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Lord of LightLord of Light by Roger Zelazny

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Although he's best known for his Amber series, Lord of Light was unquestionably his greatest masterpiece - despite the fact that it's a remarkably slender book. Nonetheless, Zelazny managed to brilliantly combine science fiction, fantasy, and Hindu mythology in a truly...

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Shadows in Flight (Shadow, #5)Shadows in Flight by Orson Scott Card

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I don't like Orson Scott Card. There was a time when he was a gifted writer, but that was decades ago. And I'm rather glad of that, I must admit, because his homophobia and religious bigotry offend me.

But Shadows In Flight isn't as bad as most of his recent books have been. Yes, it has the usual "genius" children talking to each other in "shocking" ways; Card seems to find them irresistible. There's even some of Card's trademark child-on-child violence, which makes me wonder just how badly screwed up his head is. But for once he doesn't take it too far.

This is no Ender's Game or Songmaster. It isn't even A Planet Called Treason. But it's readable and not annoying, which is a big improvement over Card's other work this millennium.



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The Horse-Tamer (The Black Stallion, #14)The Horse-Tamer by Walter Farley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


First, a note: I will never try to use my Nook to write a book review again. I had written quite a long review - not easy on the Nook's touch-screen, which is not well-laid-out and lacks a number of conveniences which are standard on other Android devices - only to make the slightest mis-touch and lose EVERYTHING. That's incredibly annoying.

That said, The Horse Tamer is part of Walter Farley's Black Stallion series, and it's both charming and memorable. Bracketed by short passages featuring Alec, Henry, and the Black, it's actually a historical novel; Henry's story of his older brother, who tamed horses in the days when horses were the standard mode of transportation. Henry himself plays a small but substantial part in the tale.

Unlike most entries in the series, it's not a racing story. But the story of "problem" horses and how to help them is quite fascinating, as well as exciting. I first read this book as a boy, and it has stuck in my head ever since. I'm glad to be able to buy it for my own son, and for the chance to read it again. It includes the original black-and-white line drawings, which are charming. I strongly recommend this book. One caveat, however: the Nook edition has been formatted with HUGE margins. Even when the text is manually set to the smallest margin size, the margins are nearly as large as the text itself - which means that in portrait orientation, each line of text is only a few words wide. This is somewhat awkward.

I assume that the publisher did it because the book is SO short, only 100 pages. With reasonable formatting, it would have probably been closer to 70 pages long, even with the illustrations - and they may feel that it would be difficult to charge a full-novel price (even a low one) for what is probably only a novella. But it's a really fine story, and any fan of Walter Farley, the Black, or horses would be wise to pick it up. Strongly recommended!



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Three Men in a BoatThree Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Three young Englishmen decide to spend a fortnight boating on the Thames for their health.

A classic of English humor; I'm quite dismayed that I hadn't discovered it before now! It's one of the funniest books I've read in a long time (and I've read many funny books). I found myself laughing out loud quite often, and couldn't resist reading sections of it to my wife - even though I know it's not the sort of thing she cares for.

It's astonishing that a book written 123 years ago should feel so modern. I hadn't realized that such dark humor had been invented back in 1889!

The occasional turns into more somber and lyrical prose are a bit jarring at first (they're quite reminiscent of The Wind in the Willows, which was published 19 years later), but you soon get used to them. And the serious passages are quite brief, just sufficient to cleanse the palate (so to speak) before the next comic gem.

The illustrated EPUB edition at Project Gutenberg is excellent and, of course, free. The illustrations are well-formatted, clear, and enhance the text. If you appreciate humor, you have no excuse for missing this book!

Incidentally, I "found" Three Men In a Boat via Robert A. Heinlein's Have Space Suit-Will Travel. The protagonist's father is a fan. I'd read the book (Heinlein's that is) a dozen times before, easily - but I always assumed that Three Men in a Boat was fictional. For some reason while reading Have Space Suit-Will Travel out loud to my son, I found myself wondering if Three Men in a Boat was real; and Wikipedia soon set me right.

I'm glad it did. And now, on to Three Men on the Bummel! I've already downloaded it from Project Gutenberg.

Oh, I almost neglected to mention: there's an audio book of Three Men in a Boat, read by Hugh Laurie. A perfect choice, of course. It can be found in sections on YouTube, or, I presume, it can be purchased. But I must say that I laughed more when reading the book then while listening to it. I'm not quite sure why!



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Shoeless JoeShoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I picked this up used at the library's permanent book sale for a buck.

Add it to the very short list of books which aren't as good as their movie adaptations. A lot of the speeches were improved by much pruning for the movie, and the plot was cleaned up a good bit, too.

