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The Last Days of Krypton
By Kevin J. Anderson

One out of ten stars (assuming zero isn't an option)
Shelves: Library, science fiction

The Last Days of Krypton by Kevin J. Anderson was disappointing and lame - so lame that I only got about 130 pages into it before returning it to the library.

Okay, I'm being a little harsh here. Actually, as modern SF goes, I've certainly seen worse (see the execrable Dune: The Butlerian Jihad, which was co-authored by Anderson. Or rather, DON'T see it if you value your sanity, as it may be the worst book ever written. But reading it gave me an insight into why I hate the vast majority of modern science fiction so passionately: it's stupid.

It seems to me that the current generation of SF editors and publishers came into the field after the Golden Age - in most cases, post-1970s. Lots of people working in the business now wouldn't know Roger Zelazny or Fredric Brown if they leaped out of their graves and bit them on the ass.

And I believe they think of science fiction as "childish" literature, for immature, adolescent minds.

Which, of course, it has often been from the very first. But there were always exceptional authors - the cream that rose to the top - who wrote truly intelligent, imaginative, and adult science fiction (and fantasy, of course; I'm not making a distinction between the two right now).

The problem is that back then, there were at least some editors and publishers who could recognize greatness. Now, those perceptive and mature people in the SF publishing industry seem to be gone - probably, I suspect, because the whole industry is far more commercialized than it used to be, far more integrated into the craptastic Hollywood culture that dominates American society. They're all looking so hard for the next Harry Potter that they would not only MISS the next Cordwainer Smith - he wouldn't even be able to get in their door.

I fear that the same must be said for fans. It may be that the vast majority of younger fans simply don't know what good writing is, because they've never seen it.

There are still a few good writers out there, of course, but they're the exception rather than the rule.

Like Hercule Poirot, I'm not going to pretend that I'm stupid. I'm more intelligent than the average reader (I have other flaws, but I'm not stupid). So maybe that makes me more sensitive to having my intelligence insulted. I can tell when I'm reading something written by someone who is dumber than I am, to put it crudely, and I'd say that 97% of everything new being published these days is either written by a relatively dim person, or deliberately slanted for an audience that the producers of the product consider to be - there's no other word for it - idiots.

And even so, the people producing this crap are not bright. If they were, even their dumbed-down writing would show it - and it doesn't. Typos, logical failures, unbelievable characters, the same tired old cliches again and again and again...lord! I'm so sick of it!

Anderson is a really awful writer, and should never be allowed near a keyboard again. Perhaps he could take up some useful trade, like shovelling raw sewage.

Okay, that's not fair. He's not quite that bad. He'd probably be a very adequate ditch-digger. Just keep him away from a keyboard!

Note: A comment on the original post of this review (elsewhere) asserted that it was unfair of me to criticize a work based on a comic book, by comparing it to high art. The comment also questioned my criticism because I am not a published author. Here's my reply, editing out the quotes from the original comment:

I do see your point. In the same vein, since I have never been a professional chef, I should never criticize any meal served to me at a restaurant, not even if they hand me a dog turd on a plate. Why didn't I see that before?

Okay. Sarcasm aside, although I have never been a professional author - I did make one sale, but the magazine folded before they paid me or published the story - I have indeed written a lot of stuff over the years, and have published both online and in several different amateur press associations. I have one of the older continuously-operating websites still in existence, and have received plenty of feedback, both positive and negative. I don't see why any of this is necessary to justify my low opinion of "The Last Days of Krypton", but there it is. More to the point is that I've *read* a lot.

If my review gave you the impression that I had expected "The Last Days of Krypton" to be high art, you can chalk that up to my lack of professional credentials as an author. I have strong feelings about the decay of modern science fiction and publishing, and inserted those views into the review because that's when those thoughts happened to come into my mind.

However, the fact remains that it is possible to judge quality even when dealing with a genre or class of works which are of generally low caliber. You can taste the burgers of McDonald's and those of Burger King or Wendy's and make perfectly valid comparisons and judgements between them; there are degrees of quality both in swill and the sublime. Merely mentioning that the sublime exists does not invalidate criticism of swill when it fails *even as swill*.

