Book Reviews 2004 (37-40)

The last four books read this year, 2004, and thus our last four books to be looked at are:
The Isle of Battle, by Sean Russell
Ruled Britannia, by Harry Turtledove
Scatterbrain, by Larry Niven
The Hole in the Universe (NF), by KC Cole

The Isle of Battle: Book Two of the Swans’ War

By Sean Russell

Second in the series started by the One Kingdom, the second novel, a middle novel in a trilogy, predictably and sadly drags its feet. Middle novels are the stepchildren of fantasy literature, and this one is a particularly egregious example. While Russell writes well, and we learn new and more secrets about the backstory of the Children of Wyrr, there isn’t much net change and growth by the end of the tale.
I definitely don’t recommend reading it unless you’ve read the One Kingdom, first, and only if you realize things aren’t really going to happen.
Recommended, with reservations.

Ruled Britannia: A Novel of Alternate History
by Harry Turtledove

One of my favorite books to read this year, Ruled Britannia takes place in an alternate history, some years after the successful (in this timeline) invasion of England by the Spanish Armada during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
The primary viewpoint character is none other than William Shakespeare, who, along with other real characters of the time, populate a rich Elizabethan world that comes alive. Intrigue, adventure, blank verse and real, complex characters make the novel a treat to read, and re-read. I kept seeing the actors from Shakespare in Love in many of the parts, which was distracting, but helped bring the scenes alive for me.
I’ve said before Turtledove loses some of his edge when he veers into endless series. Here, he is writing a single, whole book, and its at the top of his game.
Highly Recommended.

by Larry Niven

A collection of essays, some short stories and other miscellany in the tradition of his previous collections N-Space and Playgrounds of the Mind.
A very fannish book, this is definitely not for the Niven neophyte, or even the casual fan. The more of a fan of his work, you are, the more you will get out of this slim volume. And even then, I don’t think its quite as meaty and tasty as the previous two collections. Reluctantly, on those grounds, I don’t recommend the book, unless you are a big Niven fan, and if you are, you probably already have it.
Not recommended.

The Hole in the Universe: How Scientists Peered over the Edge of Emptiness and Found Everything
by K.C. Cole

A relatively light, frothy book aimed at non science experts, Cole talks with several scientists in various cosmological fields about the concept of “Nothing.” What is nothing, anyway, and what is it good for. Thus, the story ranges from the history of the number zero, to the not so quiet vacumn of space. Its friendly to those who didn’t take college level physics or mathematics, perhaps a little too frothy for my taste. It is a lot more accessible than some of her source material, though, including Brian Greene, author of the difficult but interesting Elegant Universe.