The book is okay, and I can see that for some it might really "click". But to me it just doesn't quite work. The whole thing felt forced to me, a too-deliberate attempt to create a classic (not unlike The Polar Express, which was annoying as a book and loathsome as a movie). Peter S. Beagle is able to create a far more authentic magical feeling in his books; fans of Shoeless Joe might appreciate Beagle. They might like Jack Finney, too. Both are considerably more deft stylists than Kinsella.

And frankly, if I were J.D. Salinger I'd have sued the crap out of the author.



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The Chameleon Corps and Other Shape ChangersThe Chameleon Corps and Other Shape Changers by Ron Goulart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Ron Goulart is one of the four funniest science fiction writers in the world (the other three are Fredric Brown, Robert Sheckley, and Keith Laumer, if you were wondering). And in The Chameleon Corps and Other Shape Changers he's at his hysterical best. There are many lines here which have stayed in my head and amused me for over thirty years now.

The book itself is divided into two sections. The first five stories are about the adventures of Ben Jolson of the Chameleon Corps. Esoteric treatments applied at a young age have given Ben the power to alter his form at a moment's notice; he can impersonate anyone, as well as objects of his own general size, flawlessly. Problem: he'd rather sell pottery than be a secret agent. But you're not allowed to quit the Corps.

So Jolson finds himself being sent to one hot spot after another throughout the Barnum system of planets, carrying out odd, sometimes bizarre missions for a government that often seems a lot like ours - given to hypocrisy, greed, idiocy, and sudden tragic bursts of realpolitik.

In that, it's rather like the CDT of Keith Laumer's Retief series, albeit considerably less broad. But Goulart's style is considerably more modern-feeling than Laumer's, with more of a 1960s (and, oddly, 2010s) feel. And Jolson is not the superhuman figure that Retief is, for all his powers. Retief saves the world despite its idiocy; Jolson can't be sure that what he's saving is better than the alternative, or even that he's necessarily saving anything. He's just trying to get the job done and survive.

But oh my god, the stories are funny. Jolson often has to impersonate eccentric characters, and Goulart gives them personalities and verbal quirks which are absolutely hysterical - mother of goats, would you question my word? When you reach the end of the fifth story, you'll wish there were more. And there are, I believe; there was at least one Chameleon Corps novel, I think, as well as (possibly) more stories. In any case, much of Goulart's work is of the same quality: just as funny and enjoyable.

The last six stories are not connected to each other, and tend to be a little darker. But they're still very funny and very memorable. This is one of those outstanding collections of clever, jewel-like short stories that's a real treasure for anyone who loves science fiction and/or humor.

So why isn't it in print any more?


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The Chameleon Corps and Other Shape ChangersThe Chameleon Corps and Other Shape Changers by Ron Goulart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Ron Goulart is one of the four funniest science fiction writers in the world (the other three are Fredric Brown, Robert Sheckley, and Keith Laumer, if you were wondering). And in The Chameleon Corps and Other Shape Changers he's at his hysterical best. There are many lines here which have stayed in my head and amused me for over thirty years now.

The book itself is divided into two sections. The first five stories are about the adventures of Ben Jolson of the Chameleon Corps. Esoteric treatments applied at a young age have given Ben the power to alter his form at a moment's notice; he can impersonate anyone, as well as objects of his own general size, flawlessly. Problem: he'd rather sell pottery than be a secret agent. But you're not allowed to quit the Corps.

So Jolson finds himself being sent to one hot spot after another throughout the Barnum system of planets, carrying out odd, sometimes bizarre missions for a government that often seems a lot like ours - given to hypocrisy, greed, idiocy, and sudden tragic bursts of realpolitik.

In that, it's rather like the CDT of Keith Laumer's Retief series, albeit considerably less broad. But Goulart's style is considerably more modern-feeling than Laumer's, with more of a 1960s (and, oddly, 2010s) feel. And Jolson is not the superhuman figure that Retief is, for all his powers. Retief saves the world despite its idiocy; Jolson can't be sure that what he's saving is better than the alternative, or even that he's necessarily saving anything. He's just trying to get the job done and survive.

But oh my god, the stories are funny. Jolson often has to impersonate eccentric characters, and Goulart gives them personalities and verbal quirks which are absolutely hysterical - mother of goats, would you question my word? When you reach the end of the fifth story, you'll wish there were more. And there are, I believe; there was at least one Chameleon Corps novel, I think, as well as (possibly) more stories. In any case, much of Goulart's work is of the same quality: just as funny and enjoyable.

The last six stories are not connected to each other, and tend to be a little darker. But they're still very funny and very memorable. This is one of those outstanding collections of clever, jewel-like short stories that's a real treasure for anyone who loves science fiction and/or humor.

So why isn't it in print any more?


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Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous WebsiteInside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website by Daniel Domscheit-Berg

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


A difficult book to judge. In large part, it seems to be one side of a battle over a broken relationship. Not knowing the other side, how am I to judge who's right? And why should I bother?

