Saunders, Nicholas J. Alexander’s Tomb.

NY: Basic Books, 2006.

Subtitled “The Two Thousand Year Obsession to Find the Lost Conqueror,” this is a semi-academic (lots of footnotes, lengthy bibliography) but also very readable account of what we know happened — and what else we think may have happened — to the mummy of Alexander after he died in Babylon at the age of thirty-two. By Macedonian tradition, a deceased king was buried by his successor, so whoever controlled that particular very famous corpse had an excellent claim to taking over his empire. (more…)

Published in: on 14 August 2017 at 7:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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Rothfuss, Patrick. The Name of the Wind.

NY: DAW, 2007.

I’ve been hearing good things about this author’s first fantasy novel, the first third of a trilogy, but I was delaying until the whole thing had been published so I wouldn’t have to wait between volumes to see what happens next. But the third volume has been very slow to appear, so I finally gave up and jumped in, and I’m glad I did. It’s an amazing book for any author, but even more so for a first book.

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Perry, Thomas. The Old Man.

NY: Mysterious Press, 2017.

Sixty-year-old Daniel Chase, widower and resident for nineteen years of a small New Hampshire town just over the Vermont line, and who seems to be retired, walks his two big black dogs a couple of times a day. And he keeps his eyes carefully open out of long habit, because he has a history and he’s been in hiding for a long time. And then, as he knew would happen eventually, the people who have never quite stopped looking for him show up — which is why he has always kept several spare identities and a bug-out bag handy.

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Published in: on 12 July 2017 at 12:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Scalzi, John. The Collapsing Empire.

NY: Tor, 2017.

When it comes to writing SF novels, Scalzi doesn’t always hit it out of the park, but he does have a very good batting average. I’ve seen some highly critical comments recently about this opening volume of his new space opera series from apparently disappointed fans, so I approached it with some trepidation. Damned if I can see what they’re complaining about, though. It’s an action-packed adventure with bigger-than-life (and frequently off-the-wall) characters, a supporting cast of billions, creditable pseudo-science (and some of the real stuff, too), and a skein of plotlines that will definitely hold your attention.

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Harris, Robert. An Officer and a Spy.

NY: Knopf, 2013.

Harris is very good at thoughtful, carefully researched historical novels, whether they’re set in ancient Rome or in the 20th century. This time, he undertakes to tell the story of Alfred Dreyfus, Alsatian Jew and captain in the French army in the 1890s, who was accused and convicted of treason — spying for the Germans — and who was packed off to Devil’s Island (reopened especially for him) as an object lesson to everyone else.

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Beard, Mary. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome.

NY: Liveright, 2015.

Until recently, Beard wasn’t that well-known outside the world of academic classicists, her occasional appearances on BBC notwithstanding. Then this engaging and engrossing volume of her thoughts on the Roman republic and the early empire came out after (literally) fifty years in the making, and everyone’s reading it. She may have done more for popular interest in ancient Rome than any writer since Gibbon.

First, she makes it clear that this is not a complete history of the 1,500 years of Rome’s existence in various forms. She’s interested mostly in the city’s establishment and the slow, nearly mythical formation of the Republic from its period of what were essentially warlords and gangsters. And she ends with Caracalla’s extension of citizenship to all free people within the empire in 212 CE, because after that it was an entirely different game with different rules, and not really “Roman” any more.

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Black, Benjamin. Christine Falls.

NY: Henry Holt, 2006.

For anyone who doesn’t already know, “Benjamin Black” is the nom de crime of Irish novelist John Banville, and this was his first mystery novel featuring Quirke, a decidedly quirky forensic pathologist in Dublin in the 1950s, when the Church ran absolutely everything. But even though this is a “detective story,” it’s nothing at all like what Michael Connelly or Lawrence Block might write.

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Addison, Katherine. The Goblin Emperor.

NY: Tor, 2014.

I’ve been an avid fan of all sorts of science fiction all my life but I’ve always been much pickier about fantasy. There’s a tendency to posit non-human semi-supernatural races of beings for their own sake, and to just wave a wand and say “Magic!” as a cop-out when you don’t want to have to explain something that would be counter to natural law. Tolkien has a lot to answer for in my book. I am a fan, though, of authors like Joe Abercrombie, whose fantasy worlds are more “real.” Addison (who is really Sarah Monette, and has published a number of horror and weird fantasy novels under that name) is closer to that style, and this politics-heavy yarn has a lot to recommend it.

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Corey, James S. A. Cibola Burn.

NY: Orbit Books, 2014.

This writing team has recently been turning out some of the best hell-for-leather space opera I’ve read in years, and this fourth volume in the “Expanse” series maintains both the quality and the pace. The cumulative plot has become very complex (don’t even think of starting this epic anywhere but at the beginning), and I won’t attempt to summarize what came before, but suffice it to say that the Protomolecule hasn’t disappeared. Or at least its legacy is still around.

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Yukimura, Makoto. Planetes. Vol. 2.

Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics, 2016.

The first volume, in which we met Hachi Hoshino, orbital garbage man, and the debris-collection crew of which he is a part, was an amazing combination of plot, narrative, characterization, philosophy, and nicely done, very clean art to support it all. The overarching theme there was the preparation for the seven-year exploratory voyage to Jupiter, and Hachi’s determination to be a part of it, no matter what.

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