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review 2020-02-19 22:46
The Sparrow / Mary Doria Russell
The Sparrow - Mary Doria Russell

In 2019, humanity finally finds proof of extraterrestrial life when a listening post in Puerto Rico picks up exquisite singing from a planet that will come to be known as Rakhat. While United Nations diplomats endlessly debate a possible first contact mission, the Society of Jesus quietly organizes an eight-person scientific expedition of its own. What the Jesuits find is a world so beyond comprehension that it will lead them to question what it means to be "human". 

 

4.25 stars

I enjoy First Contact stories and this was a particularly good one. I think my enjoyment of it was increased by reading it soon after Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson, about a man who worked (sometimes with, sometimes against) the Jesuits in 17th century French Canada. Since a Jesuit priest, Emilio, is the main character in this novel, the historical context really helped me to appreciate him and his actions.

I found the switching between chapters set on Earth and those set on Rakhat to be very effective. Russell could reveal just enough in one setting to make the reader think they know something and then in the next section show how our assumptions can be dead wrong.

Although I thought that the humans’ easy ability to eat the flora and fauna of Rakhat to be a bit unlikely, I found their confusion and incorrect assumptions about the beings that they encountered to be wholly believable. Despite Emilio’s extreme talent as a linguist and language learner, it is difficult enough for us to understand the cultures of other Earthlings, let alone that of beings on another planet.

It wasn’t until the very last pages of the book that the title became clear to me, but once it came into focus, I appreciated it’s subtlety. A very interesting book and one which I will continue to think about for days to come.

Book number 355 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.

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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 2020-01-26 21:43
Timeless / Gail Carriger
Timeless - Gail Carriger

Alexia Tarabotti, Lady Maccon, has settled into domestic bliss. Of course, being Alexia, such bliss involves integrating werewolves into London High society, living in a vampire's second best closet, and coping with a precocious toddler who is prone to turning supernatural willy-nilly. Even Ivy Tunstell's acting troupe's latest play, disastrous to say the least, can not put a dampener on Alexia's enjoyment of her new London lifestyle.

Until, that is, she receives a summons from Alexandria that cannot be ignored. With husband, child, and Tunstells in tow, Alexia boards a steamer to cross the Mediterranean. But Egypt may hold more mysteries than even the indomitable Lady Maccon can handle. What does the vampire Queen of the Alexandria Hive really want from her? Why is the God-Breaker Plague suddenly expanding? And how has Ivy Tunstell suddenly become the most popular actress in all the British Empire?

 

I’ve really enjoyed this series, though I think that the first book was probably my favourite of the five. I’m looking forward to reading both Carriger’s Finishing School and The Custard Protocol series. I’m glad there are more books in this alternate history to look forward to!

With this book, the Alexia/Conall storyline may have reached the end of its natural life span. Not every thread is wrapped up, but that’s not always necessary or even desirable. Things that were amusing in previous books (Lord & Lady Maccon living in Lord Akeldama’s third best closet, for instance) are becoming less entertaining. Prudence makes up for that as she becomes a character in her own right (and that will make The Custard Protocol interesting).

I must say that I was glad to see Biffy settled into his new role(s). He’s made the shift from vampire drone to young werewolf-about-town quite successfully, found a new squeeze, and shown some career potential. I’ll miss him more than Alexia and Conall, I think.

Such a fun world and I look forward to future expeditions into it!

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text 2020-01-14 23:31
Interlibrary loan is great
Off*Beat, Vol. 3 - Jen Lee Quick

And so are libraries in general. Okay, so I'm a librarian and more than a little biased. Still. You can't buy this in a physical format from Amazon or even directly from the publisher anymore, but a library many hours away from me just let me check it out for the next few weeks for free.

 

Since this is the third and final volume in the series, hopefully it contains actual answers.

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review 2019-10-28 20:59
A Kestrel for a Knave / Barry Hines
A Kestrel for a Knave (Valancourt 20th Century Classics) - Barry Hines,Mark Hodkinson

Life is tough and cheerless for Billy Casper, a troubled teenager growing up in the small Yorkshire mining town of Barnsley. Treated as a failure at school, and unhappy at home, Billy discovers a new passion in life when he finds Kes, a kestrel hawk. Billy identifies with her silent strength and she inspires in him the trust and love that nothing else can, discovering through her the passion missing from his life. 

 

I must confess that this was a somewhat depressing book to read. It’s the December selection for my real-life book club and it reminded me of an earlier selection we read this year, Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx. At first glance, the circumstances of a poor Puerto Rican family in an American ghetto (RF) and a poor family in the North of England (KfaK) might seem to be entirely different. But many of their problems overlap.

Lack of opportunities, poor education, inadequate nutrition, and no role models of successful people for the younger people to emulate. Billy, in Kestrel, has a neglectful mother, an abusive brother, a job before school that is precarious, plus teachers that don’t care about their students, not to mention abusive teachers. He has to share not only a bedroom, but a bed with his drunken, irritable older brother Jud, then get up super early to deliver papers. There’s no money for extras like gym clothes and no energy for non-necessities. Billy doesn’t want to end up working in the mines, but he doesn’t have either the energy or a plan to change his destiny.

But our true interests will shine through--Billy claims a young kestrel from a nest, steals a book on falconry, and proceeds to train himself and the bird. Obviously, in multiple intelligence theory, Billy would have a Naturalistic intelligence. Being stuck in a classroom or forced to participate in sport is never going to be right for him. He had all of my sympathy, as I share his love of nature and particularly birds.

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