In this particular case, the dispute is between the book's co-author, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, and famed Wikileaks director Julian Assange. I'll credit Domscheit-Berg and/or his co-author Tina Klopp (who I presume is a ghost writer), with showing some restraint; they paint Assange as an arrogant and irresponsible egomaniac, but you can see them trying hard not to seem too obviously one-sided.

As for the truth of the details, how the hell am I to know? It's believable that Assange is an asshole. On the other hand, that's just if you go by Domscheit-Berg's word. Frankly, there are a million stories like this out there: a working relationship gone sour. I've had a few of them myself. Unfortunately this one isn't terribly more interesting than, well, any of mine for example! It's only the celebrity of Assange and Wikileaks that got this book into print.

There are two things that could have redeemed this book. One would have been great writing. I can't speak for the original German edition, but the translation in the English edition was merely workmanlike. Oh, it was handled well enough that it didn't jump out at me as a translation; whoever went over the translation did a good enough job, as far as that goes (and incidentally, I used to touch up and in some cases re-write poorly translated articles for a magazine myself, so I have some experience in this area). But the writing simply isn't anything special. Nor is there, for example, any particular humor to the book.

The other potentially redeeming factor would have been some really insightful details about the workings of Wikileaks. There's some of that here, and it is somewhat interesting. If it's credible (and I have no particular reason to doubt it) then Wikileaks is in a real technological pickle. But again, although I support openness and the stated principles of Wikileaks, technical issues don't mean a lot to me here.

The book is remarkably current. It's about issues that took place as recently as five or six months ago. That's a bit jarring! It gave me the feeling that I could have been reading the whole thing on some online forum.

I also have to say that I can't help but feel a little bit taken advantage of by Mr. Domscheit-Berg. His book seems to be little more than a veiled continuation of a running battle with Julian Assange. Okay, if his account is accurate, then Assange is an irresponsible egotist and bastard. But I wasn't involved in this battle, and why is Mr. Domscheit-Berg making money off of me in pursuit of his war? Apart from anything else, that seems a highly ironic act for someone who professes such high ideals.

Incidentally, the book was a birthday gift from my sister and her husband. I'm quite sure they hadn't read it themselves. It was a thoughtful gift - if you're reading this, sis, I hope this review doesn't hurt your feelings - because I am interested in openness, politics, and Wikileaks. I just wish Domscheit-Berg had produced something more worthwhile and in-depth.



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Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous WebsiteInside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website by Daniel Domscheit-Berg

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


A difficult book to judge. In large part, it seems to be one side of a battle over a broken relationship. Not knowing the other side, how am I to judge who's right? And why should I bother?

In this particular case, the dispute is between the book's co-author, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, and famed Wikileaks director Julian Assange. I'll credit Domscheit-Berg and/or his co-author Tina Klopp (who I presume is a ghost writer), with showing some restraint; they paint Assange as an arrogant and irresponsible egomaniac, but you can see them trying hard not to seem too obviously one-sided.

As for the truth of the details, how the hell am I to know? It's believable that Assange is an asshole. On the other hand, that's just if you go by Domscheit-Berg's word. Frankly, there are a million stories like this out there: a working relationship gone sour. I've had a few of them myself. Unfortunately this one isn't terribly more interesting than, well, any of mine for example! It's only the celebrity of Assange and Wikileaks that got this book into print.

There are two things that could have redeemed this book. One would have been great writing. I can't speak for the original German edition, but the translation in the English edition was merely workmanlike. Oh, it was handled well enough that it didn't jump out at me as a translation; whoever went over the translation did a good enough job, as far as that goes (and incidentally, I used to touch up and in some cases re-write poorly translated articles for a magazine myself, so I have some experience in this area). But the writing simply isn't anything special. Nor is there, for example, any particular humor to the book.

The other potentially redeeming factor would have been some really insightful details about the workings of Wikileaks. There's some of that here, and it is somewhat interesting. If it's credible (and I have no particular reason to doubt it) then Wikileaks is in a real technological pickle. But again, although I support openness and the stated principles of Wikileaks, technical issues don't mean a lot to me here.

The book is remarkably current. It's about issues that took place as recently as five or six months ago. That's a bit jarring! It gave me the feeling that I could have been reading the whole thing on some online forum.

I also have to say that I can't help but feel a little bit taken advantage of by Mr. Domscheit-Berg. His book seems to be little more than a veiled continuation of a running battle with Julian Assange. Okay, if his account is accurate, then Assange is an irresponsible egotist and bastard. But I wasn't involved in this battle, and why is Mr. Domscheit-Berg making money off of me in pursuit of his war? Apart from anything else, that seems a highly ironic act for someone who professes such high ideals.

Incidentally, the book was a birthday gift from my sister and her husband. I'm quite sure they hadn't read it themselves. It was a thoughtful gift - if you're reading this, sis, I hope this review doesn't hurt your feelings - because I am interested in openness, politics, and Wikileaks. I just wish Domscheit-Berg had produced something more worthwhile and in-depth.



