bobquasit: (Daffy)
Outside Looking inOutside Looking in by James Lincoln Collier

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An odd book. James Lincoln Collier is particularly gifted at first-person narratives of teenagers that feel very real. But this book feels a bit flat. Fergy has been traveling the country with his parents and sister; his father is a thoroughly unlikeable grifter and egomaniac. His mother inexplicably goes along with this, and his little sister is an out-of-control kleptomaniac. Fergy wants a "normal" life, and when a chance comes to try to escape life on the road, he makes the obvious choice.

The thing is...unlike other Collier books, this one seems oddly flat. It's not a bad book, but everything is a bit more two-dimensional than in most other Collier books; it doesn't seem as real, and the choices mostly seem obvious. I might even say that the plot is a bit simplistic and unbelievable. It's worth a read if you like Collier, but if you're not familiar with his work, try Lost Treasures: The Teddy Bear Habit - Book #3 first - and try to get one of the older editions, one with the illustrations by Lorenz! After that, I'd recommend his historical books over this oddly dated and somehow lifeless novel. He's a very good writer, but this simply isn't his best work.

Update: Looking back, I think I see what the problem is with Outside Looking In. A good story needs to have some point on which the reader can connect. I suspect that may be particularly true for first-person narratives. It's not necessary for the reader to have have the exact same experiences, of course, but in some way there has to be an element with which the reader can identify.

In Lost Treasures: The Teddy Bear Habit - Book #3, for example, George Stable's desire for success drives him to make some reckless decisions. He gets in way over his head. We've all had that same sort of general experience.

But in Outside Looking In, there's really not much to connect to! Fergy starts out living on the road with an abusive father - a man who is SO vile and one-sided that there's no conflict at all. You'd no more consider staying with him than you'd consider staying with a rabid tiger.

That flatness of character, incidentally, also has an impact on Fergy's mother. Why does she stay with such an obviously abusive man? One who is clearly destroying their children's lives, as well as hers? It makes no sense, so she immediately becomes an unsympathetic character.

Fergy's life has nothing in common with that of most readers, I think - unless you grew up constantly on the run in a van with a gang of con men, without schooling or friends. If so, this is the book for you. But for everyone else, I think that the book will leave you cold.


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bobquasit: (Daffy)
Outside Looking inOutside Looking in by James Lincoln Collier

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An odd book. James Lincoln Collier is particularly gifted at first-person narratives of teenagers that feel very real. But this book feels a bit flat. Fergy has been traveling the country with his parents and sister; his father is a thoroughly unlikeable grifter and egomaniac. His mother inexplicably goes along with this, and his little sister is an out-of-control kleptomaniac. Fergy wants a "normal" life, and when a chance comes to try to escape life on the road, he makes the obvious choice.

The thing is...unlike other Collier books, this one seems oddly flat. It's not a bad book, but everything is a bit more two-dimensional than in most other Collier books; it doesn't seem as real, and the choices mostly seem obvious. I might even say that the plot is a bit simplistic and unbelievable. It's worth a read if you like Collier, but if you're not familiar with his work, try Lost Treasures: The Teddy Bear Habit - Book #3 first - and try to get one of the older editions, one with the illustrations by Lorenz! After that, I'd recommend his historical books over this oddly dated and somehow lifeless novel. He's a very good writer, but this simply isn't his best work.

Update: Looking back, I think I see what the problem is with Outside Looking In. A good story needs to have some point on which the reader can connect. I suspect that may be particularly true for first-person narratives. It's not necessary for the reader to have have the exact same experiences, of course, but in some way there has to be an element with which the reader can identify.

In Lost Treasures: The Teddy Bear Habit - Book #3, for example, George Stable's desire for success drives him to make some reckless decisions. He gets in way over his head. We've all had that same sort of general experience.

But in Outside Looking In, there's really not much to connect to! Fergy starts out living on the road with an abusive father - a man who is SO vile and one-sided that there's no conflict at all. You'd no more consider staying with him than you'd consider staying with a rabid tiger.

