Ruth Arnell

RETIRED REVIEWER (January 2009 – October 2013)



RUTH ARNELL is a professor of political science in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today.

Growing up with so many readers in the house taught Ruth to be protective of books; If you left one laying about, somebody might claim it. This contributed to her habit of reading multiple books simultaneously. It also taught her what not to do in a review, when, after finishing a book her sister had purchased but not yet read, she cried, “I can’t believe they killed him!” (Twenty years later, her sister has still not read that book.)

Ruth’s favorite authors include Charles de Lint, CS Friedman, Lorna Freeman, and Midori Snyder.

Her pet peeves include magic spelled with a k, one dimensional villains, and bad copy editing.

Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

Dust: Immaculate plotting

Dust by Hugh Howey

I know I’ve retired from reviewing, but since I reviewed the first two volumes in the WOOL trilogy (the WOOL and SHIFT books) and there isn’t a review for this third one, I thought I would do a little guest review here for my friends at FanLit because nothing sucks more than the first two books in a trilogy being great and then the third one going right off the rails and exploding in a burst of unresolved plot lines and out of character behavior.

Let me just say, that fate has been avoided here. Dust by Hugh Howey is a sizeable story, taking its time to bring together all the different plot lines and hints it’s spent the first two volumes laying out and weaving them together into a satisfying conclusion. All the little things that have been scratching at the back of your head since the first book — why are the levels so far apart? — get answered. I h... Read More

The Cats of Tanglewood Forest: Gorgeous, buy it in hardback

The Cats of Tanglewood Forest by Charles de Lint

Some books I enjoy from an intellectual perspective. I can see the skill involved in the storytelling, and appreciate it. Other books I just sink into, too caught up in the tale to deconstruct why it is so good. The Cats of Tanglewood Forest (an expansion of an earlier children’s book, A Circle of Cats, which I adored) is the second type of book. I devoured this in a single day, and will definitely be reading it again to figure out why it works so well from a technical perspective. Let me give you here my first impressions.

The first thing you will notice about this book is that it is gorgeous. A full color slip cover with Charles Vess’s inimitable illustrations can be removed to see that the hardcover itself is gorgeously illustrated. The endpapers are illustrated as well, and the entire book is graced with enchanting, full-color, beautiful pen and... Read More

Brave New Worlds: Second edition of an excellent anthology of dystopian fiction

Brave New Worlds (second edition) edited by John Joseph Adams

This anthology of dystopian fiction, edited by John Joseph Adams, contains stories from some of the greatest names in fantasy and science fiction, including Ursula K. LeGuin, Paolo Bacigalupi, Cory Doctorow and Kim Stanley Robinson. The first edition was reviewed by Stefan Raets and earned a five-star rating. I picked up the second edition to see what the new volume added.

What I found was that the entire first edition was intact. Three stories were added, along with a study guide featuring questions for some of the stories if you wanted to use this in a book club (I w... Read More

How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy: A manual by Orson Scott Card

How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card is an award-winning author of dozens of science fiction and fantasy books, including the Hugo and Nebula award winning Ender’s Game. So who else would you turn to for instruction on how to write a science fiction and fantasy novel? I’m working on a novel — isn’t everyone these days? — and picked up How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy for some instruction. I’m used to writing for an academic audience, so bridging the chasm between peer-reviewed journals and publicly read books is a big step for me. I have to say, though, that I’m not sure this book is really worth all the kudos it has in the writing community, and I think that’s mostly because it hasn’t been updated. The original publication date is 1990. Whole genres of fantasy have come out since 1990, not to mention the advent of the Internet and its revolutionary changes to t... Read More

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter: Beautifully written but disturbing

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

“Cat, this is Finn. He’s going to be your tutor.”

