Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hero of Ages

This book is an example of why I love fantasy and science fiction. It was really good, it was amazing, increbile and any other word you want to use to describe a book you will probably reread many times out of sheer enjoyment. I have been waiting for a long time for this book to come out. David got it for me for my birthday and I read it in two days. That was actually exercising a lot of restraint, because I did a lot of other things those days, and I didn't stay up all night and read it.

It has a complicated, weaving plot, that connects events happening in several different areas, but they work together to not only advance the plot, but develop the themes and ideas of the book. The ending was perhaps the most satisfying and complete one I have read in a trilogy. A lot of times there is so much going on in a series of this scope that there are plot threads never resolved, or questions left hanging, or just a stupid ending because the author couldn't figure out how to stop. The ending of this trilogy felt complete and whole in a way I haven't seen before.

Can you tell I liked this book? While I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who is not a fan of the genre, if you do like fantasy books at all, if you have read Lord of the Rings and didn't hate it, please read this one, it was incredible.

Hero of Ages. Brandon Sanderson. Tor. 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008

Happy things -NB

I've been grumpy today so I decided I needed to share the things that have made me happy lately.
First: x-rays from scotch tape. Is that the coolest things you have ever heard or what? I tell people that physics is incredibly cool and they all nod their heads and back away slowly, but it is!

Second: Brandon Sanderson hit the NY Times bestseller list. It makes me almost giddy to see an author I really like, who is also Mormon, hit that list. I wonder how many Mormons other than Steven Covey have?

Third: I got a new phone. My old one was dying slowly and I knew that if I continued to use it, knowing the battery was going, it would die on me in a horrible place and time. Nothing fancy, but new gadgets are always fun.

Fourth: I didn't have to babysit anyone else's kids today. I swap babysitting and it seems like I can go a month or more with no one and then this week I've tended everyday. I could never run a day care and I am incredibly glad my husband makes enough I don't have to find alternate means of earning money.

There, four thinks to make me happier and boost my spirits so I can take my five kids to the Fall School Festival without yelling, screaming or vowing never to leave the house with any of my offspring ever again. (I hope).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Off Armageddon Reef

It is interesting to see how a writer changes over time. Ten years ago David Weber wrote a book called Heirs of Empire, basically about a planet that had been forced back to the medieval age because of a problem too complicated to explain here. So some people from a space age civilization are shipwrecked on this planet just in time to cause a reformation and fight against a repressive church that bans technology.

Now he is writing a series that has the same basic plot. This time humans have lost the interstellar battle and been destroyed on every planet except this one. To hide from the bad guys the (slightly wacko) leaders of the colonization team develop an anti-technology church very similar to the one based in Rome on Earth. Then they brainwash all the new colonists and set up an Inquisition to make sure no one ever develops a technology higher than the waterwheel.

A thousand years later a robot awakens with the memories of the non-wacko leaders, with instructions to teach the colonists and try to help them develop their world to the point it can fight back. He finds a nation close to the point of rebellion from the church, begins supporting them and gradually giving them updated technology and all sorts of things happen.

The funny thing is this elaborate backstory seems like an excuse to have lots of cool naval battles and to explore the ideas of faith, corruption, idealism and how a changing world can test your beliefs. I don't know why regular novels that talk about these things bore me to tears, while a science-fiction novel that does I like. Maybe its because I feel like a science-fiction novel isn't attacking me, as a reader, just inviting me along for the ride. While many "important" novels feel like a vivisection of someone who already has enough problems.

And besides, I like how Weber writes battles. Other than the scenes in Les Mis., which were so detailed you could draw a map and recreate it in your own backyard, most writers muddle their battles. Weber's battles are clear and easy to follow.

Off Armageddon Reef & By Schism Rent Asunder. David Weber. Tor. 2007 & 2008

Friday, October 17, 2008


This was the first of the three books David got me for my birthday. It is by one of my favorite authors: Terry Pratchett. Most Pratchett books are set on Discworld and have more than a little silliness to them, this one was different. It was set in a world very similar to our own, in the late 1800s and was much more serious in tone.

As I've read Jen's posts (http://www.lajendi.typepad.com/) I've been thinking about the difference in our reading styles. I have no idea why they developed, but for the most part we don't enjoy the same type of books. Nation feels like a cross between the books I generally read, and the ones she does. Ideas, religion and guilt, why we do the things we do and how other people are so necessary to our own mental well being are the themes of this book.

It starts with a catastrophe in England making a obscure ambassador to the Pacific Islands the King. His mother is fold of saying they are only 138 people away from the king, so when the news reaches her granddaughter she assumes Grandmother has been busy. She hasn't, it was a flu epidemic.

