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ex libris reviews

1 November 2005

The hippopotamus goes HRUUUUUGH!
Terry Pratchett


In This Issue:
Notice of Publication

You may have noticed that we had no reviews from Craig Clarke last month; and in fact we have no reviews from Craig Clarke this month. Seems our Craig and his wife have been rather busy of late; around the time ex libris went to press last month, they published their first collaboration, a baby boy named Nathan Daniel Turner-Clarke. The new work is expected to be wildly popular in its first edition. As yet, there's been no word about any possible sequels.

Meanwhile, things have continued busy around here, and I haven't felt much like writing. I've been doing a lot of reading, and I've got stacks and stacks of books to review, but not much writing. We've turned the corner on my big project at work, though, so with luck things will improve over the next month.

-- Will Duquette

Books to Read Aloud

by Will Duquette

Where's My Cow?
By Terry Pratchett

This is an odd little book, written as a companion to Pratchett's new Discworld novel, Thud!. Sam Vimes, commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, has a standing engagement every evening at six o'clock--no matter what else is going on, he hurries home to read a bedtime story to his very small boy, Young Sam. And not just any book, but Young Sam's favorite book in the world, Where's My Cow?:

Where's my cow?
Is that my cow?
It goes "Baaa".
It is a sheep.
That's not my cow!

Speaking as a father, I've read dozens of books just like this. But Where's My Cow? isn't just another kid's book; it's a book about Sam Vimes reading a book called Where's My Cow to Young Sam, complete with pictures of Sam Vimes making all of the assorted noises. (My favorite is the Hippopotamus: it goes "HRUUUUUGH!") And partway through the book, Sam begins to ask himself...why is he reading a book about the noises made by barnyard animals to Young Sam when Young Sam is going to grow up in the city and will never encounter barnyard animals except on a plate? What if Where's My Cow were about the noises Sam hears every day as he travels about Ankh-Morpork?

And so Sam Vimes begins to embellish the book a bit, and extemporize, and spread himself considerably....until Lady Sybil comes in and gives him the eye.

Speaking as a father, I've done this myself, hundreds of times, with one book or another (for example...but then, perhaps we should pass lightly over Princess Jewelianna and the Sparkling Rainbow Ball, in which all of the tasteless princesses dress most excruciatingly gaudy. One day my little girl is going to learn to read, and I'm going to be in big trouble.)

Anyway, Where's My Cow is good fun, if a bit lightweight, and the pictures are excellent. If you're both a parent and a Discworld fan, you owe it to yourself to get a copy. I gave Jane a copy as an anniversary present; she was thrilled. No, really, she was, and she sat in my lap while I read it to her. And then we went back to Thud!, which I expect we'll finish tonight.

If you're not a Discworld fan or a parent, though, give it a miss, because most of the book will go right over your head.

By Terry Pratchett

This is Pratchett's latest Discworld novel; and it is to my lasting regret that due to soccer practice and an inability to find a babysitter we missed seeing him when he was at our local bookstore a couple of weeks ago. (So happens I missed Neil Gaiman last week, which is also regrettable but not nearly as lasting.)

Thud! is yet another tale of the City, Ankh-Morpork, as seen through the eyes of its most determined defender: His Grace Samuel Vimes, the reluctant Duke of Ankh-Morpork and most eager Commander of her City Watch. The topic this time around, as it so often is in the Sam Vimes books, is race relations. Koom Valley Day is approaching, and the dwarfs and the trolls are working themselves up to break a few heads. The dwarfs and trolls first fought the Battle of Koom Valley a thousand years earlier; they've given repeat performances every few decades ever since, sometimes even within the confines of Koom Valley.

Koom Valley Day is always rather fraught in Ankh-Morpork, thanks to the massive influx of dwarfs and trolls over the last twenty years; but this year it's shaping up to be a doozy. Indeed it appears that unless our Sam can do something to ease the tensions, the city will be the site of the next Battle of Koom Valley, and that eftsoons and right speedily.