And even as swill, "The Last Days of Krypton" is abysmal. I've read my share of comic books, both crappy ones and those that transcended the former limitations of the genre; I grew up reading comics in the 1960s and 70s, and directly experienced the renaissance of the field in the 1980s and 90s. So I have some experience from a reader's point of view. And from that vantage point, I still maintain: "The Last Days of Krypton" is pure and utter *crap*, an absolute waste of time, and an insult to the intelligence of any reader who actually possesses a mind to be insulted.

To put it as simply as possible, it's a bad book. Really astonishingly bad, which at this point is pretty much par for the course for Mr. Anderson. That there are some who apparently admire it and him baffles me, but there's not much I can do to help such unfortunate souls; all I can do is post my opinion of his shoddy and idiotic work as a warning to others.

This have I done. If your opinion varies, go and do likewise!
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When I was a teenager my father had a heart attack. He survived, thank goodness, and is still fine these many decades later. But while he was bedridden and convalescing, our neighbors brought all sorts of books over to help him pass the time. They were mostly best-sellers of the time; books that I would never have read on my own, since I was a science-fiction fan.

Shogun was one of them. I'm not sure if Dad read it, but I sure did. And I've read it every six months or so, ever since.

Why? Several reasons:

1. It's incredibly readable. This is one of those amazing books that simply sucks you in and makes you live its story. Clavell had the rare gift of writing, and Shogun was his masterpiece.

2. It's really long. I'm an extremely fast reader, but even I can't get through Shogun in less than a week. And yet every time I finish it, I always wish there was more, and more...I'm lucky that I can re-read it within six months and enjoy it as much as ever.

3. It presents a fascinating and accessible take on an ancient culture. True, it may not be an entirely accurate picture of Japanese society in the 1600s (I just read an article by a scholar that sneered at the book unmercifully, although many scholars are far less negative about the book*). Still, I've learned a little Japanese from the book - enough to help me understand anime a bit better - and while the culture as presented is doubtless over-dramatized, I believe that it has still given me some useful insights into Japanese culture.



* - The article is one of many collected in Learning from Shogun, which is available as a free pdf online:

http://www.columbia.edu/~hds2/learning/Learning_from_shogun_txt.pdf

The specific article was "Japan, Jawpen, and the Attractions of an Opposite" by David Plath. It's the second article in the book, and it starts on page 20 (according to the pagination).
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Triumph of the WhimTriumph of the Whim by Adam Thrasher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Funny as hell. The balls-out, totally over-the-top collected comic strip (not a complete collection, mind you) of the adventures of Space Moose, the most perverted moose imaginable. How perverted, you ask? Well, when he gets his hands on a time machine, he -

No. I won't spoil it for you. Let's just say that if coprophagy, misogyny, abort-o-matic machines, feces, gore, sheer insanity, ----, and lots more ---- don't make you cringe, and if you don't hold anything sacred, you'll find this a hell of a funny read.

Or rather, you WOULD find it a hell of a funny read. But you can't read it. Because it was only available direct from the author, and he's not doing that stuff any more. I have my copy (and t-shirt), but you're out of luck!

But don't be sad. The online web archive of Space Moose was taken down when the author discovered that the grown-up world of employment and grants doesn't have much of a sense of humor. Luckily, I, personally, had cached a copy of most of the site. And I passed it on to a few select people. Google "Space Moose" and you should be able to find a copy.

They're all there because I saved that site. You're welcome!

But FYI, there are a couple of strips in the book that were never published online, including the soul-stirring sequel to "F-----io Barn". The humor! The tears! The nausea! The, um...

Never mind. You'll just have to imagine it.



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The Mystery of the Flaming Footprints (Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators, #15)The Mystery of the Flaming Footprints by M.V. Carey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This is a relatively late and inferior entry in the Three Investigators series. The series was created by Robert Arthur, a woefully neglected author who did a great deal of work with Alfred Hitchcock; Arthur wrote the first nine and the eleventh book in the series. Unfortunately M.V. Carey was no Robert Arthur!