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter
by Cassandra Rose Clarke is a beautifully written story. Clarke evokes a beautiful contrast between the wild gardens and streams Cat inhabits as a child under the watchful eye of her tutor, and the cold, sterile, unfeeling world she inhabits as an adult in contact with other humans. At its core, this is a romance between a human and a cyborg. Though an interesting examination of what it means to be human, and the role of sentience in humanity, I felt that the role of sexual desire in defining humanity was overplayed in this book.

Clarke is especially skilled in describing a world that has suffered through an ecological disaster and is slowly rebuilding itself. The politics of humans versus robots as the economy and societies restabilize were less intense and violent than ... Read More

Six-Gun Snow White: A beautifully told feminist fairy tale

Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente

C.S. Lewis once wrote his goddaughter, “Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” It seems an odd statement at first, that one is ever not the right age to read fairy tales, but I think there is something truthful about that assessment. We read fairy tales to our youngsters, to teach them the way of the world, to be wary of strangers, that dragons can be defeated if you are brave enough, to keep your word and to guard your tongue. But after a while, the children grow up enough to go out and fight their dragons and they have no time to sit and read. It is only after the fight, while the burn marks are scarring over and the weight of broken promises rests heavy upon their shoulders, that they have time to come back and read these stories again, and find for themselves a deeper meaning that they wouldn’t have unders... Read More

Article 5: Dreadfully derivative

Article 5 by Kristen Simmons

So, I put this as my status on Facebook:

Guess which book I’m talking about. I’m reading this YA post-apocalyptic novel where the United States of America has been torn apart by War and now it’s all separated into regions and you can’t move between regions without permission from the central government that is set on enforcing its rules on everybody and then the girl that’s the main character gets abducted from her home by the government and sent to this brutal place with a bunch of other kids but she survives because of this guy that she’s known forever and he loves her and protects her and then they join the rebellion.

My friends have come up with six different novels that match this description, and none of them are correct. That’s the problem with Article 5. It’s been done. Multiple times. And better than this as well.

Article 5... Read More

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: It’s time for a reread

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

I’m pretty sure every person in the western world knows who Harry Potter is and knows the basic story line. Harry Potter was The Boy Who Lived. Both his parents were killed by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, the evil Lord Voldemort, but he survived the attack, somehow causing Voldemort to disappear. Now Harry is eleven, and off to his first year at Hogwarts wizarding school. But it seems like Voldemort is making a resurgence. Is Harry safe, even under the watchful eye of Headmaster Albus Dumbledore?

I recently felt a desire to go back and reread the HARRY POTTER books. I know I have a stack of books sitting on my bedside table that I need to read, and I will, but sometimes the lure of going back to visit an old friend is just too strong to be resisted. Sometimes this leads to disappointment, as books don’t live up to their memory, but I am happy to say that HARRY POTTER is as... Read More

Epic: Legends of Fantasy: Lives up to its title

Epic: Legends of Fantasy by John Joseph Adams (editor)

Epic: Legends of Fantasy, edited by John Joseph Adams, is an anthology of stories written by some of the biggest names in epic fantasy. The book clocks in at over 600 pages not just because it’s very difficult to tell short epic stories (though some of these authors do manage to pull it off) but because here the authors are not just telling epic legends, they are legends in and of themselves. George R.R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, Robin Hobb, Paolo Bacigalupi, Brandon Sanderson, Ursula K. LeGuin, Kate Elliott, Orson Scott Card, Tad Williams, Aliette de Bodard, Michael Moorcock, Melanie Rawn, Mary Robinette Kowal, N.K. Jemisin, Carrie Vaughn, Trudi Canavan,  and Juliet Marillier all contributed stories to this volume.

Epic: Legends of Fantasy opens with a novella by Robin... Read More

Magazine Monday: Online stories by Sterling and Parker

Today we're featuring a couple of stories that you can find free online.

“Taklamakan” by Bruce Sterling

Read for free online

Many years ago, Bruce Sterling wrote a short story called “Taklamakan” that won a Hugo award. I’ve been trying to read some past award winners, and since this one was handily available, I decided to start there. So, here’s my problem. “Taklamakan” won the Hugo Award for best short story in 1999 when it was published in the Oct/Nov 1998 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. That means the story is 13 or 14 years old. Do you know how badly near-future science fiction ages in 13 years?

