Saturday, June 25, 2022

"Aestus Book 1: The City" by S.Z. Attwell--Fiction Review

Today, Obscurists, we’re traveling to the city—in S.Z. Attwell’s “Aestus Book 1: The City.” It’s a post-apocalyptic story where the status quo isn’t what it seems, and it underlines that in nearly every conflict, there are heroes and villains on all sides.


S.Z. Attwell


***The Non-Spoiler part of this review***


What I love about this book:

That ending! A lot goes down quickly, and it was like getting a jolt. The energy and tension suddenly crescendo at the end of the plot, and it’s been in my head since I finished reading “Aestus: Book 1: The City.” I’m of more than one mind about the end, but I’ll get into more later. Overall, I’d say I loved it.

I’ve brought this up in a prior review, but I like my post-apocalypse(s), in fiction, unexplained, hinted at, but never spelled out. This book pulls that effect off well. The end of the world probably came about because of runaway global warming, but the exact causes, timeframes, et cetera are left up to the reader’s imagination. The world is this way now, and the characters that inhabit that world don’t ever digress or pine for a long-lost world. They’re too busy surviving. No one has time to break into a soliloquy about the folly of humankind and bemoan the paradise lost.

Even though there were many of them, I enjoyed the characters in this novel. Attwell pulls off so many characters so well because there is clearly a defined core group and major and minor characters supporting that group’s story. This is partly achieved because “Aestus: Book 1: The City” is a long book.


What I don’t love about this book:

To reiterate from above. It is a really long book. And sure, there were a lot of characters to flesh out and give them their moment in the sun, but it also felt like every scene was at least twice as long as it should have been.

Also, I hated the uncle character from the jump. Nobody says “my dear” that much and isn’t awful. I don’t care—you get four or five “my dear(s),” and then you’re officially a wackadoo—yes, that’s the clinical term for it.

I like Jossey, our protagonist in this story. She’s intelligent, resourceful, and not afraid to take action. But she has some Katniss Everdeen levels of obliviousness when it comes to anyone—literally anyone—showing even a modicum of romantic interest in her. I get it’s an intentional character flaw that rounds the character and makes her seem more like a real person to give her this insecurity, but from a taste perspective, it’s an eye roller for me.




This preview is an Amazon Affiliate link; 
as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases

Author’s Website: https://szattwell.com/


***The Spoiler part of this review***
***Ye be warned to turn back now***


The quick and dirty synopsis:

We’re introduced to our protagonist, Jossey, through a childhood memory—not a good one. It was the day she was attacked when visiting the surface to see the moon. Her brother also disappeared during the attack.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

"The Testament of Mary" by Colm Tóibín--Fiction Review

Today Obscurists, we’re going to dip our toes into a new field of fiction I’ve not covered a whole lot, a religious, historical novel about the life of Mary, mother of Jesus Christ. The novella is “The Testament of Mary” by Colm Tóibín.


Colm Tóibín


***The Non-Spoiler part of this review***


What I love about this book:

This book, in my opinion, takes a rather agnostic view on the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. While the character of his mother, Mary, might doubt his divinity, it’s never exactly refuted. It’s undoubtedly challenged throughout the plot but never wholly suppressed. 

To get a completely different view of the life of Jesus and from his mother’s perspective was very interesting to me. It feels grounded in the world that Mary and her life and perceptions were of our flesh and blood world.

This is also one of those times I feel a first-person perspective really works and sells the story. The entire story is relayed to us by Mary herself. It’s an incredibly intimate experience of this woman’s life, who loves her son while doubting his purpose and the reasons for his demise. At no point does the narrative romanticize what happened to Jesus. It was brutal, vicious, bloodthirsty, and done out of blood lust.


What I don’t love about this book:

It’s challenging to grasp how much time passes in “The Testament of Mary.” The narrative seems to start at the end with the crucifixion of Jesus, and then it dives into Mary’s story, but it didn’t start where I assumed it would, the beginning. It begins when Jesus was already a man and had followers, but it’s unclear how long this has been happening.

As much as I like the intense character study of a doubting Mary, all the other characters in the novella are mere wisps of characters compared to her. Even Jesus, the larger-than-life figure he was, is barely characterized. This may be an intentional choice, given the brevity of this story. Still, if you don’t immediately latch on to Mary’s story and perspective, there really isn’t anything else in this story. 

Ultimately, given its succinctness, “The Testament of Mary” feels like part of a larger work. We get allusions to Jesus’s childhood but no explicit scenes of that childhood. A lot of the goings on around Mary rely heavily on the reader having a secondary insight of the gospels and other Christian historical understanding, which is a long tradition in the western literary canon, but still, it’s a limiting factor for the audience.




