Dreamweaver’s Dilemma by Lois McMaster Bujold

Read: 15 August, 2017

The book contains three of your standard “what if this weird thing were to happen in the real world?” stories, a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, two science fiction stories (both set in the Vorkosigan Saga universe), and a collection of essays.

The Adventure of the Lady on the EmbankmentAdvertised as a “never-before-published Sherlock Holmes pastiche,” this story was quite a shock for me. I had picked up this book after multiple people recommended the Vorkosigan Saga, and I had read that Dreamweaver’s Dilemma comes first chronologically. I had no idea that this was going to be short stories, and I was even more surprised when I started the first story to find Sherlock Holmes!

As I read, I kept expecting aliens to land, or the titular lady to be revealed as a time traveller. Something. But no, this plays it straight as a Sherlock story. And despite my confusion, I really enjoyed it. I grew up with Sherlock Holmes, and it was nice to revisit that world.

Barter: This is about when I realised what I was really in for with the book. Finally, here was some science fiction – albeit of more the “weird tales” variety. The story itself isn’t too memorable, except for the very amusing unrestrained self-indulgence. As a mother with writerly aspirations, it’s hard not to sympathise with the main character – nor with the author who dreamed her up.

Garage Sale: Another cutely self-indulgent piece. I don’t think this story would have worked without context (in this case provided by it following Barter). It lacks Barter‘s obvious genre markers, so the story twists very suddenly into absurdism. As it is, I found it entertaining (albeit a little horrific at times).

The Hole Truth: Many of these stories share an amusing sense of humour. In this case, we get this lovely pun to kick off a fairly run-of-the-mill “reap what you sow” story.

Dreamweaver’s Dilemma: This is where the book really picks up. It was clear from the Sherlock story that Bujold has an interest in mysteries, and this reads like a hard boiled noir. While the three “weird tales” stories were mostly about situations, Dreamweaver is about people. The characters are vivid, the plot is compelling, and the future-tech is a well-integrated part of the story.

The Mountains of Mourning: This story really hit me. It was thick with details, and all the details interconnected meaningfully. The characters are vivid and complicated, and the moral problem at the centre of the story is a truly difficult one. And maybe it’s just the PMS talking, but I found the ending absolutely heartbreaking, albeit satisfying.

Though I’ve read that Dreamweaver and Mountains take place in the same universe, I’m not sure how that will play out. There are similarities – largely in contrast with the other stories in the book – but they are few and rather superficial. I suppose this is a “backwoods vs developed centre” issue, and all will make sense as I explore the saga a little more.

The essays at the end of the book are all interesting and worth reading, and I appreciated the Vorkosigan trivia appendices.

I had some trouble ordering this book within Canada (though listed on Amazon, I was getting emails every few months to inform me that they couldn’t find the copy they thought they had until, eventually, they simply told me to go look elsewhere), so I took a gamble on the strength of recommendations I’ve received for this author and special ordered it from the US. I spent a fair bit more than I usually do for books, but I don’t feel cheated in the least. Mountains, alone, would have made the whole book worthwhile, but I enjoyed my time with each and every one of the stories.

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    The Myth of Persecution by Candida Moss

    Read: 9 August, 2017

    The central argument of the book is that, while there were some periods of actual persecution of Christians in the early centuries, they were very few. Most of the martyrdom accounts we have are unsubstantiated, or refer to prosecution (where Christians were breaking laws that were not drawn or enforced with Christians specifically in mind).

    And this matters because it is the narrative of martyrdom that excuses horrifically callous behaviour. Specifically, the fudging between disagreement and persecution. If Christians are always and have always been under attack from worldly forces, and people wanting to get gay-married is an attack on Christianity, then the Christian fight against gay marriage becomes a fight of self-defence.

    I would also add, though Moss doesn’t, that there is also a fudging between chosen martyrdom and imposed martyrdom. Part of the veneration of martyrs also promises greater heavenly reward for greater earthly suffering, which is the logic used by people like Mother Teresa in denying palliative care to terminal patients. By increasing their suffering in their last days – without their consent (informed or otherwise) – Mother Teresa sought to purify their souls.

