Sunday, December 27, 2009

Mort, by Terry Pratchett

Mort (Discworld, #4) Mort by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Title character Mort is apprenticed to Death. Why Death chose him is a mystery at first, but all is revealed eventually. One of my favorite Discworld novels so far (I haven't read all by any means yet) - this is a great mix of humor, fantasy and adventure. Recommended to anyone who likes fantasy, satire, parody or just plain fun. A good read.

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Colour of Magic, by Terry Pratchett (Discworld no. 1)

The Color of Magic (Discworld, #1) The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Although this is the first book in the Discworld series, it's actually the 2nd I've completed, The Wee Free Men being the first. I enjoyed this book, although having read a later book in the series showed me that Mr. Pratchett's writing has improved considerably over time. Still, this is a fun read for anyone who likes fantasy in general and humorous fantasy in particular. I came to really like inept magician Rincewind and his traveling companion Twoflower, first tourist in Discworld history (apparently) and caught several parodies of other famous fantasy works in the adventures the two men had while traversing Discworld. If you've read any of Leiber Fritz's works or those of Robert E. Howard you'll see what I mean. Probably there are many other allusions I've have caught if I was more well read in modern fantasy authors. But the novel is more than just a parody of other fantasies. There's some highly original stuff in this very first Discworld novel that would have been enough to arouse my interest in continuing reading the series, even if I hadn't already read a later book. My favorite is the Luggage, whom I want for a pet even if it does have some homicical tendencies.

I recommend this book to anyone who likes fantasy, humor, humorous fantasy, parody, and just good writing. I've even recommended it to friends who don't normally read fantasy. A solid 4 out of 5 stars.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Review of The Politics of Rage, by Dan T. Carter

The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics by Dan T. Carter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The following is a review I wrote on this book back in November, 2004. I've since come around to agreeing with author Carter that much of the later GOP platforms of the succeding decades was inspired to some degree by Wallace's early racist campaigns and their success, but I've posted the review just as I wrote it in 2004 with no changes:

This is an excellent study on the political career of George Wallace, the former Alabama Governor famed for his stand against integration in the early 1960's and his subsequent runs for the Presidency. Carter portrays Wallace as a complex individual, who seems to have been motivated from the start more by ambition than principle. The book gives an extremely well researched and readable account of Wallace's early life, his family, friendships and formative experiences. Carter attempts to show that Wallace early on became politically ambitious for the Alabama Governor's office and that he originally adopted the stance of a moderate (for the time) southern populist, going so far as to refuse to break away from the Democratic party in 1948 and supporting Truman over Strom Thurmond and the Dixiecrat party.

In the 1958 Alabama gubernatorial election Wallace was defeated by a more blatantly racist, segregationist opponent and vowed in a famed statement of racial epithet never to be the racial moderate in any future elections. True to his word he ran a 1962 campaign on the stance of continued defiance to federal government attempts to integrate Alabama schools and extend voting rights to the state's black population. Successfully elected, he made a national name for himself by his confrontations with the federal courts (including initially trying to defy or evade the court orders of man who had once been a good friend - Federal Judge Frank Johnson) and the Kennedy Justice Department. The book doesn't shy away from the resulting violence of some of Wallace's followers and the more extreme racist comments and actions of many of those who supported him in the 1960's. I think Carter makes a good case that by his disregard for federal law enforcement agencies and civil rights protesters that Wallace in some degree bore some of the responsibility for the actions of the more extreme and violent of those opposed to integration and expanded civil rights for black citizens.

Carter also provides great detail into minds of the inner circle of those men who managed Wallace's candidacy in his state and later national campaigns for President, including talented speechwriter but also violent racist Klansman Asa Carter (no relation to the author), who would later become famous as the author of the historical novel that inspired the Clint Eastwood movie "The Outlaw Josey Wales". Biographer Carter's premise is that by Wallace's strong showings in the presidential elections of 1968 and 1972 (before he was derailed by an assassination attempt) that Wallace succeeded in moving the national political debate to the right, especially in the area of social policies and politics. Carter has gone on record in other books and speeches as trying to link the Republican policies of welfare reform, re-examination of affirmative action policies and anti-crime legislation as being directly descended from Wallace's bigoted early campaigns. While I think he stretches the point I do think that some of Wallace's populist appeal did pave the way for successful Presidential campaigns of other southerners, such as Georgia's Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Arkansas' Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. Carter sees Republican Ronald Reagan as more of a direct descendant of Wallace, but this reviewer sees it as a fact that most successful Presidential races since 1968 whether Republican or Democrat have taken Wallace's anti-Washington bureaucrat populist rhetoric and support for a stronger defense and lower taxes as being more important than his racial stances.

