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review 2020-02-16 22:18
Bush Runner / Mark Bourrie
Bush Runner : the Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson - Mark Bourrie

Murderer. Salesman. Pirate. Adventurer. Cannibal. Co-founder of the Hudson's Bay Company.

Known to some as the first European to explore the upper Mississippi, and widely as the namesake of ships and hotel chains, Pierre-Esprit Radisson is perhaps best described, writes Mark Bourrie, as “an eager hustler with no known scruples.” Kidnapped by Mohawk warriors at the age of fifteen, Radisson assimilated and was adopted by a powerful family, only to escape to New York City after less than a year. After being recaptured, he defected from a raiding party to the Dutch and crossed the Atlantic to Holland—thus beginning a lifetime of seized opportunities and frustrated ambitions.

A guest among First Nations communities, French fur traders, and royal courts; witness to London’s Great Plague and Great Fire; and unwitting agent of the Jesuits’ corporate espionage, Radisson double-crossed the English, French, Dutch, and his adoptive Mohawk family alike, found himself marooned by pirates in Spain, and lived through shipwreck on the reefs of Venezuela. His most lasting venture as an Artic fur trader led to the founding of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which operates today, 350 years later, as North America’s oldest corporation.


I remember first hearing about Radisson and Groseilliers in about Grade 5, when I think they were called “explorers” or “fur traders.” I also recall my mother calling them Radishes and Gooseberries. Imagine my surprise to find that Groseilliers actually does mean gooseberries!

In many ways, Pierre-Esprit Radisson is a better and a worse man than you would expect from the few facts that I encountered in grade school. He seems to have been able to roll along with whatever situation he encountered, looking for an upside or an opportunity. He also seems to have had a natural aptitude for languages which stood him in good stead. On the poor side, he seemed to be motivated almost entirely by profit and was willing to abandon or double-cross his friends and business partners whenever it was convenient for him.

Why should we be interested in the man? As the author states in his introduction: He’s living with Indigenous people in North America. He’s with Charles II of England and his court of scoundrels, traitors, and ex-pirates. He’s in England during the Great Plague. He’s in London during the Great Fire. He’s set upon by spies. He’s in the Arctic. Then he’s with pirates in the Caribbean. After that, he’s at Versailles. And then the Arctic again. Along the way, he crosses paths with the most interesting people of his day. He’s the Forrest Gump of his time.

I can’t help but think that Radisson could have achieved a lot more if he hadn’t been quite so fixated on the fur trade. He could have lived a good life among the Iroquois or the Mohawk, but his restless nature wouldn’t let him settle. A bit of a conman, he couldn’t happily just live a normal life.

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review 2020-02-15 23:24
The Innocents / Michael Crummey
The Innocents - Michael Crummey

A brother and sister are orphaned in an isolated cove on Newfoundland's northern coastline. Their home is a stretch of rocky shore governed by the feral ocean, by a relentless pendulum of abundance and murderous scarcity. Still children with only the barest notion of the outside world, they have nothing but the family's boat and the little knowledge passed on haphazardly by their mother and father to keep them.

As they fight for their own survival through years of meagre catches and storms and ravaging illness, it is their fierce loyalty to each other that motivates and sustains them. But as seasons pass and they wade deeper into the mystery of their own natures, even that loyalty will be tested.


If you love beautiful language, this is the book for you. Crummey incorporates plenty of unique Newfoundland-isms into the text, but you can figure out what they mean quite easily from the context. I love language and words, so I found this new vocabulary to be quite intoxicating.

And what a story! A boy of 12 and a girl of 10 living in a remote cove of Newfoundland, orphaned and trying to carry on as they did when their parents were alive. The author got the premise of the story from an article in an old Newfoundland newspaper that featured two young people seeing off a clergyman with a gun in response to criticism (the girl was pregnant). In this novel, the children are raised by two people who seemed to barely speak, nor do they know how to read or write, no neighbours or relatives, no radio, no contact with the outside world. They are indeed innocents.

Crummey harkens back to the Genesis story: there are overtones of Cain and Abel in the story of Sennet Best and the brother that he seems to have murdered in order to gain the affections of Sarah, the children’s mother. And then of course Ada and Evered are completely ignorant about virtually everything, including sex. Can you imagine going through those turbulent teenage years with no clue what is happening to you? When Ada’s complete sex education consists of her mother’s warning, “Soon you’ll be getting your monthly visitor.”

The hardship they face and the challenges that they overcome are incredible. But you never know what you can do until you are faced with difficulty and they rise to the challenge. The triumph of the human spirit over ignorance.

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review 2020-02-11 23:46
Callahan's Legacy / Spider Robinson
Callahan's Legacy - Spider Robinson

For years, Callahan's was the place where friends met to have a few drinks, tell a few jokes, and occasionally save the world. Until that unfortunate incident with the nuke a few years ago....

