Death’s End by Cixin Liu

If you enjoy good science fiction –   YES!!! –  But this astonishing book is the third in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy by Cixin Liu,  a contemporary Chinese writer.  The first book is called The Three Body Problem (2014 in English) and the trilogy is usually known by that.  The second book is The Dark Forest (2015 in English).  Both of these are very, very good sci-fi in themselves,  but the third book,  Death’s End,  is the mind-blower.  They really MUST be read in order, though.

Death’s End 
by Cixin Liu and translated by Ken Liu
2010 China – 2016 US  / 608 pages
read by P.J. Ochian – 28h 56m

Death’s End begins at some point in some place,  but it’s specifically stated that there is no past or future so … the narrator is watching a sunset ruminating on the how it came to this.

Then Part 1 starts out in 1453 CE and the collapse of Constantinople to the Ottomans.  Mortars  balls are used for the first time. and a “miracle” occurs.

I can’t possibly review this book much less the trilogy – it’s gigantic in scope and depth.  Actually,  each of three books is epic in scope.   The Three Body Problem  is mostly set in the near future with some backstory and focuses on physics and early communications with an unfriendly  alien force.  The Dark Forest is set a couple hundred years in the future and focuses on several attempts to avoid warfare with them -the focus is on socio-economic effects on Earth.   Death’s End is set in a further future  and is concerned with how it all ends.   Yes, there is some intergalactic warfare,  but there is far more humanity involved in this one.

After a couple of intense prologue type stories,   the overarching plot  of Death’s End  really gets started with a rocket scientist named Cheng Xin and her hibernation in order to reach future times.  During the course of the book she is  awakened repeatedly over the centuries.  During this time there are space wars and earth-bound readiness and escape plans.

One of my favorite parts is near the center where a character tells a series of “stories” which are very fantastical / myth-like,  but which could be interpreted as prophesy and metaphors within metaphors –

I just can’t go further because it’s very  complex, interwoven and science oriented.  One of the criticisms of the prior works has been that there was too much science lecture type narrative.  That’s true here too but it never bothered me – it was fascinating even if I didn’t follow it all.

One of the things which sets Death’s End apart is the faster pace and deeper exploration of humankind,  individually and as a group.

I love these books – maybe not up there with Dune by Frank Herbert (1965), my all time favorite sci-fi,  or Ender’s Game by Orson Scott (1985),  but it’s certainly up there in the top 10.


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by MIchael Chabon

Finally getting around to this,  i’ve been meaning to read it since ??? and I’ve tried several times.  The book takes some work because it’s not only an alternative history of Jews in Sitka (with a lot of verifiable history thrown in) and there’s a lot of Yiddish in it.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union
by MIchael Chabon
2007 / 412 pages
(both read and listened)
read by ______
rating:   8.75

Emanuel Laskar is dead,  found in his flop-house room at the hotel Zamenhof by his landlord,  Tenenboym who promptly calls Meyer Landsman in room 505.   Landsman is a top notch police investigator who on his off hours is a drunk and a dreamer,  mulling over the history of the Jews in this  un-promised land of Sitka,  Alaska.   It’s an imagined world based on a real possibility which was never realized (thank goodness) and being played out in the contemporary world as though a big chunk of the past were different.   – For the purposes of the book,   Sitka and a lot of that part of Alaska was settled by Jewish immigrants from Europe in the years after 1938 and the area hasn’t been incorporated into the US even in the present day (2011?) “Reversion” and the take-over of the US Marshall is coming in a matter of weeks.

Aside from the detective business of the murdered man and the history of these Jews in Sitka,   Landsman, a contender for loneliest man in Sitka,  divorced from the woman he loves but still works with, and deals mainly with avid chess players, the cumbersome bureaucracies in time of transition and the local Orthodox mafia.   His partner Berko  turns out to be Native Tinglit with extensive family ties on both Jewish and Native sides.

The real crux of the book is a standard detective novel in the hard-boiled tradition of Raymond Chandler. It opens with the murder of Landsman’s  rooming house neighbor just as his department in the police department  is closing out old cases by “effective resolution.”   But Landsman won’t let this case be closed – he knows the people involved.    Oh – and did I mention this is a very dark time in Sitka – it’s December.

Turns out the tension of upcoming Reversion has triggered a lot of gangland activity from the production and sale of green cards to a bit more drugs.  Laskar was a drug addict as well as highly connected by family.

The deceased is  Tzaddik Ha-Dor, a man with the potential to be the messiah because messiahs are born into every generation just in case the time is right.  But the time is not  right.  And Landsman has to figure it out as the connections go from Laskar and his chess games and needles up and up the ladder.

Chabon writes beautifully but there are places where it’s a bit over-written,  the metaphors and slang just a tad over the top, but for the most part it’s perfect.  It gets complex with quite a lot of unique characters with Jewish names using Yiddish colloquialisms and more.

