is no entry describing the Palatír, for example, even though there are entries explaining what pipe-weed and Mallorns are. The omitted entries may have been oversight, or they might have been the result of the relative brevity of this book when compared to the expansive subject matter it is attempting to cover. In any event, those using this book as their sole reference are likely to be disappointed now and again, although it is still useful for most purposes as a handy pocket guide.

Despite the odd gap here and there in the range of things that this book covers, the entries that are there are generally well-presented. In some cases, the text is quite comprehensive, extended for a couple of pages to describe a particularly notable element of Tolkien's history with a particularly extensive history. On the other hand, some entries are quite brief, giving only the most minimal definition of the person, place, or thing in question and leaving considerable amount of potential material out. I suspect that the brevity of many entries is due to space limitations engendered by the apparent need to keep the book under three hundred pages. That said, the individual entries are interesting reading, and mostly informative. The entries don't quite do justice to Tolkien's own descriptive text, but they have clearly been inspired by it, and seem to be kin to Tolkien's prose in a manner reminiscent of how one's distant cousin is kin to you. If one is ambitious, the book comes complete with a list of sources, giving citations supporting all of the entries in the book.

It must be noted that this is definitely a reference book, and anyone hoping to be able to understand Tolkien's world with just this as a guide will likely be quite confused. Each individual entry is reasonably clear, concise, and informative, but they do not really provide for the larger context that is required for true understanding. This book would probably be best used as a supplement to be consulted in the event that someone reading one of Tolkien's works ran across a term that they did not know. In that capacity, this work would be an extremely useful tool.

As with most other David Day-authored works related to Tolkien, this volume contains a fair number of illustrations, although the book is somewhat disappointing on that score. All of the illustrations are recycled works that appeared in previous books, and none of them are in color. Unlike some of Day's other books, such as An Atlas of Tolkien, or A Tolkien Bestiary, there are no full-page illustrations, but rather all of them are interspersed with the text. Given the quite beautiful presentation of some of Day's other works, this is somewhat disappointing, although it does not impair the functionality of the book.

Overall, Tolkien: A Dictionary is a competently executed reference work. It is not the most comprehensive Tolkien-related reference work one can find, but it is one of the most portable. This book may not be of much use to a die-hard Tolkien fan, as they will probably have access to more comprehensive reference works, but someone who is either relatively new to Tolkien, or who has limited space to keep books will probably find this to be a handy companion volume to have around.

David Day     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, January 9, 2017

Musical Monday - Diamonds Are Forever by Shirley Bassey


Yesterday was Shirley Bassey's eightieth birthday. To commemorate this event, here is her performing Diamonds Are Forever, the second of the three James Bond movie theme songs that she sang. This song is, in my opinion, also the best of her three Bond themes, although it is for a kind a mediocre Bond movie.

That said, Diamonds Are Forever is one of the more science fiction oriented of all of the Bond movies, much more so than Goldfinger was, although not quite as much as Moonraker would be. With a plot centered around the development and deployment of an orbital laser intended to be used as a tool of extortion by Blofeld, Diamonds Are Forever is comparable in science fiction content to both The Man with the Golden Gun and You Only Live Twice. Maybe I should sit down and review the Bond series one of these days. It is, after all, loaded with quasi-science fiction stories.

Previous Musical Monday: Man in Black by Johnny Cash
Subsequent Musical Monday: Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday

Shirley Bassey     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Book Blogger Hop January 6th - January 12th: POX 186 Is a Small Galaxy


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Where's your favorite place to read?

On my couch. I read other places all the time, but on my couch is still my favorite.

Previous Book Blogger Hop: 185 Is a Square-Free Integer

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, January 6, 2017

Follow Friday - 287 Is Shorthand for the Intel Math Coprocessor to the 80286


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and a single Follow Friday Featured Blogger each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - Milky Way of Books.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: What is your most anticipated book of 2017?

My most anticipated book of 2017 is Kameron Hurley's The Stars Are Legion, the third book in the series that began with The Mirror Empire and continued with Empire Ascendant. The series thus far is grim, dark, transcendent, and brilliant, which is what I have come to expect from Hurley. I am looking forward to getting more of the same in the third book.

That isn't to say I'm not looking forward to several other books in 2017. I'm eagerly anticipating The Stone Sky, the third book in N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth series that began with the Hugo-winning novel The Fifth Season. I am also looking forward to Fran Wilde's Horizon, and Carrie Patel's The Song of the Dead, among others. I am also very much looking forward to the second volume of The Long-List Anthology edited by David Steffen.


