Books I read in January 2020

January 2020. The last two books of the Axiom trilogy; the last book in the Winternight trilogy; started, but did not finish, Kafka on the Shore; re-reading The Living of These Days, by Harry Emerson Fosdick.

The Dreaming Stars by Tim Pratt (book 2 of the Axiom series)

The first half of the book was a bit slow (although it was fun to explore the world of Owain in the Taliesen system and find out more about the church that uses entheogens as its sacraments and cuddle puddles in its rituals).

The second half of the book was very exciting and had another great twist in it that I didn’t see coming. Fans of gaming and virtual reality will particularly enjoy this book. There are some really good inside jokes for science fiction aficionados too. I especially liked the Douglas Adams one.

The Forbidden Stars by Tim Pratt (book 3 of the Axiom series)

An amazing conclusion to the series. It’s action-packed from page 1 onwards, and the twists and turns of the plot were like the interior of Axiom architecture. We get to find out more about both the Axiom and the Liars. And there’s an absolutely brilliant and succinct explanation of why fighting Nazis is an excellent idea (on page 324 of the Angry Robot Books edition):

You don’t debate with people who consider first contact an opportunity for genocide. My right to exist isn’t open to debate. The Axiom think every other species is vermin to be murdered or animals to be enslaved. When that’s your worldview, you forfeit your right to participate in civilization. Believing other people aren’t actually people is a dealbreaker.

Highly recommended.

The Winter of the Witch (part 3 of the Winternight trilogy) by Katherine Arden

This book picks up where the previous one left off. Once again, Vasya must battle hostile forces (both humans and spirits) and try to save the fading land spirits from oblivion. There’s a lot of material where she’s in the land of Polunochnitsa (Lady Midnight) and I kind of wanted it to get back to Russia proper, although if I was Vasya, I wouldn’t linger there. Also glad to see that Baba Yaga finally showed up. The scenes where Vasya interacts with the winter king, Morozko, are wonderful, and the bit where she finally figures out what she needs to do is very satisfying, as is the ending of the book.

Kafka on the Shore, by Haruko Murakami

I’m reading this for a SF Reading Group that I organized at work, and I really struggled to get into it. Also got distracted by reading the Axiom trilogy. I didn’t warm to the main character. The descriptions of Japan are nice. The discussion of the book was today, and one person said he liked the discussion better than the book. It was an excellent discussion; the book is very weird. I think I’m going to give up on it. Here’s a review by David Mitchell.

The Living of These Days, by Harry Emerson Fosdick

In his day, Fosdick was a very well-known liberal Christian who resisted the rise of evangelical fundamentalism. He also refused to budge from the mainstream churches, because if he did, he would relinquish all the power, assets, and institutional memory which had accrued to those groups to the fundamentalists. A wise move. Sometimes, if you stay, you can actually shift the mainstream more towards your views. Sometimes it takes decades, sometimes only a few years. Sometimes one has to conclude that there are too many things one takes issue with, and then it is necessary to leave.

Fosdick also said this, one of my favourite quotes about religion (on page 230):

The fact that astronomies change while the stars abide is a true analogy of every realm of human life and thought, religion not least of all. No existent theology can be a final formulation of spiritual truth.

and it’s remarkably similar to another of my favourite quotes, which was written by Quintus Aurelius Symmachus about 15 centuries earlier:

We ask, then, for peace for the gods of our fathers and of our country. It is just that all worship should be considered as one. We look on the same stars, the sky is common, the same world surrounds us. What difference does it make by what pains each seeks the truth? We cannot attain to so great a secret by one road.

Fosdick remains relevant (despite some of the archaisms in this book) because he wrestled with the problem of how to retain and remain true to the beauty and values and relevance of traditions without being bound by the thinking of earlier times, and without the tradition becoming hidebound by unnecessary legalism.

The Crooked Path: an introduction to Traditional Witchcraft by Kelden

An excellent, accessible, well organized, and well written introduction to Traditional Witchcraft. The exercises gradually progress the reader through making tools, preparing for ritual, and practising folkloric magic. They are also indexed separately, something I wish all books on magic and spirituality would do. (I always put mine at the end of a chapter so people can find them again, but having a separate contents page for them is excellent.)

The foreword by Gemma Gary, and the introduction by Kelden, stress the similarities between Traditional Witchcraft and Wicca rather than the differences. As a polytheist Wiccan with a strong interest in folklore and a land-based spirituality, I was grateful for this.

The section on the Devil in traditional witchcraft is excellent and explains that the Devil of folklore is not the same archetype as the Christian Satan.

This is a book written by someone who really knows what they are talking about and has clearly practised this path for a good amount of time. Top notch!

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