Category Reviews

‘The World of M. C. Escher’ Review

4.5 star rating

I’ve been fascinated by the work of 20th Century Dutch artist M. C. Escher since I first encountered it in college. His impossible constructions and transformation tilings in particular drew my eye and brain as I tried to figure out how he was able to create them. Somewhere along the way I picked up this book but have only now, years later, gotten around to reading it.

The essays at the front include one by Escher himself, but the first one, by museum curator J. L. Locher is the most enlightening. It describes how the artist used mathematical principles (without getting deep into the math itself) to structure many of his works, and how he used ambiguous shades of gray to smoothly turn a floor into a wall or a ceiling in a work like “Relativity” or create the closed loop sta...

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“The Six” Review

3.5 star rating

Contrary to author Mark Alpert’s claim in his note at the end of the book, The Six is most definitely science fiction. Its essential premise and technologies are based on the states of science and technology in the mid-2010s, and it relies heavily on projections of the science and tech into the future, making it “hard” SF.

There are two core story-lines: the ability of doctors to map all of the synaptic connections in a human brain—the “connectome,” although Alpert never uses the term—and artificial intelligence...

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‘How to Critique Creative Writing’ Review

2-star rating

British author Norman Turrell does something difficult for a how-to book: he manages to simultaneously be both too vague to be useful to the would-be critiquer, and too detailed. On the one hand, the “advice” he gives on what a reviewer should look for when critiquing a work is so general the reviewer has nothing to hang his or her critique hat on. Then he suggests the reviewer take so many notes on each read-through of the work that they could end up with more words written than the story or chapter they were reviewing contains. (Those notes being based on the vague guidance he provided.)

A former mathematician, Turrell recommends the reviewer graph out their impressions, chapter by chapter, for features such as plot, character development, percentage of dialogue contained...

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‘The Dictionary of Fiction Critique’ Review

Kate Jonuska’s idea to create a dictionary of critique terms and intermingle them with a bit of discussion seems like a clever technique at first, but the idea quickly loses its luster. First, Jonuska interrupts the flow of the book every time she inserts the definition of a new term and provides an example or two. These interruptions make it very hard to piece together coherent concepts from which a reviewer can build a critique.

Second, dictionaries are not typically the kind of book one reads in order to try to build a broad understanding of a concept...

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“American Indian Literature, An Anthology” Review

3.5 star rating

Alan R. Velie’s 1991 revised edition certainly lives up to it’s anthology subtitle. The book is divided into six sections: Tales, Songs, Oratory, Memoir, Poetry, and Fiction. Each contains what Velie presumably meant to be a representative sampling of these kinds of works.

A theme that runs through almost all of the works from the Oratory section on is the deep anger, frustration, and heartache of a half-conquered people. Looking beyond the Americas, history is replete with examples of conquering forces invading territories, initially overwhelming the people living there, sometimes quickly, sometimes only after a great struggle, but then never entirely wiping them out and replacing them...

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“The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson” Review

4 star rating

Not long ago I read The Portable Walt Whitman, an edited but complete collection of Whitman’s poetry, fiction, and accounts of his time in Washington, D.C., during the Civil War. What a contrast between him and his contemporary, Dickinson! Where Whitman is voluble, open (perhaps to extremes), and accessible, Dickinson is brief (a few poems are only two lines long), often cryptic, and many times difficult to parse.

Reading the entire collection of all 1775 poems, plus variations, cover to cover is a task only for the determined. Or the patient. Even at a pace of 25 poems a day, it still took me over two months to get through them all, and “get through” is the right term...

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“Grimm’s Fairy Tales” Review

4 star rating

This lavishly illustrated volume, published in 1961 in London, contains only about 50 of the over 200 folktales Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm collected during their lifetimes. It includes, of course, some of the most famous: Cinderella, Hänsel and Grethel (Hansel and Gretel), Rapunzel, Snow-White, and Tom Thumb, among others.

One of the most interesting aspects of reading these original versions of the stories is how different they are from the Disney-fied versions. Cinderella, for example, had no fairy godmother, no pumpkin-carriage, no clock striking midnight, and no glass slipper, and each of her evil sisters mutilated themselves to try to fit a foot into the shoe she did leave behind.

Even in their day, some of the Grimms’ stories were so bloody, or included certain topics, t...

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‘The Portable Walt Whitman’ Review

4 star rating

Walt Whitman, and his contemporary Emily Dickinson, were the seminal poets of their era, and had influence on American poetry far beyond their lifetimes. Which, of course, means they get studied in English classes, and that’s where I first encountered this book, during my master’s degree studies.

These classes naturally focus on bits and pieces of his multi-edition collection, Leaves of Grass, and especially his “Song of Myself,” but I wanted to read this entire book, not only to get the full measure of Whitman’s poetry, but to read his prose writing, which gets far less attention. I’m glad I did.

The hallmarks of Whitman’s early work are not just how he abandoned the stiff formalism of the poetry that came before, but how he would pile up lists of the characteri...

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“The City in the Middle of the Night” Review

5-star rating
3-star rating

I’ve never done a review like this, but it’s been a long time, if ever, since I’ve read (and finished) a book like this. A single rating simply isn’t sufficient to capture my responses to the book, so there are three: five stars, three, and one.

5-star rating

Anders not only creates this world and its native inhabitants, she creates a complete backstory of the humans in the generations ship who came to populate the planet, the vastly different cultures of the two major cities they founded, and groups of wanderers who travel between them. The cities, Xiosphant and Argelo, not only have highly distinct, and largely corrupt, governments, they have their own languages, currencies, and ways of dealing with the fact that the sun never rises or sets.

All of this is highly ima...

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“The First Marine Captured in Vietnam” Review

4 star rating
"The First Marine Capterued in Vietnam" cover

Don Cook was a young Marine Corps Captain, stationed on Okinawa but on a 90-day temporary duty assignment in South Vietnam when he was captured by the Viet Cong near the town of Binh Gia. From his capture on December 31, 1964, to his death on or about December 8, 1967, Cook was held in a number of primitive prisoner of war (POW) camps in South Vietnam. He and his fellow POWs, mostly Army officers and enlisted soldiers and one US government civilian suffered mental, emotional, and some physical abuse, near-starvation diets, minimal medical care despite the ravages of many tropical diseases, and exposure to the elements.

Through it all, Cook held himself to the highest standards of moral, professional, and personal conduct, often placing the health and welfare of his fellow POWs ...

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