Friday, October 31, 2014

Review: The Goblin Emperor


The Goblin Emperor

By Katherine Addison
Tor Books
Published 2014
448 pages
Hardcover $19.70
kindle $10.99
Paperback $8.09
ISBN 978-0765326997

The protagonist of The Goblin Emperor is Maia, fourth son of the emperor of Elfland. He and his goblin mother were cast-off by his elfin father. But the sudden death of the emperor (and his heirs) in a nasty airship accident has thrust Maia back into a court that was not expecting a half-goblin to rule over it. Maia, who has lived in uneducated exile, now has to learn what he should have been learning all along — court etiquette, clan alliances, court laws and politics, dance moves, imperial behavior.

Maia is one of the best characters I’ve encountered in a while. He’s kind-hearted, tolerant, self-loathing (because of his dark skin), apologetic about his existence, and full of insecurity. He’s confused about everything and his intellectual growth is the same as the reader’s because we are as lost in this world as Maia is. More so. Luckily for Maia— perhaps too luckily— he is surrounded by a few relatives, courtiers, and councilors who are willing to help him in a court which largely belittles and despises him. And this is one of the serious miscalculations of the novel.

The Goblin Emperor contains whole sections that cause one’s eyes to glaze over. There are other sections where a reader simply rolls her eyes. First, the eye-rolling. There are a whole mess of Wish-fulfillment characters in this book. All are placed in the right places to make our main character feel better about himself. I have nothing against wish fulfillment characters but Horatio is a good wishfulfillment character to Hamlet, Prince Idra is not a good character for Maia. Prince Idra pretty much takes the words out of Maia’s mouth whenever they are talking.  While the emperor has many enemies out to get him, he also has a whole bastion of people whose existence are made wonderfully better because he has arrived in their lives. Worse yet, the characters who dislike the emperor are “bad,” worthy of (the reader’s) mockery, unenlightened, greedy, or weak. Yep. whoever loves the emperor is incredibly good. And because Maia likes and approves of certain oppressed people we know he is good because he is politically-correct for the reader. There are feminist-agenda storylines that don’t actually matter to the plot. They seem thrown in to make the emperor look “good” and progressive or because the author seemingly had to get all her agenda stuff off her chest. I mean “all.” This easy delineation of good characters versus bad characters is so judgmental, easy, and childish that
one can only endure it and keep reminding one’s self that this is a flaw of many newbie writers with passionate convictions who don’t believe they’ll have another chance to get all their stories out in other published books. Trust me, I know whereof I speak. When I first began writing, I was tempted to do this kind of thing but luckily my friends slapped some sense into me.    

The oldfashioned feminism creates pages of sorrowful wimpy princesses who “want to study the stars” but are forced to marry, noble good homosexual former priest who are being blackmailed, and lesbian princesses who run away from home to become sea captains.

As for eyes glazing over: The worldbuilding is a mess and is not integrated into the story as well as it should be. I’ve always thought that a good world-builder should also be a good teacher, specifically a good language teacher. The reader should be dropped into a novel like an immigrant dropped into a large city. Utterly confused but with enough clues to fend for ourselves.  This book is overly complicated and doesn’t have that teacher sensibility. And no, the glossary in the back is not that helpful.

For one, the language and naming system get in the way. I’m all for inventing new languages and names but information should not be continually thrown at the reader at breakneck speed on every page of the book.  And, if they are being thrown at us, they should really be part of the plot. It often feels that the author throws information at the reader in memo form and almost as an aside. Casual backstories are jockeyed around as self-contained or extended anecdotes. And again, they often have nothing to do with the main plot, which makes the main plot somewhat thin.

Even with all this glut of information, the world-building is insufficient. It’s as if the author’s priorities were in the wrong place. So much is left unclear. The only difference I can see between elves and goblins is that elves are white and goblins are black. I don’t know the difference between elves and men or if men really matter in this world. The magic and fantasy are inconsistent. A conversation with the dead here. An airship there. But for the most part the racial issues between elves and goblins weren’t really explored.

The book is a strange compelling combination of the confusing and the simplistic. I say compelling because although I found this book incredibly confusing more on this later I couldn’t put it down.

