Thursday, February 16, 2006

The first thing I thought when I saw David Weber's new novel At All Costs was "Huh, he finally ran out of titles with 'Honor' in them." (Six of the eleven novels featuring Honor Harrington, plus three of the four short story anthologies set in the same universe, have 'Honor' in their titles.) It took me until the second novel in the series before I really got into the saga of Honor Harrington and the Royal Navy of the Star Kingdom of Manticore, but I am now sufficiently addicted that I had to keep reading this new one, despite the flaws I encountered in it.

It's always the characters that are interesting in a novel, and Weber has, over the course of the series, introduced a great number of them. Harrington herself, her family members, fellow Navy members and friends, Queen Elizabeth III of Manticore, Protector Benjamin Mayhew of Grayson, all on one side of Manticore's ongoing war with the planets making up the Republic of Haven, but the Havenites are seen as people too. President Eloise Pritchard and Secretary of War Thomas Theisman, for example, are a Havenite government the reader can sympathize with, unlike some in the earlier books, and both sides would really rather not be fighting anymore -- yet the number of battles in space in this book seems to exceed that of any previous installment. Or maybe it just seemed that way because the battles did not draw me in at all; they were near-endless strings of numbers, of how many missile pods this side can launch and how far they each have to travel and how much defense the other side can muster. It became a series of word problems out of a math textbook, and frankly I didn't want to have to work them out, so I found myself skimming the battles for dialogue that would keep me up to date on what was happening without being so boring.

However, when no one was actively in battle, the book was fascinating. Not only the political ins and outs of Manticore, Haven, and other organizations trying to influence events, but also what was going on in Honor's personal life kept the story moving and the reader interested. This wouldn't be the place to start reading the series -- it's much too complex at this point -- but it continues to be a series generally worth reading.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

When many people think of Tourette's Syndrome, they think of the (comparatively rare) variant where the sufferer's neurological problem makes them unable to control their repetition of foul language. Brad Cohen's Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had (written with Lisa Wysocky) is a memoir that not only dispels the idea that this is the only form of Tourette's, but shows how far someone with a disorder that makes them twitch, jerk, and make noises can still go. I particularly like the fact that it was the misunderstanding and mistreatment that Brad received from teachers in his own school days that made him determined to become a teacher and help children. As a dedicated reader, I can't imagine what it must be like to have difficulty keeping your eyes on a page in a book because your neck is jerking; this is how Brad lived his life and yet he graduated from college, suffered through a multitude of interviews with school administrators who couldn't believe, despite his completed student teaching, that Brad was capable of getting up in front of a classroom. And despite his success as a teacher (he won an award for the best beginning teacher his first year out of all the first-year teachers in the whole state of Georgia, and he also appears as a motivational speaker, particularly for Tourette's groups), and despite the Americans with Disabilities Act, this man is still living with the same disability -- being sometimes asked to leave restaurants and such because his noises bother people. It isn't a medical miracle cure chronicled in this feel-good book; it's achievement despite medical obstacles and people's long-running refusal to understand what things this man can't control and how those uncontrollable things don't stop him being so much more than anyone would have predicted when he was an elementary school child being told to stand at the front of the class by an angry teacher. (The book also has a site at