As is the case with all great works of art, J. R. R. Tolkien‘s masterpieces generously repay close attention and study. In this thoroughly entertaining and perceptive volume, winner of the prestigious Mythopoeic Society Scholarship Award, Professor Kocher examines the sources that Tolkien drew upon in fashioning Middle-earth and its inhabitants-and provides valuable insights into the author’s aims and methods. Ranging from The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings to The Silmarillion and beyond, Master of Middle-earth opens the door to a deeper and richer appreciation of Tolkien’s magnificent achievement.
I became aware of this out-of-print book recently while listening to Season Three of the Prancing Pony Podcast. For my birthday, I decided to ‘splurge’ and purchase actual print books (which I haven’t done regularly in years because I prefer ebooks and audiobooks; the former because I can control the size of the font as my eyes age and the latter because I spend ninety minutes in a car five days a week). I found a reasonably priced used paperback edition if The Master of Middle-Earth along with a used paperback edition of A Tolkien Compass, edited by Jared Lobdell.
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Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C Clarke
Read by Peter Ganim
4 out of 5 stars
Original novel winner of the following awards: Hugo Award for Best Novel (1974), Nebula Award for Best Novel (1973), Locus Award for Best Novel (1974), British Science Fiction Association Award for Novel (1974), Jupiter Award for Best Novel (1974), Seiun Award for Best Foreign Novel (1980), John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1974)
Synopsis: At first, only a few things are known about the celestial object that astronomers dub Rama. It is huge, weighing more than ten trillion tons. And it is hurtling through the solar system at inconceivable speed. Then a space probe confirms the unthinkable: Rama is no natural object. It is, incredibly, an interstellar spacecraft. Space explorers and planet-bound scientists alike prepare for mankind’s first encounter with alien intelligence. It will kindle their wildest dreams…and fan their darkest fears. For no one knows who the Ramans are or why they have come. And now the moment of rendezvous awaits – just behind a Raman airlock door. Includes an exclusive introduction by Hugo Award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer
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To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
4 out of 5 stars
Read in June 2009
As Atticus said “Rape, riot and runaways” mixed together with prejudice and intolerance told from the eyes of a spunky young girl nicknamed Scout in 1930s Maycomb Alabama. The antics of the children, Scout, Jem and Dill, caused me to shake my head in wonder. But the adult antics merely sickened me, aside from the glimmering lights in the darkness of Atticus, Miss Maudie and Arthur Radley.
The story was well written and sparks discussion even today. Lest History repeat itself, I recommend this to everyone so that we can all be on guard against bigotry and discrimination.
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The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons
3.5 out of 5 stars
Read in January 2009
I liked this novel better than the first installment, Hyperion, and it probably rates 3.5 stars. After I sleep on it, I may up my rating to four stars, but for now it will sit comfortably at three stars.
We return to the story very nearly where we left off. Thankfully, Dan Simmons abandoned the Canterbury Tales frame tale format and returned to a more linear point of view. Linear is probably not the best word to fit a tale that spans time and space and the places that exist beyond and between both.
The Titanic struggle of survival of the human race unfolds in spurts through the dreams of Joseph Severn, the reincarnated cybrid that was formerly John Keats. His dreams are the real-time happenings across the galaxy, mostly focused on Hyperion, the stage for the final battle between man and machine.
It’s not until late in the novel that we learn the TechnoCore’s true plans to further enslave humanity to spur its evolution of the Universal Intelligence (an uber AI that is their created or perfected god). The TechnoCore tricks the Hegemony to committing two-thirds of its military to the Hyperion system and fakes a massive Ouster invasion on several key Web worlds. Their goal is to force the humans into the labyrinths, infecting them with the cruciform parasites (which resurrect and reconstruct the dead infinitely, eventually reducing the host to mental retardation but leaving the body and brain intact). The TechnoCore uses human brain/nerve cells for raw computing power and the UI will use the billions trapped in the labyrinth eternally, dooming humanity to slavery and imbecility.
Severn/Keats learns the location of the TechnoCore’s hidden home and relays the information to the CEO of the Hegemony. With only minutes to go before the TechnoCore unleashes a planetary purging via deathwand device aimed at Hyperion, the CEO orders the Web of farcasters destroyed (simultaneously across the galaxy), cutting off all travel and communications, but also destroying the TechnoCore’s haven. Humanity is left to recover without the crutches of TechnoCore technology and in some cases stranded on planets with little or no arable land. Humans learn to adapt and survive.
