Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2017 Evelyn C. Leeper.


THE KNOW-IT-ALL by A. J. Jacobs:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/18/2005]

A. J. Jacobs's THE KNOW-IT-ALL (ISBN 0-7432-5060-5) is the story of Jacobs's "quest" to read the Encyclopedia Britannica all the way through. In a sense, this is similar to Herman Gollob's ME & SHAKESPEARE (reviewed 02/11/05)--it is a combination of discussion of the topic and memoir of the author. Unfortunately, although one of the blurbs describes Jacobs as "self-deprecating," that is not the impression I got. Indeed, the title seemed to sum up his personality fairly well. While reading the Encyclopedia Britannica, he kept correcting people or inserting weird facts he had learned into conversations. This would be bad enough, but the problem is that he apparently did not comprehend what he read very well. And the publisher does not seem to have had a copy editor for this book, maybe because they figured that anyone who had just read the Encyclopedia Britannica would not need copy-editing. Wrong. The first major mistake is on pages 73-74, when Jacobs says, "[if] a stranger says he was born any day between October 4 and October 15, 1582, he's lying. Why? Because there were no such dates. That's when the world switched to the Gregorian calendar, and they skipped those ten days." That's just wrong. "The world" did not switch to the Gregorian calendar, only the Catholic countries did so. Britain did not switch until September 1752; Russia did not switch until after the Revolution in 1918. (See my long discussion of this in my review of Mary Gentle's 1610 in the 02/20/04 issue.) Then on page 104, Jacobs refers to "M. Night Shamalan" (it should be "Shyamalan"), and on page 120, to "Finnegan's Wake" (it should be "Finnegans Wake"--no apostrophe). Ironically, on page 127, he says, "I make mistakes rarely--maybe once every four hundred pages"! Given all this, plus Jacobs' tendency to gratuitously insult various pop figures, I found myself thinking that my time could have been better spent reading the Encyclopedia Britannica.

To order The Know-It-All from amazon.com, click here.


THE YEAR OF LIVING BIBLICALLY: ONE MAN'S HUMBLE QUEST TO FOLLOW THE BIBLE AS LITERALLY AS POSSIBLE by A. J. Jacobs:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/16/2007]

THE YEAR OF LIVING BIBLICALLY: ONE MAN'S HUMBLE QUEST TO FOLLOW THE BIBLE AS LITERALLY AS POSSIBLE by A. J. Jacobs (ISBN-13 978-0-7432-9147-7, ISBN-10 0-7432-9147-6) is both fascinating and irritating. Fascinating, because some of the things Jacobs learns over the year are unexpected. Irritating, because Jacobs seems fairly clueless about a lot of facts, starting with the fact that lots of people have been following the Bible (or at least the Hebrew Bible) as literally as possible, starting with Orthodox Jews. Yes, there is some disagreement about interpretation, but why is Jacobs so surprised that (for example) Orthodox Jews care about the rules against mixing fibers? Jacob also seems to interpret his mission as not just following the rules that intersect with his life, but going out of his way to follow rules that don't. For example, he eats locusts, not because he is commanded to, but because they are allowed. (However, he does not seem equally driven to eat, for example, duck just because it is allowed.) He seems more interested in seeing just how bizarrely he can interpret the laws, and how he can make his book more interesting, and less in trying to create a coherent, meaningful Biblical lifestyle. (And why is it so difficult for him to avoid reading his email for even an hour on the Sabbath? Surely he goes that long if he goes to a party or something.)

Jacobs did not have his wife's whole-hearted support, particularly when it came to the laws of marital purity. Jacobs could not touch his wife during her period (and for seven days after), or share the same bed, or even sit in the same chair. So one day when he got home, he started to sit in his favorite chair:

"I wouldn't do that," says Julie.

"Why?"

"It's unclean. I sat on it." She doesn't even look up from her TiVo'd episode of LOST.

OK. Fine. Point taken. She still doesn't appreciate these impurity laws. I move to another chair, a black plastic one.

"Sat in that one, too," says Julie. "And the ones in the kitchen. And the couch in the office."

In preparation for my homecoming, she sat in every chair in the apartment, which I find annoying but also impressive. It seems in the biblical tradition of enterprising women--like Judith, who seduced the evil general Holofernes, only to behead him when he was drunk.

