July 24, 2006

A Few Good Books

I am, as my wife will tell you, a voracious reader. My tastes are varied (though I particularly enjoy science fiction for escapism), and so I read a wide variety of different literature.

Over the last few weeks, I've read a number of good books that I would like to offer up as suggestions to my readers.


This is NOT an ideological recommendation -- it is one based upon readability. Bennett has written a history of the US (up to the eve of WWI) that is not only strong on facts but also entertaining. While very much written from a traditional perspective, Bennett does not fail to point out the less-proud moments in our nation's history. He also sprinkles the book with tidbits and asides that make his subjects, so often presented as dry, wooden figures by academic historians, come alive. For example, while the correspondance between John Adams and his beloved Abigail is well known, I never imagined that the microfilm of their letters, laid end to end, would extend over five miles. Those who love history -- or who want to love history -- would do well to add this book to their collection.


I'll admit it -- when Anne McCaffrey decided to pass her much-loved Pern series on to her son, Todd, I was frightened. After all, Anne had developed Pern over the course of nearly four decades, beginning with the Draonriders Trilogy, expanding it with the Harper Hall Trilogy of juvenile novels (which take us into more mundane life on Pern) and then expanded with novels set in much earlier periods of Pern's history and some which complete the story begun in the initial novels. Todd has brought us into a different world -- one which looks to the common people of the planet -- in particular the outcast and marginalized of society. This novel looks at the miners of Pern -- and the Shunned, those expelled from the Holds for crimes great and petty. While this might not be the best of the Pern novels to begin one's acquaintance with Pern (you really need to read the Dragonriders Trilogy for that), this is a worthy place to continue the friendship.



If Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey are among your literary heroes, I strongly encorage you to read of the exploits of Charles Edgemont of the Royal Navy, for he is another fighting captain of the Napoleonic Wars. A relucant hero, Edgemont earns his reputation and first command at a young age when he is the senior surviving officer aboard a stricken ship at the battle of St. Vincent. He rises to the challenge -- but finds his most pressing battle is for the heart of a Quaker girl, Penny Brown, whose faith presents an obstacle to their relationship. The battles are fierce, the romance touching, and the issues of faith handled with respect and dignity. By the way, Hornblower and Aubrey each mak a cameo appearance in the first two novels -- yeah, a bit of a gimmick, but a pleasant (though brief) surprise. By the way -- how captivating are these books? I read the first in two sittings, and the second in a single marathon sitting. I literally could not bring myself to put them down. I cannot wait for Jay Worrall to bring us the next installment of this charming series.



These are the first few novels of Charles Stross' "Merchant Princes" series. The series combines an old cliche (a foundling who is secretly royalty) and combines it with two of my favorite science fiction themes -- alternate histories and traveling between parallel universes. The series follows Miriam Beckstein, a technology reporter from Boston, and her discovery that she has the ability to travel between (at first) this world and a very different one. Lo and behold, this discovery leads to her being caught up in the political intrigue of her real family -- a noble family in a feudal world. But wait, there are twists and turns coming, as it turns out that her new-found family has a rather interesting business, and that her return to the fold disrupts the entire system of alliances that exists. Oh, by the way, there is a long-lost renegade branch of the family that appears on teh scene, leading to the discovery of a THIRD universe -- one which Miriam makes the most of. The third novel is definitely a bridge to the rest of the series, and so we will have to wait until next year's installment to see where this is all headed (Stross has already inked a deal to take the series through Book 6 -- one a year through 2009). The author, Charles Stross, has written a number of other novels that deal in different aspects of science fiction -- including at least one that is a must for fans of Lovecraft's Cthulu books. And to think I discovered this series by accident, when I noticed the paperback edition of The Hidden Family on the rack at Krogers! Good things are found in unexpected places.

Feel free to talk about any new discoveries in the comments below.

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