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In the Beginning (Babylon 5)In the Beginning by Peter David

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I'm not a Peter David fan. Oh, I've read a few of his books, but I consider him to be a workmanlike author rather than an artist. Of course, I also consider him to be a newcomer, since I respect very few post-1980 authors (exactly three, in fact: Brust, Brin, and Watt-Evans).

But In the Beginning is surprisingly well-written. It was shot in the dark for me, quite literally; I don't remember where I'd originally picked it up, but I'm sure I didn't buy it new (the pencil marking inside says $2.95). It was late at night, I desperately needed something to read, and I'd just turned off the light in the den; it was pitch-black. So for a lark, I pushed aside the books in the outer layer of one of my bookshelves (I'm terribly short of shelf space), and pulled out a book at random from the row of books behind.

Now, I must admit up front that I was a big fan of Babylon 5. In fact, it was the last show that I would call myself a "fan" of; I think I got too old for the fan phenomenon after that. But from seasons 1-4 I was a big fan, and even wrote a one-shot zine for a Babylon 5 APA (amateur press association, a collection of zines on a topic).*

Anyway, I have to say that Peter David captured the voice of the narrator, Londo Mollari, extremely well. I could hear the voice just as Peter Jurasik performed it while I was reading it. I don't know if someone who isn't familiar with the show itself would get the same enjoyment out of the book, therefore.

In any case, I'd call it a successful novelization; it captured the plot and essence of the broadcast show extremely well. There was only one jarring note. On page 75, there's a line:
Indeed, the gravity on the Babylon 5 space station was achieved entirely through a steady rotation, the same as that on any planet.

Perhaps Peter David only meant to say that planets have a steady rotation, but it certainly seems as if he's saying that centrifugal (or is it centripetal?) force is the source of gravitation on planets - and of course, that's absolutely wrong! If planetary gravity was caused by rotation, everything not fastened to the planetary crust would be flung into space. Could a modern science fiction author really be that ignorant of basic physics? I have to wonder!

All in all, though, an enjoyable read. I was tempted to give it four stars. But if you're not a B5 fan, you're probably more likely to consider it a 3-star work.

----------
* - I'm not sure if this link will work, but if it does here's a link to that zine: http://www.maranci.net/babble-on5.pdf . It has been annotated from a years-later perspective.



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In the Beginning (Babylon 5)In the Beginning by Peter David

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I'm not a Peter David fan. Oh, I've read a few of his books, but I consider him to be a workmanlike author rather than an artist. Of course, I also consider him to be a newcomer, since I respect very few post-1980 authors (exactly three, in fact: Brust, Brin, and Watt-Evans).

But In the Beginning is surprisingly well-written. It was shot in the dark for me, quite literally; I don't remember where I'd originally picked it up, but I'm sure I didn't buy it new (the pencil marking inside says $2.95). It was late at night, I desperately needed something to read, and I'd just turned off the light in the den; it was pitch-black. So for a lark, I pushed aside the books in the outer layer of one of my bookshelves (I'm terribly short of shelf space), and pulled out a book at random from the row of books behind.

Now, I must admit up front that I was a big fan of Babylon 5. In fact, it was the last show that I would call myself a "fan" of; I think I got too old for the fan phenomenon after that. But from seasons 1-4 I was a big fan, and even wrote a one-shot zine for a Babylon 5 APA (amateur press association, a collection of zines on a topic).*

Anyway, I have to say that Peter David captured the voice of the narrator, Londo Mollari, extremely well. I could hear the voice just as Peter Jurasik performed it while I was reading it. I don't know if someone who isn't familiar with the show itself would get the same enjoyment out of the book, therefore.

In any case, I'd call it a successful novelization; it captured the plot and essence of the broadcast show extremely well. There was only one jarring note. On page 75, there's a line:
Indeed, the gravity on the Babylon 5 space station was achieved entirely through a steady rotation, the same as that on any planet.

Perhaps Peter David only meant to say that planets have a steady rotation, but it certainly seems as if he's saying that centrifugal (or is it centripetal?) force is the source of gravitation on planets - and of course, that's absolutely wrong! If planetary gravity was caused by rotation, everything not fastened to the planetary crust would be flung into space. Could a modern science fiction author really be that ignorant of basic physics? I have to wonder!

All in all, though, an enjoyable read. I was tempted to give it four stars. But if you're not a B5 fan, you're probably more likely to consider it a 3-star work.

----------
* - I'm not sure if this link will work, but if it does here's a link to that zine: http://www.maranci.net/babble-on5.pdf . It has been annotated from a years-later perspective.



