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May 2004 Archives

May 26, 2004

Modesitt - Darksong Rising

L.E. Modesitt Darksong Rising

This is book three in his soprano sorceress cycle.

Having read a lot of this stuff lately, I finally am getting a feel for all the countries and people. It was plot driven, it was easy, it was a couple of hours distraction.

I am reminded of Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series, or of the last year or so of smoking cigarettes. Towards the end of my smoking time I found that I did not particularly want another, nor did I particularly enjoy smoking it - but I couldn't not smoke it. Shortly after noticing that, I went to a doctor and told him to scare me so I would stop smoking; he did and I did. After noticing that with Cornwell I stopped reading the Sharpe book -- really it was one book with the same plot and characters, repeated 20 times; only the setting and title changed.

This bodes ill for the last two books in the Spellsong cycle.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 10:12 AM | Comments (0)
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May 25, 2004

Modesitt - Spellsong War

L.E. Modesitt - The Spellsong War

Book two in the saga of the Soprano Sorceress that I discussed a couple of days ago.

Entertaining, not challenging, not worth reviewing.

I will go ahead and read the third one since it is already waiting for me at the hold desk at the library.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 09:39 AM | Comments (0)
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May 23, 2004

Modesitt - Soprano Sorceress

Modesitt, The Soprano Sorceress
finished it a couple of days ago and returned it - no publishing info handy.

Painters have a term for a work of art that consists of a set of standard design elements combined onto a single canvass, arranged in one of several standard forms, and then finished to suit the artist's taste: a pastiche. The difficulty in such a composition is not in the design but in the execution.

Modesitt's Soprano Sorceress is such a pastiche. The main character's personality is essentially that of his male craftsman-mages from the Recluse series. Her profession and earlier life is drawn heavily from the musician in Archform: Beauty - I am not sure which he wrote first. The world she is in is one where magic works, and working magic is created through a combination of melody and lyrics while it gets its power from accompanyment and performance quality. Our heroine is a musician who was sad in our world and was magically transported to this new world, shades of Alan Dean Foster's Jon-Tom, only unlike JT who was a "heavy metal guitarist" who played an awful lot of Beach Boys covers, Anna is an opera-trained soprano. Modesitt then advances his plot using his standard formula of longer chapters showing the primary character interspersed with short chapters of just a few paragraphs showing the various oppositional figures as they plot against the main character.

But, the test of a pastiche is not the design, but the execution. And Soprano Sorceress is a well-executed pastiche. He has five books set in this world. So far I am on the second one. I expect that I will read them until I get bored, and that I will not get bored until I finish.

I am reading a LOT of Modesitt; I need to be careful that I don't overdose and get sick of his formula and his standard licks.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 10:17 AM | Comments (0)
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Chariots of Fire - DVD

The infant and I watched Chariots of Fire over the last couple of days. I had seen it twice before, once in the theaters and once on video.

I grabbed it from the library together with Caddyshack and Chinatown - I guess I was in a "C" mood. I watched it first because I am starting to run again, knees permitting, and because I ran sprints back in high school many moons ago.

I got curious this time and checked to see what liberties the movie made with the athletic careers of Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell - they made a few, all to the point of emphasizing the dramatic impact. From what I could tell, the movie captured the personalities of the two men while altering the details of who ran what where, who learned what when, and so on.

Thus the movie presents Abrahams in 1920 just leaving the army, commenting to Montagu that he had "never lost" and then makes a big deal of the emotional trauma that Abrahams felt after losing to Liddel in a 100 meter sprint. The real Abrahams competed in the 1920 olympics and did so so - he made the finals in the 100 and 200, finished at the tail end of the pack. No runner wins every race, although Edwin Moses made a good try of it; there is always someone faster that day, someone with more wind that day, or someone who peaked for this race while you are using it to prepare for a later event.

Similarly, Eric Liddel, a natural 100 meter man, learned that the heats for the 100 were scheduled on a Sunday several months before the games. He changed events without any of the drama and confrontation that the movie uses, but the movie dramatics do a nice job of pointing up the symbolism and the importance of that symbolism; Sandy Koufax chose not to pitch the world series on Yom Kippur, and Eric Liddel dropped out of his best event rather than race on Sunday.

The movie made me cry, it usually does. For that matter, cheering a racer onward - even in a casual 5K - can make me cry. For some reason I find running to be the purest form of both athletic expression and athletic competition, and the drive of a runner to push past their limits is something impossible to see through a television camera, impossible to miss in person.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 10:09 AM | Comments (0)
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May 21, 2004

Bernard Cornwell - Crackdown

Bernard Cornwell is a highly capable author of not very challenging fiction. That sounds like faint praise, but he is really quite good at a deceptively demanding field. Although he is most famous for his Sharpe series, Cornwell is at his best, I think, when he invokes the horror of violence - his gothic Arthurian sequence still gives me nightmares at times and I read it over four years ago.

Crackdown is only indirectly gothic. It is a novel about sailboats, and cocaine, and addiction, and fathers and sons. Cornwell digs into his bag of characters and comes up with his stock modern sailor - fit, former British marine, difficult family life, bumming around the Caribbean. He then writes a perfectly reasonable thriller.

