Guards! Guards! – 4/5
One of the best titles for a book, and it reminds me a lot of the following old Onion article:
So I also feel like many many many people already know this book pretty well. I am not the biggest Discworld fan (I generally like irreverence, but not whimsy and I am not actually a huge British comedy fan, especially where the jokes are built on maximalism), but I did enjoy this one. The book focuses primarily on the city’s defenses, and the relationship between the city’s rulers, the guards, the various organized crimes, and the people. We begin with a group of citizens being coerced into channeling a dragon into being, and then cut to a dwarven empire, where an adopted son, a very large human, is told the truth about his origins and he’s told he probably needs to leave. When he arrives at the city, he joins the guards, where his large frame works very much in his advantage, but his earnest goodwill and sense of justice do not. In the city, the guards, the city’s rulers, and the guilds of organized crimes have a system in place to allow for a moderate and controlled amount of crime to exist (led by the various guilds) and for the guards to allow it, because it means other, uncontrolled crime does not spin out of control. It’s the way a lot of places work when it comes down to it, and as the novel explores, the system works pretty well, so long as you’re within the system.
Anyway, what also happens is that the dragon appears, and despite the city not having a king, it becomes king. It turns out that dragons are likely to be tyrants when it comes down to it, and that ends up being a problem.
Fires of Eden – 3/5
I recently read what I thought was a decidedly bad Dan Simmons book: Darwin’s Blade. This one has the even less illustrious problem of being kind of boring and mediocre. Stylistically, it’s basically a Michael Crichton book, but with some flourish. It’s even structured a lot like Jurassic Park, but then has some additional confusing elements to it.
The novel is in the same universe as his novel Summer of Night (as well as Children of the Night and a Winter Haunting) and involves one of the characters of that book now as a grownup years later, though she’s not the primary character here. We are on the big island of Hawaii (which is treated as weirdly small like it’s the size of Martha’s Vineyard, and not half the size of Massachusetts) at an all inclusive luxury resort owned by a famous billionaire. Trumbo (NOT DONALD TRUMP we’re repeatedly) told is trying to sell the resort in part because of a upcoming divorce, perhaps hoping to secret the money away from his wife’s lawyers and also because of a rash of disappearances. We also have Eleanor Perry, a historian from Oberlin, who is coming to the island for some kind of research, and tells another passenger on the flight where she’s staying, which weirds him out because of the reputation. Our last main characters are a local historian and Cordie, from Summer of Night, now a divorcee who has won a trip. The plot involves a tense weekend where the disappearances keep happening, but are also interspersed with journal entries from the 1860s, when a huge volcanic eruption wreaked havoc on the island and also stars Mark Twain, who happened to be there at the time.
The novel’s main subjects are weird enough but the pacing and scope never quite come together in a way that works.
1599 – 5/5
I guess I just really like these historical reconstructions of years of Shakespeare’s life. In 1599, we’re focused mainly on the production of Henry V, As You Like It, and the writing of Hamlet primarily, while also dealing with the early business dealings with the Globe etc.
This is not really a construction of the life of Shakespeare, so much as an attempt to look at what Shakespeare’s life looked like in general. This year stands out because it seems possible to be a transitionary year moving away from the young historical and comedy writing Shakespeare to the more serious Shakespeare that is about to deliver Hamlet, Macbeth, Lear, and Othello, but that’s a lot of supposition.
James Shapiro does a pretty good job of reconstructing the year without making any egregious claims and being pretty straight forward with the limits of his methodology. And more than the history, the close reading of the plays stands out as the more interesting elements here.
Pensees – No rating
This is book is an exercise in decent personal wisdom and near silly sophistry. Pensees translates to “thoughts” and the first several dozen in this book have to do with the nature of being a person in the world, especially related to how one relates to the world and existence. There’s a lot of wisdom in this section, except for the fact that much as what is seen as less good, is not really entirely up to the person who is experiencing it.
For example, someone who is constantly moving, who privileges the “chase over the quarry” probably does need to recognize this in themselves and adapt at least to their motivation, if not their actual action. Who knows.
But the book begins to spin out of control when it starts talking about Christianity. Contained within this is the famous “Pascal’s Wager” which posits that if you don’t believe in God, and you’re right, you gain nothing. But if you’re wrong, you lose everything and therefore should hedge. It also includes the idea of faking it until you make it. It’s always sounded to me like one of the dumbest and most corrupt ideologies I’ve ever heard. It’s the beginning of things here. The most of this book is premised on the “truth” that God, Jesus, and Christianity are right, and then look for evidence to prove this. It’s based entirely on the limits of 18th century knowledge of science and history, and of course was spouted to me repeatedly when I was younger as gotchas.