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bobquasit: (Sebastian)
Lost Race of MarsLost Race of Mars by Robert Silverberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A few days ago I was looking somewhat frantically through the books on the shelves in my closet (yes, I have a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf in my closet) for something to read to my son, Sebastian. Lost Race of Mars almost fell into my lap. I'd read it several times as a child myself, and remembered liking it quite a lot. I'd nearly forgotten about it, but I grabbed it and read it to him.

It was written by Robert Silverberg in 1960, and includes some charmingly albeit slightly crude illustrations. Sebastian loved the book, and chuckled over every drawing.

It's the story of a family who visits Mars for a year on that far-off date of 1991. The children, Jim and Sally, are the primary focus. But what grabbed Sebastian the most were the cats. First was the family cat, Chipper, who is left behind on Earth early on. Sebastian asked several times if we'd see Chipper again. A few illustrations later in the book showed Chipper, and he was particularly interested in those. He is a cat person (we're a cat family, in fact), so his interest was quite natural. Perhaps someone who doesn't like cats wouldn't enjoy the book as much as we did.

There was also Mitten, the Mars cat, in the later chapters. Again, Sebastian loved Mitten and chortled over the drawings of him.

The story is nicely paced, well-written, easy to read aloud, and has a very satisfying ending. The science is a little shaky, but not outrageously so (I'm still tempted to look up the temperatures on Mars). The prognostications are way off - a thriving Mars colony by 1991?!? - but that's not an insurmountable problem. The Martians themselves are, well, pedestrian by modern science fiction standards. But they work well for children, and that's who the book is written for. I'll also credit Silverberg with giving Sally, the younger girl in the book, a stronger-than-customary role for the time; she's not simply a stereotypical docile little sister, nor is she one of those cliched "spunky" girls.

Sebastian is nine and a half. He's a bit advanced when it comes to books, but I'd say we hit the sweet spot with this one - he's the perfect age to enjoy it. I think any child from say, eight to thirteen would be likely to enjoy the book, and many older children would too.

I'm giving the book four stars just because I can't classify it as a deathless classic that will last through the ages. But Sebastian gives it fives stars without reservation.



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bobquasit: (Sebastian)
Lost Race of MarsLost Race of Mars by Robert Silverberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A few days ago I was looking somewhat frantically through the books on the shelves in my closet (yes, I have a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf in my closet) for something to read to my son, Sebastian. Lost Race of Mars almost fell into my lap. I'd read it several times as a child myself, and remembered liking it quite a lot. I'd nearly forgotten about it, but I grabbed it and read it to him.

It was written by Robert Silverberg in 1960, and includes some charmingly albeit slightly crude illustrations. Sebastian loved the book, and chuckled over every drawing.

It's the story of a family who visits Mars for a year on that far-off date of 1991. The children, Jim and Sally, are the primary focus. But what grabbed Sebastian the most were the cats. First was the family cat, Chipper, who is left behind on Earth early on. Sebastian asked several times if we'd see Chipper again. A few illustrations later in the book showed Chipper, and he was particularly interested in those. He is a cat person (we're a cat family, in fact), so his interest was quite natural. Perhaps someone who doesn't like cats wouldn't enjoy the book as much as we did.

There was also Mitten, the Mars cat, in the later chapters. Again, Sebastian loved Mitten and chortled over the drawings of him.

The story is nicely paced, well-written, easy to read aloud, and has a very satisfying ending. The science is a little shaky, but not outrageously so (I'm still tempted to look up the temperatures on Mars). The prognostications are way off - a thriving Mars colony by 1991?!? - but that's not an insurmountable problem. The Martians themselves are, well, pedestrian by modern science fiction standards. But they work well for children, and that's who the book is written for. I'll also credit Silverberg with giving Sally, the younger girl in the book, a stronger-than-customary role for the time; she's not simply a stereotypical docile little sister, nor is she one of those cliched "spunky" girls.

Sebastian is nine and a half. He's a bit advanced when it comes to books, but I'd say we hit the sweet spot with this one - he's the perfect age to enjoy it. I think any child from say, eight to thirteen would be likely to enjoy the book, and many older children would too.

I'm giving the book four stars just because I can't classify it as a deathless classic that will last through the ages. But Sebastian gives it fives stars without reservation.



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Belles on Their ToesBelles on Their Toes by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I read Cheaper by the Dozen decades ago, and it stuck with me; the humor, and the deeply moving sadness at the end. I recently read to it to my nine-year-old son, who loved it (we watched the 1950 movie of the book immediately after; for his own sake, we are not watching the trashy and completely unrelated Steve Martin movie of the same name).

He wants to move on to the sequel, and so did I. Fortunately our library was able to obtain a copy. Just to be safe, I decided to read it through before deciding if it was appropriate to read to him.

