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Hall of Fire

A tale well remembered is worth more than gold.

Tolstoy: A Russian Life

Tolstoy: A Russian Life - Rosamund Bartlett This was a good biography of one of the more complicated figures in Russian literature: Leo Tolstoy. It supplies a great deal of background for 19th century Russia -- particularly the tension between the autocratic regime of the tsars and the peasants. Tolstoy's family life is richly described in context with both his literary and religious/philosophical works. It was interesting to see how his personal views and actions in the public square affected his art. There is a copious amount of footnotes for those with interest in primary sources. If you like Russian literature or Tolstoy at all this is worth reading.

You Are Not a Gadget

You Are Not a Gadget - Jaron Lanier This book is a powerful criticism of the negative aspects of the Web 2.0 movement. Lanier does a good job of explaining the reductionism that occurs when our individuality is forced into frameworks like Facebook to be mined in the digital cloud. Cloud computing, AI, the Singularity, and the effects of technology on economics and education are also discussed. It closes by exploring the idea of what a new digital humanism might look like and how humans might use technology that emphasizes their humanity.

Fatal Revenant

Fatal Revenant - Stephen R. Donaldson I have been a fan of the Thomas Covenant series for a couple of decades. This book focuses primarily on the inner struggles of Linden Avery as she journeys through the Land in search of a way to help her son Jeremiah. One of the neat things about this book is that Donaldson tends to use a lot of obscure words that you don't find in most fantasy literature. You will certainly have new tools in your verbal arsenal after reading it.

The book is incredibly introspective and almost feels like Dostoyevsky in places. As such it may not be everyone's cup of tea since the story flows very slow at times. I prefer the older Thomas Covenant books for this reason. It had been over 20 years since I had read the previous books but fortunately there was a nice glossary in the back to remind me of what I had forgotten.

Fatal Revenant is a worthy read for anyone interested in Thomas Covenant but is probably not as accessible to the general reader of fantasy.

The Hobbit

The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien It has been a couple of decades since I read this book, so with the impending release of the movie I felt this was as good a time as any to reread it. The Hobbit is a classic work but it has a fundamentally different tone than The Lord of the Rings. There is a lyrical quality and sense of play to the text that is not found in its sequel. That makes sense given that Bilbo is the primary character but those who have read The Lord of the Rings first may find it a bit silly at times. However, I felt the lighter tone was suitable for the story and did not detract from enjoying the book. Events flow fairly quickly so there is almost a dreamlike feel to the story which makes it suitable for children and adults. As the menace increases towards the end of the tale it ventures into territory more familiar to fans of the sequel. The trajectory of the book also reminds us that sometimes stories may end in ways that you might not expect -- which is fitting given the unexpected journey of Bilbo Baggins out of his hobbit-hole.

The Amber Enchantress

The Amber Enchantress - Troy Denning I liked this book more than the previous volume in the Prism Pentad series. Sadira is one of the more nuanced characters in the series so her tale is fairly complex. One negative about the book is that at times Sadira's motivations don't seem to make sense.

It was interesting to get additional background information on Athas and the sorcerer-kings. Fans of the Dark Sun setting will enjoy reading this book.

The Darkness That Comes Before

The Darkness That Comes Before - R. Scott Bakker This book is essentially a reimagining of what the Crusades might have looked like in a fantasy world with magic. The world design does a good job of accomplishing that goal. The characters are gritty and realistic so the style is more akin to Martin and Erikson than Tolkien. However, there are very few female characters in the novel so the tone of the tale is hyper-masculine. That made sense given the milieu of the story but more female characters could have made it more accessible to a wider range of readers.

This novel makes heavy use of philosophical language and religious ideas so it is not a casual read. There is a good bit of sex and violence so it is not a good fit for younger readers. But if you don't mind that and can handle the lofty prose it is a decent read. I plan to continue the series to see what happens next.