Dave's Reading List & Reviews

Dave's Reading List & Reviews

I have been reading science fiction and philosophical books since graduation from high school, but with increased frequency after being discharged from the Army.  When I was traveling for my job buying one or more new books a week to read was common. My current library includes over 190 books. 

While I was waiting for the house in Rochester to sell in 2008, I re-read my entire collection of over 300 books in the course of nearly a year.  While doing so I categorized the collection by books I would like to read again later and ones I thought were not worth another read.  At the time I gave perhaps 120 books to Tim for his reading enjoyment. I took approximately 150 of my favorite books with me to Arizona and have since added 40 or so to make the present collection. 

A list of books is available and you may take it as a recommended reading list, especially for younger readers who have not been exposed to the wisdom and creativity of these authors and masters.  I will be adding comments about selected works as I read / reread them.

June 2011

The Fires of Heaven by Robert Jordan: 7/5-7/17  The fifth book is a monster at 963 pages.  A lot happens in this installment, but the primary thread is the pursuit of rival "chief" Couladin and the Shaido as they cross the Spine of the World to kill and conquer the "wetlanders."  Rand's forces battle 100,000 Shaido in Cairhien partly led by Mat.  Elayne and Nynaeve are adrift when they learn they are wanted by Amyrlin Elaida for treason and spend a lot of time trying to find escaped Aes Sedai in Salidar.  Former Amyrlin Siuan Sanche, Min and Leane are caught burning a barn by accident and are tried by Lord Gareth Bryne.  They escape and Bryne chases them all the way to Salidar.  Things are coming to a head in Salidar with Siuan, Elayne & Nynaeve back with the rebel Aes Sedai.  Also of note: two more seals are found weakened and one broken; the forsaken take a beating with Nynaeve besting Moghedien twice, Lanfear killed by Moiraine (who is also killed), Rahvin by Rand and Asmodean by an unknown.  Rand also starts to be affected more obviously by memories of the Dragon Lews Therin. As large as this installment is, it includes nothing of Perrin for the first time.

The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan: 6/25-7/4 The forth book elaborates on the primary characters taking them on journeys to various adventures.  Perrin returns to the Two Rivers to defend the village from White Cloaks, Trollocs and Fades.  Perrin and Faile are married and triumph over the dark forces freeing the villagers.  Rand take the Aiel to Rhuidean and eventually to the chiefs meeting to proclaim himself He Who Come With The Dawn.  Elayne and Nynaeve track down the Black Ajah in Tarabon with help and Nynaeve defeats Moghedien for the male a'dam she would use to control Rand.  So three distinct threads are woven in this installment of The Wheel of Time.  Well done if somewhat slow in places.

The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan: 6 /17-6/24 In this third book of  the Wheel of Time, the story branches still further.  Mat, Egwene, Elayne, Nynaeve arrive in Tar Valon & Mat is cured of the dagger's influence.  Within days Elayne convinces Mat to take a letter to her mother the queen. The Amyrlin sends the girls on a mission to chase thirteen black ajah.  Meanwhile Rand, Min, Perrin, Lan, Moraine and Loial are camped out for the winter with Rand seeming to become increasingly unstable.  Rand takes off on his own and nearly falls out of the story for most of the book.  Jordan spends much time developing the other characters and their adventures.  Some have complained about this, saying he should focus more on Rand, but Jordan is creating a universe populated with many characters who's lives are woven into the pattern.  Parts of the book are edge of the seat exciting and overall it works on several levels.  I enjoyed the second read.

The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan: 6 /6-6/16 In this second book of the Wheel of Time, the story continues where it left off in the Blight with Rand and company in the Shienaran capital when the Amyrlin Seat shows up unexpectedly.  Out band now splits in two, the women to the White Tower and the men to pursue Padan Fain who escaped prison and stole the Horn of Valere and the Shadar Logoth dagger.  Jordan develops the story line bringing more characters and subplots into focus. We learn the the Amyrlin is in a conspiracy to protect The Dragon Reborn against the factions of the White Tower that would gentle or control him.  They believe Rand must be free to fulfill the prophecies before he can defeat the shadow.  Quite a lot of time is spent on "unnecessary detail" following the travels of the various players and this is a theme that will continue throughout the series.  Other reviews have commented on this as well.  In Jordan's defense, it is understandable from the perspective that he was writing the series in a tremendous rush, completing the first 6 books while this 2nd book was just being published in paperback.  On the other hand, in one scene Rand is using a portal stone as a short cut to bring the band to Falme and finds himself reliving countless lives while immersed in the one power.  It is a section one might tend to skip over, but we later learn it is critical to Rand's resistance against Shi Tan.  Without the experience of having relived so many different lives and endings, he might have been convinced that the Father of Lies was the only one who could save him from destruction by the one power.   Make no mistake, I whole heartedly recommend this book as well. 

