The Han Agent, by Amy Rogers: Book Review

Han Agent review picture Unit_731_-_Complex
Unit 731: the Japanese compound in China where biological warfare experiments were carried out.

 

Amy Rogers’ new book, The Han Agent, is a fast-moving, suspense-filled thriller. This science fiction novel is, above all else, entertaining. I read through the book in one day–I  had to find out  “what happened”.  The story held my attention because it was well written, and because it honed so closely to reality.  In the tradition of the best science fiction, the book was grounded in facts and took those facts into the realm of imagination.  

Ms. Rogers knows her science, and her history.  She’s a scientist by training, so that wasn’t surprising.  However, her attention to historical detail was surprising, and gratifying.  The accuracy of events referenced in the story made the narrative all the more believable.

The plot is rooted in a biological weapons program carried out by the Japanese in WWII (and pre-WWII) China.  The protagonist is a young scientist, a woman who suffers from a flaw that has afflicted dramatic characters throughout history: hubris.  Suspense arises not only from concern about a deadly biological agent, but also from wondering if the young scientist, on whom so much depends, will resolve her moral dilemma.

The Han Agent is a credible exploration of scientific possibility.  Generally, people think about threats to security coming from a nuclear attack or a dirty bomb.  In The Han Agent, the author suggests a different, perhaps more devastating possibility.  Ms. Rogers creates a universe in which the unthinkable may be realized. 

The Han Agent is a great book.  Readers from various backgrounds and all ages will find it thought-provoking and enjoyable.

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Seasons of the Heart: Book Review

Yolanda Grace Guerra

cat seasons of the heart.jpg

 

Poetry offers a window into the character of an artist, as few mediums do. In Yolanda Grace Guerra’s “Seasons of the Heart”, readers are acutely aware of this window because the poet writes in a clear, straightforward voice—a voice that is compassionate, perceptive and wise.

Each poem in this collection is accompanied by a date. The poems cover approximately 40 years of effort. Although the compilation offers a thematic arrangement of the work, I tried to read the pieces in chronological order so that I could see how the poet evolved as she matured. Surprisingly, the early poems reflect, to a significant degree, the wisdom and insight of the later work.

For example, “My Father”, written in 1964, describes Ms. Guerra’s father in his declining years. The poem begins: “Each day that comes will bring the face of yesterday”. These words are arresting in their mix of simplicity and understanding. As the poem progresses, Ms. Guerra is unflinching in her observation: “I wake each day to find a gray old man—who now stumbles in the dark as he thinks of yesterday”. And finally, she ends with: “He cared for us, he must have once—he cannot be my father”. Remarkably, Ms. Guerra was only 23 when she wrote these lines.

“Seasons of the Heart” was compiled by Ms. Guerra’s daughter, Sylvia Stankewich, who has left her name out of the book. I credit her here because she has created a fine tribute to her mother and has given the rest of us a gift.

Not all the poetry in “Seasons of the Heart” is weighty and profound. Whimsy steals into the work, as in the fanciful “The Cat Who Wanted Wings”. Here we meet a “foolish” cat who wants to sprout wings. However, we are advised, if this ambition is realized, the rats will grow fat. We are left at the end with the image of a fat cat, sitting on a branch. This misguided animal tries “to tweet, but only a meow would come”.

Readers are fortunate that Yolanda Grace Guerra recorded her life as she lived it. And we are fortunate that her daughter saw the value in her mother’s words and the merit in keeping a promise to publish these poems posthumously.

I highly recommend Yolanda Grace Guerra’s “Seasons of the Heart”.

 

A. G. Moore  July, 2017

The Rise of Prince: 1958-1988 Book Review

An icon, by its nature, is symbolic. Herein lies the difficulty for creatures of flesh and blood who are declared icons. This is an impossible standard to meet, and yet it is one we set for public figures on a regular basis. Just as regularly, they disappoint. As I read The Rise of Prince: 1958-1988 I became aware of the gap between image and reality. This gap exists not because of anything Prince failed to do. It exists because of an ideal I created, an ideal that was important to me. Therein lies the peril of reading the biography of someone we idealize.

The Rise of Prince: 1958-1988, is a responsibly-researched and well-written book. It offers an impressive amount of information about musicology and the music industry. The book’s authors, Alex Hahn and Laura Tiebert, delve deeply into the background and early life of Prince. They do so without engaging in pop psychology. Whatever conclusions may be drawn about Prince’s psyche, the authors leave that work to the reader. This is appropriate.

Any disappointment readers might feel about this book will likely come from the fact that it does not bring Prince’s biography up to the present. Of course, the authors don’t promise to do that. Even so, as the book concluded I wanted to read beyond, to understand how Prince ended up overdosing in the elevator of his home. The Rise of Prince: 1988-2016 would therefore be welcome.

The Rise of Prince: 1958-1988 does not induce snap judgments about the performer’s personality. The narrative crafted by Hahn and Tiebert is too textured for that. One unavoidable conclusion, though, is that Prince did not form enduring bonds with associates. He guarded his prominence in the music world and in public. Those colleagues who distracted, even innocently, from his star stature, did not remain in his close circle.

Prince was a natural-born artist, the son of two performers. His talent was noted in early childhood and his unique skills recognized throughout his career. The most surprising part of this biography for me was that ambition for commercial success was a prime motivator in his life.

Whatever mix of natural talent, inspiration and ambition led to his output, Prince had an undeniable influence on the music of his time, and on musicians who came after. He was a human being, and a legend. The difficulty of reconciling these two realities becomes clear in The Rise of Prince: 1958-1988. The authors’ relative success in achieving this reconciliation makes the book a worthwhile read.

May/2017