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Search tags: January-2015
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text 2015-02-07 13:02
Four in a row

 one after the other, four books -- four stars. I don't even remember the last time that happened



" . . . it became clear to me that the important question was not “What have I become?” but more “What am I now to do?” How was I to return to myself and paint something of worth before I grew too old to care, too weak to try?"




"If novels were sinful, I should spend many nights in prayer, for this story was a delight. I could hardly bear to put Persuasion down long enough to retire."




 "If you build your own life around the secret lives of others, if you erect your house on the corrupt foundations of theirs, you soon come to regard all useful knowledge as your due. Information becomes your entitlement. You pay handsomely for it; you use it selectively and well. If you are not exactly trusted in certain circles, you are respected, and your name carries a certain weight. You are rarely surprised, and never deceived. Yet there may come a time when your knowledge will betray you.

A time when you will find even the brightest certainties— of friendship, of family, even of faith— dimming into shadows of bewilderment. When the light fails and belief fades into nothingness, and the season of your darkest ignorance begins."




"Ellie poured two whiskey sours and grabbed an ashtray. The regulars hadn’t trickled in yet, and the frat boys were still on summer vacation. They had the place to themselves.


'How goes life in the salt mines?' Ellie must have thought it was hilarious that Iris had to sit in an office every day. She didn’t give a shit what the world thought she was supposed to do. Ellie was a sixth-year art student with no plans of graduating. Pleasing the parents or the teachers wasn’t even a thought. She was free. At least, that was the way it seemed. . . . 

. . . She [Iris] didn’t want to grow up to be like her parents, whittling away the time, eating bran cereal and watching Wheel of Fortune . She didn’t want to be her mother, reading her grocery- store romance novels, pan- frying steaks for a husband who ignored her, and muttering her opinions into the clothes dryer. She didn’t know what she wanted, but it sure as shit wasn’t that. It all seemed so damned pointless."


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review 2015-02-06 15:21
Downbelow Station / C.J. Cherryh
Downbelow Station - C.J. Cherryh

Pell's Station, orbiting the alien world simply called Downbelow, had always managed to remain neutral in the ever escalating conflict between “The Company,” whose fleets from Earth had colonized space, and its increasingly independent and rebellious colony worlds. But Pell's location—on the outer edge of Earth's defensive perimeter— makes her the focal point in the titanic battle of colony worlds fighting for independence……




I’m becoming quite a fan of C.J. Cherryh. I really like the way she writes aliens and the Hisa/Downers in Downbelow Station were yet another notch on the positive side of the score board. I pictured their bodies as rather large baboon-like primates, with the faces of surprised baby orangutans. They definitely had their own thought processes and ways of communication, very foreign from those of human beings.

Cherryh’s interest in history became apparent quickly, with the humans’ treatment of the Hisa—it is very reminiscent of the treatment of Native Americans by Europeans. There are two schools of thought among the human population—treat the Hisa harshly and force them to do things the human way or recognize them as beings in their own right and get things done through co-operation.

The peopling of space also reminded me very much of the days of European exploration of our world, when sailing ships went out into uncharted waters and returned with experiences that no European had ever dreamed of before. Once out on the ocean, these explorers were on their own and would be making their own decisions within the framework specified by the powers that had sponsored their expeditions. Just as in Downbelow Station, it was commerce which inspired the vast majority of these adventures, but the outcomes were not necessarily what was originally anticipated. One issue that I found somewhat confusing was the growth of crops for human consumption on a world where humans couldn’t breathe the atmosphere—surely plants grown in those “hostile-to-Earthlings” conditions wouldn’t be compatible with our biology?

There were also echoes of more modern history and culture—the lab-produced troops of the planet Cyteen had a definite “Boys from Brazil” vibe. The war scenes, with shifting alliances and priorities, can be compared to virtually any modern war (and probably many ancient ones as well). The where and when of war changes, but the basic events stay repetitively the same. And aren’t modern city dwellers equivalent in many ways to residents on space stations—out of touch with the natural world, surrounded by human construction and noise, and glued to their various man-made communication devices? Cherryh’s version of that technology has dated, but think how fast our technology has changed since 1980! No one had even considered the internet or mobile phones at that point.

I think it was rather prophetic of Cherryh, back in 1980, to see the role that big corporations were going to play in future human politics. As we watch large multinationals stick-handle around various national laws, taxes, and other constraints, we see some of the Downbelow Station world coming of age before we have even left the planet.

Downbelow Station provides a great prologue for further adventures in the Union-Alliance universe.

This is title 162 of my science fiction and fantasy reading project

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text 2015-02-06 13:08

Pearls Before Swine


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review 2015-02-05 20:33
The Big Sleep / Raymond Chandler
The Big Sleep - Raymond Chandler

When a dying millionaire hires Philip Marlowe to handle the blackmailer of one of his two troublesome daughters, Marlowe finds himself involved with more than extortion. Kidnapping, pornography, seduction, and murder are just a few of the complications he gets caught up in.