Of course Wallace himself moderated his racial stances through the succeeding years, until he was running as a populist with appeal to both blacks and whites in the 1980's and appealing for forgiveness to many of those he had wronged. Carter dutifully reports this later conversion, although he seems to question some of the sincerity behind the public conversion.

The book doesn't represent itself as a conventional biography as much as an examination of Wallace's life and the effects of his political campaigns on national and regional politics, and for that reason I can forgive what I see as a failure of the book to give as much detail and scrutiny to Wallace's life after 1972 as Carter gave the previous years. The book does a powerful job of conveying the reality of Lurleen Wallace's life and trials as George's wife as well as her fights with the cancer that finally killed her. Her stint as a successful stand in candidate for Governor in 1966 and her short term in office before her death is given a good overview. However I would have liked to have seen as much detail and information on Wallace's later family and personal life, including his other marriages and relationships with his children. I also would have been interested in finding out more about the Alabama political scene of the 1980's and 1990's and Wallace's lasting effect on those politics, but I can't argue with the fact that Carter has written a masterful portrait on both the man and his era and the waves he caused by his political campaigns. A definite 5 stars for this award winning (justly so, I might add) political biography.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Social Psychology of Organizations, by Daniel Katz and Robert Kahn

The Social Psychology of Organizations The Social Psychology of Organizations by Daniel Katz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Obviously not for the casual reader, but this book was an excellent overview of how organizations operated. I read it in 78-79 for a grad school class. Tough at the start, but once I got going I found it very insightful and well done. I'd recommend it to any serious student of organizations and management/leadership.

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Review of The Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett

The Wee Free Men (Discworld: Tiffany Aching, #1) The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’m presently about half way through reading this marvelous little book. People have been recommending Mr. Pratchett’s work to me for years, and I must say that I’m sorry I took so long to finally start one of his books. I did read Good Omens The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch a while back, which he co-authored with Neil Gaiman, and that book was excellent, but I was going through my NG phase at the time, and moved on to several of Gaiman’s books after reading GO. In retrospect, I should have pulled a TP novel into the mix at the time, but I am happy to be reading this one now. A “book friend” on the social network site recommended TWFM to me and I must say, she was spot on regarding it. I started just this week and am already to page 158, which is pretty fast reading for me.

The story of young witch-in-the-making Tiffany Aching and her allies, the Nac Mac Feegle (otherwise known as “The Wee Free Men” – think 6 inch high tattooed blue guys who could give the Fremen of Arrakis a run for their money in a fight) and her familiar on loan, a toad who seems to have been a lawyer who helped folks find grounds to sue in a previous life, and their quest to rescue Tiffany’s bothersome little brother from the Queen of Fairyland has been quite entertaining so far, and I’m looking forward to finishing it and checking out some of the other books in the series. I’ll give a full review after I finish it.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009


I have no idea what I've done here. But, initially, I was trying to add the items below to my blog, not just in a post, but permanently...oh, well...maybe later...

Steven Harbin's  book recommendations, reviews, favorite quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Star Trek and Barsoom

The Saint and I actually had a "date" last night, with no children in sight. I drug her (only mildly kicking and screaming) to the local Barnes and Noble for a coffee and sandwich before we went to see the new Star Trek movie. I really enjoyed the movie, it was fun and full of action and had just the right balance of Star Trek old school links and allusions while throwing in enough new stuff for the series to "re-boot" as it were. I'd probably give it a 3.5 or even a 4 out of 5 stars if pressed to be a film critic, but I'm notoriously easy to please when it comes to movies. The quote “For those who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they like.” seems particularly apt here, but I'm posting not so much to review the movie, but to point out that I saw some definite Pulp archetypes and themes in the movie, more so that I would have expected (long time Trekkies may not have been so surprised, but I don't consider myself any kind of expert in the ST universe).

