Sunday, August 17, 2014

Small Gods

Small Gods (Discworld, #13)Small Gods by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Small Gods is an excellent book, a great stand alone Discworld novel that is hard to put down. It's a great satirical take on organized religion and it has a lot to say about it. Pratchett handles it as deftly as he handles other serious subject matter, with humor and grace. The man's a genius!

Brutha is a novice in service of the Great God Om in the land of Omnia. With all of the priests and bishops and forced devotion to Om, along with the evil Quisition, it's meant to be a satire of Catholicism, as well as probably some other religions too. One day Brutha is gardening when he hears a voice. No one else can seem to hear it, but hear it he does. Where is it coming from? A tortoise. What is the tortoise? The Great God Om. Yep. Everyone thought that when Om presented himself to humanity, it would be in the form of a bull or lion or other fierce creature, since there's a lot of smiting in Omnia, but nope, he's a tortoise and none too happy about it. And so an adventure begins. Brutha is the only person who can hear Om and also the only person who actually believes in him, as it's become second nature to everyone else and they no longer truly BELIEVE. And then there's Vorbis. Vorbis is the leader of the Quisition and as such is dreaded and feared by all. He truly loves torture. He sends an Omnian "brother" to a neighboring country, gets him killed, and uses it as an excuse to go attack said neighboring country. He takes along Brutha for his fantastic memory. Things don't go as planned and Brutha is forced to flee along with the other Omnians. He and Om wander through the desert with Vorbis, who knocks Brutha out and carries him into Omnia, where he's going to be crowned the eighth Prophet while declaring Brutha a bishop. Meanwhile, there's an underground movement ready to attack, and all of the neighboring countries are sailing to Omnia to wipe it out once and for all. Justice is served when Vorbis dies, but Brutha convinces everyone else to lay down their arms and seek peace. One of the classic scenes in the novel occurs when the dead Vorbis "awakes" to see Death and the following exchange takes place:

Death paused. "YOU HAVE PERHAPS HEARD THE PHRASE, he said, THAT HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE?

Yes. Yes, of course.

Death nodded. IN TIME, he said, YOU WILL LEARN THAT IT IS WRONG.

Classic. Vorbis can't stand to be alone and now he's in a deserted desert for eternity. Very funny. There are lots of other funny parts too. One of the songs Brutha sings early in the book is called "He is Trampling the Unrighteous with Hooves of Hot Iron." Hahahaha! Also, lots of instances of things happening in church history and of certain writings. To wit, "In the Year of the Lenient Vegetable the Bishop Kreeblephor converted a demon by the power of reason alone." "There was the crusade against the Hodgsonites...." "And the Subjugation of the Melchiorites. And the Resolving of the false prophet Zeb. And the Correction of the Ashelians, and the Shriving --" -- well, you get the picture. Utterly hilarious. Makes Christianity look completely absurd, but in a fun way.

There's a lot about belief in this book, and a lot about God and gods. The more people believe, the greater the god. Brutha finds that his devoted belief is shaken, by his god, no less, as well as other so-called believers. And it does him a world of good. So I guess the lesson is we shouldn't take everything we're fed too literally or at face value. The philosophers in this book are the true thinkers and yet they are doubters. Pratchett's good. This book is both serious and hilarious at the same time. It's a great Discworld novel and I strongly recommend it.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Third Bullet

The Third Bullet (Bob Lee Swagger, #8)The Third Bullet by Stephen Hunter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this book. It was a real adventure to read and even though it plodded along at times (I wouldn't call it a "thriller."), I guess it was kind of a suspense novel. Bob Lee Swagger is a former Marine sniper who gained fame in Vietnam. Now, he's approached by the widow of a writer who was murdered in DC, potentially because he was on to something new with JFK's assassination. So Bob takes this on, goes to Dallas, and starts snooping around. And almost immediately is the target of an assassination attempt, which he thwarts through some good shooting. Ah, the author is a gun man. He's knows his guns and even though at times it feels like he's nearly arrogant about his knowledge, he does make things seem realistic. Since the dead assassin is Russian, Swagger goes to Russia to look into some things and is attacked there. He escapes through some good shooting and the help of a colleague, a fellow sniper. At this point in the book, the author does something odd. He starts narrating chapters through the "diary" of the mastermind behind JFK's assassination and it adds and takes away from the story. It adds, because we find out how it was actually accomplished and it's fascinating reading. It takes away because it's not entirely believable. As we go through the course of the story and Swagger gets closer to the truth, the diarist starts writing in "real time," which obviously can't be happening in real time. It stretches the imagination. Oh, there was indeed a second shooter, in a neighboring building. And there was a support team. And Oswald was a puppet. And the author is good. This really reads like nonfiction. Every tiny little detail is laid out for inspection, and then related to the reader as plausible, and it really works. While Swagger is debunking conspiracy theories, the author essentially creates a new one which is the best one I've heard/read yet. It's really possible, or so you're led to think. Of course, our hero -- Swagger -- has to track down the culprit and the final pages are action packed, so perhaps it's a bit of a thriller, but the book has a largely satisfying ending, so that's good. I've read a lot of reviews that say this book doesn't stack up to other books by Hunter and some that have problems with the mastermind's diary, like me, but I'm able to overlook that and enjoy, for the most part. Still, I've got to knock it down from five to four stars for that. However, it was a very detailed, well thought out book and I heartily recommend it.

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