It is. The humor isn't as rich as it was in Cheaper by the Dozen, but that's because this is the story of the family after Frank Gilbreth died, and he was apparently a font of humor. That said, I smiled, laughed, and chuckled many times throughout the book. It's as well-written as the first, and nearly as enjoyable. The ending isn't as moving as the ending of Cheaper by the Dozen, but it's both touching and thought-provoking. I liked this book, and I'm going to search out other books by the authors and about the Gilbreths as well.

There was one jarring point. Just as the family minstrel show suddenly brought home just how much time has passed since the events of Cheaper by the Dozen, in this case my jaw dropped when I read the following. The two oldest girls had taken up smoking, and were caught by their mother:
"I've been trying to think up some good arguments against smoking," Mother said, "but when you analyze them, they don't seem too convincing."

She started to enumerate the arguments, counting them off on her fingers.

...

"It's bad for your health. That's open to debate. Not so bad as overeating, or not getting enough sleep."

She ends up reluctantly giving them permission to smoke - quite a shock to a modern reader. Or at least it was to me! But then, I wasn't alive in the 1920s. Oh I knew, intellectually, that the attitude towards smoking was very different then, but after getting to know the Gilbreth family through their books it's strange to suddenly realize how long ago they lived.



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Belles on Their ToesBelles on Their Toes by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I read Cheaper by the Dozen decades ago, and it stuck with me; the humor, and the deeply moving sadness at the end. I recently read to it to my nine-year-old son, who loved it (we watched the 1950 movie of the book immediately after; for his own sake, we are not watching the trashy and completely unrelated Steve Martin movie of the same name).

He wants to move on to the sequel, and so did I. Fortunately our library was able to obtain a copy. Just to be safe, I decided to read it through before deciding if it was appropriate to read to him.

It is. The humor isn't as rich as it was in Cheaper by the Dozen, but that's because this is the story of the family after Frank Gilbreth died, and he was apparently a font of humor. That said, I smiled, laughed, and chuckled many times throughout the book. It's as well-written as the first, and nearly as enjoyable. The ending isn't as moving as the ending of Cheaper by the Dozen, but it's both touching and thought-provoking. I liked this book, and I'm going to search out other books by the authors and about the Gilbreths as well.

There was one jarring point. Just as the family minstrel show suddenly brought home just how much time has passed since the events of Cheaper by the Dozen, in this case my jaw dropped when I read the following. The two oldest girls had taken up smoking, and were caught by their mother:
"I've been trying to think up some good arguments against smoking," Mother said, "but when you analyze them, they don't seem too convincing."

She started to enumerate the arguments, counting them off on her fingers.

...

"It's bad for your health. That's open to debate. Not so bad as overeating, or not getting enough sleep."

She ends up reluctantly giving them permission to smoke - quite a shock to a modern reader. Or at least it was to me! But then, I wasn't alive in the 1920s. Oh I knew, intellectually, that the attitude towards smoking was very different then, but after getting to know the Gilbreth family through their books it's strange to suddenly realize how long ago they lived.



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The Cyborg and the SorcerersThe Cyborg and the Sorcerers by Lawrence Watt-Evans

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Lawrence Watt-Evans is the best light fantasy writer of the past twenty years. He's put out some serious, massive fantasy tomes lately, too - as if P.G. Wodehouse were forced to write Wagnerian operas. Not that his serious stuff is bad, mind you! It's just not as good as his light fantasy.

But once in a while he steps out of the fantasy field altogether, and the results are usually impressive. The Cyborg and the Sorcerers is a relatively early science fiction novel from Watt-Evans; I think it might be his first, but it's not easy to find a straightforward bibliography of his novels.

TCatS is actually a mixed-genre novel; Slant, a STL-traveling interstellar elite military cyborg scout, finds a planet where the inhabitants have developed the ability to use magic. This is cursorily explained as the product of mutation, originally, although the ability can apparently be developed in any human being by a trained sorcerer.

One of the most refreshing things about Watt-Evans is that he almost never resorts to the "missing the obvious" plot coupon. His protagonists are generally sensible, reasonable people, and most of them are intelligent. Even better, they use that intelligence...intelligently. This is an astonishingly rare event in modern science fiction and fantasy fiction. One common shtick that often comes up in SF-meets-fantasy books is a refusal by SF characters to believe that magic could possibly be real. Slant accepts the "magic" he sees (albeit within the context of the mutation theory) after witnessing a reasonable amount of evidence.

It's the ship's computer, which is in many ways Slant's master, that has more difficulty accepting the idea of magic - although it nonetheless manages to come up with some intelligent ideas of its own.

The novel chronicles Slant's attempts to cope with the demands of the computer, and finally to escape its control altogether. It's well-told and entertaining. It does feel a little bit sketchy, though. I can't help but feel that another fifty pages or so would have helped the book; Slant could frankly use a bit more depth, and apart from the computer the other characters in the book feel a bit empty. There's an emotional potential in Slant's psyche that isn't sufficiently addressed, to my way of thinking. His past has been partly erased from his memory, and his world has been destroyed; slower-than-light travel has made him a chronological castaway, forever cut off from his birthplace and time. His struggle to recover an important memory is just slightly too easy.