    The book does have some weaker moments, such as when Moss hitches much of her argument against the reality of persecution in the earliest period on the fact that the group in question was not yet called Christians (largely around p.130-134). Which is just an argument from semantics, and not particularly useful.

    But for the most part, Moss constructs her arguments well, She also strikes a good balance between being readable and being informative.

    I think that much of this book will appeal to the “New Atheist” types, who will make much of the occasional ‘gotcha’ sound bites. I also think it’s a valuable (though perhaps uncomfortable) read for Christians who currently believe that early Christians were persecuted, especially if they believe that this persecution has been ongoing. This book won’t hold any hands, though, so I suspect that most readers from this group will simply dismiss it.

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      Fatty Legs by Margaret Pokiak-Fenton & Christy Jordan-Fenton

      Read: 17 July, 2017

      Olemaun desperately wants to learn how to read. So, despite her sister’s warnings and her father’s fears, she demands to go to the Outsider’s school.

      The story of Olemaun is told in a very straightforward, factual manor. There are the hardships and the bullying from a nun nicknamed ‘the Raven’, but there are also sweet moments, such as her few interactions with the nun nicknamed ‘the Swan’. It’s a very human story.

      With its simple narrative style and many illustrations (including a number of photographs), this is perfectly suited to early chapter book readers. This would make a perfect introduction to the issues surrounding residential schools and cultural genocide.

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        Two Old Women by Velma Wallis

        Read: 18 July, 2017

        This was a beautiful little story about two old women who are left to die during a famine, but who work together to survive and thrive.

        It’s a well written story with great flow. The two old women have distinct personalities and the narrative does a great job of bouncing them off each other. My only nitpick is that the two old women had to prove their worth by surviving in harsh conditions in order to buy back their place in their tribe. While they came to be respected for their wisdom after this, the underlying idea that their wisdom should be valued because they managed to survive implies that their accumulated wisdom and experience would not have had worth if they had been but a little older or a little sicker.

        But values aside, this is a lovely story of resilience and mutual support, and the moral lesson at the forefront is that all members of the tribe are valuable – not just the “productive” ones.

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          The Witcher #1: The Last Wish by Andrej Sapkowski

          Read: 16 June, 2017

          When I decided to start reading this series, I picked up the book with a helpful “1” on the spine. Well, that turned out to be Blood of Elves – chronologically the third book. To get Geralt’s story from the beginning, I actually had to go to the book with “Introducing the Witcher” on the spine.

          Go figure.

          I do wish that I’d read this in order, because this is the book that sets the scene. Why is Ciri Geralt’s responsibility? How did Geralt get involved with Yennifer? This is where these questions are answered.

          The format of the book is a bit different. There’s a bit of an overarching story, but it’s really more of a frame to display a handful of short stories. These read very much like side quests in Witcher 3 – even to the point of Geralt stumbling on two bodies in the woods and going in search of the related quest line (something that I’ve done more than a few times in the game).

          There’s a bit less politics, though Geralt still manages to tumble into a royal court or two. Mostly, it’s down-to-earth Geralt, riding around and philosophising as he deals with monsters (including the human kind).

          I’m not sure if this book has a different translator or if I was just in a different frame of mind, but the prose seemed to flow quite a bit better than in Blood of Elves and Time of Contempt. I read this one very quickly, and it’s definitely my favourite so far.

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            Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

            Read: 10 July, 2017

            Maya has Cystic Fibrosis, so her family has to move to be closer to a specialist for her. This, of course, makes her older sister Cat feel all sorts of complicated and uncomfortable feels. To make matters worse, they’ve moved to a down where the boundary between the living and the dead isn’t particularly strong…

            This is a story primarily about the relationship between the two sisters, complicated by the younger’s illness. Cat feels responsible for her little sister, and understands that her sister’s needs are important, but she also resents her for it. She understands why they had to move, but still feels angry about it. It’s tricky and nuanced and messy and Telgemeier approaches it beautifully.