I recently read the book to my son. We've read many of the books in the series together. In this one, there were several ways in which the book simply didn't work. Oh, Carey included the usual iconic elements of the series; Jupiter Jones' family, and the hidden Headquarters (a trailer buried under a pile of junk), and Pete, and Bob. But there are several false notes.

One that was particularly annoying was the use of Jupiter's name. Arthur usually referred to him as "Jupiter" or "Jupiter Jones". Once in a while his fellow Investigators, Pete or Bob, would refer to him as "Jupe". But in this book, he is almost always called "Jupe" - not just by other people, but by the narrator. I'm not that picky, but seeing "Jupe" repeated over and over in paragraph after paragraph just got weird! It started to become a meaningless sound - you know how some words get when you say them over and over? I ended up auto-correcting it to "Jupiter" when I read it aloud, except when it was said by Pete or Bob.

The mystery itself was just...okay. Nothing particularly clever or memorable about it. If anything, the resolution was rather anticlimactic. I won't bother to give it away, though.

But another thing that was quite irritating was a dramatic change in a long-standing supporting character, Police Chief Reynolds. In the early books in the series he was supportive and friendly to the Three Investigators, even going so far as to give them official cards identifying them as Junior Deputies or something like that. In Flaming Footprints, he has been completely changed. He's sneering, abusive, hostile, and sarcastic. The change was so extreme that my son remarked on it. Personally, I found the recasting of Chief Reynolds as a stereotypical negative adult authority figure so irksome that I couldn't resist editorializing: "'What do you want now, Jones?' snarled Chief Reynolds, while busily stomping on a cute kitten and simultaneously farting on a helpless old lady."

My son is more generous and/or uncritical than I am. He gave the book 4.5 stars. I feel I'm being generous in giving it three.

Oh, as always I should note that there are probably two different versions of the text extant. Older versions feature the character of Alfred Hitchcock. For legal reasons newer editions have been rewritten to replace Hitchcock with a lame-ass ersatz version. If you decide to pick this one up, try to go for an older edition. But if you're new to the series, I strongly recommend starting with the original nine books by Robert A. Arthur.

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With Every Drop of Blood:  A Novel of the Civil WarWith Every Drop of Blood: A Novel of the Civil War by James Collier

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I picked this one up along with several other books by James Lincoln Collier at the library. I've long been a fan of his Lost Treasures: The Teddy Bear Habit - Book #3, and since I was thinking of that at the library one day, I picked up several more books of his on a whim.

But With Every Drop of Blood almost got returned to the library unread. I read another book of his first, Outside Looking in, and it had been rather disappointing. And despite the old maxim, the cover of With Every Drop of Blood was remarkably boring-looking, at least for me. Still, I hadn't gotten around to returning it before I ran out of reading material, so I ended up giving it a try.

I'm glad I did. It turned out to be one of those books that you can't put down; you have to know what comes next. Gripping, you know what I mean? It's the story of a Southern boy during the Civil War, but told in relatively modern language (albeit not irritatingly so).

There's a bit of synchronicity here, as it happens. The very first thing in the book is a statement by the authors about the language in the book, specifically - and I hate to mince words, but this review is going up on Facebook and I have young readers - the "N-word". They use it several times for historical accuracy, but use it less than the people at the time would have.

That said, the book is certainly appropriate for ages 12 and older, and probably appropriate for most children from 10 up. And it's certainly very readable, very compelling, and fascinating. The only criticism I can make is that it ends rather rapidly. And when I reached the end, I very much wanted to know what happened next!


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With Every Drop of Blood:  A Novel of the Civil WarWith Every Drop of Blood: A Novel of the Civil War by James Collier

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I picked this one up along with several other books by James Lincoln Collier at the library. I've long been a fan of his Lost Treasures: The Teddy Bear Habit - Book #3, and since I was thinking of that at the library one day, I picked up several more books of his on a whim.

But With Every Drop of Blood almost got returned to the library unread. I read another book of his first, Outside Looking in, and it had been rather disappointing. And despite the old maxim, the cover of With Every Drop of Blood was remarkably boring-looking, at least for me. Still, I hadn't gotten around to returning it before I ran out of reading material, so I ended up giving it a try.