Not every experience is this amusing, of course. And while Jacobs seems to work hard on some laws, he also seems to skimp on others. Although Jacobs eschews pork and shellfish, there is no mention of his requiring special slaughtering techniques to drain all the blood from animals destined for his table. He interprets Leviticus 19:32 ("Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, ...") as meaning he has to stand up whenever an older person enters the room. So when he is eating pasta in a Boca Raton strip mall restaurant, he decides he has to stand up whenever "a gray-haired person enters the restaurant. Which is pretty much every forty-five seconds. It looks like [he is] playing a solitaire version of musical chairs." And what is he doing eating pasta in a (presumably non-kosher) Boca Raton strip mall restaurant? Well, he seems to be following a lot of the laws consecutively rather than concurrently for the entire year!

(Jacobs spends most of his time working on the rules in the Hebrew Bible, but spends a couple of months at the end working on the New Testament.)

The most interesting parts are not Jacobs's reactions to the laws and living them, but the conversations, interviews, and experiences he has with other people who have their own perspectives on what it means to follow the Bible. And I discovered the existence of "Red-letter Christians", a movement which tries to emphasize Jesus's words (often printed in red in Christian Bibles [*]) and teachings, rather than those of St. Paul or the other apostles. The Red-letter Christians are a bit of a contrast to the conservative evangelicals who get the bulk of the publicity, since the Red-letter Christians emphasize anti-war, anti-consumer, anti-poverty goals. "They point out that there are more passages in the Bible about the poor than any other topic save idolatry--several thousand, in fact," says Jacobs. Pastor Tony Campolo complains, "Many of us in the evangelical movement believe that the evangelical Christianity has become captured and enslaved by the religious. Its loyalty seems to be more to the platform of the Republican Party than to the radical teachings of Jesus."

[*] Leo Tolstoy produced a version of the Bible called "The Gospel in Brief" consisting only of Jesus's words and enough narrative to connect them together. It can be found at http://tinyurl.com/28lvut.

To order The Tear of Living Biblically from amazon.com, click here.


Strange Maps by Frank Jacobs:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/30/2010]

STRANGE MAPS: AN ATLAS OF CARTOGRAPHIC CURIOSITIES by Frank Jacobs (ISBN-13 978-0-14-200525-5) seems like it would have a lot of fantastical content. But unlike Alberto Manguel's DICTIONARY OF IMAGINARY PLACES, Jacobs's book is based mostly in the real world. True, there is a section titled "Literary Creations" which includes maps of Utopia, the island from MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, Oz, and so on. "Fantastic Maps" includes "Tolkien's Australia" as well as "If Land Was Sea and Sea Was Land". And "Watchamacallit" has "Europe, If the Nazis Had Won: Neuropa" (where Jacobs says of alternate history that it is "either a maligned branch of history or an obscure branch of science fiction").

But most of the book consists of maps of the real world. These are not always accurate maps, as one section heading might indicate: "Cartographic Misconceptions". Often they are not even intended to be accurate ("Artography", "Zoomorphic Maps", "(Political) Parody", "Maps as Propaganda", "Linguistic Cartography"), or are accurate in different ways ("Cartograms and Other Data Maps", "A Matter of Perspective", "Maps from Outer Space").

Some are historical ("Obscure Proposals", "Ephemeral States"). Others look at some of the peculiarities of geopolitics ("Strange Borders", "Enclaves and Exclaves"). Then there is "Iconic Manhattan", which is overlapped somewhat by one of the maps in "Linguistic Cartography" and does not include what one might consider the classic "Manhattan" map: Saul Steinberg's "New Yorker" map of the world. If one wants to argue that that includes more than Manhattan, it still seems as though it belongs somewhere in this book, or at least one of its many offspring. After all, there is an entire section, "Based on the Underground", devoted to the descendents of Harry Beck's 1933 London Underground Map. (On the other hand, I suspect that the rights to Steinberg's original are expensive, and to the offspring legally suspect.)

SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER

Do not read the rest of this article unless you have already read Miéville's THE CITY & THE CITY.

SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER

The one section I found that had unexpected fantastical content was "Enclaves and Exclaves", and in particular "Enclaves, Counterenclaves and a Dead Body: The Borders of Baarle". If you've read China Miéville's THE CITY & THE CITY, you'll understand why. One wonders, in fact, if Miéville was aware of Baarle before he wrote the book.

And the similarities are strong enough that I'd like to talk about them. The following comes from (Jacobs's original blog entry), http://ontology.buffalo.edu/smith//baarle.htm, and http://www.24oranges.nl/2008/02/26/murder-on-the-border/.