The Eye of The World by Robert Jordan: 5/30-6/5 This is the first of 15 books that are The Wheel of Time series.  I started this series in February and finished the 13th book just last month.  Whenever I find a book I especially like, I will read it a second time to absorb the finer nuances of the story.  Reading The Eye of The World a second time does not disappoint.  It really does help to be familiar with the characters and the general story lines.  A lot of detail that is significant later on is actually in plain sight, although it is unlikely to be seen as such at first glance.  In this first story the main characters are introduced and are soon embroiled in a fight for their lives.  Three of them are Rand, Mat & Perrin who are Ta' Veren, meaning they are central to the web of life being created by the Wheel of Time.  Forces are converging on their small village that will shape the destiny of man.  An Aes Sedai, Moiraine and her Warder, Lan rescue the villagers and that begins the saga of their journey to safety while being pursued at every turn by forces of evil.  This book is fast paced, has a solid beginning, middle and an ending that becomes the beginning of the next chapter.  This first book is one of Jordan's best works.  I highly recommend it to all readers.

May 2011

A Mighty Fortress by David Weber:  Weber is a master of military tactics on land, sea or in space.  His Safehold series could be used to teach sea going battle tactics and set a standard for planning all aspects of military engagements and support.  On that basis this book is a master work.  Like the previous books his style can be overwhelming, especially in the number of characters he introduces and the difficult spellings of names he gives them all.  It may be creative to spell common names with uncommon syllables, however, it is very distracting. I was constantly frustrated stumbling over nonsense names introduced for a page or two!  The general themes of the book(s) are not new, but if you like action adventure at a good pace, this is a worthwhile read.  More than one of the scenes in this book riveted my attention and evoked strong emotional responses.

Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson:   Following Robert Jordan's death in 2007, his wife selected Brandon Sanderson to complete the final volume of the Wheel of Time Series.  Jordan made copious notes and detailed descriptions of scenes and plot segments for the final volume.  While Jordan planed the last volume to be an epic production, he left so much material to be covered that Sanderson and the publisher split it into 3 books. Towers is the second book of the last volume. The Gathering Storm is the first book (reviewed below).  The final book is scheduled for release in 2012.  Some of Jordan's later books of the series seemed to be fragmentary with heavy focus on sub-plots and scant attention to the main characters.  Sanderson brings the focus back to the main characters while tying up a lot of loose ends from the many sub-plots.  Long time fans complain his style is different, but I think it does not detract from the pace or the story.  Jordan set a high bar for fast paced action, and if at times he seemed to wander, the world he created was always rich enough to be engrossing.  Sanderson sets a good pace that moves us right along while keeping our interest at an intense level.  I completed the book in a week, which is a very fast pace for me in a book of 860+ pages.  Looking forward to the last book titled A Memory of Light. 

