I love to read, but I do not have time to review every book; especially when there are so many good reviews out there already. So here are some great reviews of books I have read recently or are on my to read list. Hope you enjoy the reviews and then read the books!
It seems a rare accomplishment that a book on the pleasures of reading could actually pull off being pleasurable itself. But Alan Jacobs’ newest book, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, does just that. It is a marvelous manifesto of sanity in an age of jeremiads about the modern predicament of attention loss on one hand, and those proud champions of distraction singing the hallelujah chorus of a world devoid of long-form books on the other. “Read at Whim” is Jacob’s advice and motto for a new generation of readers. Read, Jacobs proclaims, for the sheer pleasure of reading; simply for the hell of it. And by all means, don’t get bogged down by the authoritarians who smugly look down their noses at those who aren’t reading the “right” books on the “list.”
In Forgotten History, Christopher Bennett returns to the world of The Department of Temporal Investigations, the quirky government body that oversees and regulates all the temporal, timey-wimey stuff in the Federation. This story takes us to the very founding of the department by showing us flashbacks to the events that necessitated the creation of the DTI. Much like in Bennett’s previous DTI novel, Watching the Clock, Forgotten History does an excellent job in explaining things from episodes of Star Trek that simply don’t make a lot of sense when considered in the grand tapestry of Trek history. Oftentimes, people tend to forget that Star Trek wasn’t made with some kind of over-arching goal and narrative in mind; rather, it is a somewhat muddled hodge-podge of stories written over the course of 45 years by numerous writers. Inevitably, something that writer B writes is going to clash with what writer A wrote years before. In both this book and the previous DTI title, Bennett proves himself a master at bringing these disparate ideas together and creating a cohesive story from all the little bits that actually makes sense. Forgotten History, for example, provides a valid reason why Starfleet crews aren’t always going back in time using the seemingly-easy slingshot-around-the-sun method. It seems that it’s actually much more difficult than it seems, but then Mr. Bennett turns around and provides a perfectly cogent reason why Kirk and company are able to do it so easily in a Klingon bird-of-prey in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Another interesting so-called “ret-con” is the explanation provided for the alternate Earth featured in the original series episode “Miri,” other than the old fall-backs of “Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planet Development” or “The Preservers did it.”
Thinking morally about the economy is one of the most important topics of our time. In What Money Can’t Buy, Michael Sandel, professor of government at Harvard University, grapples with the tangible ethical issues where this question becomes most acute. He articulates important concerns in a clear and forceful way. However, he adopts a philosophical framework that limits his ability to connect morality to the economy. Even within that framework, his analyses tend to be one-sided and impressionistic. The result is a book that will no doubt gratify readers who already share Sandel’s assumptions and predispositions but probably frustrate those who don’t.
If you listen to podcast here at Tosche Station, (and if you do, great, if you don’t, why not?) you’ve heard that in honor of the coming latest addition to the fantastic X-Wing series, Mercy Kill, we’re presenting you a retrospective of the series. It will provide a great opportunity for those of us who haven’t read the books in a very long time to refamiliarize ourselves with it. That is actually my own situation—I love these books but somehow I haven’t read them for what must have been a solid decade.