Archive for November, 2014


Thursday, November 27th, 2014


It’s Thanksgiving today, and I’m a very thankful fellow this year.  The image above is from the ride I took this morning.  It’s the first time I’ve been able to ride all the way down to the little beach where it was taken in quite some time, and I’m thankful and happy for that.

I’ve also had the kind of year that makes one take a look at life and consider what’s good and what’s bad.  I turned out to be pretty lucky.  I love where I live, and I like what I do for a living.  I’ve found some ways to spend my time that make me even happier, and maybe help some others, too.

But most importantly, I have a set of friends and acquaintances who are kind, considerate, and engaged with humanity.  Being laid up twice this year certainly helped me see that, but I’m working to notice it even when things are going well.  If you’re reading this, you’re one of those friends.  Today I am thankful for you.  And I’m trying to be so every day.

Review: Hawk

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

I generally don’t have too much to say about Brust’s Taltos novels, though I find all of them rewarding and most of them entertaining.  Hawk is a surprisingly meditative and cerebral book for a series that starts as such a lark.  This is the sort of thing that brings me back as a reader.  I liked the Sharpe’s books, but they don’t change much and you can see that my interest waned.  I was reading Gardner Bond books for a while, too, but I stopped reading them and he stopped writing them.  While some Taltos novels are similar, more the early ones  than the later ones, none of them are the same.  The tone and writing style changes and the characters develop in ways that are unusual for characters in what initially feels like a stock fantasy world.  I’ve said all that before.

Hawk finds Vlad tired of running and feeling the pull of his life getting away from him.  He spots a way that he thinks will get his pursuers, the Jhereg – his old allies in organized crime, off his back. Plotwise, Hawk is about building and executing that plan.  “Former fantasy mafioso on the run executes caper to get himself clear of the mob” is how my high-concept friends might summarize it.  And the summary is correct as far as it goes.  (And if that sounds like a book you’d read, you won’t be disappointed.)

I found Hawk more rewarding for two major reasons.  First, thematically, it’s about getting the right details right and Brust expresses that by doing it.  “Show don’t tell” is great writerly advice. Good writers do it with their plots; better writers do it with their characterization .  Brust does it with his theme.  Several times he creates affecting moments that both moved and surprised me.  I eventually realized that many of these were because Brust wrote exactly enough to make the scene work, not a word more, and avoided being flashy about that. A pleasure to read, whether you appreciate the technique or just feel the scene’s punch.

This is a nice theme to apply to the writing process and the living process.

Second, Vlad is ripening as a character.  Age and experience are changing him, and seeing an author take an established, popular character through that process is interesting.  I’d like to use a verb other than “ripening” here for variety, but I think this is what Vlad’s doing.  From the character’s perspective there’s no end state or plan to it (though Brust seems to have some handle on where he’s going) and the fundamentals of the character are guiding what happens.  And yet, we’re not quite sure where he’ll be next time.  It’s very interesting to watch that happen.

Strongly recommended.

Review: Doctor Mütter’s Marvels

Saturday, November 1st, 2014

In preparing Doctor Mütter’s Marvels, Cristin Aptowicz has taken the most important first step in writing an interesting biography – choosing an interesting subject.  Thomas Dent Mütter is a dashing, slightly eccentric physician who lived a rags-to-riches success story and left behind a respected museum that is both a curiosity and a serious boon to science.  What could go wrong from there?

Lots of things could, but none of them do.  Aptowicz writes a tight, informative book that keeps the story moving while communicating both what’s interesting about Mütter personally – his drive, skill, and compassion – and historically – his role in founding an important early medical college, pioneering plastic surgery techniques, and collecting important medical specimens.  The resulting volume is a joy to read.

There are some choices I would make differently. For example, Aptowicz spends more time making sure readers know that one of Mütter’s rivals gets his just desserts than I cared about.  These are minor differences of preference.  Marvels does a great job telling the storing of a fascinating medical pioneer.