I'm glad I did. It turned out to be one of those books that you can't put down; you have to know what comes next. Gripping, you know what I mean? It's the story of a Southern boy during the Civil War, but told in relatively modern language (albeit not irritatingly so).

There's a bit of synchronicity here, as it happens. The very first thing in the book is a statement by the authors about the language in the book, specifically - and I hate to mince words, but this review is going up on Facebook and I have young readers - the "N-word". They use it several times for historical accuracy, but use it less than the people at the time would have.

That said, the book is certainly appropriate for ages 12 and older, and probably appropriate for most children from 10 up. And it's certainly very readable, very compelling, and fascinating. The only criticism I can make is that it ends rather rapidly. And when I reached the end, I very much wanted to know what happened next!


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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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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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The Still, Small Voice of Trumpets The Still, Small Voice of Trumpets by Lloyd Biggle Jr.


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lloyd Biggle Jr. is best known for bringing the arts to science fiction (just as Mack Reynolds brought sociology and economics to SF). He had a gentle, thoughtful style that made his books a pleasure to read; in that, his work resembles that of James White.

The Still, Small Voice of Trumpets is classic Biggle. The premise may perhaps seem a bit naive in these harsh days of realpolitik; a Galactic Federation which cannot expand unless a planet at its borders becomes a planetary democracy, without overt interference by Galactic agents. The natives of the planet, Gurnil, have a relatively low level of technology; they are not aware that aliens walk among them. If they discover that, the planet will be considered "blown", and the Galactic agents will have to withdraw in failure.

Those agents are also hampered by a web of regulations, rules, and maxims.

When Forzon, an officer of the Cultural Survey, is mysteriously reassigned to Gurnil he must not only find out why he was reassigned, but how to apply his speciality, the arts, to turning a brutal monarchy into a peaceful democracy. The natives have a magnificent appreciation of beauty and art, but seem to have virtually no political awareness. Forzon is allowed to introduce one technological innovation to the planet, but how can a single change literally revolutionize an entire world?

Biggle's answer is memorable and believable.

It must be noted that the book was first published in 1968, and that Biggle was not one of the "New Wave" authors who were in ascendence at that time. To some, his style may seem a little old-fashioned, though it's eminently readable. The romantic relationship between Forzon and Ann Curry, one of his agents, may also seem rather a bit dated - although accusations of sexism are not credible, since Forzon never treats Ann with less than respect, and her mistakes are not the stereotypical "stupid helpless female" behavior that was a staple of the poorer sort of science fiction a generation earlier.

The Still, Small Voice of Trumpets is a short, elegant, and thoughtful example of a type of science fiction which is still all too rare. It's well worth reading, and re-reading. Although it's quite a short book, Biggle wrote other memorable books on the same general theme, and most of them are back in print.

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The Still, Small Voice of Trumpets The Still, Small Voice of Trumpets by Lloyd Biggle Jr.


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lloyd Biggle Jr. is best known for bringing the arts to science fiction (just as Mack Reynolds brought sociology and economics to SF). He had a gentle, thoughtful style that made his books a pleasure to read; in that, his work resembles that of James White.

The Still, Small Voice of Trumpets is classic Biggle. The premise may perhaps seem a bit naive in these harsh days of realpolitik; a Galactic Federation which cannot expand unless a planet at its borders becomes a planetary democracy, without overt interference by Galactic agents. The natives of the planet, Gurnil, have a relatively low level of technology; they are not aware that aliens walk among them. If they discover that, the planet will be considered "blown", and the Galactic agents will have to withdraw in failure.

Those agents are also hampered by a web of regulations, rules, and maxims.

When Forzon, an officer of the Cultural Survey, is mysteriously reassigned to Gurnil he must not only find out why he was reassigned, but how to apply his speciality, the arts, to turning a brutal monarchy into a peaceful democracy. The natives have a magnificent appreciation of beauty and art, but seem to have virtually no political awareness. Forzon is allowed to introduce one technological innovation to the planet, but how can a single change literally revolutionize an entire world?

Biggle's answer is memorable and believable.