While I’m not a feminist, I do agree with some of their tenets. I admire some authors’ goodwill toward black folks, equality, etc., but sometimes I cringe when I see token Black women or Magical Negroes. While it is good to have allies, sometimes those allied to our cause can be frustrating. Bad Feminist fiction is often reductionist and The Goblin Emperor  often seem to exist primarily as a vehicle to carry an agenda. Gay rights is a large part of the feminist movement but the presence of Magical/Suffering Homosexual might make some gay folks cringe. The blackmailed suffering homosexual snippet was particularly egregious because the author’s desire to show how much gay folks have suffered at the hands of conservative people not only doesn’t fit into the story but she leaves the reader wondering if the author thinks homosexuality is unnatural, given the elffolk and goblins reaction to it.  Why not just create an elfworld where homosexuality is normal? Unless this is a specific branch of Judeo-Christian elves out there, this is a case of the agenda missing its mark. I’m thinking of Kari Sperring’s fine fantasy novel, Living With Ghosts which had homosexual characters and of Sylvia Kelso’s Amberlight, which is a feminist fantasy novel which does not fall into typical feminist tropes. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Review: The End, My Friend by Kirby Wright

The End, My Friend
 by Kirby Wright 
ISBN 978-0974106793

In Kirby Wright's The End, My Friend, the powers that be have come undone. National and local laws have crumbled. Militias, warlords, and gang-leaders rule the streets.And Tony and Eva have to get away from it all. 

They have to get out of the city and into the safe areas, Oregon for instance. Other humans are dangerous, and yet it would be great to find allies one could trust.

This is a futuristic story without any science fiction or supernatural events. It's the author's image of a possible scenario -- the USA after economic and governmental collapse. The author assumes --probably rightly-- that if the US ever had a meltdown, there would be looting, murdering, raping, and mayhem throughout the larger cities and danger on the highways. The country would be full of badlands and bad guys with only a few safe regions. 

The first two or three chapters have a distinctively "real" feel. But then, the author does something with his characters which some readers may not like. The story, which had felt like a mainstream novel suddenly becomes a bit stylized. Not entirely, but a bit. The characters speak and do things that characters in a noir novel might do.  Think Mad Max meets Sin City. It's not a bad thing, and it certainly will not mar the book for those who like hip larger-than-life characters. Evo is tough, but for those who like to see regular folks in novels, she is way too tough. She is a broad, a dame, a femme fatale, if necessary. And the conversations between the characters are a bit too tough-guy lingo. 

This is a good book, a novel filled with suspense and disturbing insights into the American psyche.  But the hipsterification of the main characters and the stereotyping of some of the Big Bads they encounter reduces the impact. Recommended. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Review NKJV Study Bible -- Full Color Edition


If you like the KJV translation of the Bible and you have a strong shoulder, the NKJV Study Bible: The Complete Resource for Studying God's Word -- Full Color Edition is a good one for you. This thing is heavy, familiar (because it retains the cadences and modernized version of the good-old-KJV), and very insightful.

This Bible has the usual Book Introductions, and outlines, cultural notes, charts, maps, and diagrams that one finds in all study Bibles.  Those are all good but what totally blows me away is its other features which show a thoroughness that just thrills me.

The Bible is set up as follows:
A Foreword which lists all that is contained in the Bible, A Table of Contents of the entire Bible, Special Abbreviations, Preface to the New King James Version. After this, there is an article entitled "How to Understand What the Bible Means by What It Says." This is a neat little article by Earl D. Radmacher which everyone who reads the Bible should read.  It depicts a four-part process: Word Focus, Word Relations, Context, and Culture.

Then there is a listing of  the Books of the Bible entitled "Books of the Old and New Testament", a list of Articles, List of Bible Times and Culture Notes, List of Charts and Diagrams, List of In-Text Maps, List of Word Studies. These lists  show the titles and pages of the articles scattered throughout the Bible. Thus the List of Articles contain articles in all the Bible books.

For instance, the articles in Psalms are: The Poetry of the Psalms, Image of God: His Reflection in Us, Psalms on Creation, Psalms of Lament, Royal Psalms, Two Sides of the Coin, The Messiah in the Psalms, Psalms of the Passover, The Sanctity of Life: Created in His Image.

