Book Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The Song of Achilles
by Madeline Miller
Ecco, 2012

This review was originally posted on my Goodreads account in early February 2013. I’m reposting it here, given that I refer to it not infrequently.

I was astounded by this book. Madeline Miller’s achievement cannot be overstated. Here’s a novel that’s absorbingly readable for a modern audience, but that still has the poetry of Homeric sagas. What’s most impressive to me is the balance she finds between exploring the universality of human nature throughout the ages and maintaining the innate alien-ness that I experience every time I read The Iliad—the culture of archaic Greece was so very different from this world we live in today. She lets the truth of that age live and breathe without trying to tame or update it.

And yet, I recognize myself in this story.

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Book Review Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe by Madeline Miller
Circe
by Madeline Miller
Little, Brown and Company, 2018

I have a difficult time imagining how any book will be able to unseat Madeline Miller’s Circe as my favorite book of the year. It’s lyrical and poetic, intimate and grand in scope, human and godly, challenging and comforting. It’s wise. It’s profound.

It fulfills all the hopes I had for Ms. Miller’s work after her astounding first novel.

Where The Song of Achilles is her reinterpretation of The Iliad, Circe is a looser, more oblique riff on The Odyssey. Told from the first person perspective of the titular character, the work spans centuries and is filled with famous characters from throughout ancient Greek lore: Titans and Olympian gods, Scylla, King Minos and the Minotaur, Daedalus, Jason and Medea, and, of course, Odysseus, Penelope, and Telemachus all make appearances. It begins with Prometheus stealing fire and ends with the aftermath of Odysseus’ death. The largest part is taken up with Circe’s relationship with Odysseus and what happens after.

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Book Review: The Long Sunset by Jack McDevitt

Cover of the book The Long Sunset by Jack McDevitt
The Long Sunset
by Jack McDevitt
Saga, 2018

This review was first published by Booklist on March 15, 2018.

Priscilla Hutchins is the captain of an interstellar crew sent to explore the origin of a mysterious signal from another planet. But there’s resistance to the mission, as many believe continued interstellar exploration has become too dangerous. Hutch takes off despite opposition and embarks upon a journey that will lead her to discover new artifacts, alien life, and a looming celestial apocalypse. But this isn’t an adventure story; it’s a story focused mostly on people and how we relate to one another. McDevitt (Time Travelers Never Die, 2009) offers a unique take on aliens and how civilizations might arise on other planets, an unexpected and interesting choice in the realm of space-based science fiction. The active conflict of the story is political; unfortunately, McDevitt doesn’t delve as deeply into this aspect of the story as he could. But his unique vision, the way his imagination plays across a galactic stage, and the inherent tension of an unavoidable disaster make up for it. He also introduces important new elements into his ongoing Academy series, making this a worthy read.

Some Thoughts on Libraries & Neutrality

At the 2018 Midwinter Conference of the American Library Association, the President’s Program was a panel discussion titled, “Are Libraries Neutral? Have They Ever Been? Should They Be?” There were debaters and commentators assigned to represent both sides of the argument. This debate inspired a vigorous parallel discussion among librarians and library professionals on Twitter.

I approach the issue of library neutrality from two different directions: ideology and pragmatism. Let’s start with ideology.

When we talk about neutral library spaces and services, we talk about being a place where everyone is welcome, where all views are represented, where everyone has the freedom to make their voices heard and have their needs met. As James LaRue stated for the pro side of the debate: “Everyone gets a seat at the table.”

I passionately agree with Mr. LaRue on this point: libraries should be spaces where everyone gets a seat at the table.

But these words don’t describe neutrality—they describe equality. They envision a space where everyone is equal in access, representation, voice.

The world we all live and serve in is not equal.

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Book Review: Phoresis by Greg Egan

Cover of the book Phoresis by Greg Egan
Phoresis
by Greg Egan
Subterranean, 2018

This review was first published by Booklist on March 1, 2018.

**STARRED REVIEW** Tvíbura and Tvíburi: twin planets locked in close orbit. Tvíbura is inhabited, Tvíburi isn’t. When an environmental crisis threatens to render life unsustainable on Tvíbura, the people there undertake a generations-long project to build a bridge to reach their twin planet and save themselves. Phoresis is an elegant, spare, evocative jewel of a novella told in three parts. We see the genesis of the project, its fruition, and the eventual outcome. The title (which means transmission) is both a literal description of the main action of the story and almost poetic in its sound. It’s an appropriate encapsulation of this book. Egan (Incandescence, 2008) offers a master class in world building—he starts with a strong, science-based idea and envisions a unique people with a vibrant culture that inhabit a complex world. It all works together to create an immensely satisfying experience. He recognizes this is a story worth telling but doesn’t try to force it to be a full novel. He tells us everything necessary with nothing extraneous; there’s tremendous depth in his brevity. In a genre dominated by series and lengthy tomes, Phoresis is a refreshing reminder that compelling stories come in all lengths.