Monday, June 20, 2011

Reiffen's Choice by S.C. Butler

Reiffen's Choice: Book One of the Stoneways TrilogyReiffen's Choice: Book One of the Stoneways Trilogy by S. C. Butler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reiffen is a young boy living in partial exile. He is the true heir to the throne, but because of an attack by powerful magician's before his parents' marriage could be formally akcnowledged, there is a question on his claim. The doubt allowed his uncle to usurp the throne. His mother has raised Reiffen to one day claim the throne as his own. She is preparing to take him to the capital to challenge his uncle when Reiffen is kidnapped by agents of the Three, the only remaining Wizards in the land, who have plans of their own for domination of the world they live in. Reiffen's two best friends, as well as a Dwarf and a shapeshifter who is most comfortable as a bear, set out on a secret mission to reacue him.

This was an enjoyable book. I was a bit confused at first, because the story seems to be more about Avender, Reiffen's best friend, than about Reiffen himself, and I wondered about the title. But it is resolved well in the end, and I put the book down with more "Ah, ok, so that's what it meant" than "So, why is it called that?"

The story moves along pretty quickly once the rescue party sets out, and is not held back by the long trek through underground caves and tunnels they must make. There's enough action and the pacing is good so it does not get really boring. The point of view does shift to Reiffen at times, so we don't lose sight of him and what is happening to him.

The world is fairly well drawn, and the culture and lives of the Dwarves is interesting, if a bit short changed, in my opinion. I would have liked to know more about them, although I must admit that might have held the story back a bit.

Characters are interesting and well-drawn. The Dwarves are solid and stable, with a sensitivity to stone that borders on magic, although in this world, true magic has no effect on them. The children are brave and at times heroic, which is to be expected, but are not above real fear and doubts that keep them truer to their ages than some books I've read. The shapeshifter, Redburr, provides some truly funny scenes.

This is the first book in the series, and it left me wondering what the consequences of Reiffen's Choice will be. I guess I will have to read the others to find out.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What's On The Telly?

No book review this week, since I haven't finished the book. I think this week I shall talk television. There isn't a lot I watch, really. A few network crime dramas, and both Food Network and the Cooking Channel, with a little Travel Channel thrown in there, as well. No, I do not watch "reality" shows. There is nothing real there to watch. Nor do I watch the so-called talent shows on the major networks or much in the way of what passes for comedy these days. What I am going to talk about here is a many year obsession from the BBC. And that is Dr. Who.

For those who have been living in a television vacuum filled with American Idol and Survivors, Dr. Who is a long running British science fiction show about a time traveling fellow who gets in and out of scrapes large and small with the help of his wits and intelligence. Oh, and a companion or two. The show began in 1963 and ran regularly until 1989. There was a movie done in 1996, and the series was restarted on a regular basis in 2005.

There have been eleven actors who have portrayed the Doctor over those years, and that is one of the most intriguing aspects of the show. When a change is necessary, the character, as an alien humanoid Time Lord, has the ability to regenerate a new physical form, and, to some extent, a new personality, freeing the show from the usual problems of losing a lead.

I have known eight of the eleven Doctors and am slowly working my way through the others. All have had their good points, some more than others, and if you put 10 Whovians in a room, you will probably get heated discussion on the “best” Doctor. The 2005 revival of the show is a direct continuation of the earlier series, with the ninth incarnation of the Doctor played by Christopher Eccleston. He was followed by David Tenant and the current eleventh Doctor is portrayed by Matt Smith.

I will say that my favorite Doctor is the fifth, as played by Peter Davison. But David Tenant’s tenth Doctor had me hooked at about five minutes into his first episode and he is a very, very close second favorite. I also have to say that it took several episodes to warm up to Matt Smith, but I am now a firm fan. He absolutely soars as the Doctor, getting better and more comfortable in the role with every episode. His Doctor is frightening and comforting, frenetic and calming, brilliant and completely missing the point, all in the space of one or two sentences. In a recent episode (The Almost People) where he played dual roles as the Doctor and a doppleganger Doctor, his timing was spot on playing against himself. It’s a real pleasure to watch him perform.

The new series is much darker in tone than a lot of the older shows. It is far more grown up and the stories are deeper, with many continuing arcs embedded. Still, most of the individual shows are self-contained and the main story is told in one or two episodes. We’re given hints at the larger themes along the way. Current show runner Stephen Moffat is brilliant at dropping just enough information to let you think you almost have it figured out, and then he drops yet another bombshell. The writing is generally quite good, although there have been some misses (this season’s pirates episode, The Curse of the Black Spot, for one) and some quite wonderful stories (The Doctor’s Wife, written by Neil Gaiman) as well. This show is television as it should be: entertaining, engaging, it makes you think, laugh, cry, it frightens you and gives you hope. You should be watching it.

Oh, and just so you know- if a big, blue police box suddenly appears in my backyard… Well, I may be away for a while. Or I may be back yesterday. You never know with the Doctor.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Where Did I Put That Thing???

I started a new story a couple days ago, and I'll be damned if I can figure out where I saved the file to! Not a good situation to be in.

The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike by P.K. Dick

The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly AlikeThe Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike by Philip K. Dick

I follow all the Tor Books Facebook feeds and one Sunday, they posted a giveaway where if you were the first person to comment, you got three P.K. Dick novels. I was that first person and that is how I got this book.

I knew P.K. Dick primarily for his science fiction work, particularly Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and it's movie adaptation, Blade Runner. None of the three books I got were science fiction, but I knew I liked his writing, so decided they were worth a try.

The book was written in the early sixties in CA and is set in that time period in Marin County. It is bascially the story of Leo Runcible, a middle class Jew living in a typical '60's WASP neighborhood near San Francisco. Leo is a real estate agent, the "new guy" in a town full of old timers, who have lived there all their lives. He dreams of being the one to bring development to the town, and turning it into a suburban mecca for San Franciscans looking to escape the city. And turning a nice profit for himself. He is set to close a deal on a house, when it is noticed that a nieghbor of his has a Negro as a guest at his house. The ensuing discussion turns racial, losing Leo both the deal and a friendship. In a fit of retailiation, he reports the neighbor, Walt Dombrosio, for drunken driving, causing Walt to lose his driver's license. All of this sets up a sort of fued between the two, and their wives.

Walt decides to have some work done on his septic field and uses the opportunity to set up, with some other townsmen, an elaborate practical joke on Leo. They plant what looks like the remains of a Neanderthal man on Leo's property and lead Leo to discover it after picking up some Indian artifacts at the leach field diggings. Leo believes he has a real archaeological find and calls in experts from universities to verify the finds. They, of course, identify them as faked. In tracking down the source of the actual skeletons used to make the fakes, it comes to light that there is a problem with the local water supply. What started as a neighbor's fued ends up affecting a whole town.

This was an interesting book. It was well outside what I normally read, but the characterizations are quite well drawn and have depth. The setting is very much a late '50's- early '60's lifestyle, with the morals and conventions of those time periods. Women were expected to stay home and raise children, or be active in local clubs and organizations. When one of the wives gets a job, it affects her relationships with her husband and the community. The racial prejudices of the day are present, though not a main theme in the story. They do drive some of the plot, and give insight into Leo's character.

All in all, it was an interesting read. Not an easy one and you will have to think a bit while reading. For those who only know Dick for his science fiction, this early work shows a different side of the author and his talents.

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