When We Cease to Understand the World, by Benjamín Labatut
Book Review/ 10. April 2022

When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut My rating: 1 of 5 stars This is one of the very few books I’m not finishing. Let me explain why: The problem with this one is that Benjamín Labatut introduces the history of an invention to us. Let’s take the first story on “Prussian Blue” as an example: Labatut starts by shortly describing the invention itself and what lead to it. He then proceeds to tell us about the inventor(s) and how they relate to each other and the world. Labatut does this, and that’s my first issue, at break-neck speed. He drops name after name after name and forms connections between them in rarely more than a single sentence. It’s exhausting and not very illuminating. Much worse, though, whenever there’s insufficient historical evidence Labatut chooses the most lurid and raciest possible explanation. For example Fritz Haber’s (Haber played a most prominent role in chemical warfare) wife, Clara Immerwahr, did commit suicide – but the reasons are unclear. Immerwahr’s marriage to Haber was unhappy on many levels and she may or may not have been against World War I – there are conflicting accounts. Labatut, though, decides to paint…

Worms, by Paul Auster
Book Review/ 7. April 2022

Worms by Paul Auster My rating: 3 of 5 stars A highly metaphorical short story in which an elderly guy is being kind, is being treated kindly himself, gets hurt nevertheless, falls to his knees but gets up once more to reflect on his past and – my first and only guess – is sinking into dementia while considering how the eponymous worms may taste (when he’s gone to his grave), effectively contemplating death. This is so short, devoid of substantial clues and highly abstract that I lack the patience to analyse it in any detail. I read this because Paul Auster – whom I adore, almost worship – wrote it but even to yours truly this didn’t really appeal. Three out of five stars. Ceterum censeo Putin esse delendam View all my reviews

Bruno’s Challenge & Other Dordogne Tales (Bruno, Chief of Police 14.5), by Martin Walker
Book Review/ 1. April 2022

Bruno’s Challenge & Other Dordogne Tales by Martin Walker My rating: 3 of 5 stars “Bruno’s Challenge & Other Dordogne Tales” consists of 14 short stories featuring rural French cop Bruno who has already “starred” in 14 previous books.The full-size novels (that I prefer) went on a downward spiral around book 10 and mostly picked up at book 14. So I was curious to see how this short story collection would hold up.This was especially true because only six of the collected stories are actually new – the other eight have previously been published. The eponymous “Bruno’s Challenge” is one of those new stories and, sadly, a prime example of all that was wrong with the latest Bruno novels: Endless recipe descriptions, hardly any kind of story. 1 star. “Birthday Lunch” is an older story that I had already read: Another short story from the “Bruno universe”. Unfortunately, like the later novels, this one didn’t have any appeal for me. A large part of it is basically simply a narrated recipe: “He beat the yolks and eggs together with a hundred fifty grams of sugar until they were creamy.” That really doesn’t float my boat, sorry. The rest is just…

Detective Kubu Investigates 2, by Michael Stanley
Book Review/ 11. March 2022

Detective Kubu Investigates 2 by Michael Stanley My rating: 2 of 5 stars This was supposed to be another “filler” till I found my “next big read” and it all started well enough. “Shoot to Kill” is an interesting short story featuring Kubu investigating the death of an informant among poachers. It had exactly the right “Kubu vibes” and was a quick and pleasant read. Had all the short stories been this good, the collection would have easily garnered four stars. “The Case of the Missing Tuba” was amusing. It lacked any real crime (and, sadly, it also lacked Kubu!) but it was still nice enough. (Despite featuring a manipulative ass-hat husband.) “The Con” has petty crime but it also has the main ingredient – Kubu! And a believable, likeable Kubu at that. His family also features prominently and I was truly amused and thought this short story collection was headed to four stars. Then came the “Parlor Game”, though. A confusing and utterly failed attempt at imitating Edgar Allan Poe. This short story also lacked Kubu. Even worse, though: It was devoid of any logic. Or original ideas. Or decent human beings.“Parlor Game” could have been the product of…

Traditions, by Michael J. Sullivan
Book Review/ 6. February 2022

Traditions by Michael J. Sullivan My rating: 3 of 5 stars What a curious coincidence! Immediately after finishing “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” I picked up “Traditions”. Written in Michael’s world of Elan, it features Annie, a girl who’s about to be sacrificed to a monster for the continued well-being of her village.Presented by her boyfriend with an opportunity to flee together, she rejects his plan but decides not to play by the age-old rules but to try and determine her own fate. Thus, she walks up to the lair of the monster and confronts it. The monster, an old, basically invalid dragon tries to talk her out of killing him by presenting the possible catastrophic consequences if it becomes known that the dragon “protecting” the village is gone. That all the sacrifices for a very long time have been for nought. In contrast to the people of Omelas, Annie decides not to play by the rules: She does not accept the potential consequences as a given. She does not sacrifice herself for the greater good. Instead, she changes the rules and when she leaves the cave, a new dawn is rising. Let’s not accept rules just because…

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, by Ursula K. Le Guin
Book Review/ 6. February 2022

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin My rating: 2 of 5 stars The premise of this short story is simple: Omelas, a radiant city of happiness, has built its riches upon the suffering of a single child. Every citizen knows of the child and many visit it to witness its suffering. There are basically three options according to Le Guin: – Walk away and live your life, knowing your happiness depends on the misery of an innocent child. – Walk away from Omelas; leave, never to come back. – Rescue the child – but that doesn’t happen. According to Le Guin’s afterword those are the only options because those are the rules: »You can only play a game — chess, soccer, parable — if you follow the rules.« And that’s where I say she’s wrong: We abide by the “rules” because we want to. We allow the rules to restrict what we do. We choose to follow the rules – but we don’t have to! In the face of developing countries being ravaged by COVID-19 like we’d never tolerate it here, we can tell Bill Gates that his stance on not waiving intellectual property…