Baarle consists of two "administrative units": the Dutch Baarle-Nassau and the Belgian Baarle-Hertog. These occupy 5732 parcels of land which are completely surrounded by the Netherlands, but are allocated to either Belgium or the Netherlands. Baarle is described as having 22 Belgian enclaves in the Netherlands and 5 Dutch ones in Belgium.

One result of this is that, because taxes on a building are paid to the country in which the front door is located, front doors are sometimes moved to gain tax benefits. Because of differing closing times, people in bars can get drinks longer by moving their tables across the room. And so on.

But there are even more striking similarities to Beszel and Ul Qoma:

I know--you think I'm making the last one up. But I'm not. The body of a non-resident of Baarle was found in a building that had parts in both administrative units, which made it even more confusing.

To order Strange Maps from amazon.com, click here.


WITH SIGNS & WONDERS edited by Daniel M. Jaffe:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/23/2004]

Daniel M. Jaffe's WITH SIGNS & WONDERS (ISBN 1-931-22930-9, Invisible Cities Press) is an anthology of "international Jewish fabulist fiction." I think that means halfway between fantasy and magical realism, but even if not, that's a reasonable description. I don't think this would appeal to everyone, but it seems a reasonable representation of this sub-genre. (The idea that a small press in Montpelier, Vermont, published this is almost as odd as that Martin Gidron's alternate history about Yiddish culture, THE SEVERED WING, was published by Livingston Press at the University of West Alabama.)

To order With Signs & Wonders from amazon.com, click here.


THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF COMIC CRIME by Maxim Jakubowski:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/20/2004]

And if whether mysteries work is very specific to the reader, that is doubly true of humorous mysteries. Maxim Jakubowski's THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF COMIC CRIME (ISBN 0-786-71002-0) is a mixed bag--some I found very funny, others I found too obvious, and some just fell flat. The same will probably be true of you, but it is unlikely that you will put the same stories in the same categories.

To order The Mammoth Book of Comic Crime from amazon.com, click here.


"The Aspern Papers" by Henry James:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/25/2003]

Our library reading group read "The Aspern Papers", a novella by Henry James about a literary biographer who goes to Venice to try to recover some letters written by his idol. These letters are now in the possession of an old woman and her niece, so he uses his charm to try to obtain the papers from the niece. I won't say whether he succeeds, but frankly, it was hard to care.

To order The Aspern Papers from amazon.com, click here.


The Children of Men by P. D. James:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/14/2014]

THE CHILDREN OF MEN by P. D. James (ISBN 978-0-307-27990-3) was read as an adjunct to the showing of the film (titled just CHILDREN OF MEN) in our film-and-book group. It was written in 1992, so it is not surprising that some of its predictions, even when correct in their content, were off in their time-frame. For example, Gl 581 c was the first "Earth-like" extra-solar planet discovered, so arguably this would be "a planet which the astronomers told us could support life" as described in CHILDREN OF MEN, but it was on April 4, 2007, not in 1997 as James suggests.

Now I must confess that normally I read the book for an upcoming discussion shortly before the discussion and make some notes, but I often do not write up my comments until after the meeting. This time, however, the meeting got postponed a month due to a storm, so by the time I am getting ready to discuss it I have already forgotten a lot of the book.

Luckily there are several web sites that list the differences between the book and the film, and in the process refresh one's memory about the book itself. For example, "CarrieK" contends there are really only four basic similarities between the book and the movie:

However, Theo and Julian are completely different people in the movie than they are in the book, both in personality and in social position. More significantly, in the book the cause of the problem is male infertility, while in the film it is female infertility. And while James dealt with immigration, director Alfonso Cuaron has added "Homeland Security" and "Terror Alert" levels to make it even more topical.

To order The Children of Men from amazon.com, click here.


THE OFFICE OF MERCY by Ariel Janikan:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/11/2013]

THE OFFICE OF MERCY by Ariel Janikian (ISBN 978-0-670-02586-2) is marketed as adult fiction but reads like a YA novel, and not a very good one. Though many reviewers compare it to 1984, it is closer to BRAVE NEW WORLD, with its decanting of Alphas, Betas, and so on, with its use of the word "mother" as an obscenity, and with its contrast between the highly controlled and structure "Inside" and the primitive "Outside".

