The Wise Man’s Fear: 2013 Book #28

3 of 5 stars

I didn’t like this book as much as The Name of the Wind, the first book in the Kingkiller chronicle. While this one avoided the awkward beginning of the first in the series, I’m not sure how I feel about the structure of these books. Rothfuss seems to favor stringing together a series of vignettes and stories for hundreds of pages, never really building to a larger conclusion or conflict. Rather, each hundred pages or so feels like its own miniature tale with an arc – and when he moves onto the next, there’s little from the prior arc that carries through. Kvothe’s beef with the Chandrian seems to be the string that ties everything together, but he hasn’t found out anything about them after two books and he feels no closer now than he did before.

The result of this structure is that by book’s end, it feels as if it’s stuttering and limping to a conclusion. Much of the last hundred pages reads like an epilogue – even though it happens to be the last vignette. I truly feel like he could end the book anywhere and it wouldn’t change the tale significantly.

That said, I do enjoy the vignette’s quite a bit. Rothfuss’ dry wit and humor aren’t lost on me, there were several moments where I chuckled aloud, even though I thought the language bordered on too modern in these parts. Even though Kvothe’s adventures are all over the board – training with the Adem, hunting bandits, seducing one of the Fae, Rothfuss manages to create a unique mythology around each character and situation with fantastic depth – it all hangs together very nicely.

Pale Blue Dot: 2013 Book #27

4 of 5 stars

After reading this book, it made me wish for trillions of dollars in wealth so I could sink it into a space program.

The strength of this book is how Sagan takes the cold, unforgiving world of space, a place that for all the money we could likely sink into it, will probably not yield (at least in our lifetimes), proof of other life, other habitable worlds, etc. But that’s not the point of the book – the point of the book is possibilities. Of making science fiction real. Because when he talks about how billions of years from now, after our civilization has ended, the Voyager spacecrafts will still be floating out in the Milky Way with a golden record of human life, or when he talks about the chills he gets when he thinks how the SETI program has yielded strong anomolous radio signals, all originating from the direction of stars in the Milky Way, you can’t help but want to get caught up in his passion for the universe and fire up the rockets.

He spends a considerable amount of time talking about our own solar system and exploring the ins and outs of the planets that traverse the night sky but still seem so far out of reach. He also spends considerable time talking about near Earth asteroids, something I wasn’t completely aware of existing before this book. He posits them as potential halfway points between our the Moon (which is old hat by now) and a mission to Mars. Less time is spent on the worlds and stars beyond, but that’s O.K., at the time this book was written less was likely known.

I gave this book 4 stars because some of the information did feel repetitive. While he talks about the planets from all sorts of different angles, at points it feels like he’s rehashing the same data or discovery, albeit in a different and novel way. The other thing I didn’t like is his obvious bias towards the disparity in military vs. science spending. While I completely agree with him, and would love to take even 5% of the defense budget to put towards space exploration, he mentions it at least a half dozen times. It left a small, almost imperceptible bad taste in the bad of my mouth, if only because it feels so out of character for this wonderful book.

Midwestern Gothic Issue 10

Who would have thought we’d hit ten issues of Midwestern Gothic?

Issue 10 (Summer 2013) of Midwestern Gothic might be an arbitrary milestone, but I can’t help but feel a little extra pride in lasting long enough to throw double digits on the cover. It’s getting harder and harder for lit journals to last nowadays – even some of the established beachheads of the industry are flailing a little bit. To be around for this long is a testament to our contributors who fill the magazine – I’ve said it many, many times, but without them, we’re nothing. There’s some phenomenal, gritty stuff in this issue, including one of the major players in grit-lit today, Frank Bill. To land a writer with that much national cred is pretty cool – especially to see him placed among folks who are being published for the first time in our magazine.

My favorite story in this issue was “The Disappearance of Herman Grimes” by Michael Shou-Yung Shum, a fiction about a struggling franchise restaurant owner who is preparing for a visit from headquarters. Things haven’t been going well, but the situation is correctable – provided Herman is up to the task. In true Midwestern tradition, our authors continue to favor main characters they love to hate. Herman draws in on himself, hides, and only makes the situation worse by putting his incompetent assistant manager in charge of saving this business. It’s tragic and comedic to watch at the same time. Here’s one of my favorite sections:

In the entire town of Ardsmore, Oklahoma, there were only two restaurants that could be considered adequate, and neither was Herman Grimes’s. Herman’s was a franchise called Crystal’s, located off the first highway exit leaving town, next to a twenty-four hour gas station. The food served in his restaurant was U.S. fast food, deep fried, mostly parts of chickens. The fact was that in Ardsmore, the options for dining out were bleak and could only be tolerated by a citizenry who’d grown habituated to the basest diet.

Herman’s franchise featured a radiant jewel on its sign, a glass front, and once-shining chrome fixtures now dulled from repetitive use. Always, a thin layer of grease pervaded the air, ruining the complexions of his teenaged employees. Herman himself stood up front only when he was manning a register during the lunch and dinner hours or taking a complaint. He usually sat in the back, in his office next to the employee bathroom with the lock that did not lock, watching what was happening on the video surveillance monitor with dismay rising in his eyes. Herman had never been particularly interested in food, but when he and his wife had started out in business, they’d mutually agreed that a restaurant franchise was the safest bet. Now, for the last three years, the restaurant had hardly been making any money. The recession had driven most of Ardsmore to the pre-packaged frozen food aisles of the local supermarket, where the parts of chickens could be had for a dozen at the same price Herman offered for four.

The atmosphere in the restaurant had been especially brutal for six weeks, since Herman’s wife had passed away. He’d been away an entire month, on bereavement leave. And then, barely recovered and somewhat bewildered by why he was doing it, Herman Grimes had returned to work. That first week back had been awful, filled with so many gruesome gestures of commiseration from his regulars that they drove Herman entirely into his office. His teenaged employees treated him as if his misfortune were contagious, even using the customer bathroom to avoid crossing paths. The worst was Joe Cloud, his general manager, who had seemingly taken it upon himself to rehabilitate Herman’s psyche through sheer force of aphorism.

But it was primarily Herman Grimes that caused Herman to isolate himself in his office. He couldn’t say that he particularly liked his restaurant, but it was all he had left, now that Greta had passed. Oh God. Greta. The second day back, in the midst of counting inventory with Joe, trying to regain a feel for hard numbers, the thought had struck him like a bolt from the blue. She’s gone. His clipboard fell to the floor, and he was biting his right knuckle hard, so hard it drew blood, cringing like an animal in the corner of a cage. When his fit had subsided, Joe was looking at him with more than mild concern. Joe said he could finish the inventory himself.

Buy a copy of Issue 10 and hear from some of the Midwest’s best writers and poets.