The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Tag Robert Heinlein

Readings for January 2015

My reading log is now seven years old. Pretty cool.

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

The new novel Steelheart kicks off a new fantasy series for Brandon Sanderson. The twist is that this is marketed as young adult fiction (though I think it is being broadly read among adult Sanderson fans). I must admit I was taken aback by the "young adult" label, as this novel has more violence, particularly gun violence, than other works by the same author. Perhaps the descriptions are less gruesome? I don't know, but the older I get, the more sensitive I get to such things.

Oh yeah, the book! Hey, it's a Sanderson read. Maybe you can use this one to get the next generation hooked on one of your favorites. Recommended.

The Understory by Pam Erens

This slim novel is a treat. I was doubtful at first that Erens would be able to get me interested in her trust-fund pretender protagonist, but it all works out. Set in Manhattan and at an upstate Buddhist monestary, the reader follows a lonely soul who is desperate for human contact and determinedly trying to hang on to his rent-controlled apartment. Recommended.

I Will Fear No Evil by Robert Heinlein

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice... This is the second consecutive Robert Heinlein novel I've rage quit, only to pick up and finish a year later. The last one, the Number of the Beast, should have been a lesson to me, namely that I've already read all the Heinlein novels I'll like. But no, I had to try one more time with I Will Fear No Evil (since it was already on the shelf).

The premise is decent: brain transplant. And imagine the hilarity and weighty implications if an old man acquired the body of a young woman. You can see the potential. But let me spoil a few things for you: After the transplant, the protagonist realizes he can communicate with the spirit of the former occupant of the body, s/he goes on to explore uncomfortable transformations of social relationships (e.g. business partner into lover), sleep with literally everyone who is breathing, and ends up impregnating herself with his own archived sperm donation.

Unfortunately the bulk of the novel is taken up with the copious, seemingly endless, expansive, vapid internal dialog of the protagonist. This of course serves as the primary vehicle for Heinlein's favorite authorial activity: letting the reader know about all the better ideas he has about everything, particularly in the realms of government, self-sufficiency, and sexual relationships. Just endless, ceaseless pages of the plot going nowhere, with zero character development despite all of the talking.

There is a decent twist at the end of the novel which I hope explains some of the worst features, though I am not sure of the scope. Nonetheless I'll take it on faith that this dialog between the old man and the young woman is not meant to be a faithful representation of a realistic relationship, but rather a satire of everything an old man wishes that an attractive young woman was thinking. If not, this goes from farce to tripe in a hurry. Definitely not recommended.

We Still Don't Get It by Douglas Moo

This essay arrived bundled with a Zondervan Academic catalog. It is adapted from a talk Moo apparently gave to the Evangelical Theological Society on the topic of Bible translation. I happen to agree with virtually all of Moo's positions there.

Given the publisher, you can probably guess that the product which benefits most from his praise is the NIV. As such I found it quite unseemly that Moo's talk, given to an academic meeting, had been repackaged as marketing material for a publisher. That feels like a betrayal of trust to me, and was in poor taste.

Periodicals

  • Journal of Biblical Literature volume 131 number 4
  • Harper's February 2015

Readings for June 2011

I would like to share a bit about what I have been reading lately. This may or may not develop into a regular feature of The Library Basement.

Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson (May 31)

There is something quite pleasing in discovering a new author whom you love reading and who already has an extensive (and growing) corpus. Thus I was pleased to meet Brandon Sanderson. He writes great literature in the fantasy genre. He was chosen to complete Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. He was Jeopardy  champion Ken Jenning's college roommate.

My reader can infer from this last detail that Sanderson is a Mormon. It seems that being a part of the LDS church has empowered some really great science fiction and fantasy. Do not forget that Orson Scott Card is a Mormon as well. Both Card and Sanderson conjure universes where in men have been elevated with godlike powers. I see a parallel between these stories and the LDS theology of the Celestial kingdom, wherein the faithful attain godhood. My analysis may be overblown, but I sure appreciate reading good stories by imaginative Mormons.

As for Warbreaker itself, I really enjoyed it. It is a mystery which studiously avoids too many twists. The fantasy elements engage the imagination and have an original feel. Sanderson has good pacing, and the 600+ pages in paperback did not feel overlong. Recommended.

Periodicals

I fell a bit behind in my magazine reading heading into this month. I was able to finish Harper's June, Harper's July, and Scientific American June. That leaves me with two back issues of Biblical Archaeology Review and one more SciAm (with another round of monthlies on the way, of course).

Of note this month was a good essay in Harper's June about a trip to the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Steve Featherstone tells one anecdote to highlight the paranoia of deadly radiation - imagine finding a burrowed tick after a day out in the hot zone. Yikes! I continue to find the puzzles in Harper's to be bewildering, though I do not expend any real effort on them. Maybe next month.

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson (June 23)

My family was kind enough to give me another Brandon Sanderson novel to enjoy after seeing how much I liked the first one I read. Elantris is Sanderson's first novel, yet it is not too rough around the edges. I did notice some striking similarities with Warbreaker: a princess from a foreign land is sent by her father the king to fulfill a political marriage; people with extraordinary abilities are worshipped as gods; a few others. Yet there were sufficient differences that I found the similar premises to be quirky rather than repetitive. Recommended.

I found myself advancing through it at a good clip, reading over 100 pages in an evening to finish it out. Two great novels from Sanderson, so I'll plan on reading his Mistborn trilogy.

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers (June 29)

[][]Zeitoun is a fantastic book. It is the true story of a man's quest through the chaos of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Eggers' account is by turns heart-warming and outrageous. If you feel the need to read something to bolster your questioning of state power, this is your book. It is a quick and addicting read. I completed it in two days, including a final sitting of about 130 pages.

What's great about this story is that it is an intensely personal account in the midst of the regional tragedy and national shame of Katrina. We all know the story as a whole - it is larger than life. But here the reader gets to hear a real account of what it was like on the inside, and sees some of what the news never found. You'll come to really care for the protagonist as he paddles through the flooded city in his second-hand canoe. More importantly, Zeitoun causes us to consider how society can be so fragile and confront how those who are tasked with creating order can instead foster chaos. Recommended.

The Number of the Beast by Robert Heinlein (Abandoned)

The premise of the Number of the Beast is one of science fiction's best: traversing multiple universes. Yet Heinlein takes such a golden opportunity and muddles it. In a book which is marketed as an exploration epic, half is spent in only one alternate universe, and the narrative is mostly comprised of contentious bickering among the protagonists.

Moreover the characters are so smart, so skilled, so prepared, and so well-equipped that there is not any imaginable danger to them. This lends itself somewhat to a farce, but all the bitter arguing the reader is forced to suffer through nullifies any comedic value. I have about 100 pages left, and I'll probably finish it at some point, but I have laid it down in favor of better books for now.

I could go on and on, but someone else already has. Do yourself a favor and skip The Number of the Beast. Do read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land, which represent Heinlein at his best. Not recommended.

[]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Zeitoun.jpg

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