Empire From The Ashes by David Weber: While waiting for book four of the Safehold series, I noticed I had another Weber title in my book list.  Those of you who have been frustrated by Weber's overly verbose style and difficult names would likely be pleased with this book.  Empire is a trade paperback that includes three books; Mutineers' Moon, The Armageddon Inheritance & Heirs of Empire.  The first book is a fast paced Worlds at War type of book.  Dahak is a moon size battleship of the 4th Imperium over 51,000 years old.  In fact he is disguised as our moon. A mutiny aboard Dahak is suppressed by the captain locking out the crew forcing them to flee to Earth in various warships and craft.  The standoff has lasted 51,000 years when our protagonist, Colin, a NASA moon pilot, is hijacked by Dahak and enlisted as his human commander.  The story develops apace with the historical introduction of the fight against the Achuultani, a species that sweeps the universe destroying all life and Dahak's role as a product of the 4 Imperium's rise after destruction of the third by the Achuultani. Dahak educates and enhances Colin as the new Captain and sends him to battle the still living mutineers on Earth.  The mutineers on Earth stand in the way of preparing Earth against the approaching Achuultani threat only two years away.  They must be defeated before Dahak can use his technology to help prepare Earth's defense.  The second book, Armageddon, is the struggle to create the technological base and weapon systems on Earth to defeat the approaching Achuultani. Realizing they can not possibly defeat the main force of 3 million Achuultani warships, Dahak and his crew go off in search of the remains of the 4th Imperium 800 million light years away.  The story thus diverges between the preparations on Earth and the interstellar search for help from the 4th Imperium.  Weber handles this fairly well and keeps a good pace. The third book, Heirs of Empire, is the story of Dahak and our heroes leading the human race to the stars.  One of the divergences of the plot is into a surviving planet of the 4th Imperium where technology has been rejected and taken over by religious hegemony.  Weber develops this as a theme of stunted technological warfare that he continues in the Safehold series with Schism & Heresies.  However, his development of the theme 20 years ago was much faster paced than Schism & Heresies and reached a definite conclusion.  No matter what type of fiction you enjoy, you will find much to enjoy in this book.

By Heresies Distressed by David Weber:  Book three in the Safehold series continues in the tradition of verbose authors filling space between pages.  The significant observation here is the detailed exposition of 17th -18th century equivalent military theory coupled with a talent for graphic story telling.  His description of one of the battles is literally frightening.  Weber concludes (if you can call it that) this installment with story fragments laying all over the place.  The problem with his approach is that there is no overall resolution, only solutions to parts of the story; like winning a specific battle while the rest of the larger plot plods along at a snails pace.   I have ordered the next book in the series even though the reviews are terrible.  I guess I am hooked on the story and hoping I will enjoy the next chapter even though this installment was less than satisfying.

By Schism Rent Asunder by David Weber: This is book two of the Safehold "trilogy" set on a world populated by humans fleeing an invasion of aliens.  An attempt to mold the society with a religious hierarchy has gone very wrong with corruption at the highest level of the church.  The general premise of an advanced civilization falling into a corrupted religious society is not new, but Weber's treatment is well done. The schism is created when church leaders conspire to control a prosperous far away kingdom by enlisting neighboring kingdoms to declare war on them.  Things didn't go well for the invaders, the Chrisians defeat them and defy the church's corrupt leaders.  The story goes on as they conquer the region they live in, forming a regional empire and inventing weapons technology to defeat the corrupt leaders of the church.  There is plenty of story here to engross and entertain the reader.  My only quibble is Weber's insistence on inventing nonsensical names for the characters.  I found it very difficult to read parts of the book where I stumbled over pronunciations every time I encountered an unfamiliar spelling.  With so many nonsense character names I found the flow of the book very choppy at times.

Rama Revealed by Arthur C. Clarke:  Rama Revealed is the 4th book in a series started by Clarke in 1972.  Written in collaboration with Gentry Lee who goes on to write 2 more novels in the Rama Universe after Clarke's death.  Clarke is perhaps best known for his hard science works and the film 2001.  But his fiction, especially science fiction, is top notch.  Clarke & Lee attempt to answer the greatest mysteries of all time; how does the universe reflect god's purpose, why are we here and what happens when we die...  I may not agree with everything they propose, but I believe there is a good deal of thought provoking material here.  I found the ending of this novel very touching. The development of Nicole Wakefield's character is so compelling she has a life of her own.  Her life becomes as meaningful as one's own parent with predictable consequences.

February --- April 2011

The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan:  I started reading this series in February when Samuel loaned me a copy of the first book.  I finished book 12 in April !!!  This series of books is perhaps the longest saga ever written at well over 11,000 pages.  Jordan started the series in 1990, but died in 2007 leaving the last book unfinished.  Brandon Sanderson was selected to finish the last book using Jordan's extensive notes.  It turned out that there was too much material for just one final book, so Sanderson added 3 books as the final volume. The last book is scheduled to be published in 2012.  This very popular saga has become iconic with a computer game and on-line RPG (role playing game). Caution: you need weeks if not months of free time to digest this series, but it is definitely worth it!!  I just ordered book 13 and am looking forward to book 14.

To Be Read: How Firm a Foundation Safehold Series by David Weber -- Release date Sept 2011


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