This preview is an Amazon Affiliate link; 
as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases

Author’s Website: http://www.colmtoibin.com/


***The Spoiler part of this review***
***Ye be warned to turn back now***


The quick and dirty synopsis:

“The Testament of Mary” starts with Mary talking about her lonely existence after her son’s death. How she is kept—like a pet—by his followers who bring her food and money but expect her to go along with and support their version of Jesus’s life. Her recollection, however, doesn’t particularly jive with the “authorized” version of events told by presumably the apostles. They typically react to her non-canonical asides with exacerbation and scorn.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

"Spaceman" by Mike Massimino--Nonfiction Review

So I’ve been pretty clear on this blog before about how much I love space, which is why today we’re talking about Mike Massimino’s “Spaceman.”


Mike Massiminio


What I love about this book:

Clearly, the space stuff is my top love for this book. Massimino was part of the tail end of the generation of astronauts who flew in the space shuttle, which I’m not too proud to admit I don’t know as much about as the earlier programs. So it was nice to get to know the names and missions that happened during his time at NASA.

Most of this book is about his journey to become an astronaut. I hadn’t realized this before he pointed it out, but, unlike most career paths, there are no well-known tracts to take to become an astronaut. So it’s nice that he put it down how he did it, for all the advice he provides.

Massimino is a charmingly warm and often funny guy. I went in for the audiobook version—per usual—and it’s read by him. I know I belabor this point a lot, but especially in this, hearing the tone of his voice as he relates some of his personal disappointments and some of the tragedies to befall NASA immeasurably adds to the experience.

Getting his first-hand account of what it was like to work on the Hubble telescope was endlessly fascinating to me. It cannot be adequately expressed how much that orbiting telescope has given us, so it’s incredibly important. Working on it in space sounded equally amazing as it was terrifying..


What I don’t love about this book:

There isn’t much I didn’t love about this memoir. It’s firmly in my wheelhouse, after all. If I had to say something, maybe an argument could be made that it dithers a little bit too much before getting into the meat of the NASA stuff. That isn’t too serious of a criticism, though, because I enjoyed Massimino’s journey becoming an astronaut almost as much as I enjoyed him as an astronaut.

The Space Shuttle Columbia disaster was hard to read about and thus relive. When the Challenger exploded during the launch, that disaster happened before I was born, but I was in middle/high school when Columbia happened. So the tragedy of that event when it happened still sticks in my mind, and the old feelings of disappointment that NASA, an organization I idolized, didn’t do enough to keep that crew safe resurfaced. That they dropped the ball on the dangers of free-falling foam debris from launch and how it could damage the orbiting vehicle.




This preview is an Amazon Affiliate link; 
as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Author’s Website: https://www.mikemassimino.com/


Parting thoughts:

Space exploration is inherently dangerous and expensive. There are many solid arguments for why we shouldn’t bother with this exercise. How to justify the cost monetarily and, more importantly, in lives lost is tricky. Why spend billions of dollars on space exploration to send a handful of people to space while millions of people are starving right here on Earth.

What Space exploration is ultimately about is investing in the next step for our species, for the next generation’s future. It’s about the billions and billions of people yet to be born who could one day lead a better existence beyond the confines of the Earth. 

The Earth, as wonderful and beautiful as it is, is a closed system. We keep adding more and more humans to that closed system without increasing the fixed amounts of resources and livable area. The idea that we’re somehow going to collectively agree to stop creating too many people globally and then create rigidly sustainable utopias out of our various bickering and competing cultures in the near future demonstrates a lack of awareness of human history in my mind.

At this point in our societal and social evolution, we should do what we have always done collectively when faced with shortages of livable space, opportunity, and resources. We should move on and spread out.

Crossing the oceans at one point seemed like an impossible technical feat to our ancestors, yet, they eventually managed it. It wasn’t safe, and it wasn’t cheap. Many people died for the dream of seeing over that next horizon. But in the end, it was necessary.

Let’s be clear about this point: our shameful legacy of appalling poverty, sickness, famine, and war wasn’t caused by NASA’s budget. Our poorest citizens, again globally, are so poor because we’re still collectively beholden to a wealthy and privileged ruling caste. We might not call our billionaires princes, princesses, dukes, or duchesses anymore in the United States, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. 

Most of the world’s wealth belongs to a few individuals—a lot of it is inherited wealth that wasn’t earned in any meaningful way by the so-called elites of our various human societies but is merely passed down. That is the real insidious reason most of us toil from the cradle to the grave.

I wish that we were collectively wise enough to conserve the Earth and do so in a way that we could all live reasonably equitably on it and happily. But wishing reality was different doesn’t make it so, and realistically what I believe our next step is—is to chase that next frontier, the last and final one above us all. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Micro Mention "The Halfling's Gem"

 
R.A. Salvatore


I know—I know, high-minded ideals dictate that schadenfreude isn't laudable, and after all, it was precisely that impulse that makes Pasha Pook in "The Halfling's Gem" by R.A. Salvatore so odious. But still, when he got what was coming to him…

Well, let's just say this book has a very satisfying conclusion for a story where the heroes are on their heels for most of the narrative.



This preview is an Amazon Affiliate link; 
as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Author's Website: http://rasalvatore.com/