Lots of great reviews out there – some academic studies also (not listed):

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Bible: The Biography by Karen Armstrong

I’ve had this on my shelf (in my iTunes library) for ages.  I keep meaning to get to it.  Finally … maybe …  yes (and I finished!)   I’ve read several books by Armstrong and enjoyed them quite a lot.   Her narratives are a bit dry but not dusty-dry and they’re full of great material,  well researched,  well considered,  clearly written.

The Bible:  The Biography
by Karen Armstrong
2007 / 229 pages
read by Josephine Bailey  6h 8m
rating –  9

This book examines the Bible and how its been read and interpreted from its origins in two oral traditions of Jewish stories to modern interpretations of both the Torah and the entire Christian Bible.

It’s about *How We Understand the Bible*  and  how it has been understood over the ages.   It’s not a history of the Bible per se, although there are parts of that,  and its certainly not anything like a literal interpretation or history of the Jewish people,  Jesus,  or anything else.  Rather the focus is the exegesis – how the Bible has been understood,  explained.   The oral words were written down and those documents became Holy Scripture because of the way people started reading them.  And even thought the words were changed over the centuries to clarify the meaning – finding the original literal meaning was not a goal until recently.

Armstrong follows the thread of ancient Jewish history into Roman times and then to more contemporary times.  The writing of the  Old Testament following the first five  books,  the Pentateuch (Genesis – Deuteronomy, )  is not nearly as complex as the New Testament. The Jewish rabbis just wrote down the oral histories of the country,  the doings of the prophets,  the songs of David, and so on. When there were two versions both  were included in some way over time in the final version.    The emphasis was on spiritual interpretation and understanding rather than on a literal meaning.

Then Christianity came along and some of the same focus was used  because it was an offshoot of  Judaism.    Scripture has a psyche,  a spirit of its own.  The literal meaning comes first,  but that’s just a top coating,  possibly ficiton – beneath the literal is the truth of the moral sense after which comes the truth in a spiritual sense,  and finally,  according to some, there is a mystical truth which comes into play.  According to Armstrong, reading for the literal sense alone didn’t develop until the Age of Reason after which it became paramount to some.

Armstrong traces the history of the composition and understanding of the Jewish and Christian scriptures from the 6th Century BCE, when the Persian Emperor Cyrus permitted the refugees returning to Jerusalem from Babylon to bring with them nine scrolls which became  the Old Testament books (as Christians know them) from Genesis to Kings. These were written and rewritten and studied and considered by the rabbis at the Temple.

The New Testament doesn’t come into play until Chapter 3 after Rome smashed the Temple and rousted the Jews in Jerusalem.  Then in Chapter 4 the two books, the Torah and the Christian Bible are discussed separately but alternating to keep the chronology.

The narrative ends in the 21st century with the fundamentalists  of both Jewish and Christian religions.

Overall it’s a really good book but you have to pay attention because there’s a lot of information in almost every sentence.  But Armstrong writes with enough simplicity to keep the book from feeling too dense.   If you’re interested in how the Bible has been read and  understood over the centuries this is the best because actually,  I can’t think of another book which approaches the subject like this.  (Not saying there isn’t one!)

Here’s a little outline and my notes: >>>> NOTES >>>>  (and scroll to about midway)

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Professor by Robert Bailey

I’d been looking at this legal thriller for some months.  One audible reader/reviewer whom I follow did not give it such high marks although other many other reviewers/listeners raved about it. And then the price was right and I had a little time,  so,  with a few small misgivings I gave it a try and I’m glad I did.

The Professor 
by Robert Bailey
2014 / 418 pages
read by Eric G. Dove – 10h 28m
rating:  B+


The basic plot concerns a lawsuit about the wrongful death of a young family due to a speeding truck driver.  The protagonists are  the young prosecuting attorney,  RIck Drake and  his old university professor,  Tom McMurtrie,  plus a young woman in the Professor’s class who helps Drake as an intern/assistant.

Overall,  the bad guys were grittier and some of the scenes rather heavy with sexual content than I’m comfortable with and the whole thing was somewhat predictable and contrived.  Also there are times it feels a wee bit like a love letter to the University of Alabama football team, especially Bear Bryant,  and law school.  –

But the courtroom scenes, although they are limited for my tastes,   and the good-guy characterizations  make up for that.  Additionally,  the tension was very well built with scenes from several points of view,  short chapters, potential serious violence and a few good plot twists.  The narrator did a fine job.

I’ll likely read Bailey’s next book about Drake and McMurtrie , Between  Black and White, as it features a character in this book and the same protagonists.  It’s not great lit but it’s fun.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton

This was a selection of the BookiesII reading group –  a question was asked about which book do you really wish you could read again for the first time and the name of the book under consideration came up.  With those two prompts I decided to go ahead –  I’d been reluctant prior.   I probably should have followed my own instincts,  but I got involved in the smarmy stuff anyway.   lol

In  my defense I did read some about it and the descriptors on the Goodreads page say historical fiction, fiction, culture > Japan, Historical,  Cultural > Asia, War, WWII.  That’s it –  no “romance.”