That flatness of character, incidentally, also has an impact on Fergy's mother. Why does she stay with such an obviously abusive man? One who is clearly destroying their children's lives, as well as hers? It makes no sense, so she immediately becomes an unsympathetic character.

Fergy's life has nothing in common with that of most readers, I think - unless you grew up constantly on the run in a van with a gang of con men, without schooling or friends. If so, this is the book for you. But for everyone else, I think that the book will leave you cold.


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bobquasit: (Default)
I've been thinking about book reviews. I have thousands of books - many thousands - and I'd like to review more of them. So I'm going to try to work out a short format for reviews. For rare books and ones that I really care about I'll write at length, but I think most books could be covered relatively briefly.

But what would be a good limitation? A set number of words? How many? Or maybe a limited number of characters, as in Twitter? I want it to be short enough to be quick, easy, and readable, while still allowing me to convey something of value about the book.
bobquasit: (Default)
I've been thinking about book reviews. I have thousands of books - many thousands - and I'd like to review more of them. So I'm going to try to work out a short format for reviews. For rare books and ones that I really care about I'll write at length, but I think most books could be covered relatively briefly.

But what would be a good limitation? A set number of words? How many? Or maybe a limited number of characters, as in Twitter? I want it to be short enough to be quick, easy, and readable, while still allowing me to convey something of value about the book.
bobquasit: (Laszlo Late)
Gateway (Heechee Saga 1)Gateway by Frederik Pohl

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Pohl won a Hugo and a Nebula for Gateway, deservedly so.

Frederik Pohl was, of course, one of the Golden Age writers of SF. But Gateway showed that he was hardly stuck in the 1950s. It was very innovative for its time. The general tone is quite modern. Much of the book is about the therapy of Robinette Broadhead, an ex-astronaut with severe post-traumatic stress disorder. The PTSD is understandable, since his spaceflights were taken in several alien spacecraft that no one knew how to operate; operating out of an abandoned alien base in the solar system, the "prospectors" of Gateway faced an extremely high casualty rate.

Robinette Broadhead is a complex character; unpleasant in some ways, and often not admirable. But since the story is told from his point of view, in first person, it's clear that we're not getting an objective picture of himself or, probably, his experiences.

Pohl also put whole-page inserts in the book, including conversational program read-outs from Robinette's therapist (a computer program), excerpts from science lectures, classified ads, and letters - all of them relevant to the story, of course, and many of them quite funny. The novel itself is not a comedy, I should note, but there are many very amusing moments.

I'll also quickly note that Pohl's representation of future society is dystopian and rather prescient. Desperate poverty is, apparently, the norm for most of the world's population. People sell organs and body parts to the rich in order to survive. Much of the environment is hideously despoiled, although there are domed enclaves where the elite live. Health care is more than ever a matter of life and death, priced beyond the ability of most to pay; but for the wealthy, life is comfortable and long. A look at current health care statistics makes the world of Gateway seem not very unlikely. Except that we're unlikely to find an alien base with FTL spacecraft in nearby space, of course.

The ending is rather touching. No spoilers, but one of the strongest and most likable characters in the book is Robinette's therapist; I've always found his final remark oddly moving. It's a pity that he (it) wasn't given more of a role in the sequels.



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bobquasit: (Laszlo Late)
Gateway (Heechee Saga 1)Gateway by Frederik Pohl

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Pohl won a Hugo and a Nebula for Gateway, deservedly so.

Frederik Pohl was, of course, one of the Golden Age writers of SF. But Gateway showed that he was hardly stuck in the 1950s. It was very innovative for its time. The general tone is quite modern. Much of the book is about the therapy of Robinette Broadhead, an ex-astronaut with severe post-traumatic stress disorder. The PTSD is understandable, since his spaceflights were taken in several alien spacecraft that no one knew how to operate; operating out of an abandoned alien base in the solar system, the "prospectors" of Gateway faced an extremely high casualty rate.