The Bible Times and Culture Notes section lists the historical, geographical, and cultural illustrations and notes.  The same goes for the Charts and Diagrams, Maps and Words Studies sections.
The Bible Itself: Then The Old Testament. After this, there is the Harmony of the Gospels, which shows how the gospel passages work together. The New Testament.

Then the Table of Monies, Weights, and Measures, Teachings and Illustrations of Christ, Prophecies of the Messiah Fulfilled in Christ, The Parables of Jesus Christ, The Miracles of Jesus Christ, Prayers of the Bible, Subject Index to Annotations and Features, Concordance, Map Index, Maps.

This is a really good Study Bble. One of the best.

First of all, The NKJVStudy Bible includes verse by verse study notes. Yes, every verse has a commentary. In certain books such as the psalms, even chapters have commentary! These notes even have cross-references. Not just a few perfunctory ones, mind you! In addition, there are cross-references in the middle of each page. Included in the notes sections are also inset boxes with Word Studies, vocabulary definitions and explanations of translations based on Strong's dictionary. The notes on the verses have an academic feel but also feel very human. The writers really went all out and mined all the Bible verses for meaning.
The chapters in the Bible are divided with sub-headings which are always useful i.e. Balaam's First Prophecy, Balaam's Second Prophecy, Balaam's Third Prophecy.

The Subject Index and Concordance are very good and should be useful to most people.

If I have anything to whne about -- and I often find something to whine about when it comes to Bibles-- it's a very small complaint. And it seems odd to complain about it seeing the NKJV goes over and above most Study Bibles. But here goes: They include a page called Prayers of the Bible. Now, they didn't have to include this page. Most Study Bibles don't. But if they are going to include it, I think they should've been less perfunctory about it. Considering the amount of work done with the rest of the Bible, the scantness of this list is appalling. I suppose they could have said, "SOME" of the Prayers of the Bible. Then I would've been pleased. But they missed the boat on that one. For instance, they listed only three prayers by Paul. Anyone who has read the epistles know there are much more than that. Even if Paul only says, "I bend the knee and ask the Father..." it's still a prayer, right?

This is the Full Color Edition. The color is useful for illustrations, photographs, maps, etc for the most part but they are also used with the sub-headings in the chapters. Interestingly, the words of Christ are not in red letter. . .which I half-expected. A lot of people like that. And if they were going full-color, that would've been easy enough to do.  The font is not n large print but it is readable by most folks. And I suspect if they had made the font any larger the book would be a back-breaking labor to carry around.

I like this Bible a lot and highly recommend it. I won't be carrying it to church though. Although I like the NKJV I will continue carrying my Gardener's NIV Bible to church. Because I've already started marking that one up and because it is way less heavy. Anyway, a highly recommended Bible. So far, my favorite Bibles have been

NIV Integrated Study Bible, NIV Spirit-Filled Bible, the One-A-Day Chronological Bible, the NIV Gardner's Bible, and this one.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Review: City of Stairs

City of Stairs

by Robert Jackson Bennett
Broadway Books
Published 2014
464 pages
ISBN: 978-0804137171
Paperback $9.49
Kindle $7.99

The City of Stairs “boasts” a perfect heroine. By the third chapter I knew how special this particular snowflake was and that set my impatience in motion. City of Stairs is a cross genre — detective and fantasy novel. I wasn’t too displeased about the author using detecting as a means of examining the culture. But I did get annoyed that our heroine always had the answer for everything. Mary Sue perfection in the extreme.

Imagine a continent whose indigenous population —and whose gods— have been defeated by a smaller nation they had formerly enslaved.  The conquerors, the Saypuris, have no gods and they have done what all imperialistic nations do: they’ve removed almost all traces of the Continental’s gods from the public sphere. However, one cannot erase history or a culture’s nostalgic attachment to its deities. Thus, secret adherents to the old gods still persist. As do many “miracles.”  Religious extremists, called Restorationists, are going around fomenting riots. The miracles are also problematic because they really shouldn’t be happening without a god operating them.