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding
by Jackie Copleton
2016 / 292 pages
read by Nancy Wu – 11h 9m
rating:  4  / historical fiction – romance (imo)

The story opens in a US city of the 1980s where Amaterasu Takahash,  an old woman of Japanese ancestry,  is visited by someone who says he’s her grandson.   The story then quickly steps back via a diary and letters which the grandson has delivered to her.  The woman also delves into her own memories of her daughter as well as her own life.  The diary and letters involve illicit love and parental disapproval in the days of  World War II.    Amaterasu and her husband, Kenzo,  had fled Japan after the bombing of Nagasaki thinking their daughter and her son were surely dead.

As the narrative moves along various informational sections appear which reveal some history and cultural background.  But the main story is not how those things came to be – but rather how historical they are.  The main story is how a teenage Japanese girl is romantically involved with an older married man and the repercussions on her whole life as well as the life of her parents.  The plot is completely predictable,  the language

Much of the history presented is so surface as to be irrelevant – the  Portuguese visited, traded and built there in the 16th century and the the Edo period was primarily it the 18th century when the cult of the Samurai pretty much ended.   These were  NOT the grandparents of the people involved in WWII Japan. But I think Copleton is trying to connect the ancient and historical Japan to the difficulties of more contemporary times – There’s about as much connection as King Arthur to Margaret Thatcher (1980s) so imo, it’s a literary device used very clumsily (not saying it couldn’t be done).

I suppose the themes would be family secrets and loyalty along with love of many kinds  and loss, maybe memory and the ravages of war.  Unfortunately the soft, slow,  wispy voice of Nancy Wu, the reader,  adds nothing to the tale.

If you want Japanese historical fiction try “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet” by David Mitchell,  “Shogun” by James Clavell,  “An Artist of the Floating World” by Kazuo Ishiguro or many others  –  Even “The Narrow Road to the Deep North”  by Richard Flannagan has a lot about Japan during WWII than this one.

** Reminder to self – NO MAS  historical romance – trust your instincts if the tag does not say romance specifically – do a bit more research.  LOL!**

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Lots of hype for this one – the author has lots of friends in high places.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not good.  It is quite good or at least I should say I enjoyed it.  That said, it may not be everyone’s cuppa.

The plot premise is that a private jet crashes off Martha’s Vineyard and two people survive,  the protagonist (the most riveting of the later stories)  Scott Burroughs, a middle-aged painter,  and a 4-year old boy,  JJ Bateman.  That’s just the Prologue.   The other passengers were rich and powerful men and their families plus the crew.  How could this happen?

Before the Fall 
by Noah Hawley
2016 / 391 pages
read by Robert Petcoff – 12h 59m
Rating:  B+ / literary crime-suspense 

The novel is structured around parallel threads  each one developing a character on board the jet,  their difficulties, their lives.  The suspense is built that way because the reader is thinking “could this person have caused the crash?”  There are no metal detectors on most private jets.

But along the way Hawley asks more literary questions about life and coincidences  and reality and these questions develop into themes.  Sad to say this meandering around takes the tension out of the suspense and it’s never terribly insightful – although there were a couple of very, very nice lines.  There’s another theme or sub-theme on the reality issue – what part does the media play in our lives –

But the best part of the novel is the relationship between Scott and JJ – that is simply wonderful in concept and execution – breathed all the life into the novel anyone could want.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Bob Dylan – Nobel Laureate? –

And Bobby Dylan won the Nobel Prize on Tuesday “…for,”  according to the Swedish Academy, “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”  – it was in the category of poetry, songwriting.

Did he do that? – You betcha! I’m a true child of the ’60s/’70s. I don’t know when I first heard Dylan’s name, probably along with that of Joan Baez,  sometime in my freshman year of high school –  1963 -’64,  about the same time as I first heard the Beatles who quickly took the place of the Beach Boys and the Supremes in my heart.

His “poetry, songwriting”?
“And you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone. Oh, the times, they are a-changin’.”

“And I’ll tell it and speak it and think it and breathe it.”

No his voice and musical abilities are within normal range. But there was something about Dylan’s lyrics which spoke to a whole generation and ,  together with the gravelly  voice and musical composition,  changed us,  bonded us,  branded us maybe even.

I know there is some dismay among the more “literary minded”  about the choice but I think that’s been true of almost every nomination since probably Toni Morrison (1993) –  The claims of “there are others so much better!”  and “a playwright?”  “a poet/translator?”     are ongoing.

*** Too bad –   Rabindranath Tagore, a novelist and lyricist from India, won the  Nobel in 1913.

Also see The Conversation site for more info.

In my opinion,  and I’ve watched the Nobel Prizes for many years,  there is a part of the award which is political.  Rather than simply to the best novelist or poet,  in the 21st century (since Gunter Grass won it in 1999 – and that had its own political repercussions)  the award has tended to go to writers who have had to struggle to be heard because of the themes of the writing or the country they wrote in – sometimes for the impact they had on society or literature.   The honor is not going to go to highly popular writers in basically free speech countries no matter how wonderfully well they write about middle-of-the-road topics.

I believe Dylan’s lyrics have been taught in high school and college literary classes.  Songwriting is a form of literary expression (I believe Homer’s works were sung)  and now it’s been recognized again.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments