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Tuesday, 21 September 2004
Mood:  don't ask
Now Playing: my banjo
Topic: Book Review
I just finished THE STARS AND STRIPES TRIUMPHANT, by Harry Harrison. Normally I rather like Harrison's work, especially the more pulpy material like BILL THE GALATIC HERO, MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM! and STAR SMASHERS OF THE GALAXY RANGERS. The Stars and Strips series is a full-fledged jump into Turtledove's territory. The jumps in history are intriguing. The Mason-Slidell incident becomes cause celebre in Great Britain, tipping them into the cause of intervention. Alas, they intervene in the wrong place and slaughter a hapless outpost of rebs. This miraculously reconciles both sides of the ACW and unites them against our real foe, Great Britain. (the first book). The reunited Americans then smash British rule in the Eire, helping the suffering Irishmen establish a republic there. (second book). In the final book, VICTORIOUS, the Americans take the war to the UK itself. The title might be considered a spoiler.

The VSF enthusiast in me revels at the advances of technology (and not huge ones either) that make the plot move forward-- culiminating in the use of tanks when the American forces attack the UK in 1867(!!!) However, the nascent little historian that I fear lurks in the heart of us all was outraged at Harrison's very liberal and convenient interpertation of the science, politics and social trends of mid-19th century America and Europe.

For one thing, the ironclads that Harrison considers so decisive against the Royal Navy were not exactly ocean-going vessels, and he has them escorting convoys and landing invasion forces. Absurd! The actual battle sections, although well-written, are tied up in a neat little bow before the first guy fires the first shot. I would have preferred a little more controversy-- that Sherman is a demigod of military planning, isn't he?

Finally (Spoilers!), we are supposed to believe that all these European nations that have been around for centuries are hungering for American forms of government (a constitution and elected representation) as the answer to all their ills.

In lieu of certain foreign entanglements the US is in at the moment (and that's the last comparison I'll make), I found the conclusions of this series to be a tad amusing in context.

In sum, fun, but horribly jingoistic and embarassingly rah-rah for the American side. I'd get it at the UBS of your choice.

Posted by mrnizz at 1:03 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 31 August 2004
INNOCENTS ABOARD by Gene Wolfe (publisher: Tor Hardcover)
Mood:  caffeinated
Now Playing: I
Topic: Book Review
I just found this new collection of short stories by Gene Wolfe, who brought us the Long Sun/Short Sun series.

Wolfe is a creator of a strange, literary style of Science Fiction, and has been distinctive to me since he first published THE DEATH OF DOCTOR ISLAND AND OTHER STORIES. I enjoy a Wolfe story like I enjoy a very strongly flavored wine or cheese... slow, and appreciative. Gene Wolfe is not for fast beach readers.

Ursula Le Guin calls him the "Melville of our generation" which I think is stretching it a tad, but he deserves acclaim for the way he visualizes new worlds (at the very least).

Innocents Aboard gathers fantasy and horror stories from the last decade that have never before been in a Wolfe collection.

Highlights from the collection:

  • "The Tree is my Hat" adventure and horror in the South Seas-- with a very unusual ending.
  • "The Night Chough" a Long Sun story, always welcome.
  • "The Walking Sticks" a darkly humorous tale of a supernatural inheritance
  • "Houston, 1943" lurid adventures in a dream that has no end.

    To agree with one over-enthusiastic reviewer, there truly isn't a clinker in the bunch. Relax, enjoy, and take your time with this one. It's always worth it.

    Posted by mrnizz at 4:14 PM EDT
    Updated: Tuesday, 31 August 2004 4:17 PM EDT
    Mood:  bright
    Topic: Book Review
    I saw this one in a library display of recent books, and picked it up. The NSFA reprints have been uniformly good, and this was no exception.

    William Tenn was Phil Klass, a writer of SF short stories with a satirical flavor. Apparently he is well though of in the field, as Robert Silverberg's introduction piece was several pages long.

    Here Comes Civilization:
    Bernie the Faust
    Betelgeuse Bridge
    Will You Walk a Little Faster?
    The House Dutiful
    There Were People on Bikini, There Were People on Attu

    The Somewhat Heavy Fantastic:

    She Only Goes Out at Night
    Mistress Sary
    The Malted-Milk Monster
    The Human Angle
    Everybody Loves Irving Bommer

    For the Rent:

    A Matter of Frequency
    The Ionian Cycle
    Hallock's Madness
    Ricardo's Virus
    The Puzzle of Priipiirii
    Confusion Cargo

    Afterword: For the Rent

    Beating Time:

    The Discovery of Morniel Mathaway
    Me, Myself and I
    It Ends With a Flicker
    The Girl With Some Kind of Past, And George.
    Errand Boy
    A Lamp for Medusa

    Essay: On the Fiction in Science Fiction

    Of Men and Monsters

    Priests for Their Learning
    Soldiers for Their Valor
    Counselors for Their Wisdom