The next chapter is a disaster in the Pacific. A volcano and subsequent tsunami wipes out everyone on a small island except one boy who has been going through his manhood ritual. When he comes back to the Nation, they are all gone. The granddaughter mentioned above has been shipwrecked on the island, they gradually meet and other survivors collect there.

The truly amazing thing about this novel is how infrequently you are brought to tears. So many authors are heavy handed with the emotions, jerking your heartstrings around in every which way. The tragedy is handled tenderly and skillfully, so the mental struggles that come with the emotions are highlighted, not the emotions themselves. It was written as a YA novel, so the graphic nature of a similar book perhaps written for adults was not here, and it may strike some people as simplistic.

I find crisis of faith books to be overly negative of positive, depending on whether or not you can get them at Deseret Book. This time you are still left with the questions and problems of a boy trying to understand his new world. It challenges the reader and invites them to think about the same issues, but gently, understanding that it is painful and difficult sometimes.

Nation. Terry Pratchett. HarperCollins. 2008

Thursday, October 16, 2008

3 Ne 12-15

I have been thinking I would like at least a small record of the lessons I teach so that if I ever have to do it again, I can reference them. It is not inconceivable that I will because people have a tendency to stay in callings for a very long time in our ward. The current YM president has been there for 7 years. That is enough time to see a new deacon to his mission. The fact we have 7 missionaries out from a small ward tells you what an incredible man he is.
So these were the chapters I had last week. At first glance this was really intimidating. The Sermon on the Mount is only the best known section of scripture ever. I felt that you could take any ten verses at random from the reading and talk for the whole hour. So the dilemma was, do I just concentrate, or spread things out? I took the spread things out route, mostly because the last two times I taught I left some big verses out and someone brought it up later; "Well, I was wondering why you didn't mention that, but I liked your lesson."
As I read it through I felt like the Lord was giving a lesson in contrasts. Almost every statement in these chapters has a not that, but this sort of statement. So I handed out little cards in yellow and orange with the matching scriptures. It would have worked better if we had had more than 15 people in class that day. The goal was to have everyone match up the two parts and then tell the class what the lower law vs. the higher law was. It didn't work because everyone had to have more than one scripture card. So we just read through them. I'm not going to go through it because a. I don't have my scriptures near the computer, b. it was 17 different points and would be boring and c. I'm lazy.
But when you divide it up you can see how the new higher law is a law of mental and spiritual work, not just the physical motions of the Mosaic Law. Now you have to think kindly of your fellow man and do good to all people, not just refrain from killing or committing fornication with them and be nice only to those who are your neighbors and your tribe. So we talked about the shift and the importance of a fulfilled lower law and a new higher law that demanded a broken heart and a contrite spirit.
After that we went back to the Beatitudes and talked about how these were a template of Jesus's character. They were also a guide to how we become able to live the higher law. When you follow the commandments of the Beatitudes, you receive the Holy Ghost and are able to control your mind and actions better.
I had read the Bible version and compared it to the Book of Mormon version (something I wholeheartedly recommend anyone do, it only takes a few minutes). It struck me that the main differences were the two verses beginning it in the BoM, which say blessed are they who believe my words and are baptised for they shall receive the Holy Ghost, and the word all, which is left out of three or four of the verses in the Bible. When you are baptised and receive the Holy Ghost, you are empowered to continue on that path to being perfect, as Jesus and Heavenly Father are perfect. Without the Holy Ghost how can you even have a chance at it?
When I teach these lessons I can always feel my mind expanding as I understand things I never thought of before. This time I felt the urgency of baptism. That the gift of the Holy Ghost is how we are able to be obedient enough to receive God's blessings more abundantly. Those without it can be obedient and receive blessings, but not to perfection and it is much harder. One brother in the class pointed out that even with the Holy Ghost perfection is probably going to be a matter of eons for most of us, which is why it is nice that eternity is so long.
And I also began to feel how the Higher Law opened vistas for the Jews, and for us if we follow it. No longer are we only required to look righteous and care for those we already associate with and who care for us. Now our responsibility is to really BE righteous and care for everyone we possibly can. It is pretty difficult for those of us with a two thousand year old cultural tradition of these rules. It must have seemed ludicrous to the insular Jews, that anyone would behave that way, much less expect others to follow. And I know that living the higher law does bring blessings, of the spirit and the increased ability to go forward. Christ wants us to succeed. He didn't say "Be ye perfect" so we could despair and give up. He said that and then gave us instructions and help so we knew we could do it, someday.