Follow Friday     Home

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Review - Saga, Volume Six by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples


Short review: Hazel and Klara seek a way out of prison, Alana and Marko seek their daughter, Upsher and Doff seek a story, and The Will seeks vengeance.

Haiku
Trust in a teacher
Allies of convenience
Unexpected news

Full review: The sixth volume of Saga doesn't exactly pick up where the fifth volume left off, but instead jumps forward some years in time, with Hazel now grown into a school-age child while living with her grandmother in a Landfall prison for captured Wreathean civilians. The story contained in this book is chaotic, in large part due to the scattered and disorganized state the characters find themselves in. At the center of this chaos is Hazel, and this volume makes clear, in a way none of the previous ones really did, that the story of Saga is really Hazel's story.

Hazel has narrated the background from the start of the series apparently recounting the events from some future vantage point. Even when her character was an infant, Hazel provided the commentary on her parents' efforts to evade the forces of both Landfall and Wreath. This pattern continues in this volume, but the time jump from the previous volume to this one reveals just how focused upon Hazel the story truly is: All of the other characters enter into the narrative only when their stories are due to intersect with Hazel's. Alana and Marko have been trying to locate their lost daughter for years, but their story only becomes relevant when their efforts to recover her are imminent. The reporters Upsher and Doff have been working on a myriad of other stories, but they only become relevant when they start pursuing the story about Hazel's parent's again. The Will has been in a coma and revived by powerful magic, but the two individuals who worked hardest to revive him - Gwendolyn and Sophie - don't appear in this volume. What they are doing with their time is not particularly important, because it doesn't impact Hazel. And so on. Unless a character's life is going to intersect with Hazel's, it seems that it isn't important to the story of Saga.

The story in this volume follows four different threads, which shortly collapse into three, and eventually into just two. In one, Alana and Marko continue their joint effort to recover their child, who had been taken from them first by the Robot Dengo, and then later by the Last Revolution. In a second, Klara and Hazel find themselves in a Landfall prison used to house captured Wreathean noncombatants, remaining all the while on guard to prevent their captors from discovering Hazel's heritage. In a third, the journalists Upsher and Doff learn that the Brand has died, releasing them from her spell that prohibited them from pursuing the story of Marko, Alana, and Hazel that they had embarked upon so long ago. Finally, the Will, having been revived in the previous volume from his long medical coma, is out to avenge his dead sister the Brand, and goes off in pursuit of the missing Prince Robot IV, who now calls himself merely Sir Robot.

One notable element of the volume of interest is the fact that children drive almost all of the action in the story. Alana and Marko's story revolves around their quest to recover their missing child, and when they go to recruit the assistance of the former Prince Robot IV, it is the opinion of the errant Robot's son Squire that convinces him to join their efforts. In the women's prison in which Klara and Hazel have been interred, the action is driven by a decision made by Hazel to reveal a deadly secret to her teacher. Even the Will's story line is driven, in some part, by his encounter with Squire. Time and again, the plot is pushed forward by decisions made either by or related to the children in the story.

One minor weakness of this volume of Saga is that the sprawling nature of the ongoing story seems to be catching up with it. Even with two regular characters completely absent from the book, the story jumps back and forth at an almost frenetic pace, hopping from one plot thread to another, with some characters like Izabel getting only the most fleeting of cameos in this volume. Even so, the book introduces two new characters into the mix - Noreen, Hazel's school teacher in the women's internment facility, and Petrichor, a fellow prisoner who has her own secret that is potentially as hazardous as Hazel's secret is. In previous volumes, the growth of the cast of characters was generally solved by the high fatality rate which resulted in a rough balance between new characters arriving in the story and old characters exiting feet first.

On a side note, at one point in the volume Petrichor brings up how many of the Landfallians she had killed. This is the second time in the Saga series that a Landfallian has boasted of their combat prowess using the opposing body count as a measure of success. This seems eerily reminiscent of the Vietnam War era practice adopted by the United States of measuring "success" in the conflict by the number of enemy casualties. I suspect that this is intentional, as there doesn't seem to be any kind of strategic measure that could apply to the galaxy-spanning war at the heart of Saga, especially since the two primary antagonists - Wreath and Landfall - are effectively off-limits in the conflict. This, along with other Vietnam-influenced imagery, such as a scene in a previous volume where an entire skyscraper was leveled by orbital bombardment in order to suppress a single sniper, seems directed at impressing upon the reader the utter pointlessness of the war, and impress upon them the horrific uselessness the ongoing waste of lives represents.

