September 18, 2023

Whatever it is, that girl put a spell on me

A review of Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey (New York: Harper & Brother, 1912). Ebook.

Jane Withersteen is a wealthy, young Mormon woman in Utah. The local Mormon churchmen harass her because she befriends Gentiles (non-Mormons), and because she refuses to marry an elder named Tull, who wants to make Jane his third wife so he can acquire the considerable property and cattle she inherited from her father.

Tull and his men grab one of Jane's cowboys, Bern Venters, a Gentile, intent on whipping him out of their territory. But a rider dressed in black arrives on the scene, frightening the Mormons into leaving. This new man is Lassiter, an infamous gunfighter and hater of Mormons. He is searching for the grave of his sister, who had been taken from her home and brought to Utah to become a Mormon wife. Jane resolves to use her kindness to influence Lassiter to give up his life of violence.

When cattle rustlers steal one of Jane's herds, Bern rides out in pursuit. He gets into a gunfight with two of the thieves, killing one and wounding the other. He is shocked to discover that the latter is a feared rustler known as the "Masked Rider"—and a young, unarmed woman named Bess. In remorse, they hide in a cave in a secluded valley while he nurses her back to health. After some time, they fall in love.

September 17, 2023

Come on and take a low ride with me, girl, on the tunnel of love

A lightning review of Joyland by Stephen King (New York: Hard Case Crime, 2012). Ebook.

Joyland is written like a memoir: the adult Devin Jones reminisces about the very weird summer he spent at an amusement park. When his relationship with his girlfriend starts to crumble, he finds work at a small North Carolina theme park as a carnie. He meets new friends, Tom and Erin, and learns that he has a talent for "wearing the fur": entertaining children as Joyland's canine mascot, Howie.

The park's resident fortune-teller, Rozzie ("Madame Fortuna") tells Devin he will meet a girl with a red hat and a boy with a dog. Later that summer, as Howie, he saves a girl in a red hat from choking, which makes him a local celebrity. (Does Rozzie have the genuine gift of precognition?)

September 16, 2023

Oh, we're halfway there

I've reached the halfway point in this year's Science Fiction-Free September.

As of now, I've read three of the six books on the list and two-thirds of the fourth. By some rather crude reckoning, with half the month gone, I'm roughly 63% of the way through all my planned reading. After blazing through the first three books in a week, I've slowed down somewhat, but I'm still on track to finish the whole list—which will actually be a first in 20 years.

The best book, so far, was To Kill a Mockingbird. I found it quite engaging and heartwarming, and I guess I'm somewhat disappointed I never got around to it sooner. Joyland wasn't half bad, either.

My least favourite book has been Revolutionary Road, which I have already reviewed. It's not a bad book, just one filled with unpleasant people and things.

As I said, I'm about two-thirds of the way through Riders of the Purple Sage. It's all right; I just don't find myself connecting with the story quite as much as with the previous books this month.

Still on deck are The House of Mirth and An Artist of the Floating World. I have read Edith Wharton previously—I studied The End of Innocence in my American literature course back in 1996, and I think it was probably my favourite of the works on the syllabus. And I would still cite The Remains of the Day as my favourite novel, so I regret not reading any of Kazuo Ishiguro's other novels until this year (I started off January with A Pale View of Hills). So I have high hopes for both books.

And, if I do run out of books before running out of month, I've got an extra or two planned. We'll see.

I owe you at least 500 more words by way of review. I think I can pull off a lightning review of Joyland this weekend, probably once I've got Riders of the Purple Sage squared away. I'm still mulling over TKAM, though.

I hope your September is also going well, and you've got something worthy on your nightstand.

September 11, 2023

Just like witches at black masses

Lightning review of War in Heaven by Charles Williams (London: Gollancz, 1930). Ebook.

An unidentified body is discovered in an office at a publishing firm. The occupant of the office is Lionel Rackstraw, the editor of a manuscript whose author, an arrogant antiquarian, has instructed him to remove a certain paragraph, which identifies a chalice in the possession of a small village church as none other than the Holy Grail. Gregory Persimmons, the owner of the publishing firm, wants to steal the Grail from the church for himself, to use in black-magic rituals, which also involve kidnapping Rackstraw's young son, Adrian. The archdeacon of the church wants to prevent the relic from falling into the wrong hands.

September 09, 2023

The suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth

Review of Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (Boston: Little, Brown, 1961). 337 pp. Hardcover.