    My particular favorite was "There were people on Bikini, there were people on Attu"... about another collision with a superior, oh-so-helpful alien race and humanity. I used to live on Adak, which was not so far from the (still somewhat radioactive) Attu.
    I'm familiar with SOME of these stories, having read GALAXY and F&SF back in the glory days (Tenn/Klass wrote primarily for GALAXY). Tenn's predominant theme is humor, especially in the context of mankind meeting either a superior race (and coming out on the losing end, usually) or just something totally whacked.
    The afterword notes (which are recorded faithfully-- Tenn is still alive and quite spry in his 90s) are worth the price of admission, describing life as a struggling writer in the fifties and early sixties.
    Summary: mixed bag, as most short story collections tend to be. However, all of the stories in Volume 2 were a decent read, and all of them made me laugh, despite the high corn factor in a few of them. Tenn is quite artful in how he approaches .. what should we call it, xenophobia? Ethnocentrism? The belief that man is the center of the universe? In any event, this is a great collection and now I'm finding myself wanting Volume 1. I may buy these!

    Posted by mrnizz at 3:49 PM EDT
    Updated: Tuesday, 31 August 2004 4:02 PM EDT
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    Friday, 4 June 2004
    Mood:  sad
    Topic: Book Review
    A book by Alice Sebold

    Susie Salmon is dead. She is already dead when the book begins; she is narrating her story from Heaven. Her murder, which is portrayed in breezy yet shocking past tense, is related by page 15. The rest of the story revolves around and focuses on the people affected by her abrupt removal from the world. THE LOVELY BONES pulls no punches; we know the murderer, we can see into his mind (via Susie's special powers given to her in the afterlife). Her concern for her family's well being is a major element of the story that follows. Different people handle grief differently, as I've heard before, and Susie's family is starting to unravel under the stress. Using Susie's divine ability to view the world of the living, we see how her father, mother, brother and sister (along with the killer and other characters she did not know) are all changing as the story progresses. The ending is shockingly non-traditional, in that the desired ending doesn't take place.

    Sebold's imagery, characterization and plotting are wonderful. LOVELY BONES is a dark, disturbing and sad story. I loved every second of it. Mark my words, we'll see this as a movie one of these days.

    Posted by mrnizz at 1:47 PM EDT
    Updated: Tuesday, 31 August 2004 4:20 PM EDT
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    Monday, 17 May 2004

    Recently started.. William Hope Hodgson's THE BOATS OF THE GLEN CARRIG AND OTHER NAUTICAL TALES. The funky Nightshade Press edition, with the handsome embossed Cover.

    I've always enjoyed Hodgson (having read THE KEEP ON THE BORDERLANDS and THE NIGHT LAND some time ago) but I generally thought he was one of many voices of the Pulp era, an early fantasist with a darker imagination than most... not unlike Arthur Machen. I did NOT know that Hodgson was a merchant seaman for most of his life, and that ships and the sea permeate the body of his work that I was not familiar with. The BOATS OF THE GLEN CARRIG is a novella and series of short stories published in serial format (like most pulp fiction of the era was). Many of them have similar, strongly nautical themes, like the "Sargasso Sea" series, and the "Captain Gault" series. Here's a table of contents.

    The Boats of the "Glen Carrig"

    The Sargasso Sea Stories:
    -From the Tideless Sea Part 1
    -From the Tideless Sea Part 2: More News From the Homebird
    -The Mystery of the Derelict
    -The Finding of the Graiken
    -The Thing in the Weeds
    -The Call In the Dawn

    The Exploits of Captain Gault:
    -Contraband of War
    -From Information Received
    -The Case of the Curio Dealer
    -The Diamond Spy
    -The Drum of Saccharine
    -The Red Herring
    -The German Spy
    -The Painted Lady
    -The Problem of the Pearls
    -My Lady's Jewels
    -The Adventure of the Garter
    -Trading with the Enemy
    -The Plans of the Reefing Bi-Plane

    The Adventures of Captain Jat:
    -The Island of the Ud
    -Adventure of the Headland

    Stories of Cargunka:
    -The Bells of the Laughing Sally
    -The Adventure with the Claim Jumpers

    (I'm in the middle of GLEN CARRIG now, it's a tad longer than most of the rest)

    This is a very different kind of Hodgson than THE KEEP ON THE BORDERLANDS-- still gothic, but less claustrophobic than his "land-based" fiction. There's much more action and mystery to the nautical tales, and I find that I'm liking them more than some of his other stuff I've read.

    I found GLEN CARRIG in the library but will likely order the H/C book for myself if I can find it... yes, it's that good.

    SF Site's review of Glen Carrig

    Selected Chapters


    Posted by mrnizz at 9:54 AM EDT
    Updated: Monday, 17 May 2004 10:00 AM EDT
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    Wednesday, 5 May 2004
    LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, VOL 2. Comic Hardbound, by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill.