The book is full of awkward constructions, such as "she clutched a synthetic-protein wool (or prote-wool) blanket close to her neck." "Synthetic-protein wool" the blanket may have been, but we would not write in a realist novel, "She clutched an alpaca wool blanket close to her neck," let alone call it a "alp-wool" blanket. I am reminded of the tendency in early science fiction for people to wear chronographs instead of watches and use visi-ports instead of windows. (Apparently in this future they have "waste-release stalls" instead of toilets.)

And the entire story is based on something that is unlikely, to say the least. All in all, you can skip this one.

To order The Office of Mercy from amazon.com, click here.


THE GRIZZLY MAZE: TIMOTHY TREADWELL'S FATAL OBSESSION WITH ALASKAN BEARS by Nick Jans:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/09/2005]

THE GRIZZLY MAZE: TIMOTHY TREADWELL'S FATAL OBSESSION WITH ALASKAN BEARS by Nick Jans (ISBN 0-525-94886-4) (and the related film GRIZZLY MAN, reviewed by Mark in the 12/02/05 issue) both focus on what motivated Treadwell to live with bears for several years before eventually being killed by one. Watching the footage of him, the term that came to mind was "eco-flake": well-meaning but completely misinformed and ultimately more damaging to his "cause" than helpful. The book points out that Treadwell did manage one amazing feat: in the eighty years of record-keeping, he was the first person in the Alaska wildlife preserves to be killed by a bear. (Treadwell himself seemed to swing between claiming that the bears would never harm him and that the bears might kill him at any moment if he showed weakness.) Treadwell also claimed he was protecting the bears from poachers, though there is no evidence that there was any substantial poaching going on in the preserves, and Treadwell's "evidence" was either questionable or fabricated. (E.g., he shows a party of men photographing a bear and claims they are poachers, though they don't shoot the bear that is only twenty feet away.) It is an engrossing study of a delusional person.

To order The Grizzly Maze from amazon.com, click here.


THE NEW WORLD ORDER by Ben Jeapes:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/01/2005]

Ben Jeapes's THE NEW WORLD ORDER (ISBN 0-385-75013-7) is an alternate history where scientifically advanced Neanderthals from a parallel timeline invade Jacobean England and start affecting the English Civil War. The high concept description would be "Robert Sawyer ('Neanderthal' trilogy) meets Harry Turtledove (THE GUNS OF THE SOUTH and the 'World War' tetralogy), written as a young-adult novel." It didn't do much for me because I kept seeing its antecedents, but younger readers unfamiliar with the genre might like it, and at least the setting is much less frequently used.

To order The New World Order from amazon.com, click here.


NOTES ON THE STATE OF VIRGINIA, WITH RELATED DOCUMENTS by Thomas Jefferson:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/27/2015]

I give the full title of NOTES ON THE STATE OF VIRGINIA by Thomas Jefferson, WITH RELATED DOCUMENTS (edited, with an introduction by David Waldstreicher) (ISBN 978-0-312-25713-2) because it turns out to reveal a lot. First, the introduction takes 40 pages of this 230-page book. Second, the "Related Documents" take another 45 pages and include (for example) his draft of the Declaration of Independence, which does not strike me as related to NOTES ON THE STATE OF VIRGINIA at all. Then, after devoting all that space to other documents, Waldstreicher abridges NOTES ON THE STATE OF VIRGINIA, in particular the catalogs of flora and fauna, which is a large part of what I was interested in!

At least Waldtsreicher has left in a lot of Jefferson's speculations that later proved to be false, which is valuable in reminding us that even brilliant people make mistakes. For example, he says that the Peaks of Otter of the Blue Ridge Mountains "are thought to be of a greater height, measured from their base, than any others in our country [Virginia], and perhaps in North America." The tallest of these is about 4,000 high (or about 3,100 feet above its base), while Mount McKinley is 20,237 feet (about 18,000 feet above its base). Even considering the higher base, the Rocky Mountains provide many counter-examples--for example, Pikes Peak at 14,115 feet, or about 7,000 above its base. (It is surprisingly difficult to find a table showing elevation above base for tall mountains.)

Jefferson mentions three caves. By now, of course, there are at least a dozen commercial caves, and lots more that are not open to the public. The ones he mentions include Gap Cave (a.k.a. Cudjo's Cave) (open on a limited basis), Madison's Cave (a.k.a. Madison Saltpetre Cave) (closed), and Blowing Cave (open on a limited basis).

