Foundation and Follow-Through

Spoilers follow!

Foundation and Empire (Foundation, #2)Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is more excellent work from Asimov. This delves a little more deeply into the science of psychohistory, not to mention the science fiction of mutation and society, while still telling an ultimately human story.

The first ten chapters don’t amount to much; the characters are interesting, but not riveting, and I was never brought to care about them in any meaningful sense. The point of these chapters (“Part I” of the book) seems entirely to lay the groundwork for Part II–that is, we see how effective Seldon’s psychohistory is, how accurately and clearly he has predicted human behavior, so we can be led to wonder how it could possibly fail.

The reader will recall, of course, that the first book in the series showed us how men might unwittingly participate in Seldon’s plan, might lead the Foundation to victory out of selfishness or patriotism, but we are constantly reminded that those men did not particularly matter. In Part I of this book, Asimov takes us a step further on that path: the characters, and their actions, truly don’t matter. The would-be conquerors of the Foundation are hoist with their own petard–we are told, through the eminently intellectual analysis that comes at the conclusion of every Foundation tale, that there was no alternative. By this point in the Foundation’s history, a conqueror must attempt it, and whether that conqueror were general or emperor, he must fail.

Though this results in a fairly weak Part I, it sets up very well for Part II–in which we meet the Mule, an aberration in Seldon’s plan. There are clever hints dropped about the inevitable reveal at the end of the book, but having read it before, I knew what would come (though I had forgotten some of the details). From what I recall of the last time, Asimov kept me curious to the end, but an observant reader could draw the same connections as Bayta does in the story–Asimov used the right repetition, the right wordplay, to make that possible. And, as the Mule himself tells us at the end, some of his explanations were quite illogical and fallacious, and those are pretty easy to spot as the end approaches.

All-told, it’s a good book. It isn’t perfect, but then, I’ve been endeavoring to read old favorites with a more critical eye, so I might be harsher than I need to be on it.

View all my reviews

The Swiss Family Robinson v. the Lord of the Flies

Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the WorldIsland of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World by Joan Druett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I did not read this book quickly, but not from lack of interest and excitement on its part. (I was distracted by other readings, writings, and the smallest inhabitant of my house learning to walk, which furnished him with many escape plans that necessitated thwarting.) Honestly, Druett’s work here is eminently readable and intriguing, especially for anyone interested in maritime history and survival stories.

There were a lot of things to like about this book. Human ingenuity, democracy, and the triumph of the human spirit resounded from the tale of the Grafton‘s castaways, while the tale of the survivors of the Invercauld was in no small way reminiscent of Golding’s Lord of the Flies, replete with wretched selfishness and unsettling depravity. Druett’s writing really brought these issues out and made the experience more present for the reader.

I also enjoyed her author’s note in the conclusion (although I admit I skimmed it a bit), wherein she lays out her sources and justifies her choices in regard to discrepancies among those sources. She shows a dedication to research that one can only find in good historians, and it has made the book delightful.

View all my reviews

Discerning Boundaries

Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your LifeBoundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My wife asked me to read this book, so that she could get my insights on it. I ended up liking the book; I think that it includes valuable information about taking ownership of your own life and divesting yourself of the notion that you can control others, or that your life somehow depends on others. At the same time, the book wasn’t without its problems.

Like (almost) everything I review, there were a few typos–mostly the sort of thing that can’t be caught by spell-check software (a B instead of an M in “my,” for example), and all of them minor (context clues provided the correct meaning easily). But I feel obligated to mention them, all the same.

I found the lack of references in the book particularly jarring. In a lot of ways, “Boundaries” purports to be a scholarly work, something focused on psychological healing and spiritual development, but it doesn’t mention any papers, or studies, or journals, or scientific inquiries. The endnotes in the book are reserved for “see also” suggestions. I gather that the authors were working from their own practice, but a few references to a little research would have gone a long way to earn my placidity.

The book contains a very large number of what I call “pastor stories.” Probably, these vignettes come from actual examples in the authors’ private practice, with the names and details changed to protect patient confidentiality… but they come across as those stories used by pastors to prove a point. You know the ones–anecdotes about people who only have first names, with no clear evidence to suggest that they are factual, but they perfectly (and conveniently) encapsulate the message that the pastor is trying to get across. I don’t trust stories like these, and while the clinical experience of the authors lends a little credence to them, I’m still not a fan.

The authors have, in my opinion, an incorrect view of both love and marriage. They assert that love is primarily a feeling, rather than an action (indeed, that action without feeling is worthless in the case of love); this may correspond with their experience, but it implies that a marriage without “that loving feeling” should end. Marriages, while I’m on the subject, are also not relationships of unconditional love, according to the authors. (I do not mean only in practice, for definitely there are countless marriages that are not based on unconditional love, but I mean the authors suggest that marriages should not be so.)