Robinette Broadhead is a complex character; unpleasant in some ways, and often not admirable. But since the story is told from his point of view, in first person, it's clear that we're not getting an objective picture of himself or, probably, his experiences.

Pohl also put whole-page inserts in the book, including conversational program read-outs from Robinette's therapist (a computer program), excerpts from science lectures, classified ads, and letters - all of them relevant to the story, of course, and many of them quite funny. The novel itself is not a comedy, I should note, but there are many very amusing moments.

I'll also quickly note that Pohl's representation of future society is dystopian and rather prescient. Desperate poverty is, apparently, the norm for most of the world's population. People sell organs and body parts to the rich in order to survive. Much of the environment is hideously despoiled, although there are domed enclaves where the elite live. Health care is more than ever a matter of life and death, priced beyond the ability of most to pay; but for the wealthy, life is comfortable and long. A look at current health care statistics makes the world of Gateway seem not very unlikely. Except that we're unlikely to find an alien base with FTL spacecraft in nearby space, of course.

The ending is rather touching. No spoilers, but one of the strongest and most likable characters in the book is Robinette's therapist; I've always found his final remark oddly moving. It's a pity that he (it) wasn't given more of a role in the sequels.



View all my reviews
bobquasit: (Ordinary)
The Gods LaughedThe Gods Laughed by Poul Anderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A fairly large collection of science fiction short stories from Poul Anderson, weighted towards the earlier part of his career. Quite good, but not all of it is his best work; the older stories are a little simplistic. Still well worth reading, though.



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bobquasit: (Ordinary)
The Gods LaughedThe Gods Laughed by Poul Anderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A fairly large collection of science fiction short stories from Poul Anderson, weighted towards the earlier part of his career. Quite good, but not all of it is his best work; the older stories are a little simplistic. Still well worth reading, though.



View all my reviews
bobquasit: (Default)
The 13 Crimes of Science FictionThe 13 Crimes of Science Fiction by Isaac Asimov

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A good collection of science fiction mysteries, along with an explanation of that relatively obscure sub-genre from Isaac Asimov. I've read a fair number of SF mysteries, and had read most of the ones in the book; most of them are excellent examples of the form. The leading story, "The Detweiler Boy" by Tom Reamy, was not particularly good; putting a relatively weak story first in an anthology is an unfortunate flaw.

But there are a number of gems here, including Larry Niven's "Arm". "War Games" by Philip K. Dick, was simply not readable for me; I can take some PKD, but only in mild doses - and not a lot of it. I don't know if it was the mood I was in, or if the story was particularly Dick-ish (sorry, couldn't resist), but after a page or two I simply skipped that story altogether.

That said, the vast majority of the book is excellent and well worth reading.



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bobquasit: (Default)
The 13 Crimes of Science FictionThe 13 Crimes of Science Fiction by Isaac Asimov

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A good collection of science fiction mysteries, along with an explanation of that relatively obscure sub-genre from Isaac Asimov. I've read a fair number of SF mysteries, and had read most of the ones in the book; most of them are excellent examples of the form. The leading story, "The Detweiler Boy" by Tom Reamy, was not particularly good; putting a relatively weak story first in an anthology is an unfortunate flaw.

But there are a number of gems here, including Larry Niven's "Arm". "War Games" by Philip K. Dick, was simply not readable for me; I can take some PKD, but only in mild doses - and not a lot of it. I don't know if it was the mood I was in, or if the story was particularly Dick-ish (sorry, couldn't resist), but after a page or two I simply skipped that story altogether.

That said, the vast majority of the book is excellent and well worth reading.



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bobquasit: (Grimjack)
Kingdom ComeKingdom Come by Mark Waid

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not bad. Another overly-earnest story of a future Superman. The art's pretty good. It's a bit too worshipful of Superman - what wouldn't I give for a "The Man of Steel is an asshole" story line, does he EVER do something as human as fart? And if so, wouldn't the result be a super-fart that would destroy buildings and gas whole cities? I get the feeling that young authors who get to write Superman stories are either so intimidated or browbeaten that they act as if they're genuflecting before something holy. It gets kind of sickening.

