Tey, Josephine. The Daughter of Time.

NY: Simon & Schuster, 1951.

I first read this marvelous sort-of historical novel in high school around 1960, and it cemented my determination to become an historian of some kind. I’ve reread it several times in the years since and it never fails to absorb me. “Josephine Tey” was one of the pen names used by Elizabeth MacKintosh, a mystery writer greatly appreciated by her professional peers but who is largely forgotten today — except for this book, which was always her most popular.

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Corey, James S. A. Gods of Risk. / The Churn.

NY: Orbit, 2012. / NY: Orbit, 2014.

It seems to have become a thing, when you’re producing a long science fiction or fantasy novel series, to take a break now and then and write a piece of short fiction in the same setting, but off at a tangent from the main plot line. Usually, the author takes the opportunity to explore in more detail some background topic or, as is the case with these two novellas, events from a character’s early life. The author always knows more than he tells the reader, but here the writing team of the excellent and immensely popular “Expanse” space opera series will let you on some of what came before.

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Harris, Robert. Conclave.

NY: Knopf, 2016.

I’m not Catholic — I’m not really a believer of any kind, in fact — but I am interested in the anthropology of power, and I know from experience that Harris always tells a good story, so I was willing to give this one a try and I’m glad I did. Set just a couple of years from now, it’s about the struggle for succession following the death of a pope who is obviously meant to be Francis.

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Published in: on 11 September 2017 at 2:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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Cherrryh, C. J. Convergence.

NY: DAW, 2017.

Cherryh is, beyond dispute, one of the best purveyors of space opera EVER and this is the eighteenth volume of her magnum opus. It’s the story of a human colony ship that lost its way and was forced to land on a previously unknown world that already hosted a relatively advanced humanoid race. That was several centuries ago and the newcomers and the atevi have since learned not only to share the planet (though on different continents, and after some quantity of blood was spilled), they are now cooperating for their mutual benefit.

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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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