Much of the tension may be laid at the feet of one Grag Hamcrusher, a leader of a new group of "deep down" dwarfs who have recently come to the city. Grag is not a name, but a title; it is the grags who are responsible for transmitting the essence of dwarfishness to the next generation. The closest human approximation is probably "rabbi"; and if "grag" equals "rabbi" then Hamcrusher and the "deep down" dwarfs make your average Hasidic Jew look like a secularist. Hamcrusher's not to impressed with the dwarfishness of your average city dwarf, and he's absolutely appalled by the vast numbers of trolls in the city, about whom he has not been silent.

As the book begins, Hamcrusher is not only Vimes' chief problem; he's also dead. The "deep down" dwarfs claim that the killer is a troll. And Koom Valley Day is only a few days away....

Like all of the Sam Vimes books, Thud! is a mystery with Vimes as the sleuth; and like all of the Sam Vimes books, the mystery is odd, surprising, and funny. I'll only say that the book Vimes reads to his son Young Sam every night at six o'clock precisely--every night, without fail, at precisely six o'clock, utterly without fail, because if you'll skip it for a good reason you'll eventually skip it for a bad reason--that is, the estimable Where's My Cow?, plays a dramatic (also odd, surprising, and funny) role at the climax of the tale. Jane and I are going to be giggling about it to each other for the indefinite future.

Will's Recent Reading

by Will Duquette

The Shadow of Saganami
By David Weber

This is the second in Weber's extended "Honorverse" series; being solely authored by Weber himself, it follows the pattern set by his previous few solo outings, to wit: a {ship, squadron, ...} of the Manticoran Space Navy is sent to a {system, cluster, star-nation, ...} to deal with some {mystery, crisis, situation, ...}. The main plot follows the {ship, squadron, ...} as they go about their business, one facet of which is usually to determine just what's going on. Meanwhile, we witness lots of meetings between other players on both sides where Weber explains to us just what's going on, so we know what kind of trials our gallant sailors will encounter. The volume naturally ends with some kind of naval engagement in which our heroes come out on top, bloody but unbowed.

That said, I enjoyed The Shadow of Saganami rather more than the most recent Honor Harrington novel, though (as it lacked Eric Flint's, um..., colorful imagination) not so much as Crown of Slaves.

Chronologically, The Shadow of Saganami is the latest view of the greater series, following shortly after Crown of Slaves. HMS Hexapuma, a new Saganami-class heavy cruiser, is sent to the Talbott Cluster, a vast expense of poor-to-destitute planets at the terminus of the most recently discovered member of Manticore's wormhole junction. The cluster as a whole has requested annexation by the Star-Kingdom of Manticore, and the details are currently being hammered out; Hexapuma has been sent to show the flag and to patrol what may soon be Manticoran territory.

The Talbott Cluster is on the far side of the Solarian League from Manticore, in a region where Manticoran ships would never go if it weren't for the new wormhole. And there are a number of folks who aren't happy about the possibility of increased Manticoran presence, notably the Solarian League's Office of Frontier Security (which enslaves entire planets under the guise of protecting them) and genetic slaver's Manpower United.

As with Crown of Slaves, The Shadow of Saganami looks like old home week. Helen Zilwicki, daughter of Anton Zilwicki and sister of Berry, is on board Hexapuma on her middie cruise. Also present are a couple of Engineering officers from Honor Among Enemies, and the provisional governor of the Talbott Cluster is Estelle Matsuko, whom we first met On Basilisk Station.

All in all, I liked the book; but Weber needs to stifle a few of the talking heads and give us a little more action. A few less words would be nice, too.

Have any comments? Want to recommend a book or two? Think Will's seriously missed the point and needs to be corrected? Like to correspond with one of the reviewers? Write to us and let us know what you think! You can find the e-mail addresses of most of our reviewers on our Ex Libris Staff page.

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