When the novel begins, an important Saypuri historian has been assassinated. He had a special love of Continental culture and seemed to have stumbled upon something that cost him his life. Are the Restorationists behind his murder? Are the gods and the Restorationists working together? Heck, are the gods still around? And if they are, what do they want? And do we —the reader— really want these gods around?

Now this is where the book and I began to part. I also will have to part ways with readers who consider religion evil. Yep, there are many things in this book which I dislike which readers might actually love. So, here goes.

True, the Continentals have a very backward attitude toward women and homosexuals. But as a dark-skinned religious woman, I’m hard-wired to be on the side of the religious Continentals. I dislike imperialists even if the heroine is imperialistic lite and “admires” the religion of the conquered Continentals. She’s not scornful but she is smug and patronizing. And she has taken on the imperialist burden of  preventing a culture from finding its past. Let me confess that as a kid I was always on the “Indians’ side” whenever I watched cowboy movies. I always rooted for the monster to win when I watched Creature Features. And no matter how weird the religion was in any film or book —nonfiction or fictional— if they were battling atheists, I was always on the side of the religious characters. Religion, history, and politics make strange bedfellows.

Seeing this is my personality, I ploughed through the story, knowing that I was really just being peevish. I tried to give the novel a chance. But a rich effete closeted gay aristocrat whose cultural politics and religion is ruled by his sexuality, a tough-as-nails ball-buster female governor, a brawny Hagrid-like bodyguard from the north, and an ignorant emotional judgmental misogynist religious conservatives Big Bad were all stereotypes I had to wade through. Funny thing though: I couldn’t stop reading because of the fantastic worldbuilding.

The worldbuilding and the detective story go perfectly well together. Our stereotypically open-minded and plucky heroine is up for her task of discovering all that is left of Continental history and destroying it. The way the world is built, the history and ramifications of each deity’s power, the social implications of cultural war —and the interactions of the various religions — were so well-drawn, they were amazing! The worldbuilding made for a good book.

Still, ultimately, the “war against the gods” thing irked me. Again, it probably won’t irk most secular-thinking scifi/fantasy readers but the whole “Who watches the Watchers” Star-trekking of religion can really bother a conservative religious person. So, excellent book. But not for me. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Review: NIV Once a day Bible Chronological Edition

NIV Once a Day Bible -- Chronological Edition
Paperback: 1280 pages
Publisher: Zondervan; Special edition (October 31, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 9780310950950
ISBN-13: 978-0310950950
Paperback $13.98
Kindle $10.99

It's been a while since I've read the Bible from cover to cover. If you're a Bible reader like me, you end up reading certain sections over and over in your daily devotionals and avoiding others. So it's good, every other year or so to read through the Bible.

This time around, hubby and I are using the NIV ONCE A DAY BIBLE (Chronological Edition) and I was so pumped to order it from Zondervan for review. Reading the Bible chronologically would be a fun way to read it. Plus the fact that certain chapters are assigned to you -- Day One had my hubby and I reading Genesis 1 through Genesis 4-- keeps you on track. There are also reflections at the end of each "day."

Day 4 is when the chronological aspect kicks in.  In this case, Day 4 begins with the Book of Job, after the mention of Haran, Nahor, and Abram in Genesis 11. Job is placed in a different position in this book than in the NIV Integrated Bible. Understandable because although we know Job is the oldest book in the Bible, no one is really sure where in the timeline it fits. So one chronological Bible might place Job after Ishmael, another after Abram. It's not a big deal but it does subtly shift our understanding of Job and one is tempted to ask, "Is Job a descendant of Abram through Ishmael or not? OR is he just some other non-related person living around that time?" This Chronological Bible is done by the folks at Walk Through the Bible, a group I highly respect so I won't whine.

Other differences is that this is how the Bible books are integrated. But again, that is about the art of the editor. Interestingly, the historical books are merged and interwoven very well with the psalms and the prophets, and the epistles are interwoven with the book of Acts, but the books of the Torah, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and the first seventeen chapters or I Samuel (everything before Day 103) are pretty much left alone and unintegrated into the larger chronology. I like the NIV Integrated Bible a bit better because with the integrated Bible similar passages found in Leviticus, Exodus, or Deuteronomy were placed beside each other.  