There's one slight anachronism in the book, one hardly worth mentioning - but since I brought it up, I will. It's mentioned at least twice that Slant's skeleton has been reinforced with steel. That strikes an odd note. I'm surprised that Watt-Evans didn't make up some sort of space-age alloy, such as the adamantium that Marvel used long before for Wolverine.

I also recently came up with a solution for one of Slant's problems. But since it involves a spoiler, and I don't want to have to hide the whole review, I'm going to put it in a separate comment on the review itself - if GoodReads will allow it.

Oh, one more thing: although I usually like the cover art for the Ethshar books, and this one seems to be by the same artist who did several of the early Ethshar entries, I think it was an unfortunate choice to make all the characters on the cover look like Biblical patriarchs. It probably hurt sales.

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My spoiler-comment is behind this cut:
Read more... )
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The Cyborg and the SorcerersThe Cyborg and the Sorcerers by Lawrence Watt-Evans

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Lawrence Watt-Evans is the best light fantasy writer of the past twenty years. He's put out some serious, massive fantasy tomes lately, too - as if P.G. Wodehouse were forced to write Wagnerian operas. Not that his serious stuff is bad, mind you! It's just not as good as his light fantasy.

But once in a while he steps out of the fantasy field altogether, and the results are usually impressive. The Cyborg and the Sorcerers is a relatively early science fiction novel from Watt-Evans; I think it might be his first, but it's not easy to find a straightforward bibliography of his novels.

TCatS is actually a mixed-genre novel; Slant, a STL-traveling interstellar elite military cyborg scout, finds a planet where the inhabitants have developed the ability to use magic. This is cursorily explained as the product of mutation, originally, although the ability can apparently be developed in any human being by a trained sorcerer.

One of the most refreshing things about Watt-Evans is that he almost never resorts to the "missing the obvious" plot coupon. His protagonists are generally sensible, reasonable people, and most of them are intelligent. Even better, they use that intelligence...intelligently. This is an astonishingly rare event in modern science fiction and fantasy fiction. One common shtick that often comes up in SF-meets-fantasy books is a refusal by SF characters to believe that magic could possibly be real. Slant accepts the "magic" he sees (albeit within the context of the mutation theory) after witnessing a reasonable amount of evidence.

It's the ship's computer, which is in many ways Slant's master, that has more difficulty accepting the idea of magic - although it nonetheless manages to come up with some intelligent ideas of its own.

The novel chronicles Slant's attempts to cope with the demands of the computer, and finally to escape its control altogether. It's well-told and entertaining. It does feel a little bit sketchy, though. I can't help but feel that another fifty pages or so would have helped the book; Slant could frankly use a bit more depth, and apart from the computer the other characters in the book feel a bit empty. There's an emotional potential in Slant's psyche that isn't sufficiently addressed, to my way of thinking. His past has been partly erased from his memory, and his world has been destroyed; slower-than-light travel has made him a chronological castaway, forever cut off from his birthplace and time. His struggle to recover an important memory is just slightly too easy.

There's one slight anachronism in the book, one hardly worth mentioning - but since I brought it up, I will. It's mentioned at least twice that Slant's skeleton has been reinforced with steel. That strikes an odd note. I'm surprised that Watt-Evans didn't make up some sort of space-age alloy, such as the adamantium that Marvel used long before for Wolverine.

I also recently came up with a solution for one of Slant's problems. But since it involves a spoiler, and I don't want to have to hide the whole review, I'm going to put it in a separate comment on the review itself - if GoodReads will allow it.

Oh, one more thing: although I usually like the cover art for the Ethshar books, and this one seems to be by the same artist who did several of the early Ethshar entries, I think it was an unfortunate choice to make all the characters on the cover look like Biblical patriarchs. It probably hurt sales.

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My spoiler-comment is behind this cut:
Read more... )
bobquasit: (Hot day)
Lost Treasures: The Teddy Bear Habit - Book #3 (Lost Treasures)Lost Treasures: The Teddy Bear Habit - Book #3 by James Lincoln Collier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Teddy-Bear Habit is the story of the adventures of a twelve-year-old boy in Greenwich Village in the mid-1960s. George Stable is...not rebellious. No, he's more real than that. He simply tries to get what he wants in a world of adults who don't understand, and is not above stretching the truth or breaking some rules if that's what it takes. He doesn't glory in that, and at times almost feels a little guilty, but he does what he has to.

It's been a long time since I was his age. But to me, that attitude rings very true. Most kids, I think, do what they think they must to get what they really want. George, the first-person narrator, feels extremely real and modern - even though the book is now almost forty-five years old.