The Demon Princes

Its amazing what you will read when you are laying on the floor of the bathroom, too sick to get back in bed because you'll just have to go back to the bathroom. I've noticed that science-fiction, unless it is very, very good, does not age well. It is interesting to see the things that the authors take for granted that they project into a future society. Then to see that those things have changed already.

For example, stuff written in the fifties has everyone smoking, to the point it is distracting now that fewer and fewer people do.

The style and the role of women in these books came across as dated, but I was too sick to look for something better.

The Demon Princes. Jack Vance. SFBC. 2005 (reprint). 1968

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Graveyard Book

I spent the last week being sick, and the last two days canning. Final total, four books read, 8 quarts of salsa (that's the big jar, and a lot of tomatoes), 5 quarts of pickles and one lonely little quart of tomatoes, the yellow light bulb type, they look very pretty in the jar. I also taught Gospel Doctrine at church on Sunday. I've been thinking about posting my lesson, at least an abbreviated version, but it depends on catching up with everything else. I've still got a fairy and princess costume to make in the next two weeks. I'm a slow sewer so it might take me that long.

Anyway, this was a good book. I like Neil Gaiman, in a cautious kind of way. He wrote Stardust, which I liked, and co-wrote Good Omens, which I love, but most of his other things are too dark for me.

This was dark, but in a friendly way. It does open with an entire family being killed, but then the youngest in the family finds sanctuary in a graveyard, with all the spirits that live there. The author, in the closing page, references the Jungle Book, with the child being raised by a series of good natured and differently talented individuals, and I guess this was similar.

One thing I liked, and I just now realize, is how death is described and regarded in the story. It is just one of those things that everyone has to deal with. It is not shocking or scary. The boy grows up surrounded by spirits, learns how they died and when they lived, but there is no horror or sadness. It was a very good coming of age novel. The boy grows and learns and finally leaves the graveyard in a very satisfying way.

The Graveyard Book. Neil Gaiman. HarperCollins. 2008

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Summoner

I had a little Mommy go away day and went to Grand Junction and hung out in the B&N. While I was there, being annoyed because every book I want to read doesn't come out for another month, I started wondering why women don't write epic fantasy. For example, Lord of the Rings. I read a lot of it, and all the best ones are written by men. Women write fantasy, but it tends to be more romantic fantasy, or supernatural stuff, not the rise and fall of kingdoms.

So while pondering this thought I ran across two books that seemed to disprove this theory. I'm still not sure It has been proven wrong. The trilogy I posted about last didn't have the feel of an epic. And it definitely wasn't on my list of best books ever. I enjoyed it, but it was forgettable. I kept confusing it with other books I have read lately, which normally I don't have a problem with.

I think the difference is that, so far at least, the books written by women are less politically complex and more emotionally complex. There is more about relationships and less about the convoluted political things that happen. Also less monumental battles. No Helm's Deep or like that in these books. I am fine with that, the battle scenes are not what I like about Tolkien, or Jordan or any other writer I am fond of. But it seems as they focus on the personal things more the plot is less compelling to me and so I am not as interested. Just a personal quirk I guess.

This book came closest to proving a woman could write epic fantasy. It was unusual in that it made the Necromancer a good guy. His ability to talk with the dead is seen as a more healing and positive ability. One that grants the unquiet souls reat and peace for the living. I liked that.

The Summoner. Gail Z. Martin. Solaris. 2007

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Tielmaran Chronicles

These were pretty good. These type of books are my default setting, I enjoy fantasy, especially if it is well written. I enjoyed them enough to read all three books. I have finally learned to stop reading if I think it is stupid.

I only had one problem with this series. The author was very obviously trying to write a series with an active pantheon of gods; like Ancient Greece, but real miracles and obvious manifestations. I have no problem with that, it is part of fantasy and enjoyable what-if story-telling. What bugged me was the gods seemed very indiscriminate about their gifts. If much prayer and faith is required to access this power, why did people who were obviously unworthy of such honors still receive them? Perhaps it is because I have a prejudice about such matters. In the real world priesthood power does not continue with a man who tries to misuse or gain power from it. It seems a very poor type of god who would give incredible power to a person, then have no care to what that person did with it.

I suppose to some this seems like a minor point, but I it really bothered me. At the very end she did fix the situation a bit. I think the main problem wasn't so much a failure of imagined theology as it was a failure to draw a distinction between magic and god-given power. To most, especially those who don't believe in God-given power it might not matter. To those of us who do believe God influences the Earth and gives man the power to act in his name it is a vital distinction.

Wind From a Foreign Sky, A Tremor in the Bitter Earth & Prince of Fire And Ashes. Katya Reimann. Tor. 2003