In attempting to explain fossil seashells in rocks at the tops of mountains, Jefferson correctly deduces that even if the atmosphere turned to water of the same mass, there is not enough water to cover all the earth to that height (sorry, WATERWORLD). But he also pretty much dismisses the uplifting of mountains from a lower height, although only to the extent of saying that in all of recorded history, we have never seen any force that could do that.

Regarding the origins of the "Aborigines" (a.k.a. Indians, a.k.a. Native Americans), Jefferson observes that they could have come from either Europe or Asia, but their resemblance to the East Asians would make the latter more likely--except for the "Eskimaux" (a.k.a. Eskimos, a.k.a. Inuit), whom he thinks descended from Greenlanders, and hence from Scandinavians. In all this he says that language would provide good evidence of tribal descent, but so many tribes had their languages obliterated before any records were made of them.

However, Jefferson also thinks the wide disparity of languages in North America indicates that this took place over "an immense course of time; perhaps not less than many people give to the age of the earth." (This is before there was any accurate estimate of the age of the earth.) And the greater disparity of languages in North America, compared with the lesser disparity in Asia, "proves them of greater antiquity of those in Asia." This does not take into account (among other things )the relative amounts of contact between groups in Asia versus those in North America.

Jefferson takes issue with the Abbe Rayanal's statement (in 1770) where he says (apparently in a demeaning fashion), "It is astonishing that America has not produced a good poet, one able mathematician, one man of genius in a single art or a single science." Jefferson makes two arguments against Rayanal. First, America had not existed long enough to be compared with the Greeks, the Romans, the French, or the English. Second, America had produced Washington, Franklin, and Rittenhouse. The first sounds more convincing now than the second--Rittenhouse is best known today for the square in Philadelphia named for him, but time has indeed produced great poets, authors, artists, mathematicians, chemists, physicists, and so on. (Just look at the list of Nobel Prize winners.)

Jefferson spends a lot of time explaining the laws of Virginia (this book was written in 1787), including why Virginia broke from England, and a half dozen ways in which the current state Constitution is flawed (limitation of voting rights, uneven representation, too much similarity between the two legislative houses, too much power in the legislative branch, the ability of the legislature itself to amend the state Constitution, and the ability of the legislature to define its own quorum).

Apparently in early Virginia marriages may be "solemnized ... by the minister of any society of Christians, who shall have been previously licensed for this purpose by the court of the county. Quakers and Menonists, however, are exempted from all these conditions, and marriage among them is to be solemnized by the society itself." I guess Jews or other non-Christians just couldn't get married in Virginia. Also, heresy was still a crime in Virginia, though apparently no longer a capital crime. In his favor, Jefferson felt this law should be abolished--he calls it "religious slavery."

"A foreigner of any nation, not in open war with us, becomes naturalized by removing to the state to reside, and taking an oath of fidelity; and, thereupon, acquires every right of a native citizen..." (This was before the United States Constitution limited the Presidency of the United States to native-born citizens.) Apparently the Founding Fathers had a much more liberal view of immigration than most people today. (Yes, I know conditions have changed. But if people are willing to change these laws, then citing "the Founding Fathers" as an excuse for other laws is a bit inconsistent.)

It is true that Jefferson elaborates on a plan to gradually emancipate all slaves, but this elaboration is so full of appalling racism that one can only conclude that a plea to the desires of wishes of the Founding Fathers should not carry much weight today. He seems to think it self-evident that whites are more beautiful than blacks, but it is more proof be assertion: flowing hair is more beautiful than curly hair, pale skin is more beautiful than dark skin, and so on.

What is truly amazing is that after he has excused America for not producing a great poet or artist because of lack of time rather than lack of innate ability, he then claims that there are no great black poets or artists is because the race is obviously incapable of it. He claims, "I think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and understanding the investigations of Euclid," while omitting to mention that none of them that he has met were ever given any sort of chance or motivation to do so. In some ways, Jefferson may have been a genius, but in others, he was a horse's ass.

Also, for someone known as an educated man and a scientist, Jefferson is remarkably ignorant of the history of science. He thinks that "Galileo was sent to the inquisition for affirming that the earth was a sphere; the government had declared it to be flat as a trencher, and Galileo was obliged to abjure his error." No--as I presume everyone reading this knows, Galileo got in trouble for saying the earth revolved around the sun, not vice versa. The Inquisition, the Church, and everyone with any education knew the earth was a sphere, particularly since Magellan's crew had circumnavigated it over a hundred years before Galileo.

