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

The Long Sunset by Jack McDevitt
The Long Sunset
by Jack McDevitt
Saga Press, 2018

The Academy has been shuttered and Priscilla Hutchins (Hutch) is adjusting to life on Earth. Humanity has become fearful of continued space exploration—there’s a growing paranoia that someday such expeditions will bring back something too dangerous. The President herself is campaigning for reelection on a platform of ending the space program.

When an astronomer discovers a signal from deep space which clearly indicates the presence of an intelligent, technologically sophisticated alien civilization, he recruits a team to seek out these aliens and Hutch is put in command. But people don’t want them to go and the team must race to take off before the government can shut them down.

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Book Review: The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures by Aaron Mahnke

The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures by Aaron Mahnke
The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures
by Aaron Mahnke
Del Ray, 2017

Aaron Mahnke’s Lore podcast is one of the more fascinating and informative podcasts available. He explores the world of lore: folktales and legends—usually creepy or macabre—and shares the interesting things he finds. He’s an accomplished and entertaining storyteller.

Podcasts are subject to time constraints: there’s only so much you can fit into each episode. While the stories he shares with his listeners are clearly well researched, he doesn’t go into much depth with them. And that’s OK for a podcast—the point of these stories is to share them and entertain his audience. While he occasionally asks the Big Questions (“Why are we drawn to myths and legends like these? What purpose do they serve?” etc.) he never offers much more than cursory, broad strokes answers. Again, that’s fine for a podcast—he needs to focus each episode on telling the cool stories he finds.

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Book Review: Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer
Too Like the Lightning
by Ada Palmer
Tor, 2016

In the future, mankind has avoided self-destruction by a hair’s breadth. Organized religions have been outlawed. Ultrafast transportation has rendered geographical nations irrelevant. Society has been rebuilt according to the ideals of 18th century Enlightenment philosophy. The world’s most notorious criminal—serving a sentence in service to any who command—and a sensayer (a spiritual therapist and guide) discover a child who can perform miracles, with the power to irrevocably change the nature of reality itself. And a brazen theft threatens to expose secrets that could topple the world’s greatest powers.

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer is a near perfect blend of science fiction and philosophy.

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Book Review: The Silent Corner by Dean Koontz

The Silent Corner by Dean Koontz
The Silent Corner
by Dean Koontz
Bantam, 2017

The Silent Corner is Dean Koontz’s version of a hard-boiled detective thriller: an off-the-books FBI detective on a personal mission, a rash of mysterious suicides, a cabal of men wielding a genuinely terrifying new technology. As always, Koontz renders his characters ably and the plot is perfectly paced. This is a tense, taut, and foreboding novel to kick off a new series.

I didn’t enjoy it at all.

There are two reasons why I didn’t enjoy this book. The first problem I have is his writing style.

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Book Review: Artemis by Andy Weir

Artemis by Andy Weir
Artemis
by Andy Weir
Crown, 2017

Artemis is the only city on the Moon. Established by the Kenya Space Corporation, it’s a series of habitable domes, filled with a mix of rich tourists and working class residents from myriad ethnic groups. It’s like the Wild West with few established laws, dominated by trade guilds.

A small bubble of life in the middle of a deadly and dangerous environment.

Jazz Bashara grew up in Artemis, the daughter of a Saudi Arabian welder with whom she’s had a falling out. An underachieving genius with a string of broken romantic relationships, she works as a low wage porter and she earns extra money on the side as a smuggler. She’s egotistical and bitter, smart and funny, strong and broken in equal measure.

One day, Jazz gets a job offer that may be too illegal even for her but which promises to pay enough to be worth it. Despite her reservations, she accepts. Next thing she knows, she’s wrapped up in a couple of murders and a Brazilian mafia family has sent an assassin to the Moon to hunt her down. To save her own life, she could end up risking the lives of everyone in Artemis.

And then there’s a new technology that holds untold riches for whoever controls it…

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