Frank and April Wheeler are a young couple with two kids. When they met, Frank was studying in the humanities and April was an aspiring actress. They lived a carefree lifestyle in Greenwich Village—until April became pregnant "seven years too soon." She wants to abort the child, but Frank talks her out of it. To support his new family he takes a job in sales at a large business-machine corporation, where his father had worked before him, and they move out of New York into Revolutionary Hill Estates, a Connecticut suburb. They see themselves as something greater than their suburbanite neighbours.

Some years later, they have two children and Frank is still working at the same job. April's part in a disastrous amateur theatre production of The Petrified Forest leads to a roadside argument that ends with Frank sleeping alone, while April sleeps on the sofa.

Frank and April are starting to think they aren't actually cut out for greatness and worry that they are beginning to settle for the suburban lifestyle they had disdained. Then April proposes moving the family to Paris, where she would be able to find work and support the family while Frank was freed to "find himself." But before they can leave Revolutionary Road for France, Frank is offered a promotion and April discovers she is again pregnant.

September 01, 2023

Science Fiction-Free September, Episode XX

In September 2004, after realizing I had read nothing but a steady diet of science fiction for about the previous two months, I instituted a month-long moratorium on the genre. Instead, I used that September to stretch my reading habits a bit, opting instead for an eclectic reading list: The Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight by Jimmy Breslin, Life of Pi by Yann Martel, Here I Stand by Roland Bainton, and Keep in Step with the Spirit by J. I. Packer. I didn't get through my entire list, and some of the selections were a bit dodgy, but overall the experience was a good one. I wouldn't have read Life of Pi otherwise, for example.

Since then, even though my reading is now a lot more diverse—and science fiction is arguably no longer even the majority genre—I've kept up the tradition of Science Fiction-Free Septembers. This is the twentieth SFFS.

August 22, 2023

Look on my works, ye mighty

Review of The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke (London: Gollancz, 1979). 256 pp. Hardcover.

Two thousand years ago, King Khalidasa of Taprobane (a fictional version of Sri Lanka), wanting to make a name for himself, built a paradise around his rock fortress atop the monolith Yakkagala. Pleasure gardens surround the rock and frescoes of a hundred beautiful women adorn its sides. Huge, gravity-fed fountains at the foot of Yakkagala are Khalidasa's crowning achievement: a sight never seen before on Taprobane.

In the 22nd century, engineer Vannevar Morgan also wants to make a name for himself. His previous achievement, a massive bridge across the Strait of Gibraltar, is unprecedented. But he's set his sights even higher, literally: now he wants to build the ultimate bridge, an Orbital Tower stretching from earth into orbit. There's only one suitable location for the tower: the summit of Sri Kanda on Taprobane. The problem is that there is a Buddhist monastery on the mountain, they have title to the land in perpetuity, and they don't want to give it up.

April 03, 2023

This is a test to see what MathML looks like on Blogger. x = - b ± b 2 - 4 a c 2 a

As you were.

January 04, 2023

2022 reading wrap-up

Every year end I like to do a roundup of my reading for the year. (Sometimes I even post them.) In 2021, I set a goal of reading 50 books, and accomplished exactly that. I was a little short of the same goal this year. I read 15. It's such an embarrassingly short list, I might as well just list the whole thing with a few comments.

August 31, 2022

Ruby Ridge, 30 years later

This month marks the 30th anniversary of the U.S. government siege of the Randy Weaver family cabin on Ruby Ridge, near the city of Bonners Ferry in the Idaho panhandle. Starting on August 21, 1992, a small army of government agents surrounded the mountain for 11 days. Two exchanges of gunfire resulted in the deaths of one U.S. Marshal, Weaver's wife and son, and a family dog.

Randy Weaver, who died this May at the age of 74, was a slight man from Iowa who had joined the Army during the Vietnam War, though he wasn't sent overseas, and dropped out of college to marry his sweetheart, Vicki Jordison. Vicki, a deeply religious woman, forged a family religion out of the syncretism of her childhood Mormonism, Hal Lindsey-style prophecy, and the racist Christian Identity movement. Convinced that the government was the Beast of Revelation and out to get the faithful, Weaver became convinced that the only way to keep his family safe from a corrupt world was to move into the wilderness and live in isolation. So in 1982, the Weaver family bought property on top of a mountain in northern Idaho, where Randy built a ramshackle cabin for them to live in.