To order Notes on the State of Virginia, with Related Documents from amazon.com, click here.


"The City Born Great" by N. K. Jemisin:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/30/2017]

"The City Born Great" by N. K. Jemisin (Tor.com, September 2016): In my opinion, this carries the metaphor of a city as a living being a bit too far, but your mileage may vary. Clearly, this is part of the new(-ish) trend toward more literary science fiction (fantasy?); it would never have appeared in the classic science fiction digests. Well, *possibly* THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, but even that seems iffy.


A HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS by N. K. Jemisin:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/03/2011]

Once again, I have some comments peripheral to a Hugo-nominated novel but not directly about the novel. The novel in question is A HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS by N. K. Jemisin (ISBN 978-0-316-04391-5).

My comments are primarily about how this book is being promoted. The use of initials immediately suggests that the author is female, and there is an attempt to hide this (as often used to be the case). It turns out that in this case, yes, the author is female, but the use of initials is an attempt by Jemisin to distance her career as an author from her already established career as a counselor. In this regard it is the same motivation as Harry Turtledove writing his historical fiction as H. N. Turteltaub--gender has nothing to do with it.

But when an article that appeared in the Barnes & Noble newsletter promoting this book was titled "The Next Coming of Octavia E. Butler: A Hundred Thousand Reasons to Read N. K. Jemisin", the immediate (and it turns out, correct) conclusion one draws is that Jemisin is black.

In his introduction to HOWARD WHO?, George R. R. Martin wrote, "We live in a derivative age, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the books we read. Every new horror writer is compared to Stephen King. Our fantasists all seem to write in the tradition of J. R. R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, or Stephen R. Donaldson. The hot young talents in SF are routinely proclaimed as the next Robert A. Heinlein, the new Isaac Asimov, the angriest young man since Harlan Ellison, unless they happen to be female, in which case they are dutifully likened to Andre Norton, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Marion Zimmer Bradley." Indeed, there was a book that compared one new author to all three of those female writers--writers who have little in common besides plumbing.

At Chicon 2000, there was a panel titled "Is This the Ebony Age of Science Fiction?" On it, Tananarive Due said that the "image of what a black writer should be" is limiting. And Maureen McHugh added that it would be "intensively naive" to lump all black writers together. But what is labeling Jemisin as the next Octavia Butler except an attempt to lump disparate authors together based entirely on melanin content?

It is true that Barnes & Noble attempts to show some similarities between the writings of Jemisin and of Butler. It says, "[T]here are subtle thematic similarities between Jemisin's novel ... and Butler's unfinished Parable trilogy," quotes a poem from Butler's work about how God is Change, and then says, "[A]lthough change is a significant theme in Jemisin's [work], it's only a part of the trilogy's underpinnings." But even the change that is there does not connect Jemisin to Butler any more than to most other speculative fiction--one might claim that change and its effects is one of the key elements of speculative fiction.

Reading Jemisin's work, I can see possible connections to various other writers, and Octavia Butler is not on the list. Why Barnes & Noble chose her seems obvious--and does not reflect well on their notion of a marketing campaign.

To order The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms from amazon.com, click here.


THE COUNTRY OF THE POINTED FIRS by Sarah Orne Jewett:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/03/2003]

Sometimes when you read a book, or the context in which you read it, can affect how you view it. For example, I just re-read Lisa Goldstein's TOURISTS as a bit of research on magical realism. I then read Sarah Orne Jewett's THE COUNTRY OF THE POINTED FIRS, a turn-of-the-century series of vignettes about coastal Maine. Though it certainly wasn't intended as magical realism (and indeed, the notion of magical realism hadn't been invented yet), it certainly read that way.

To order The Country of Pointed Firs and Other Stories from amazon.com, click here.


AT LAKE SCUGOG by Troy Jollimore:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/24/2013]

AT LAKE SCUGOG by Troy Jollimore (ISBN 978-0-691-14942-4) is in a genre I usually do not review: poetry. But it appeared on someone's "best of the year" list for its year (2011) and the poems were described as both philosophical and mathematical, so I decided to give it a try. (It took so long because I had to request it via inter-library loan and I tend to put that off.)

The very first poem, "The Solipsist", delivers on the promise of philosophical ideas, beginning:

Don't be misled: that sea-song you hear when the shell's at your ear? It's all in your head.

That primordial tide- the slurp and salt-slosh of the brain's briny wash- is on the inside.