All told, volume six of Saga is an excellent addition to the series. At this point in the story, the background is sufficiently well-established that Vaughn and Staples can get right to advancing the plot without the need for much expository background. As a result, this installment in the series is meaty, with lots of action moving the plot forward substantially all the way from the opening classroom in prison scene through to the final surprising revelation on the last page. In the end, this is yet another strong entry in the Saga story, building upon the material in previous volumes and leaving the reader looking forward to the next.

Previous book in the series: Saga, Volume Five

Potential 2017 Hugo Nominees

Brian K. Vaughan     Fiona Staples     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, January 2, 2017

Musical Monday - Man in Black by Johnny Cash


Cash wrote Man in Black in 1971. It was written as a protest against racism, the shabby treatment of the poor, the neglect of prisoners, and the condemnation of drug addicts. Cash was also protesting what he considered the unjust war in Vietnam and what he considered to be the needless cost in resources and lives that were being spent to continue it. In the song, Cash says that he wears black so that he can stand in front of the oppressed and downtrodden and use his position of relative power to do what he can to intervene on their behalf. To a certain extent, I think the popular conception of Johnny Cash has forgotten his zealous passion for the cause of social justice, and I think that this lapse of memory does him a disservice.

I suspect that Cash would be disappointed to learn that forty-five years after he wrote Man in Black, the United States elected a President and a Congress that are the antithesis of everything he stood for. He would be shocked to learn that the President-elect ran on explicitly racist and xenophobic campaign promises. He would be disappointed to learn that the current crop of Republicans holding Congress have a legislative agenda that is geared towards eliminating the protections for those who are less well off, and are dead set on screwing over veterans while they are at it. Cash would be appalled by the rise of private prisons and the needlessly harsh prison sentences imposed upon people with chemical dependency. He would say, quite clearly, that despite forty-five years of effort, we still need a man in black.

I agree with Cash. This is a time when it falls upon those who are not directly in the line of fire of the upcoming administration to step forward and do their part to protect those upon whom Trump and his cronies would inflict harm. In this new year, it is not enough to rely upon some new Cash to step up, all of us who are able must all step up and take on the coming storm, because there are others who won't be able to survive it without help.

Previous Musical Monday: History Repeating by Shirley Bassey and Propellerheads
Subsequent Musical Monday: Diamonds Are Forever by Shirley Bassey

Johnny Cash     Musical Monday     Home

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2017 Challenges

    
   

I'm tracking the reading blog-based challenges I'm participating in on this page. For 2017, I'm participating in the 10th Annual Graphic Novels and Manga Challenge 2017, the 2017 Award Winning Sci-Fi and Fantasy Challenge, the 2017 Dystopia Reading Challenge, the 2017 Review Writing Challenge, the Banned/Challenged Books Reading Challenge 2017, the Beat the Backlist Reading Challenge, and the You Read How Many Books? 2017 Reading Challenge. I am also participating in two multi-year challenges: The 101 Fantasy Reading Challenge, and the Read All the Books Challenge. The links below will take you to the tracking pages for each challenge.

2017 Challenge Tracking Pages
10th Annual Graphic Novels and Manga Challenge 2017
2017 Award Winning Sci-Fi and Fantasy Challenge
2017 Dystopia Reading Challenge
2017 Review Writing Challenge
Banned/Challenged Books Reading Challenge 2017
Beat the Backlist Reading Challenge
You Read How Many Books? 2017 Reading Challenge

Multi-Year Challenge Tracking Pages
101 Fantasy Reading Challenge
Read All the Books Challenge

Not a Challenge:
The Big List of Everything I've Reviewed in 2017

Home

Challenge - The Big List of Everything I've Reviewed in 2017


Once again, I am participating in multiple reading challenges this year. They all appear to be good challenges, but while I can use them to provide an annual catalog of the books I read and reviewed in the year, they are not quite comprehensive enough for my needs. In addition to reviewing books I also review magazine issues, movies, and television episodes, and in order to capture all of these reviews as well as my book reviews I've created this tracking page, which I will use to provide links to my reviews as I post them. This isn't really a "challenge", but I'm listing it with my challenge pages anyway, just because I did this way in each of the last two years, and it is now an established tradition.

The Big List of Everything I've Reviewed in 2017:
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Wonder Woman
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

2017 Challenge Tracking Pages
10th Annual Graphic Novels and Manga Challenge 2017
2017 Award Winning Sci-Fi and Fantasy Challenge
2017 Dystopia Reading Challenge
2017 Review Writing Challenge
Banned/Challenged Books Reading Challenge 2017
Beat the Backlist Reading Challenge
You Read How Many Books? 2017 Reading Challenge

Multi-Year Challenge Tracking Pages
101 Fantasy Reading Challenge
Read All the Books Challenge

2017 Challenges     Home