Thinking back, he does manage to invoke aspects of the Gothic in this sunlit paradise - largely when one of the cocaine-addicted characters talks about pleasure so intense that it wipes out the brain's capacity to enjoy any pleasure other than the chemically induced rush. There is a horror there, and some of his characters do have their faces burst out in blood in fine Sherlock Holmes style.

That might be where Cornwell is best, at the gothic and at effectively conveying a sense of violence and of the horror that comes along with violence.

In any case, it made a fine light read.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 03:33 AM | Comments (0)
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May 20, 2004

Bruhold - Curse of Chalion

Lois McMaster Bujold - The Curse of Chalion. 2001 Eon/Harper Collins.

Bujold is a fabulously capable writer. I go back and forth about liking her primary series of novels - I like reading them enough that I want to read them in order, but I never get around to chasing them down in order and so I only read them when I stumble across them.

This is in a new setting, and it is most remarkably good. Bujold joins the somewhat recent trend in fantasy and science fiction of taking faith seriously. I say somewhat recent, perhaps because I spent a lot of time reading Analog and Asimov's in the late 1970s and early 1980s when those magazines were engaged in a neo-enlightenment defense of reason and science against newly militant conservative Christians.

Bujold's main character is interesting because, at age 35, he has an extensive history and this history matters. He is a courtier turned soldier, he has been places and done things, and those past actions shape his present and create both problems and opportunities for the future. Bujold places her hero and his surroundings in a kingdom where religion matters and where the gods do intervene occasionaly in daily affairs, and one where while people recognize divine intervention they are also scared silly by it - and rightly so.

I am not giving away much that the dust jacket does not to say that our hero becomes the unlikely but highly effective tutor of a young princess, that the princess gets caught up in the machinations of an evil counsellor to the king, and that the gods end up intervening which both helps and greatly discomfits our hero. The striking thing, for me, was that Bujold went beyond having a simple tale of a corrupt noble and a weak king to a larger discussion about curses, fate, and the paradoxes of predestination.

Let me just say that, discovering a curse and a prophecy to get out of it, some characters struggle to manipulate the prophecy, others surrender to apathy, and others turn to doing what they think best.

She has another out in this world, with the hero of the second book being a minor character in this first book. I have a hold on number two at the library and am looking forward to reading it.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 03:46 AM | Comments (0)
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May 19, 2004

Steinbeck - Grapes of Wrath

I once again did not finish John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath.

I grabbed Grapes and a Heinlein from the library at the same time. I started Steinbeck first and got about five tapes into the sixteen-tape book before I could not handle it any more. The books is wonderfully written, Steinbeck does a nice job alternating chapters, one about the Joad family, one stand-alone vignette, one about the Joad family, another stand-alone vignette, and so on. He writes with power and fluidity, his characters talk like people and not like lectures, and the entire book is just plan sad. No, more than sad, it is a tragedy in progress with the sure knowledge (I have read it before, after all) that worse things are yet to come.

And, while I did not remember all the details of what the Joad family would encounter, I decided that I did not particularly desire to encounter that future tragedy. I read fiction for escape, or to evaluate it for teaching, but rarely because I want to be angered or depressed. So, the Joad family and their jalopy went back to the library just as they were in the process of driving away from Uncle John's farm.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 08:21 AM | Comments (0)
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May 17, 2004

Porter - Lion's Share

Bernard Porter
The Lion's Share: A Short History of British Imperialism, 1850-1983
2nd Ed. (London: Longman Group UK Limited, 1984)

I bought this a few years back on a whim while wandering through the course text section at University. I have been nibbling on it as my light history book over the last few months. I finally finished it, though I admit to being out of it and not reading the conclusion carefully enough.

Some useful information, will use it to change part of my discussion of Europe and the World when next I teach Western Civ, but my biggest thoughts on this have to do with Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress which I am still "reading" as a book on tape and which I will blog about once I finish listening to it.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 04:32 AM | Comments (0)
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May 12, 2004

Hirrel - Ideology of Antebellum Reform

Leo Hirrell, Ideology of Antebellum Reform Ph.D. dissertation, 1989

Hirrell's book has also been published as Children of Wrath but for my stuff I find the raw data in his dissertation more useful.

Re-read this to see if he discussed changing notions of Providence within new School Presbyterians in the 1830s. He did not, but rather focuses on the New School's focus on the self-evident nature of truth, the way that truth exists outside of a knower, and the hope that exposure to this truth will produce an immediate and effective change in people's hearts and actions.

It did not, or rather the truths they presented were not as inherently compelling as they wished, and so the New School became sad and discouraged.

Posted by
Red Ted
at 10:17 AM | Comments (0)
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May 01, 2004

Citizen Kane

So I watched Citizen Kane on DVD last week with the infant.

I watched the first half of it while feeding him bottles and babysitting earlier this week. We finished it Saturday night as I was holding cranky boy and J. was doing housework.

I knew the ending already, which meant that I watched the movie as if I were re-reading a book, looking for the forshadowing and interpreting each new revelation in terms of the known sadness at the end.

I am glad I watched it, and I can see why it is such an influential movie.

Afterwards, the radio station in my head began to play Tracy Chapman's song 'Mountains of things."

Posted by
Red Ted
at 10:01 AM | Comments (0)
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