But still, not too bad. The characters aren't abused or forced to act out of character, mostly. I'd read it again.


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bobquasit: (Grimjack)
Kingdom ComeKingdom Come by Mark Waid

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not bad. Another overly-earnest story of a future Superman. The art's pretty good. It's a bit too worshipful of Superman - what wouldn't I give for a "The Man of Steel is an asshole" story line, does he EVER do something as human as fart? And if so, wouldn't the result be a super-fart that would destroy buildings and gas whole cities? I get the feeling that young authors who get to write Superman stories are either so intimidated or browbeaten that they act as if they're genuflecting before something holy. It gets kind of sickening.

But still, not too bad. The characters aren't abused or forced to act out of character, mostly. I'd read it again.


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bobquasit: (Lo Pan)
Annihilation: Book TwoAnnihilation: Book Two by Keith Giffen

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

One star might be a little brutal, but this book was definitely not "okay". It's muddled, bombastic, and almost unreadable, featuring some of the more uninteresting SF characters from the Marvel pantheon. There are one or two mildly interesting moments, but the art is mediocre at best, the dialog limps and is at times painfully juvenile...all in all, not worth the time or effort to read.


View all my reviews
bobquasit: (Lo Pan)
Annihilation: Book TwoAnnihilation: Book Two by Keith Giffen

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

One star might be a little brutal, but this book was definitely not "okay". It's muddled, bombastic, and almost unreadable, featuring some of the more uninteresting SF characters from the Marvel pantheon. There are one or two mildly interesting moments, but the art is mediocre at best, the dialog limps and is at times painfully juvenile...all in all, not worth the time or effort to read.


View all my reviews
bobquasit: (Omac)
Green Lantern: Circle of FireGreen Lantern: Circle of Fire by Brian K. Vaughan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The new Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner) must fight a seemingly unbeatable entity: a malevolent being that seems to be identical to one that he himself created for a comic book as a youngster. The League has been trapped and are helpless. Helpers mysteriously appear, but are they what they seem?

All in all, not bad. A bit earnest and simplistic, but I'll give the writers credit for a good, sincere try. Except that the ending is VERY abrupt and incomplete - so much so that I strongly suspect that the copy I read (from the library) is missing one or more of the final pages. The pages aren't numbered, so I can't be sure.


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bobquasit: (Omac)
Green Lantern: Circle of FireGreen Lantern: Circle of Fire by Brian K. Vaughan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The new Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner) must fight a seemingly unbeatable entity: a malevolent being that seems to be identical to one that he himself created for a comic book as a youngster. The League has been trapped and are helpless. Helpers mysteriously appear, but are they what they seem?

All in all, not bad. A bit earnest and simplistic, but I'll give the writers credit for a good, sincere try. Except that the ending is VERY abrupt and incomplete - so much so that I strongly suspect that the copy I read (from the library) is missing one or more of the final pages. The pages aren't numbered, so I can't be sure.


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bobquasit: (Omac Destroys!)
Iron Man vs. Doctor Doom: Doomquest (Marvel Premiere Classic)Iron Man vs. Doctor Doom: Doomquest by David Michelinie

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


Unbelievably putrid. Over and over I sat in stunned amazement, asking myself "Did they really publish stuff this bad back in 1981?"

There are two kinds of stories in comics. One tries to say something meaningful, or at least to present some sort of concept that the reader can be entertained by. The other is the visual equivalent of two three-year-olds trying to one-up each other. "My hero is a million times stronger than yours!" "Oh yeah? Well MY hero is a JILLION times stronger!" Over and over and over. There's no sense to it, and no point.

Which pretty much describes this "book".

Oh, and the authors completely abuse the Arthurian legend. In an incredibly lame "future Arthur" sequence, Merlin is "cool", saying things like - and I am NOT making this up - "Okee doke: One 'Return to Sender' spell, comin' right up!"

Merlin as Jar-Jar Binks. It made me want to beat the author with a club.