In fact, The Teddy-Bear Habit reminds me very strongly of another first-person story of a New York teen who lives somewhat outside the rules: Holden Caulfield. Truth to tell, the book really strongly reminds me of The Catcher In The Rye, so much so that at times the two books have been slightly merged in my memory. The Teddy-Bear Habit was written 16 years after Catcher, of course, but both books have a remarkably modern, timeless feeling. The city of New York plays a key role in both books, perhaps a bit more so in The Teddy-Bear Habit. George's inner voice is remarkably like Holden's, but younger and not as alienated.

George wants to be a rock and roll star, and to be on television. His father hates rock and roll, and won't allow a television in their house. He (the father) is, however, an extremely funny character; a modern painter who makes a living writing and drawing comic books. The passages about his heroes, Amorpho Man and Garbage Man, are simply hysterical. I could have read a whole book of that stuff!

George has another problem, too: he's a decent singer, and is learning to play the guitar secretly from a music-shop owner, but he has self-confidence issues. He is, simply, dependent on his teddy bear. When it's not around, he's a "loser".

Complications ensue, ones that you'll surely find very memorable. The book is at times quite thrilling. But between the humor and the thrills, it never loses that "real" feeling.

There are a few jarring moments when the Beatles or Murray the K are mentioned as examples of modern coolness. But then, the book was published in 1967.

Speaking of which, avoid the "Lost Treasures" edition if you possibly can. The original edition (and most later ones, until recently) featured wonderful illustrations by Lorenz, whose work also appeared often in The New Yorker, where he was art editor for many years. The illustrations are very funny, and should not be missed! I don't know why they were eliminated from the Lost Treasures edition, but eliminating them makes as much sense as eliminating the classic Tenniel illustrations from Alice.

I recently read the book to my son, age nine. He loved it, and demanded that we seek out the sequel. Unfortunately the sequel doesn't live up to The Teddy-Bear Habit, and isn't quite appropriate for my son - yet. But The Teddy-Bear Habit itself is firmly ensconced as a favorite for both of us.


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bobquasit: (Hot day)
Lost Treasures: The Teddy Bear Habit - Book #3 (Lost Treasures)Lost Treasures: The Teddy Bear Habit - Book #3 by James Lincoln Collier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Teddy-Bear Habit is the story of the adventures of a twelve-year-old boy in Greenwich Village in the mid-1960s. George Stable is...not rebellious. No, he's more real than that. He simply tries to get what he wants in a world of adults who don't understand, and is not above stretching the truth or breaking some rules if that's what it takes. He doesn't glory in that, and at times almost feels a little guilty, but he does what he has to.

It's been a long time since I was his age. But to me, that attitude rings very true. Most kids, I think, do what they think they must to get what they really want. George, the first-person narrator, feels extremely real and modern - even though the book is now almost forty-five years old.

In fact, The Teddy-Bear Habit reminds me very strongly of another first-person story of a New York teen who lives somewhat outside the rules: Holden Caulfield. Truth to tell, the book really strongly reminds me of The Catcher In The Rye, so much so that at times the two books have been slightly merged in my memory. The Teddy-Bear Habit was written 16 years after Catcher, of course, but both books have a remarkably modern, timeless feeling. The city of New York plays a key role in both books, perhaps a bit more so in The Teddy-Bear Habit. George's inner voice is remarkably like Holden's, but younger and not as alienated.

George wants to be a rock and roll star, and to be on television. His father hates rock and roll, and won't allow a television in their house. He (the father) is, however, an extremely funny character; a modern painter who makes a living writing and drawing comic books. The passages about his heroes, Amorpho Man and Garbage Man, are simply hysterical. I could have read a whole book of that stuff!

George has another problem, too: he's a decent singer, and is learning to play the guitar secretly from a music-shop owner, but he has self-confidence issues. He is, simply, dependent on his teddy bear. When it's not around, he's a "loser".

Complications ensue, ones that you'll surely find very memorable. The book is at times quite thrilling. But between the humor and the thrills, it never loses that "real" feeling.

There are a few jarring moments when the Beatles or Murray the K are mentioned as examples of modern coolness. But then, the book was published in 1967.

Speaking of which, avoid the "Lost Treasures" edition if you possibly can. The original edition (and most later ones, until recently) featured wonderful illustrations by Lorenz, whose work also appeared often in The New Yorker, where he was art editor for many years. The illustrations are very funny, and should not be missed! I don't know why they were eliminated from the Lost Treasures edition, but eliminating them makes as much sense as eliminating the classic Tenniel illustrations from Alice.

I recently read the book to my son, age nine. He loved it, and demanded that we seek out the sequel. Unfortunately the sequel doesn't live up to The Teddy-Bear Habit, and isn't quite appropriate for my son - yet. But The Teddy-Bear Habit itself is firmly ensconced as a favorite for both of us.


View all my reviews
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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.

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