...

In other words, everything is really all in your head.

(I am at a loss as to how much of a poem I can quote in a review. David Orr wrote about this in the New York Times in 2011 ("When Quoting Verse, One Must Be Terse")

As he said, "The difficulty is not so much that the copyright system is restrictive (although it can be), but that no one has any idea exactly how much of a poem can be quoted without payment. Under the "fair use" doctrine, quotation is permitted for criticism and comment, so you'd think this is where a poetry critic could hang his hat. But how much use is fair use?" Publishers seem to give answers varying from three or four lines to almost an entire poem. Giving a percentage figure (say, 5%) is problematic for short poems (for example, haiku).

For example, Mark wrote a haiku on his office door once:

Sorry, no haiku.
They will return soon. I am
Off on Vacation.
That is 62 characters; 5% would be "Sor".)

Further on, we get something worthy of Lewis Carroll in "Regret":

I'd like to take back my not saying to you those things that, out of politeness, or caution, I kept to myself. And, if I may - though this might perhaps stretch the rules -I'd like to take back your not saying some of the things that you never said, like "I love you" and "Won't you come home with me," or telling me, which you in fact never did, ... that try as you might, you could not imagine a life without me. ...

Jollimore does make a mathematical (and grammatical) error, though, in "Tom Thomson in Space", when he writes, "it treks where no man / (and even fewer women) have gone before ..." Clearly there cannot be fewer women than zero who have done something.

To order At Lake Scugog from amazon.com, click here.


IMPLOSION by D. F. Jones:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/02/2007]

Spurred by comments from various readers about books similar to CHILDREN OF MEN, I read IMPLOSION by D. F. Jones (no ISBN). Jones is better known as the author of COLUSSUS (made into COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT). The premise of IMPLOSION is that an Eastern European scientist is working on a way to get rid of rats. He comes up with a drug that vastly decreases the fertility of rats, and then his government decides to modify it to work on people. Why England is the target is a bit contrived, and the degree to which its use is limited as long as it is, will seem unlikely to modern readers. And the reaction of the English to the discovery that 80% of the female population is sterile, and to the measures imposed, seems very "well-behaved"--more like what one hears of their reaction to World War II than what it would probably be today. My main criticism is the depiction of women seems very sexist by today's standards (though rather Heinleinesque, I think). One finds characters saying things like, "A strong maternal woman is close to nature--she knows kids are her business--she knows too that Mother Nature produces nothing useless; yet a sterile women with strong maternal instincts is useless, and knows it. She feels useless--that's why some of 'em are so bitchy." Still, it is a novel of its time (1967) and quite worth reading if one keeps that in mind.

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THIS ISLAND EARTH by Raymond F. Jones:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/19/2009]

The book/movie discussion group chose THIS ISLAND EARTH by Raymond F. Jones (ISBN-13 978-1-584-45051-1, ISBN-10 1-584-45051-7) for this month. Mark claims that everything good in the book was in the movie, and vice versa, and he may be right. What is true is that the second half of the movie is very different from the book. In the movie, it turns out that the recruiting on Earth is to help the planet Metaluna fight an interplanetary war against another planet. In the book, the war is more widespread, and in fact Earth itself is going to be involved. This makes the title of the book--a reference to South Pacific islands that found themselves caught up in World War II knowing nothing about the war except that one side has landed on their island and told them to build an airstrip for them. Unfortunately, although the premise is better imagined in the book, it is not very well-developed. On the other hand, the movie may not hold together as well, but it is very interesting visually.

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COUNT DRACULA GOES TO THE MOVIES: STOKER'S NOVEL ADAPTED, 1922-1995 by Lyndon W. Joslin:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/03/2004]

Lyndon W. Joslin's COUNT DRACULA GOES TO THE MOVIES: STOKER'S NOVEL ADAPTED, 1922-1995 (ISBN 0-786-40698-4) is a fine book from McFarland, who publish many fine books. Anyone interested in how Bram Stoker's novel (and the Count) has been portrayed in films should get this book. Joslin does a very thorough job comparing the films with Stoker's book, and with each other, and with traditional folklore. (Montague Summers is often cited.) He does cover only the films based on the book--with the addition of the other films in the Universal and Hammer series--rather than all vampire films. However, this serves to focus the comparisons, and was (I think) a wise decision on Joslin's part. Highly recommended, but be warned--you're going to want to go back and watch these films again after reading about them.

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