Category Archives: Books

Friday Notes (Dec 31, 2021)

Welcome to a special edition of Friday Notes. This isn’t just the end of the week or even just of the month (although both are true). It’s also the end of the year!

So this edition of Notes is a reflection on a kind of weird year.

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“King”: FKA USA

Yesterday I finished FKA USA (2019), by “Reed King” — a pseudonym of a “New York Times bestselling author and TV writer.” It was a new book at my library, and the blurb about it concluded, “FKA USA is the epic novel we’ve all be waiting for about the American end of times, […] It is a masterwork of ambition, humor, and satire with the power to make us cry, despair, and laugh out loud all at once. It is a tour de force unlike anything else you will read this year.”

Sounded good. It had a long wait list, so I put it on hold back in mid-October. It became available in mid-December. It weighs in at over 1000 e-pages, so it’s taken me a few days to finish. The length is one reason though. I didn’t find the book to be much of a page-turner, and I’m afraid I skimmed bits of the last chapters.

Victoria wasn’t amused; I wasn’t engaged. Or amused.

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VanderMeer: Annihilation

I originally planned this Sci-Fi Saturday post as a positive review of the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, but Burns really nailed it about plans “gang aft agley.” I’ll tell you right now I bailed about halfway through the second book because I wasn’t enjoying the read, was utterly bored by the story, and had found VanderMeer’s writing style annoying from the beginning.

So this isn’t a positive review, but I’m willing to credit much of the lack of connection on my taste, both with regard to content and to writing style. The author and the trilogy are held in high regard, and I don’t at all dispute the quality of the storytelling. It’s just not for me.

His Wiki page says he’s compared to Borges and Kafka (which seems apt), and I’ve never cared that much for their writing, either.

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Zer0s and Burning Roses

I’ve been a voracious reader all my life, and as much as my college career pointed towards one in movies or TV, I’ve always ranked books as vastly superior. Put it this way: Although I once presumed (and still do) to be worthy of making TV shows or movies, I’ve never felt skilled enough — or driven enough — to write fiction.

Which no doubt contributes to my admiration and appreciation of those who can pull me into their fictional world and entertain, educate, or enlighten me with only their words (no score, no images, no editing).

Last week I read Zer0s (2015), by Chuck Wendig, and Burning Roses (2020), by S.L. Huang, and thoroughly enjoyed both. In fact, I gulped down both of these fast-paced (and very different) adventures in single sittings. Both would make pretty good movies, too.

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Ellis: The Truth of the Divine

Last year I read and very much enjoyed Axiom’s End (2020), a debut novel by film critic and YouTuber Lindsay Ellis. It’s the first book of her Noumena series, which is about powerful aliens showing up on an unsuspecting Earth. It made the New York Times Best Seller list and generated a fair amount of favorable attention.

Earlier this year I preordered the second book, The Truth of the Divine (2021), and it finally dropped last month. I had high hopes and much anticipation about where Ellis would take her story. Sadly, I found myself sorely disappointed by this second installment. This isn’t a positive review.

For balance I’ll mention two books I did enjoy, Neuromancer (1984), by William Gibson, and a new comedy by David Brin.

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Butler: Kindred

Not long ago I posted All the Christie as a follow-up to an earlier post about Agatha Christie. I’d read her when I was younger but only realized what an extraordinary writer (and person) she was when I revisited her work recently.

In contrast, I knew Octavia E. Butler only by reputation and some short stories I’d read. This past August I finally set out to correct this egregious oversight for a serious science fiction fan. As it turned out, I sat down to a delicious feast by another extraordinary cook. I relished every crumb, from appetizer to dessert. (I even shamelessly licked the plate.)

The dessert was her finest (and most popular) dish, Kindred (1979). Continue reading


Butler: Parable Series

This past August I posted about Octavia E. Butler, a highly regarded science fiction author I finally got around to exploring. Now that I’ve read all her work (but for one novel), I’ve gone from being very impressed to being slightly in awe. Her reputation is very well deserved.

Recently I finished her two-book Parable series, Parable of the Sower (1993) and Parable of the Talents (1998). It’s the story of a woman’s lifelong journey building what she names Earthseed, a modern religion with a concrete goal.

What blew my mind, though, was how eerily prescient her President Jarret was of our POTUS45. Nailed it — including the infamous slogan.

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Wilczek: Fundamentals

I just finished Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality (2021), by Frank Wilczek. It’s yet another book explaining fundamental physics for lay readers, and it does so pretty much entirely within the bounds of mainstream science. I enjoyed reading it, but it’s mainly a review of physics as we know it.

I saw it on the library’s list of new books and put it on hold back on May 14th. It didn’t become available until September 3 — more than a three-month wait. Apparently lots of people wanted to read it.

Bottom line, I recommend it as an easy and enjoyable read, especially for those with a more casual interest in physics.

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Monday the Blogger Posted

The last few months I’ve been dipping into the Rabbi Small murder mysteries, which are written by author and professor of English Harry Kemelman (1908–1996). The series is in the Amateur Sleuth sub-genre. In this case the amateur who is constantly solving murders is a Jewish rabbi.

The Tony Hillerman books (Leaphorn and Chee) are filled with Navajo background. The Jonathan Gash books (Lovejoy) are filled with antiques background. The Lawrence Block books (Bernie the burglar) are filled with burglary background. In all cases, this background enriches the reading and can be educational (the Hillerman books especially).

Harry Kemelman’s books are enriched by all the Jewish background.

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Smolin: Time Reborn

I’ve been reading science texts almost as long as I’ve been reading anything. Over those years, many scientists and science writers have taught me much of what I know about science. (Except for a Computer Science minor, and general science classes, most of my formal education was in the Liberal Arts.)

Recently I read Time Reborn (2013), by Lee Smolin, a theoretical physicist whose personality and books I’ve enjoyed. I don’t always agree with his ideas, but I’ve found I do tend to agree with his approaches to, and overall sense of, physics.

However in this case I almost feel Smolin, after long and due consideration, has come around to my way of thinking!

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