The most Pulpish part of the movie to me was the sword fight on top of the platform high above Vulcan. I flashed back to Burroughs' Barsoom books during the scene, mentally substituting John Carter or Ulysses Paxton for Sulu or Kirk in this well done scene. Of course one could also make a reference to the early fight scene above the sand worm in "Return of the Jeddi" but since there's a link between Star Wars and Leigh Brackett back to Burroughs, I think the original master deserves the credit here.

At any rate, I thought the movie was good fun, and I recommend it, but afterwards I say go out and read some Edgar Rice Burroughs Martian books...

Monday, April 6, 2009

Thank You, Jeeves

Thank You, Jeeves (Wodehouse, P. G. Collector's Wodehouse.) Thank You, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is first Jeeves and Bertie Wooster novel Wodehouse wrote and was published in 1934. Previously Jeeves appeared only in various short stories. It's a usual mix of humor and mix up and has lots of characters from the stories make a re-appearance, such as Roderick Glossup (a psychiatrist who Bertie often describes as a "looney Doctor") along with beautiful and head strong Pauline Stoker (one of Bertie's numerous former fiancees) and her equally strong willed father, who of course doesn't think much of Bertie.

The crux of the story is that Bertie and Jeeves part ways due to Bertie's latest musical addiction, banjo playing. Jeeves ends up in the employ of Bertie's old classmate Chuffy, while Bertie ends up in a summer cottage on Chuffy's estate, along with his new valet, who is definitely not anything like Jeeves. Before the end, Bertie will be shanghied, engaged against his will, and forced to pretend to be part of a minstrel troupe.

An enjoyable story, the only jarring note being the usage of racist terms to describe the mostly off stage minstrel troupe. I realize that the book was in some ways a product of it's time, but hearing Wooster use the "n word" even a couple of times was too much for my modern sensibilities. I gave the book a 4 instead of my usual Wodehouse 5, other works of PGW's are just as humorous and don't have the racist terms.

Still, if you are a Jeeves and Wooster fan, you need to read this one, as several characters make their appearance again in later novels.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

March, 2009 Reading

The year 2009 seems to be going by like a rocket (the Ray Bradbury or Star Wars or Star Trek kind that cover distances faster than light)...maybe I've fallen into a worm hole and just come out in mid March, 2009. Certainly seems that way lately.

Through a tiny bit of personal and professional "interesting" times, and also while fighting off a deep addiction to Facebook in general and the Facebook Zynga games such as Football and Mafia Wars in particular, I've still managed to read quite a bit of late. Much thanks to my dear friends at my local Barnes and Noble for allowing me and various family members to haunt the premises and spend way too much money on large numbers of books. I keep telling myself that I'm doing my part to "stimulate" the economy...

A quick list of books read, all or in part, in no particular order, since the fall of 2008:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

The Code of the Woosters, by P. G. Wodehouse

Flashman at the Charge, by George MacDonald Fraser

Lonely Werewolf Girl, by Martin Millar

Suzy, Led Zeppelin and Me, by Martin Millar

The Age of Reagan: A History 1974 - 2008, by Sean Wilentz

Spoon River Anthology, by Edgar Lee Masters

Jeeves and the Tie that Binds, by P. G. Wodehouse

The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger

The Secret of Sinharat, by Leigh Brackett

I'm presently finishing up an estimated 5th or 6th time rereading of Flashman at the Charge ( I shamelessly admit I love Flashman) and a similarly upteenth rereading of "How Right You Are Jeeves" by P. G. Wodehouse ( I freely admit to love for Jeeves and his employer Bertie Wooster as well). Along with those I'm reading Fritz Leiber's novel about his fantasy heroes Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, "The Swords of Lankhmar" for my Goodreads Group Pulp Magazine Authors and Literature Fans, which is also a Facebook group. Join us if you're so inclined. For March, 2009 we're reading Leiber's great novel of how the tall and short heroes (or anti-heroes) battle the rats of Lankhmar...

After discussing that novel and reviewing the current reads I'm planning of tackling The Complete Stories, by Flannery O'Connor along with The Dead Father's Club, by Matt Haig. I have no idea when I'll be able to get around to all the political biography and history I have waiting on the shelf, such as Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America by Adam Cohen or those books that friends have recommended such as Christopher Moore's "Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal" (thanks Jennifer and Michelle) or "The Shack" by William P. Young (thanks Joy, Ms. Etienne and Carri) but I'll post reviews as soon as possible.

Best to everyone, over and out for the time being...