            The titular ghosts themselves are just there to force the two sisters to face their demons, but they do so well. Their reliance on “the essence of the world breathing around them” mirrors Maya’s own shortness of breath. And the fact that they are ghosts obviously works with Maya’s shortened life expectancy.

            I see some people complaining about the authenticity of using Hispanic culture – particularly the Dia de los Muertos – as a backdrop for the story, but that’s really out of my area of expertise. It’s clear, however, that it’s done with reverence. And while the Dia details are a little fudged, I read that as having to do with the particular nature of the setting – the celebration takes place at the mission because the mission is where contact is strongest.

            In all, I found it to be a sweet story that has a surprising amount of depth for such a quick read.

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              Genghis Khan and the Mongol Horde by Harold Lamb

              Read: 6 July, 2017

              Another entry from my mother’s biography collection from the 1950s (the first being William the Conqueror).

              This, along with the one about Odysseus that I’m sure I’ll be reading eventually, were my childhood favs. As I was reading this book to my son, I was surprised by how many of the stories and pictures were carved into my memory.

              That said, it isn’t terribly great. The writing style is a bit clunky, and the scenes themselves aren’t nearly as evocative as they could be. I had hoped to infect my child with some of my enthusiasm for the Mongols, but this book failed to capture his interest (even when I tried to supplement it with a Crash Course History video!).

              Still, it’s not a bad primer for interested kids, especially in a market that has so little world history offerings for the early/middle readers.

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                The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale

                Read: 5 July, 2017

                In the summer of 1895, thirteen year old Robert Coombes murdered his mother.

                I loved The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, which used the murder of a three year old boy as a narrative structure to look at how police and detectives functioned in Victorian society (particularly where the process of investigation of upper class households by lower class detectives ruffled class sensibilities).

                The Wicked Boy doesn’t have the same impact. At first, I thought it was looking at the scandal of ‘penny dreadfuls’, then it look at the criminal justice system, then it looks at the treatment of mental illness, and then it veers off entirely to go over Australia’s participation in World War I.

                I enjoyed every part of The Wicked Boy, but it didn’t have the same satisfying impact without the broader point. It ended up just being about this one boy, with broader issues only mentioned as interesting asides.

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                  A Queer and Pleasant Danger by Kate Bornstein

                  Read: 30 June, 2017

                  As the front cover puts it, this is “the true story of a nice Jewish boy who joins the Church of Scientology and leaves twelve years later to become the lovely lady she is today.” Phew, talk about a rollercoaster!

                  There’s a lot in this book to offend. While Bornstein seems to have loved her time as a Scientologist, her criticisms of the Church are biting. She talks casually, even somewhat positively, of her eating disorder and her self-harm, of her smoking and binge drinking. She discusses seeing herself as a “transsexual” rather than a woman, and her disagreement with the idea that trans women belong in women-only spaces. She describes, in a fair bit of detail, her sexual conquests as a man, and her submission in an S&M relationship. There’s something in this book to offend nearly anyone.

                  But Bornstein’s writing style is so warm, so friendly… it’s hard to stay mad. Even when she’s at her hot messiest, she just seems so vulnerable and trusting that it’s difficult not “agree to disagree”.

                  Hers is a valuable and thoughtful voice, and I’m glad to have stumbled upon this book.

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                    Creating Your Best Life by Caroline Adams Miller & Dr Michael B. Frisch

                    Read: 26 June, 2017

                    I find that there’s a certain way to read self help books – skimming, and with a great big grain of salt. And this book is no exception.

                    Like so many of the genre, Creating Your Best Life throws out many facts to sell itself as The Answer, but without a whole lot of backing. So in between some interesting life advice, we get a section on how millenials lack self-control.

                    But, in the middle of that, there is some interesting advice. I would have apprecated a little more hand holding in writing goals that aren’t about travel or sports.
                    In any case, it’s a quick read that may or may not have some helpful tips. It’s worth checking out from the library.

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