The Gates of Athens Review

Maybe it’s because Herodotus is so aptly referred to as “history’s screenwriter,” but I was less impressed by Iggulden’s interpretation of the events in The Gates of Athens than I was with his interpretation of Xenophon’s adventures. Where the story he told of Xenophon’s exploits was very faithful to the history, The Gates of Athens seemed to include a lot more supposition on Iggulden’s part, mostly to add interpersonal drama. Yet he is telling a story about some of the most dramatic moments in recorded history, and I wonder if added drama is really necessary.

The Abbot’s Tale Review

The Abbot’s Tale, though, is something different, and in this Iggulden is serving more as a translator than a writer, or even a researcher.  It is drawn almost entirely from a surviving manuscript written by Dunstan, a tenth century English monk, and the titular protagonist of The Abbot’s Tale.  That manuscript is a sort of memoir or maybe a personal confessional, and it is clear that the original author never intended for it to be read, or even to survive.

The Heart Led Leader Review

mans are staggeringly complex systems.  An incalculable number of reactions and events must occur correctly, and in proper synchronization, every moment of life for a human being to live.  It is a level of complexity which for all of our science we are still unable to completely understand, and tiny variations produce all of the immense variety of unique individuals in our world.  It is therefore no wonder that so much time, effort, and words have been spent in an attempt to understand how those complex individuals interact together in this chaotic organism known as society.  The Heart Led Leader is another text to add to that body of literature.

Lord Foul’s Bane Review

This book is, I suspect, in its basic essence something that most readers of fantasy and science fiction, or at least writers of it, have thought about at some point: what if I were to somehow be pulled into the protagonist role in the world of one of the stories I'm reading or writing? What would it be like? Could I even accept what was happening, the apparent evidence of my senses? On one level, that is exactly the circumstance in which Thomas Covenant finds himself, and by itself could make for an interesting, enjoyable story, maybe something a little like tumbling through the back of a wardrobe into a magical land.

Wild Seed Review

This book reminded me of Ursula K Le Guin's writing. Something about the descriptions, the pacing, the plotting, the characters, echoed that author's mode and style. Not that I think Wild Seed is derivative in any way - it is one of the most unique stories I've come across recently - merely that the author happened to have similar style and preferences to Le Guin. Also like Le Guin, Butler takes a fairly common concept - that of immortals interacting with mortals - and follows through on it in a way that makes it compelling and original. This is, in many ways, what I've always wanted to see in a book that tackles that concept.

Blindsight Review

If I had to distill Blindsight down to a single, central theme, it would be that of self. What is the concept of self? How does it relate to the concept of what is human? What is the origin, function, and cost of self-awareness? How does it relate to free will, and does free will exist, or is it merely an illusion? Watts seems to have created the entire novel as a thought experiment to explore these concepts, and he leverages two lenses to accomplish that: the various neuro-atypicalities of his characters, and the distinctively intelligent but unaware aliens. Either of these ideas alone could have easily been the foundation of a compelling novel. Combining them together made this one both more compelling, and more challenging, and is in many ways at the core of my personal dichotomy over Blindsight.

The Diamond Sutra Review

Although I think most people associate Buddhism with India, it has also historically had a strong presence in China, and it is because of China that The Diamond Sutra ended up on my reading list. When I picked it up, the only thing I knew about it was that a copy of it was the oldest existing printed book. The information at the front informed me that it was a Buddhist text, and that it was going to tell me about enlightenment. With that, I went into one of the shortest books I've read in a very long time.

Norse Mythology Review

As you know if you've been following along with the weekly reviews for awhile, I've been spending a lot of time reading this past year or so books that deal with either myth or ancient history, whether its the mythology of Iceland or Tolkien, and that has led me to my own thoughts about mythology and history, including a rapidly growing novel that draws from such ideas and formats for much of its inspiration. In many ways, Gaiman's Norse Mythology feels like a similar project, a retelling of old myths in a new way. Instead of telling a new story inspired by those older sources, Gaiman actually retells a sampling of real, classic myths.

The Popol Vuh Review

In my literary tour of the ancient world, I've visited Iceland, Europe, the Middle East, India, and the Mediterranean, and I have plans to visit China (that will be next week's review, sort of). The perhaps obvious gaping holes in this journey are Africa and the Americas, which simply do not have the same ancient literary traditions as the other locations I've mentioned. I could be reading ancient Greek literature for the rest of the year at least, but even finding a single title authentic to the Americas (as opposed to a history of the region) was a challenge. Eventually, I stumbled across something called the Popol Vuh.