There seems to be a misapprehension of why “work” is “bad” in the modern mind. The authors insist that work existed before the Fall (in a probable misreading of the poetic structure of Genesis 1-3, but I digress), but I am reminded of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes: “It’s not work unless somebody makes you do it.” The reason “work” is unpleasant is that we define unpleasant tasks as “work.” To fill the earth and subdue it may have been a great challenge, and an enormous task, but it wasn’t “work” until the Fall. (You may find this a minor nitpick, but you get what you pay for with these reviews, and I don’t recall being paid anything.)

In the vein of their “pastor stories,” the authors also supply every story in the book with a happy ending. This strikes me as extraordinarily unlikely. Even moreso, I’m surprised that doctors with clinical experience would suggest this result. It’s simply not possible that every story ends happily, but the authors imply that, no matter your circumstances, if you simply say “no,” to your spouse/friend/parent/self, that person will eventually respect your “no” and become the person you’ve always wanted them to be. “Emotionally abuse husband? Tell him ‘no’ a few times and he’ll realize what a wonderful person you are and treat you better!” Of course, because no emotionally abusive husbands become physically abusive when their victims exhibit signs of resistance. “Susie told Jack to do his own job and stop making her do it. Her boss figured out that Jack was the problem and told him to shape up. Jack did so, and everyone is happy.” Of course, because no one has ever been blamed for somebody else’s shoddy work, right?

I just don’t see it being possible in every case.

Perhaps my biggest struggle is the authors’ tendency to blame absolutely every poor character trait on the parents of the unpleasant person. No one ever made a bad decision for themselves, it seems, but everything bad about you is your parents’ fault. Only you can fix it, of course, but they’re the ones that made you this way–they didn’t teach you good boundaries, or they tried to control you with guilt or anger, or they only looked out for themselves and did not respect your needs or boundaries, or… the list goes on. As a child myself, I can recall times that I made my own bad decisions, and I cannot trace my current problems to my parents. They weren’t perfect, of course, but they aren’t to blame for all of my hardships. As a parent myself, I find it hard to believe that every bad decision my son makes will rest on my head when judgment day comes–it’s just not a reasoned position to take here.

As I said, I eventually ended up liking the book (which may be hard to believe, at this point, but it’s true). The final few chapters, especially, have very good points that are important to internalize if you have any boundary problems at all (and most people probably do). The practical advice finally starts kicking in and the nebulous examples take a backseat to a more informative style. There are a lot of insightful directions to help you set boundaries in your life, and it really is useful.

Yet, I must admit sadly, there are even problems in these final sections. For one thing, there are a few glaring omissions from their practical advice and examples–extended family and in-laws come to mind most readily. Both extended family and a spouse’s family can be tremendous violators of boundaries, but since they had no effect on your childhood development, they don’t get their own chapters (unlike parents, friends, spouses, and self, which can all be traced back to poor parenting by your own folks). The second major problem in this section is assumptions: “Go to your support group,” they write, as if support groups were in every church, or grew on trees, and could be trustworthy and reliable wherever they may be found. Assumptions like these make the practical advice more difficult, but other, simpler advice must first be sought out (like How to Find or Develop a Support Group 101).

As I said, I did like the book. I think it’s a good resource–but you don’t have to read every page and paragraph, either. Look for the good; if you start getting bogged down in it, I don’t think you would miss much to skip ahead a few paragraphs, or a chapter. Look for what is most relevant to your situation, and I think you would do well.

View all my reviews

General Update

I know, it seems as though it’s been forever since I posted here. It kinda has. After I finished Zahn’s Scoundrels, I tried to take a break from reading and focus on writing The Aegipan Revolution, the sequel to my first novel. I made some good progress (I’m about 25,000 words in and maybe 1/6 through the plan, but expect the word count to go down with edits), but I lacked the perseverance to chase down an entire novel before reading anything else. So I picked up one book, then two more; one of those should get a review here within the next couple of weeks, I expect.

In case you missed it, I released another “31 Prayers” book–31 Prayers for Hope. You can learn more about this new prayerbook here.

In the meantime, I’ve also been working on creating book covers for the other two installments of the Chimaera trilogy. The first sequel, of course, is The Aegipan Revolution, and the third book in the trilogy (technically a prequel) is The Python Protocol. When I was making them, I thought, “Maybe I should just reveal these,” but I realized that would be giving everything away, and then you’d expect me to deliver soon. Instead, I’m giving you a little piece of the puzzle.