But Jake Stonebender and his wife have opened a new Callahan's, Mary's Place, and all the regulars are there: Doc Webster, Fast Eddie the piano player, Long Drink McGonnigle, and of course the usual talking dogs, alcoholic vampires, aliens, and time travelers. Songs will be sung, drinks will be drunk (and drunks will have drinks), puns will be swapped...and as a three-eyed, three-legged, three-armed, three-everythinged alien flashes through space toward the bar, it just might be time to save the world again....


Suffice it to say that if you like Robinson’s Callahan novels, you will like this one. This offering was perhaps a bit better than the previous volumes or perhaps the series is growing on me (like a fungus). Something about Robinson’s voice in these books irritates the shit out of me--to me he sounds rather smugly self-satisfied. I hope that I’m wrong on that, but that’s my experience.

This story hasn’t aged well, being specific about certain computer and internet details as it is. It is definitely a creature of 1996. Also, be prepared for a LOT of pun-ishment. The puns are a characteristic of this series, but if you are allergic to this form of humour you may wish to pop an antihistamine before wading in.

Book number 354 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.

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review 2020-02-11 23:38
The Gap into Ruin : This Day All Gods Die / Stephen R. Donaldson
The Gap Into Ruin: This Day All Gods Die - Stephen R. Donaldson

As the crew attempts to pursue the pirate ship Soar and her captain, their hopes turn to Angus Thermopyle. Angus, Morn Hyland, and her son, Davies, race home, unaware that Warden Dios and The Dragon are locked in a final confrontation that may alter the fate of humankind forever.


Put a mark on the wall, I actually enjoyed a SRD book! Nevertheless, I’m glad to be finished this particular series and know where all the chips have fallen. I will give Donaldson this, he is particularly skillful at recognizing when to end a chapter and when to switch view-points. I found his timing in this book to be right on the money.

I don’t require likeable characters, but for whatever reason, I find SRD’s characters to be particularly difficult to care about. What I could get into was the downfall of Holt Fasner (and the eventual release of Norna, omg I felt for that woman despite her unpleasantness).

It may have been Frank Herbert who wrote about “wheels within wheels” when writing about plots, but Donaldson wrote the superior plotting and backstabbing novels with this series. All the twisty, turny bits required close attention to know who was fooling whom. And Donaldson’s characters do it without spice to see into the future.

Book number 353 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.

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review 2020-02-11 23:36
Bleak Seasons / Glen Cook
Bleak Seasons - Glen Cook

"Let me tell you who I am, on the chance that these scribblings do survive....I am Murgen, Standard bearer of the Black Company, though I bear the shame of having lost that standard in battle. I am keeping these Annals because Croaker is dead. One-Eye won't, and hardly anyone else can read or write. I will be your guide for however long it takes the Shadowlanders to force our present predicament to its inevitable end..." So writes Murgen, seasoned veteran of the Black Company. The Company has taken the fortress of Stormgard from the evil Shadowlanders, lords of darkness from the far reaches of the earth. Now the waiting begins.

Exhausted from the siege, beset by sorcery, and vastly outnumbered, the Company have risked their souls as well as their lives to hold their prize. But this is the end of an age, and great forces are at work. The ancient race known as the Nyueng Bao swear that ancient gods are stirring. the Company's commander has gone mad and flirts with the forces of darkness. Only Murgen, touched by a spell that has set his soul adrift in time, begins at last to comprehend the dark design that has made pawns of men and god alike.



It’s been a while since I last checked in on the Black Company. If you had asked me several years ago whether I would enjoy really dark military science fiction in a threatening fantasy world, I would have said, “No.” And I would have been quite definite about that. But I find myself really enjoying The Black Company series and this surprises me.

The Company itself is an eclectic mix of societal rejects who have banded together as mercenaries to earn a living and provide a kind of support group for each other. You can’t really call any of them likeable, and yet you find yourself glad to see the familiar faces: Goblin, One Eye, Big Bucket, Croaker, and Murgen (who is our narrator for this section of the Annals).

Cook manages to show us how awful warfare is, how neither side is right/good, and how much brutality accompanies war, all while entertaining us with the antics of the two wizards or the negotiation attempts of Murgen with various factions within the besieged city of Dejagore (what language are they speaking today? Or more importantly, claiming not to understand). Maybe you consider the Company men to be uneducated, but then they start speaking six or seven languages or building complex structures or negotiating their way out of bad situations, and it seems that they have learned quite a bit on the job.

Although the fantasy world is mostly medieval in technology, Cook uses a modern tone to the dialog. This combination doesn’t always work for me, but in this series it seems to mesh. I already have the next book in the series teed up and ready to go!

Book number 352 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.


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