It must be noted that the book was first published in 1968, and that Biggle was not one of the "New Wave" authors who were in ascendence at that time. To some, his style may seem a little old-fashioned, though it's eminently readable. The romantic relationship between Forzon and Ann Curry, one of his agents, may also seem rather a bit dated - although accusations of sexism are not credible, since Forzon never treats Ann with less than respect, and her mistakes are not the stereotypical "stupid helpless female" behavior that was a staple of the poorer sort of science fiction a generation earlier.

The Still, Small Voice of Trumpets is a short, elegant, and thoughtful example of a type of science fiction which is still all too rare. It's well worth reading, and re-reading. Although it's quite a short book, Biggle wrote other memorable books on the same general theme, and most of them are back in print.

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Santino's Italian Cuisine
24 East Southern Avenue
Williamsport, PA 17702
(570) 326-4044

Four out of five stars

A nice surprise. Really good Italian food, far better than the usual pizzeria fare. I ordered a meatball sub and garlic bread, and was delighted that both were made from what was clearly fresh-baked bread - excellent! The sauce was a little sweet but very good.

There was a broad selection in the menu; this is the only restaurant I can recall that specifically offered cheese and no-cheese options for meatball subs, for example. The portions were large, and the service was excellent (our waitress was Erica). I just wish there was a place like this closer to my home! As it is, it's unlikely that I'll ever get to go back.

I, my wife, and our little boy had dinner there for $31.15, not including the tip.
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Santino's Italian Cuisine
24 East Southern Avenue
Williamsport, PA 17702
(570) 326-4044

Four out of five stars

A nice surprise. Really good Italian food, far better than the usual pizzeria fare. I ordered a meatball sub and garlic bread, and was delighted that both were made from what was clearly fresh-baked bread - excellent! The sauce was a little sweet but very good.

There was a broad selection in the menu; this is the only restaurant I can recall that specifically offered cheese and no-cheese options for meatball subs, for example. The portions were large, and the service was excellent (our waitress was Erica). I just wish there was a place like this closer to my home! As it is, it's unlikely that I'll ever get to go back.

I, my wife, and our little boy had dinner there for $31.15, not including the tip.
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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Oz, Book 1) The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum


My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's odd that this is the first time I've read an Oz book. I think I started one or two, long ago, and never finished them. But many people rave about Oz, and I love old books from that era (especially children's books), so recently I picked it up and read it through.

It didn't take long. In fact, I was quite surprised at how quickly I got through it. It's quite a short book. It's also very simply written. I don't think most young American children (say, ages 7 and up) would have any difficulty reading it at all. The grammar is slightly more formal than modern American English, but the vocabulary is startlingly ordinary; far less challenging than I'd expected.

Perhaps that's because most of the books I've read from that general era (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was first published in 1900) are English, and use a considerably deeper vocabulary. The majority of Americans would struggle with an unabridged Peter Pan or Winnie-the-Pooh, and be utterly defeated by Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

That said, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a nice, light, and very quick read with some pleasantly funny moments. I'd heard that it was an extended political parable - the scarecrow representing Midwestern farmers, the Tin Woodsman representing the factory workers of the new Industrial Revolution, and the Lion representing...actually, I don't remember - but if that's the case (and it may well be) the result certainly doesn't seem to very complex. I probably won't read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz for myself again very soon, but I'll probably soon read it to my son - or see if he's interested in reading it for himself.

I can't help but wonder if I'd have loved the book if I had first read it when I was seven. But I just don't know.

Oh, I almost forgot: Of course I've seen the movie many times, and am quite fond of it. I expected the book to be very different from the movie, and it was - but it turned out that the movie was more faithful to the text than I'd realized. That said, I have to say that the movie actually seemed to make a strong theme (there's no place like home, of course) which the book lacked. But then, Dorothy seemed much younger in the book.

It was also interesting that in the book, the voyage to Oz was clearly NOT a dream (Uncle Henry had had to build a new house to replace the one that had been taken away by the tornado), whereas the movie made it fairly clear that Oz HAD all been Dorothy's fever-dream (since, among other things, the house was unchanged and still there).

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Oz, Book 1) The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum


My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's odd that this is the first time I've read an Oz book. I think I started one or two, long ago, and never finished them. But many people rave about Oz, and I love old books from that era (especially children's books), so recently I picked it up and read it through.