“Taklamakan” is set in the Taklamakan Desert in 2052. Genetically modified N... Read More

The Wild Ways: Did Not Finish

The Wild Ways by Tanya Huff

The Wild Ways by Tanya Huff is the second book in THE GALE WOMEN series. While I enjoyed the first book, The Enchantment Emporium, even though it had serious flaws, The Wild Ways was not good. I got to about halfway through and didn’t care about the characters. In fact, on a semi-regular basis, I couldn’t keep the characters apart.

I also had serious difficulties with the “too much power/too little consequences” system of magic in this book. Basically, the Gale family can shift reality to meet their will, including things like making airline tickets magically appear when they need them for exactly what they can afford — a magical power I would surely like to develop — and yet it is used for the good of Canada. Or, at least, what the Gale family thinks is the good of Canada. If his... Read More

The Time Machine: Absolutely gorgeous and groundbreaking

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

One thing I’ve always wanted to do since the first time I read an anthology edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling was to read all the books they recommend in the excellent essays they almost always include on the topic of the volume. I finally decided to do it, using the essay in After as my reading list. The book they listed as having started modern dystopian fiction is The Time Machineby H.G. Wells. Luckily, it is in the public domain so I downloaded a free copy and started reading, though I must admit I wasn’t expecting much from a science fiction novel published in 1895. And while Wells does get the science wrong in some places, there is so much more he gets right.

This is a dystopian novel... Read More

The Well of Tears: Taking the history out of historical fantasy

The Well of Tears by Roberta Trahan

From the back cover description of The Well of Tears by Roberta Trahan:
More than five centuries after Camelot, a new king heralded by prophecy has appeared. As one of the last sorceresses of a dying order sworn to protect the new ruler at all costs, Alwen must answer a summons she thought she might never receive. Bound by oath, Alwen returns to Fane Gramarye, the ancient bastion of magic standing against the rise of evil. For alongside the prophecy of the benevolent king, a darker foretelling envisions the land overrun by a demonic army and cast into ruin. Alwen has barely set foot in her homeland when she realizes traitors lurk within the Stewardry, threatening to destroy it. To thwart the corruption and preserve her order, Alwen must draw upon power she never knew she possessed and prepare to sacrifice everything she holds dear—even herself. If she fails, ... Read More

Kenny & the Dragon: A great read-aloud book

Kenny & the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi

Kenny & the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi is a charming tribute to Kenneth Grahame’s children’s classic The Reluctant Dragon, which most people are familiar with through the Disney short film adaptation. In this beautifully illustrated volume, DiTerlizzi tells the story of a small, bookish rabbit named Kenny who learns that a dragon has been spotted on his family farm. Armed with a bestiary, he goes to investigate, and instead of a fearsome fire-spouting dragon, he finds Grahame, a dragon much more interested in poetry, crème brulee, and rearranging the rocks around his cave than in anything as savage as fighting. Kenny and Grahame become fast friends, but trouble rears its head when the villagers find out about the dragon and demand his e... Read More

Second Shift: Order: Documenting the descent

Second Shift: Order by Hugh Howey

In Second Shift: Order, the seventh installment in the WOOL stories by Hugh Howey, we learn more of the details of how this society descended into its post-apocalyptic world. The story recounts the tale of an impending uprising in Silo 18. The action is recounted through two different characters. The first is Mission, a young porter in Silo 18, and the second is Donald, and IT supervisor in Silo 1, the main administrative silo. Between the two of them, you see both the personal and impersonal views of what a revolution means, how it starts, is maintained, and possibly succeeds or fails.

Howey is doing something that I think is fairly unusual in dystopian literature; he is taking time to fully explain how the apocalypse came about and how a society can be transitioned from an individualistic to a community-oriented one. There is a fairly s... Read More

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