The irony or pun or twisted morale of the story seemed to hinge upon a literary device referred to as deus ex machina which I had to research to understand. Simmons took the translation quite literally and applied it unforgivingly to his creation.
I was relieved that Rachel was “cured” of her Merlin’s disease but disappointed in the revelation of her alternate identity.
Neuromancer by William Gibson
3 out of 5 stars
Read in December 2008
It was difficult to stay focused on this novel, its story and it’s characters. If I could, I would probably give this 2.5 stars rather than 3 stars, but I’ll be lenient since was a triple award winner in the 80s.
However, it really hasn’t stood the test of time well. If I had read this when published, which would have been my first year in college as an engineer/math/computer science college student, it would have been cutting edge, or more appropriately, bleeding edge.
But the character development was lost in the weird heist-like saga of these individuals thrown together by an immoral and immortal AI manipulating them and the world. It was sad that I couldn’t care what happened to them or their acquaintances or their world. Some of the action was top-notch, but much of their motivations were harsh, raw and confusing.
I can see where Hollywood has reworked this idea many times over the last two decades, most notably The Matrix and Johnny Mneumonic and a spattering of television episodes (a couple of X Files and a Lone Gunman one that I can remember off the top of my head).
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
5 out of 5 stars
Read in April 2009
This book is outstanding and well deserving of its many awards. Even better, it is classified as young adult fiction. And I hope one day, soon, The Book Thief is read and taught in classrooms around the world … because everyone should read this book.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to grow up and come of age in Nazi Germany during World War II? Not as a Jew, but as a German citizen – a foster child recently bereft of her younger brother.
Lisa’s coping mechanism is to steal books. In fact, her first theft occurs at her brother’s funeral. One of the cemetery workers drops The Gravediggers Handbook in the snow and Lisa snatches it up. Later, her new “papa” teachers her to read using this stolen book.
Her most daring theft occurred at a Hitler Youth Rally book burning. She rescued The Shoulder Shrug right out of the bonfire!
The story is narrated by Death who is the ultimate book thief. He stole Lisa’s autobiography when he collected her soul many years after the war. He has read her story so many times, the pages are crumbling in his hands. He admits at the end of the story that he no longer needs the pages because he’s memorized it from re-reading it so often.
I hope you will follow in Death’s footsteps and steal this book and remember it always.
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
3.5 out of 5 stars
Read in September 2009
A good adventure quest tale. A bit lacking in character development, but there were some heart-pounding scenes that made up for it. Towards the end, I almost had a sense deja vu, like I was reading Moonheart by DeLint, which got me thinking this could be classified as early urban fantasy.
As with most Young Adult fiction, the lines of good and evil are clearly drawn. Only one or two characters traversed the grey, pulling and tugging against the inevitable tides of either side.
Some blurbs and reviews have compared this novel’s moral message to the likes of C.S. Lewis or Tolkien, but I think that’s a stretch. Cooper never once made me laugh or cry, although she did get my pulse racing a few times.
Perhaps had I read this as at the age of twelve or before, I might view it differently.
That being said, I still recommend it as a good coming-of-age quest adventure tale.
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
4 out of 5 stars
Read in February 2009
During a long trip back and forth to Houston, Texas this past weekend, I listened to the audio book version The Sparrow. The narrator, David Colacci, did a fairly good job of narrating. Some of his voice characterizations were too similar to distinguish between the individuals in a heated debate or conversation. I particularly disliked his female voice impersonations. It was at times difficult to hear some of the dialogue, which was whispered, over the high decibel level in a vehicle without increasing the volume so much that the next person to speak was shouting, literally, through my car stereo speakers.
The story is a first contact story but also a journey of faith for one man – Emilio Sandoz. The story starts at the end and bounces back and forth on two separate time-lines until convergence and revelation are achieved at the end. This literary device is one of my favorites so I enjoyed the pacing and enlightenment immensely.
I plan to read the sequel, Children of God, as many others have recommended it as the completion and fullness of Emilio’s story.