The Aegipan Revolution cover, part one

The Aegipan Revolution cover, part one

Speaking of snippets, I’m also throwing in a smidgen of text. This is Rough Draft material; it’s subject to change, but the scene likely will appear in the final product. You may recall from the end of The Chimaera Regiment that (Spoilers! Highlight to read:) Hector and Bronwyn had a son, whom they named Ronen; after he became emperor, we learn in the sequel, Ronen had son of his own, named Cadmus. In this scene, we join Cadmus on a leisurely hunt.

Cadmus followed the trail of the goat in the soft earth. The wind was fairly strong here, and the dirt thinned as he climbed higher. He feared that billowing dust would soon obscure the tracks, so he increased his pace. The reality of the world was like that, he decided: a set of prints, plain as day to some, but hidden by hardship for others. Maybe it wasn’t his job to argue that the prints were there; maybe he just had to clear away the dust and open their eyes.

He found the precipice suddenly. The hill came to an abrupt halt, dropping three hundred feet to a forest below. Cadmus kept his footing, but he wavered precariously at the edge. He sat down quickly. When his hands reached the rock beneath him, he pushed himself back a pace. A few breathless moments passed before he was confident in his stability. Leaning forward again, he surveyed the countryside. Below him, the forest stretched three miles to the south and nearly five miles to the east, neatly bordering the hills he had spent the day roaming. Studying the eastern border, he realized that his camp with Sam was among the trees there.

He paused for a moment, watching the breeze ripple the treetops; each wave cascaded with green and brown, vibrant in the early afternoon sun. This place really was peaceful. He knew that he might miss the wonders of the Library if he stayed here, but was natural wonder not so much better? That which made man–whether gods or earth–was so much greater than that which man made; it hardly bore comparison. Among the stones of Annifrea, a man could be truly powerful, wielding the implements of bygone ages–but among the greenery, a man could be truly free, released by the short memory of the wilderness. Cadmus doubted that the two could ever coexist.

The forest below waved at him again, and a silver glint caught his eye. He tried to peer closer, but to no avail–the distance and the foliage obscured his sight. Curiosity got the better of him; he stood and turned to go back the way he had come, intent on finding the mysterious object.

How he escaped being gored, Cadmus would never be quite sure. The collision of the goat’s head with his chest knocked the wind from his lungs and sent him tumbling over the precipice!

Keep an eye out for more updates, along with upcoming book reviews!

Solo’s Eleven

Star Wars: ScoundrelsStar Wars: Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Before I say anything spoiler-y, I want to point this out for everyone who might be interested in this book: everything makes a lot more sense if you’ve read A. C. Crispin’s “Han Solo” trilogy (which itself makes more sense if you’ve read Brian Daley’s “Han Solo Adventures” trilogy, but that’s far enough removed from this that it isn’t necessary). It’s not essential, but it is helpful, especially in light of the Han-and-Lando dynamic that comes up frequently.

Now, let me get into the spoilers. This is a “heist” book, and like a “heist” movie, it’s going to be difficult, if not impossible, to review without mentioning at least one spoiler. So consider yourself duly warned.

I really enjoyed this book. I like stories that keep me guessing a little bit, and this one certainly delivered. (Of course, Mr. Zahn has some experience with keeping me guessing, at least as long ago as I read his non-Star Wars novel The Icarus Hunt.) I also think that Mr. Zahn did a good job writing Han, Lando, Winter, and Kell Tainer (whom he borrowed from Aaron Allston’s X-Wing books). I would need to reread books featuring the latter two characters to make sure this fits in with their backstories and style, but based on Mr. Zahn’s prior good work, I have no reason to think that it did not.

Perhaps the most frustrating, in retrospect, was the identity and purpose of Eanjer, the local that hires Han for the job. I should have guessed his identity much earlier, based on my prior knowledge of his character, but I think I figured it out, at best, a few pages before Mr. Zahn wanted me to. Ah, well–more credit to the author, I suppose.

The book wasn’t perfect, but I don’t have many complaints. As with The Icarus Hunt, I thought that the book ended too quickly, without revisiting all of the characters in enough detail. And, while I appreciate Mr. Zahn’s interest in embroiling us in the world by mentioning other names that we might remember (referencing Crispin’s trilogy, for example), there were a couple anachronisms. It made no sense, for example, for one character to refer to Revan and Malak (characters from the Knights of the Old Republic video game), who existed thousands of years prior, in the middle of a galaxy in which Jedi and the Force were all but forgotten (a point made by Lando toward the end of the book). I might as well say, “Who do you think they are, Achilles and Odysseus?” It’s theoretically believable that I would mention those people, but far from normal.

At any rate, I enjoyed the book, and I hope that Lucasfilm’s new masters will not overlook Mr. Zahn as they continue to produce fiction in the “new” Star Wars universe.

View all my reviews