It didn't take long. In fact, I was quite surprised at how quickly I got through it. It's quite a short book. It's also very simply written. I don't think most young American children (say, ages 7 and up) would have any difficulty reading it at all. The grammar is slightly more formal than modern American English, but the vocabulary is startlingly ordinary; far less challenging than I'd expected.

Perhaps that's because most of the books I've read from that general era (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was first published in 1900) are English, and use a considerably deeper vocabulary. The majority of Americans would struggle with an unabridged Peter Pan or Winnie-the-Pooh, and be utterly defeated by Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

That said, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a nice, light, and very quick read with some pleasantly funny moments. I'd heard that it was an extended political parable - the scarecrow representing Midwestern farmers, the Tin Woodsman representing the factory workers of the new Industrial Revolution, and the Lion representing...actually, I don't remember - but if that's the case (and it may well be) the result certainly doesn't seem to very complex. I probably won't read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz for myself again very soon, but I'll probably soon read it to my son - or see if he's interested in reading it for himself.

I can't help but wonder if I'd have loved the book if I had first read it when I was seven. But I just don't know.

Oh, I almost forgot: Of course I've seen the movie many times, and am quite fond of it. I expected the book to be very different from the movie, and it was - but it turned out that the movie was more faithful to the text than I'd realized. That said, I have to say that the movie actually seemed to make a strong theme (there's no place like home, of course) which the book lacked. But then, Dorothy seemed much younger in the book.

It was also interesting that in the book, the voyage to Oz was clearly NOT a dream (Uncle Henry had had to build a new house to replace the one that had been taken away by the tornado), whereas the movie made it fairly clear that Oz HAD all been Dorothy's fever-dream (since, among other things, the house was unchanged and still there).

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The Silver Chair (Chronicles of Narnia, #6) The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis


My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once again C.S. Lewis went beyond the borders of Narnia for another "Narnian" book - and once again, he came up with a new character with enormous humor and appeal for children.

In this case, the character is Puddleglum the Marsh-Wiggle. He guides Jill Pole and Eustace Scrubb as they "follow the signs" on a quest given them by Aslan. They must rescue the lost Prince Rilian, son of Prince Caspian.

There are several points at which characters are irritatingly oblivious to the obvious, throughout the book. I'll give no spoilers, but they're rather obvious. And Aslan comes off as something of a nagging wanker; what's with the mysterious "signs"? Jerking people around with hints and confusing portents may represent some sort of divine test of their moral fiber, but in my book it's just irritating. As Lewis himself seems to realize, since Aslan says at the end "I shall not always be scolding."
Read more (Gayness and hooters!) )
I might also mention the BBC television adaptation of this book. It featured Tom Baker (best known as Doctor Who) in the role of Puddleglum, and he did his usual outstanding job. But some of his best lines were cut, which surprised me - particularly since my rendition of them while reading to my son earned me some very enthusiastic laughs.

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The Silver Chair (Chronicles of Narnia, #6) The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis


My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once again C.S. Lewis went beyond the borders of Narnia for another "Narnian" book - and once again, he came up with a new character with enormous humor and appeal for children.

In this case, the character is Puddleglum the Marsh-Wiggle. He guides Jill Pole and Eustace Scrubb as they "follow the signs" on a quest given them by Aslan. They must rescue the lost Prince Rilian, son of Prince Caspian.

There are several points at which characters are irritatingly oblivious to the obvious, throughout the book. I'll give no spoilers, but they're rather obvious. And Aslan comes off as something of a nagging wanker; what's with the mysterious "signs"? Jerking people around with hints and confusing portents may represent some sort of divine test of their moral fiber, but in my book it's just irritating. As Lewis himself seems to realize, since Aslan says at the end "I shall not always be scolding."
Read more (Gayness and hooters!) )
I might also mention the BBC television adaptation of this book. It featured Tom Baker (best known as Doctor Who) in the role of Puddleglum, and he did his usual outstanding job. But some of his best lines were cut, which surprised me - particularly since my rendition of them while reading to my son earned me some very enthusiastic laughs.

View all my reviews >>
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Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories 03: 1941 Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories 03: 1941 by Isaac Asimov


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A cynic once said something like "The Golden Age of science fiction is about sixteen."

