Not Just Another Grouchy Grammarian

Musings about language, books, grammar, and writing in general

Archive for the month “February, 2018”

The Ship That Armed Herself

I recently received an advanced reading copy of Gareth L. Powell’s new book Embers of War, the first book of a new trilogy. The ship, Trouble Dog, whose brain has been created partly from human cells, has gotten disgusted with war and has resigned her commission and joined a rescue operation. Having been decommissioned, she has had the bulk of her weaponry removed, keeping only defensive weapons. While on a rescue mission, Trouble Dog acquires two passengers, also on a rescue mission. They are looking for a poet who vanished when the ship she was a passenger on was shot down.

There are complications. The two passengers Trouble Dog picks up are intelligence agents for opposite sides of a struggle that has been going on for years. The new medic barely has enough training to change a band-aid and suffers from homesickness. The ship’s mechanic, an alien, understands everything except people. The one actual crew member the captain has dislikes many of the decisions she makes. And those are just the handicaps Captain Sal Konstanz starts out with. Oh, yes, and she might be facing reprimand, demotion, or expulsion from the service for a decision she made while attempting a rescue prior to the current mission.

So, you can see there is plenty of dramatic tension here.

Powell is a powerful writer, His writing is spare, with no wasted words and little embellishment. He gives us the straight story, harsh as it may be. His war is not romantic; it’s ugly – the way real war is ugly. It has needless deaths, wasted potential, and exposes the legacies of war – and not just the war in the book. It makes you think about the legacies that we live with today from past wars and the possible legacies of wars that may be all too damned close to happening in the near future.

It’s a good book. It makes you think. The characters are well-drawn. The writing is transparent and does not get in the way of the story. Oh, and did I mention it makes you think? You should read this book even if military SF​ is not your thing. You may not love it; it may make you uncomfortable; still, you should read this book.

The press release that accompanied Embers of War likened it to “Firefly meets Ancillary Justice.” I would compare it to crossing Anne McCaffrey’s “The Ship Who…” books crossed with David Feintuch’s “Seafort Saga” series (which is one of the best examples of military sf that I have read).

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An Interesting Challenge

I don’t normally do shout-outs of publishers, but I would like to call your attention​ to two publishers – one in the U.S., one in Britain – who have taken up a challenge.

First, the challenge: In 2015, a British Pakistani writer named Kamila Shamsie came up with a challenge for publishers: publish only books by women for a year. She wrote the following:

“I’m going to assume that the only people who really doubt that there is a gender bias going on are those who stick with the idea that men are better writers and better critics. Enough … Why not have a year of publishing women: 2018, the centenary of women over the age of 30 getting the vote in the UK, seems appropriate.”

It was taken up for 2018 by one British publishing house​: And Other Stories, based in Sheffield. The challenge has now also been taken up by Oregon’s Not A Pipe Publishing.

I think both publishers​ are doing something really good by taking up this challenge, and I am looking forward to reading the books they will put ut this year. I promise to review the books here ​and to keep folks up to date on how the publishers are doing while taking this challenge.

Book Riot’s READ HARDER Challenge and GOODREADS Reading Challenge Update #6

So. I still have six books to read for the Book Riot Challenge. Reading has been going a bit more slowly this week, as I have been a bit under the weather.

Book #28 (Goodreads Challenge): Karen S. Bell’s Brooklyn Rhapsody is a quick, pleasant, easy read. It’s pretty much a vignette about a single woman living in Brooklyn, who is dealing with family who cannot see any of her accomplishments unless she manages to get married.

Book #29 (Both Challenges): I had Gabourey Sidibe’s This Is Just My Face: Try Not To Stare on my TBR queue for a while now, so when I needed a celebrity memoir it seemed like a good choice. It was. Ms. Sidibe has a very refreshing viewpoint, and she openly discusses things that shaped her, both for good and bad. The one thing I was not so pleased about is that she still seems to need to make the jokes about herself before others might do so. Then again, that is a skill that many of us who are different learn, and it’s a damned hard one to break.

Book #30 (Goodreads Challenge): Gareth L. Powell’s Embers of War is a solid, thought-provoking piece of military sf. It reads like a cross between Ann McCaffrey’s “The Ship Who…” books and David Feintuch’s “The Seafort Saga” books. IT makes you think; it does not sugar-coat its tale of war’s legacies, and it does not shrink from calling things what they are. You really want to read this book, even if military sf is not your normal beat.

Book #31 (Goodreads Challenge): Haldane Macfall’s Vigee Le Brun is an interesting short biography of painter Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. I read this for a project I’m involved with, and it was interesting enough to keep me going, even though the language is a bit odd. Written in 1922, the language is more than a bit flowery, and I get the feeling that the writer was off by a hair when using certain words to describe things. Still, if you like artist biographies, this one is worth exploring. It was a quick read (less than a morning) and covered the life of a fascinating woman who spent twelve years after the French Revolution as an exile and an official enemy of the State. The book also has colored illustrations of some of her works, and those are a true delight.

I am in the process of rereading one of my favorite books – Steve Allen’s marvelous “Dumbth”: The Lost Art of Thinking With 101 Ways to Reason Better & Improve Your Mind, and will report on that next time. After that, I will get back to my other reading challenge.