    I've always enjoyed Allan Moore's efforts, from the days of THE WATCHMEN onward. The League stories are my personal favorite, as I have a love for the Victorian era. Volume One in this series concerns the creation of the League and their subsequent fight with Fu-Manchu. Vol. 2 takes on the WAR OF THE WORLDS story and the League's response to a Martian invasion. As always, very well-written and intricate prose, though I thought the plotting was a tad conventient.

    The initial sequences, which take place on Mars itself (starring John Carter(!) of the Burroughs series) are worth the price of the book alone!

    Try it!

    Posted by mrnizz at 12:38 PM EDT
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    I got this from the History Book Club. What a great reference book this is. CHRONICLES presents a timeline from the earliest Roman City-state era (under the time of King Numa) to the time of Julius Caesar. Everything that is known about the leading Consuls of their day (and the significant events surrounding their reign) is added in. Since the activities of future Consults sometimes overlaps the current consul's chapter, sometimes the presentation is confusing. No matter-- if you ever wanted to read up on the background of the latest Roman era mystery novel, this is the sourcebook for you.

    Three thumbs up!

    Posted by mrnizz at 12:32 PM EDT
    Updated: Wednesday, 5 May 2004 12:32 PM EDT
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    Thursday, 4 March 2004
    A collection of four novellas by Harry Turtledove, S. M. Stirling, Mary Gentle, and Walter Jon Williams. The recurring theme is the classic alternative history story. Lately, I've been avoiding Turtledove like the plague, but he really returns to his strengths in his novella THE DAIMON, which is a "what-if" story set in the time period of the Pelopenessian War. The two lead characters are Socraters and Alicbediades, the same lead in TIDES OF WAR by Steven Pressfield. This is the best novella Turtledove has written in a long while. I also recommend Mary Gentle's alt-history version of the Fall of Constantinople (several years later) entitled THE LOGISTICS OF CARTHAGE. This is a story in the same universe as her earlier ASH: A SECRET HISTORY. Probably the best written novella of the bunch. I had given up on S.M. Stirling by the end of the first Draka book (though did try him again in that series he did with Drake sometime later), but found SHIKARI IN GALVESTON to be emminently readable, if not exactly the most skillful plot I've ever read. A good gap-filler, replete with the classic SM Stirling sex scenes. The oddest story might be Williams' THE LAST RIDE OF GERMAN FREDDIE, which places Friedrich Nietzsche at the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Funny, but a trifle forced and artificial. Not as big of a fluff piece as SHIKARI is, but nothing heavy either. As in most collections, you take the bad with the good. The Turtledove and the Gentle piece make this one worth the price of admissions! Walt

    Posted by mrnizz at 9:36 AM EST
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    Wednesday, 15 October 2003
    I remember a friend of mine, Art Carroll, trying to describe the significance of Antoine Fermat (17th century French mathmetician, and wacky burner of priests at the stake). I appreciated, in a very abstract way, the effects of Fermat's last theorem on the mathematical theory community. Proving Fermat's theorem, which is an outgrowth of the Pythagorean theorem (remember a2 + b2 = c2?), has kept mathmeticians busy for years. As you may or may not know, Mathmetician Andrew Wiles of Princeton University delivered a proof in 1993, which was found to have a flaw in it that caused an additional solid year of work to fix. This is only part of the story, though. The history of mathematical theory, starting with a fantastic chapter on the Pythagorean school in Greece and going on into the history of Fermat's accomplishments. I bought Fermat's Enigma on the strength of Singh's earlier work CODE BOOK. I make a hobby of cypers and code-breaking, and of all the books I've read on the subject, I find Singh's CODE BOOK to be the most consistently approachable, easy to read, and erudite approach to the subject I've ever read. FERMAT is just as good, but in a different fashion-- it's a great introduction to the history of mathematics that anyone can read. I highly recommend this book. Walt

    Posted by mrnizz at 12:40 AM EDT
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    Friday, 26 September 2003
    ARMS OF NEMESIS by Steven Saylor
    CATEGORY: HISTORICAL MYSTERY (in the Gordianus the Finder series, same as ROMAN BLOOD) Although I'm still partial to Lindsey Davis' superb "Falco" series, I'm deep into a "Gordianus the Finder" fix right now. This novel, Saylor's second (I believe) is quite good.. not as good as Roman Blood, I think, but very deftly written. A patrician is murdered at his villa. Two runaway slaves are suspected. Gordianus is called in to prevent the entire household staff from being ritualistically slaughtered (the story takes place during the Spartican revolts (depicted in the movie, Spartacus) so Roman estate owners are a tad sensitive about the slave population). There are fewer blatant surprises in ARMS than there were in BLOOD, yet it's still a very engaging (and oftimes funny) read. Naturally, there's a huge scandal behind it all; I would be surprised if there wasn't one in Saylor's plots. I rather liked the settings and characters, most of which are historical. In summary, not much better or worse than Roman Blood, and quite enjoyable.

    Posted by mrnizz at 10:28 AM EDT
    Updated: Friday, 26 September 2003 10:32 AM EDT

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