Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday Review Post, 12/17/2011

Ooo, can you feel it in the air? That's right, it's that time of year! Paper grading time! Woooohooo!

My final grades this semester are due on the 20th. That means that the grades will post sometime around the 23rd or 24th, and that means that the complaints about grades will begin sometime around the 26th or 27th. This is perfect - by the 26th, I'll be all out of eggnog, and I'll need something to drink instead - the frustrated tears of students are delicious, and I drink them neat, no chaser.

Mmmm. Tears of my Students. Just the ingredient I need!

That, though, combined with the sheer length of Neal Stephenson's Reamde means I've only finished one book this week. And it isn't Reamde.

James R. Benn - Mortal Terror

I believe I've mentioned Benn's Billy Boyle mysteries before. I really like them. They are set during WWII. Boyle is the distant nephew of General Eisenhower. His family pulled strings to get Boyle on Eisenhower's staff in Washington (to keep him out of the fighting) and then Eisenhower got transferred to England, and took Boyle with him. Ike uses Boyle as a deep cover detective, investigating crimes that are too sensitive to allow the public to look too closely at. This, naturally, places Boyle in some hairy situations - not at all the cushy position his parents anticipated.

The book is really about combat fatigue, and the things that combat does to the minds of soldiers. The plot concept rests on the idea that, if in combat long enough, 98% of soldiers will have some sort of mental breakdown. The remaining 2% will be sociopaths. One of those 2% decides to start killing US officers in Italy, just before the Anzio landings, and Boyle is tasked with tracking him down before he can mess up the invasion.

A new character enters the series - Boyle's kid brother gets called up and (in the way that fiction works) ends up in the thick of things. Boyle has to struggle with his sense of duty and his desire to protect his brother. This allows Benn to explore concepts about family, about duty, and, ultimately, about the nature of humanity. We keep starting wars - why? What does it do to us? I think that's what I like about Benn as a writer - he's playing with a couple of genres - historical mil fic and detective novels - that very easily collapse into formulas. Instead of giving into the temptation of formulaic writing, Benn continues to look more deeply at the human condition. Excellent stuff, highly recommended.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wednesday Library Post, 12/14/11

So, the trip to the library yesterday was something of a bust, frankly. Not much on the new book rack at all. Probably many other readers are realizing that, with the Christmas season upon them, they have some time in which to read, and have grabbed all the good books. Or something.

I did pick up a YA novel, however:

Janni Lee Simner - Bones of Faerie

This looks interesting. It's a post-apocalyptic setting, but the cause of the apocalypse was the return of faeries to Earth. They infested the natural world with inimical plants - dandelions now have thorns, for instance - and wove magic through the human population. But the magic in the human population calls ruin upon the human family. So that's an interesting twist.