There is a chronological index with the readings for each day so if you wish to avoid certain books, you can. I always avoid the books of Ezra and Nehemiah but now that they're all woven in with Daniel, Esther, a couple of psalms, and Zechariah, I guess I'll have to read them.

There are reflections at the end of each day. They are not particularly insightful, but they aren't useless either.  I would think that anyone reading the Bible chronologically would probably already have studied their Bible so deeper Biblical insights might be needed. Or even commentary about the chronological events. But why be picky? IT's a good edition and it's actually a fun way to go through the Bible.

Like all chronological Bibles, this is not to be one's sole Bible. Bible books are separated, split up, and interwoven into other books. The psalms, for instance, are all over the place. So, this is definitely a supplemental Bible.

All in all, this is a really good Bible and a fun way to read through the Bible. My only nit is the type size. The print is readable but still a bit too tiny. True this is a paperback but even so. Little old ladies read paperbacks. I shouldn't complain because the paperback isn't expensive. Recommended.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Review: In Capable Arms by Sarah Kovac



In Capable Arms
by Sarah Kovac

I generally don't like Christian non-fiction. I find much of it dishonest or preachy...especially autobiographical books.

But In Capable Arms is an incredibly pleasant exception.

This is the bio of Sarah Kovac who was born with arthrogryposis, a condition that occurs in about one in every 3000 births where the arms are pretty much useless.

Kovac tells about her experiences growing up and coming to terms physically, culturally, emotionally, and theologically with this disability. She writes about the shame and fear she went through and continues to go through. As this is a book written by a Christian, she also writes about her faith and about the theological, doctrinal issues and platitudes she went through

It is also a story about family, about marriage, and motherhood. The writer's depiction of her parents' parenting philosophy, her own fears of being a capable mother, and her journey to self-acceptance will touch anyone even if the reader does not have a disability.

This book is recommended for everyone, disabled or not, who have had to battle to gain self-acceptance or who has had struggles which make them feel "abnormal." The writer is insightful and shows the philosophical and emotional pitfalls that those with any kind of life struggle might fall into.   There are little insets with questions that the reader may journal about. These attempts at interacting with the reader seemed slightly intrusive and a perfunctory attempt to a kind of self-help book for Christian women's group. The journal questions really don't quite work. Either they should not have been included or they editors should have prepared more questions, surveys, reading guide, or commentaries.

However, the inclusion of some kind of reading guide is habitual with some Christian non-fiction. Some readers will like the inclusion and may find the journal questions useful.  Recommended.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian, by Andy Weir


Andy Weir has managed to create an exciting book about numbers. The Martian is a fun book. It’s a quirky book with an engaging main character, but it is not a perfect book.


Its perfection lies in the fact that the main character is as much an alien to the reader as he is to the world he finds himself in. He is an earther stuck on an inhospitable planet where he faces starvation, death by cold, death by thirst if he is not rescued. But he is also an alien -- a martian if you will-- because unlike the rest of us Earthers, he is an astronaut. Astronauts are not made like you and me. They are constantly heroic, they don’t allow fear to oppress them, they know stuff.


Our hero is in danger, but there is absolutely no doubt in the reader’s mind that he will save himself and stay alive until he is rescued. In that respect, the bus has no tension. And yet tension is everywhere because the hero Mark Watney is constantly on his toes and constantly having to muddle through botanical, mathematical, engineering experiments. This is where the fun comes in. The Martian feels like a survival manual. It feels like nonfiction. The reader is constantly being taught about space, chemistry, physics, and botany. But it doesn’t feel as if one is being taught. One is simply being pulled along breathlessly in the wake of a kind of superman whom one cannot identify with but whom one likes because he has good humor and seems like a humble but smart guy.  


But as I said, the book has problems.


The problems are mostly in the sections that are told in the third person. It is here where the author shows that he has much to learn about writing scenes, descriptions, and real characters. The third person narration didn’t add much to the book  and only shows the shortcomings of the author. All that said, I recommend this book highly if you are a math geek and if math doesn’t give you a headache.


This is a short review. A larger review of this book will be up at THE FAN in August 2014
http://www.fantasticstoriesoftheimagination.com/current-issue/fan/

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