OMG, how have I missed out on Raymond Chandler’s work for so long? From the very first sentence, I was hooked. The plot is pretty good, but where The Big Sleep excels is in characters and in atmosphere.

Philip Marlowe is the kind of guy you want to have on your side if there’s something not-quite-above-board happening in your life. Not a guy you would want to date, but definitely a guy who you hope you can afford when you need his skills.

I adored the dialog—Chandler had a real talent in that department. Marlowe is pitch perfect, letting the reader assess how much he knows and frustrating those that he is questioning/not answering. Working both sides of the law, friends with lawyers and with criminals, all of whom see him as a straight-shooter, he tries to be a decent guy. Decent or not, he’ll let something slide if it promises to complicate his life too much.

It is easy to see how works like The Big Sleep have influenced modern crime fiction. The almost-burnt-out investigator who is world weary and cynical is pretty standard, although the more interesting authors find a way to give the stereotype a new spin. The omnipresent rain, making the whole investigation into an endurance test. The moral ambiguity of “bad guys” who are actually pretty likeable and “good guys” who are pretty despicable. For me, a wonderful introduction to the hard-boiled genre and a darn good read besides.  

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text 2015-02-05 19:39
Chapter two beckons.
The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque - Jeffrey Ford

and after the first chapter, I believe I'll be reading this one straight through.  I cannot contain myself, given how much I'm captivated by chapter one.  Here's an excerpt, because I want you to be captivated too.



MUCH TO my unease, Mrs. Reed positioned herself, all evening, beneath or immediately to either side of her new portrait. She had, for this occasion, worn the same black gown and diamond necklace I had requested she wear when posing for me. Given the situation, comparisons between God’s work and my own were unavoidable. I daresay the Almighty’s original was found somewhat wanting in the face of my painterly revision. Whereas, in His unquestionable wisdom, He had gone for the grandiose in the formation of her nose and saw fit to leave a prominent gap between the front teeth, I had closed ranks and reduced to beautiful normalcy those aspects of her features that made her her. By using a faint shade of rose and sparing the chiaroscuro, I had added a certain youthful radiance to the tone and elasticity of her flesh, turning back the clock to but a few minutes after that earlier hour when these corresponding changes would have seemed ludicrous.


Perhaps Mrs. Reed was wholly unaware of these discrepancies or, being aware of them, believed that by standing as close to her fairer double as possible she would permanently confuse artifice and reality in the minds of her friends and family. . . 


. . . Whatever the case, she appeared to be beaming with joy. As for the rest of us in attendance, we were all uneasy conspirators in a plot to ignore the truth. Thankfully, her husband had spent a small fortune on good champagne for the unveiling and encouraged all to drink freely. Many of the fifty or so guests felt compelled to approach me and offer praise for my work, which if not for the alcohol would have left my expression a permanent wince.


“Piambo, the rendering of the goldfish in the bowl on the table next to Mrs. Reed is spectacular. I can count the very scales from here.”


“The barely wilting nasturtiums in that Chinese vase behind her are so lifelike.”


“No one can capture the fold of a gown as you can, and my, how the diamonds sparkle.” I politely thanked them all, . .  [Then Shenz, his colleague in fine arts portraiture approaches . . . ]

“A nice bit of work, Piambo,” he said, and then slightly turned his head and shifted his eyes to look up at me.


“Have some more champagne,” I whispered to him, and he quietly laughed.


“Salubrious is the word I would use,” he said. “Yes, quite salubrious.”


“I’m keeping a running tally,” I told him, “as to whether people appreciate the goldfish or the nasturtiums more.”


“Put me down for the nose,” he said. “A truly ingenious economy of paint.” [Shenz leaves to mingle, and Piambo loses himself in champagne and people watching.]


In my daze it came to me that I not only wanted but needed to be elsewhere. I realized that of late I had been spending more time in chandeliered parlors, drinking myself to the verge of a stupor, than I did in front of the easel.


[he decides to sneak out, but Mr. Reed catches him before he makes his escape, and makes him wait while he fetches Mrs. Reed.]


 “Piambo has pressing business across town, dear,” he said to her. “He must, reluctantly, be on his way. I thought you would want to thank him for the portrait.”


Mrs. Reed smiled, and I fixated on that gap between her teeth. In the days that I’d spent in her presence, she had seemed almost devoid of personality. She had been an obedient model and not unpleasant, but I had never tried to get at her true essence, because it had been indicated to me in not so many words, by her husband, that inner spirit was not to be the point of the portrait.


She stepped forward in a manner to indicate that she was going to kiss my cheek. In that instant, as she came toward me, I caught a fleeting glimpse of something more than the dull affect to which I had grown accustomed. Then her lips grazed my face, and before she pulled back I heard her whisper in a voice no louder than the sound of a wet brush gliding across canvas, “I hope you die.” When she was again standing before me so that I could see her entire countenance, she was smiling.


i can't wait for what happens next.  happy reading. I'll be gone for a few hours.

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