So to sum up, the only reason to read this thing is if you want to take a look back to see just how incredibly awful some comic books were, even as recently as 1981 (the art is pretty bad, too). And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to do something - anything - to drive the memory of that unbelievably idiotic writing out of my brain.


View all my reviews
bobquasit: (Omac Destroys!)
Iron Man vs. Doctor Doom: Doomquest (Marvel Premiere Classic)Iron Man vs. Doctor Doom: Doomquest by David Michelinie

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


Unbelievably putrid. Over and over I sat in stunned amazement, asking myself "Did they really publish stuff this bad back in 1981?"

There are two kinds of stories in comics. One tries to say something meaningful, or at least to present some sort of concept that the reader can be entertained by. The other is the visual equivalent of two three-year-olds trying to one-up each other. "My hero is a million times stronger than yours!" "Oh yeah? Well MY hero is a JILLION times stronger!" Over and over and over. There's no sense to it, and no point.

Which pretty much describes this "book".

Oh, and the authors completely abuse the Arthurian legend. In an incredibly lame "future Arthur" sequence, Merlin is "cool", saying things like - and I am NOT making this up - "Okee doke: One 'Return to Sender' spell, comin' right up!"

Merlin as Jar-Jar Binks. It made me want to beat the author with a club.

So to sum up, the only reason to read this thing is if you want to take a look back to see just how incredibly awful some comic books were, even as recently as 1981 (the art is pretty bad, too). And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to do something - anything - to drive the memory of that unbelievably idiotic writing out of my brain.


View all my reviews
bobquasit: (Sebastian Riding)
[As far as I can tell, there are NO other reviews of this book on the web. That's a real pity, particularly since it's very likely that it will never be published again. So I did my best to recapture the charming and memorable qualities of the book in this review.]

The Cat Who Tasted Cinnamon ToastThe Cat Who Tasted Cinnamon Toast by Ann Spencer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


What a lovely book! And how sad it is that I'm almost the only person in the world who seems to remember it. But I've shared it with my son - just read it to him again tonight, to his delight - so I've done my part to share the memories.

The Cat Who Tasted Cinnamon Toast was both written and illustrated by the talented Ann Spencer. It's the story of an elderly millionaire, Miss Margrove, whose cat Augie suddenly goes through a strange transformation: he absolutely refuses to eat cat food. One taste of cinnamon toast, and all is undone; he now insists on only the finest gourmet fare. His psychologist is unable to explain this mysterious change.

But Augie is fickle in his tastes, venturing into the haute cuisine of one culture after another. Miss Margrove's stable of chefs eventually lose their tempers and leave. Fortunately an unexpected television appearance by the French Chef, Julia Child, inspires Miss Margrove and saves the day.

The balance between text and art is particularly well done. Each page features large, finely-detailed black and white illustrations. Unusually, there is absolutely no "talking down" to the young reader; words and phrases like "Escoffier", "truite amandine", and "la vie en rose" are sprinkled liberally throughout the text. Nonetheless, the story is quite easy for children to comprehend, and the humor of the words and illustrations is ideal for a child.

I first began reading The Cat Who Tasted Cinnamon Toast to my son when he was about four years old, at a guess. He loved it, and still does five years later; it helps that he's a cat-lover (and any child who is a cat-lover is sure to like this book). There are no serious crises, no moments of terror or stress. Augie is naughty at times, but in a very lovable way. It's a perfect bedtime book.

Reading the book aloud takes about one-half hour, including the very necessary time spent allowing the child to look at each picture. As I noted above, some of the cooking-related language is a bit esoteric; if you're not familiar with the words, you may want to look up pronunciations before reading it aloud. It's definitely worth the effort.

There is one illustration which might trouble some parents. When Augie sneaks out to the Omar Khayyam restaurant to be inducted into the wonders of Persian cuisine, the illustration includes a representation of a fairly large painting on the background wall that depicts a naked woman seated (with legs turned sideways) next to a man. So far, my son has never commented on it, and I see no reason to call it to his attention or be concerned. When I was a child myself, I never noticed it through many readings.