Westlake Strikes Again!

One of the pleasures of reading is discovering gems one had not known about by writers one adores. Such is Help I Am Being Held Prisoner, by Donald E. Westlake. Those of you who know me know that Westlake’s Dancing Aztecs is one of my favorite books. Well, this one isn’t far behind it.

The book tells the story of Harry Künt, a practical joker who is imprisoned after one of his jokes goes horribly wrong, wrecking twenty cars, and injuring – among others – three children, and two Congressmen (who were sharing a car with some unmarried ladies). He mostly does well in prison, becoming accepted by one of the toughest groups there, after which he finds out that he is expected to help plan and execute the robbery of two banks — while in prison, which seems to be the ultimate in alibis. Like all of the best Westlake books, this one careens along like a cyclist on meth.

Complications arise. Of course, they do. It wouldn’t be a Westlake book otherwise. In this case, the main complication is that Künt is not the only practical joker in the prison. Someone keeps pulling jokes that it looks like Künt pulled, and he keeps getting in trouble with the warden. This also keeps him from having to actually take part in several failed or thwarted attempts at robbing the banks. Eventually, however, one of the robberies succeeds – at least mostly — after all, this is a Westlake book. Unfortunately, shortly after that, so does another prank that looks like Kunt was responsible. Künt needs to find the prankster before he ends up off all privileges and has to spend the rest of his sentence in solitary.

This is definitely a fun read and just the thing for a quiet evening. You may even find yourself laughing out loud, as you root for Künt and his friends to succeed. I know I was.

Book Riot’s READ HARDER Challenge and GOODREADS Reading Challenge Update #5

And here we go again – another round of books for my two reading challenges.

Book #21 (Both Challenges): The task was to “read an assigned book you hated or never finished.” I had vague memories of Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome during the same term I had to read Willa Cather’s My Antonia. So I tossed a coin and Frome won out. While it is not a fun book, being about the inability to escape one’s responsibilities, it was a very well-written one. I was surprised at how easily it read, given the subject matter. I can’t say I would recommend it for light reading, but if you are interested in the classics, this is a good one to read. In fact, it was sufficiently good that I may very well give My Antonia another try!

Book #22 (Both Challenges): I wish I could say the same for the next book on my list. The task was to “read a book with a cover you hate.” I had wanted to try some Henry David Thoreau, specifically because I could not get into Walden back when I was in college, so I figured I would try a shorter work, Walking. I was underwhelmed. I thought I would enjoy this piece because I love walking – before I became disabled, I would walk three to five miles a day just for the hell of it. For Thoreau, however, walking seems less an enjoyment than a political statement. The bulk of the piece is spent eschewing civilization and its comforts. For me, a devout city walker (I do live in New York, one of the best walking cities in the world), this is so far outside my wheelhouse that I can’t wrap my brain around it. Oh, well, I suppose they can’t all be winners.

Book #23 (Goodreads Challenge): My ex and I were discussing this past month’s obituaries and – of course – Sue Grafton was included. He noted that he had come across an interesting bit of info in one of the obituaries about her: She said that she had gotten the idea for her Kinsey Millhone series by reading Edward Gorey’s The Ghastlycrumb Tinies. I had not read this, so he pointed me to a free PDF version. It’s a very quick read, and if you like Gorey’s twisted sense of humor you will enjoy it.

Book #24 (Goodreads Challenge): One thing I love to do is review books, as you may have noticed. Occasionally, a publisher will send me an advanced reading copy, such as Help I Am Being Held Prisoner, by Donald E. Westlake. This is a rerelease of an old Westlake book by Hard Case Crime, Like all the best Westlake books, it careens along at ludicrous speed (See Spaceballs). While a more in-depth review will follow on the publication date, the book involves a practical joker who ends up in prison as a result of one of his jokes going horribly wrong. He falls in with one of the “bad” groups of the prison and is compelled to assist in planning and executing the robbery of two banks — while still in prison. Definitely a fun read, and worth the time spent. If you like books with a cast of oddball characters, this is one you will love.

Book #25 (Goodreads Challenge): Got a lovely little surprise this morning while managing the books on my Kindle – a little gem of a story from one of my favorite writers – the absolutely charming Lawrence Block. It’s called Who Knows Where It Goes?, and has all the things I like about Block’s stories. It’s well-written and depicts how easily a plain, prosaic man can accept work that is inherently evil in order to maintain his lifestyle. Pretty much anything by Block is worth reading, and this is no exception.

Book #26 (Goodreads Challenge): I was going through the backlist on my Kindle, and found Nancy Nahra’s quick, little hagiographic book, Jacqueline Kennedy: First Lady in Courage. It was just okay, not noting anything new to me about its subject.

Book #27 (Both Challenges): The Woman in the Window, by A.J.Finn was another recommendation from the forums for the Book Riot Challenge. It actually was a page-turner of the best kind – twist upon twist, with elements of many of the old black and white movies the heroine loved so much. This is not to say that the protagonist is likable – she’s not really. However, the story has so many interesting turns that I don’t recommend starting this book before bedtime – I was up all night reading it.

And that is it for this entry, I think. I am six books away from finishing the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. We’ll see how long it will take me to accomplish that – possibly in the next entry or the one after that.

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