But they're wrong. 1941 was the heart of the Golden Age of science fiction. And this book is the proof.

If you've read a fair selection of classic SF, some of these stories will doubtless be familiar to you. Others probably won't be. In any case, these are some of the all-time classics of the genre.

Each story is introduced by Isaac Asimov, and he provides some interesting (and tantalizing) commentary. I can't help but wonder, for example, why he included Fredric Brown (one of my favorite writers) as an author whose personality was different from his stories (as opposed to authors who resembled their stories, some of whom he also lists). I was surprised and pleased to see that Asimov was, like me, a fan of Robert Arthur as well - although I have to admit that Arthur's story may be the weakest one in the book (though still worth reading!).

There are no stories by Robert Heinlein in this collection, apparently because he (or his wife) wouldn't allow it. Since this book was published in 1980 and Heinlein lived until 1988, Heinlein must have been aware of this. Nonetheless Asimov listed the titles of the Heinlein stories that he would have included in the book, and commented on them. I've often wondered about the relationship between Asimov and Heinlein, and this book only adds to the mystery.

There's a tendency to think of old science fiction as being corny and simplistic. In fact, the best authors of the Golden Age had a sophistication and brilliance which is rarely seen in modern genre authors. If you're not familiar with Golden Age SF, I recommend The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, volume I, which is the definitive collection. But if you get a chance to buy any of The Great SF Stories, grab them! I know I will.

View all my reviews >>
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Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories 03: 1941 Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories 03: 1941 by Isaac Asimov


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A cynic once said something like "The Golden Age of science fiction is about sixteen."

But they're wrong. 1941 was the heart of the Golden Age of science fiction. And this book is the proof.

If you've read a fair selection of classic SF, some of these stories will doubtless be familiar to you. Others probably won't be. In any case, these are some of the all-time classics of the genre.

Each story is introduced by Isaac Asimov, and he provides some interesting (and tantalizing) commentary. I can't help but wonder, for example, why he included Fredric Brown (one of my favorite writers) as an author whose personality was different from his stories (as opposed to authors who resembled their stories, some of whom he also lists). I was surprised and pleased to see that Asimov was, like me, a fan of Robert Arthur as well - although I have to admit that Arthur's story may be the weakest one in the book (though still worth reading!).

There are no stories by Robert Heinlein in this collection, apparently because he (or his wife) wouldn't allow it. Since this book was published in 1980 and Heinlein lived until 1988, Heinlein must have been aware of this. Nonetheless Asimov listed the titles of the Heinlein stories that he would have included in the book, and commented on them. I've often wondered about the relationship between Asimov and Heinlein, and this book only adds to the mystery.

There's a tendency to think of old science fiction as being corny and simplistic. In fact, the best authors of the Golden Age had a sophistication and brilliance which is rarely seen in modern genre authors. If you're not familiar with Golden Age SF, I recommend The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, volume I, which is the definitive collection. But if you get a chance to buy any of The Great SF Stories, grab them! I know I will.

View all my reviews >>
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The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Chronicles of Narnia, #5) The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis


My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We enjoyed this one very much. Sebastian (my 7-year-old son) became an instant fan of Reepicheep the talking mouse, even though I never quite managed to develop a distinctive voice for him.

Placing the story primarily outside of Narnia was a good idea; the result is a considerably more imaginative book than the previous one (Prince Caspian).

As always, I must note that the numbering placed on modern editions of the books by the publisher is wrong. The books should be read in the order in which they were written; reading them in the "modern" order actually ruins many of the surprises.

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The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Chronicles of Narnia, #5) The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis


My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We enjoyed this one very much. Sebastian (my 7-year-old son) became an instant fan of Reepicheep the talking mouse, even though I never quite managed to develop a distinctive voice for him.

Placing the story primarily outside of Narnia was a good idea; the result is a considerably more imaginative book than the previous one (Prince Caspian).

As always, I must note that the numbering placed on modern editions of the books by the publisher is wrong. The books should be read in the order in which they were written; reading them in the "modern" order actually ruins many of the surprises.

View all my reviews >>

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