For very strict parents, I suppose the page where Augie gets drunk on baba au rhum could also be a concern. My son found it hysterical. So do I.

If you're reading aloud, a passable Julia Child impersonation adds quite a lot to the experience (she has a short but memorable television appearance in the book). It's also useful to be able to sing the old "Let Your Fingers Do The Walking" jingle from the Yellow Pages commercials in the 1960s and 70s. But neither is a requirement, of course!

The book is out of print forever, I suppose. It represents what might now be considered an impossibly "high culture" moment in America, an aesthetic which I cannot imagine will ever return to public awareness, much less popularity. And that's sad. Still, if you're lucky enough to find a copy, it's a wonderful, memorable book.


View all my reviews
bobquasit: (Sebastian Riding)
[As far as I can tell, there are NO other reviews of this book on the web. That's a real pity, particularly since it's very likely that it will never be published again. So I did my best to recapture the charming and memorable qualities of the book in this review.]

The Cat Who Tasted Cinnamon ToastThe Cat Who Tasted Cinnamon Toast by Ann Spencer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


What a lovely book! And how sad it is that I'm almost the only person in the world who seems to remember it. But I've shared it with my son - just read it to him again tonight, to his delight - so I've done my part to share the memories.

The Cat Who Tasted Cinnamon Toast was both written and illustrated by the talented Ann Spencer. It's the story of an elderly millionaire, Miss Margrove, whose cat Augie suddenly goes through a strange transformation: he absolutely refuses to eat cat food. One taste of cinnamon toast, and all is undone; he now insists on only the finest gourmet fare. His psychologist is unable to explain this mysterious change.

But Augie is fickle in his tastes, venturing into the haute cuisine of one culture after another. Miss Margrove's stable of chefs eventually lose their tempers and leave. Fortunately an unexpected television appearance by the French Chef, Julia Child, inspires Miss Margrove and saves the day.

The balance between text and art is particularly well done. Each page features large, finely-detailed black and white illustrations. Unusually, there is absolutely no "talking down" to the young reader; words and phrases like "Escoffier", "truite amandine", and "la vie en rose" are sprinkled liberally throughout the text. Nonetheless, the story is quite easy for children to comprehend, and the humor of the words and illustrations is ideal for a child.

I first began reading The Cat Who Tasted Cinnamon Toast to my son when he was about four years old, at a guess. He loved it, and still does five years later; it helps that he's a cat-lover (and any child who is a cat-lover is sure to like this book). There are no serious crises, no moments of terror or stress. Augie is naughty at times, but in a very lovable way. It's a perfect bedtime book.

Reading the book aloud takes about one-half hour, including the very necessary time spent allowing the child to look at each picture. As I noted above, some of the cooking-related language is a bit esoteric; if you're not familiar with the words, you may want to look up pronunciations before reading it aloud. It's definitely worth the effort.

There is one illustration which might trouble some parents. When Augie sneaks out to the Omar Khayyam restaurant to be inducted into the wonders of Persian cuisine, the illustration includes a representation of a fairly large painting on the background wall that depicts a naked woman seated (with legs turned sideways) next to a man. So far, my son has never commented on it, and I see no reason to call it to his attention or be concerned. When I was a child myself, I never noticed it through many readings.

For very strict parents, I suppose the page where Augie gets drunk on baba au rhum could also be a concern. My son found it hysterical. So do I.

If you're reading aloud, a passable Julia Child impersonation adds quite a lot to the experience (she has a short but memorable television appearance in the book). It's also useful to be able to sing the old "Let Your Fingers Do The Walking" jingle from the Yellow Pages commercials in the 1960s and 70s. But neither is a requirement, of course!

The book is out of print forever, I suppose. It represents what might now be considered an impossibly "high culture" moment in America, an aesthetic which I cannot imagine will ever return to public awareness, much less popularity. And that's sad. Still, if you're lucky enough to find a copy, it's a wonderful, memorable book.


View all my reviews

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