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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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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...

Due to the acquisition of Goodreads by Amazon, the complete version of this review has been moved to two new homes:

http://www.librarything.com/work/2088...

http://pmaranci.booklikes.com/post/32...

If you, like me, object to what Amazon has done to the world of books, book lovers, and book shops, you can find many alternatives to GoodReads (for reviews) and to Amazon (for shopping) at the "Escaping Amazon" community [https://plus.google.com/communities/1...]. Our free public resource listing and describing alternatives is at [https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/c...

Readers and their love of books are not commodities to be bought and sold - unless we allow it.




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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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Common Core sparks war over words

Apparently the government is forcing English teachers to replace huge amounts of fiction with non-fiction. I had to comment:

What concerns me is that even most modern young-adult and children's fiction is, for lack of a better word, tripe. The old classics are routinely rewritten to simplfy and dumb down vocabulary and concepts. We are forcing our children to eat bland mush when they should be having a chance to try their literary and intellectual teeth on works of substance - and then we're surprised when they tell us that reading is boring.

It IS boring. But that's only because we're restricting them to books which have been sanitized and simplified into pablum. And those purile books must compete with the hyper-stimulating and omnipresent world of television and video games. What chance do our children have?

Since the day he was born, I've read my son REAL books. Alice In Wonderland (both books, and yes I know that's not the correct title). The Doctor Dolittle books - the original uncensored editions, mind you, not the painfully rewritten versions which are all that are being published today. The Wind in the Willows. The Hobbit. The Lord of the Rings. Mister Penny. The Chronicles of Prydain. Bridge of Birds. The Black Stallion books. The original editions of Robert Arthur's Three Investigators books. The Portmanteau Book, The Teddy-Bear Habit, Edward Ardizonne's Tim series, The Jungle Books. Esther Averill's Jenny Linsky books. The Adventures of Phunsi. Robert A. Heinlein's juveniles. All of them with the original text and illustrations. Most of these are out of print, but you can find copies if you try - and it's worth it, it's so very much worth it. Great literature (and not-so-great but fun and challenging literature) is a gift beyond price for a child.

As for cost, many of these books can be obtained through your local library. Some of the best are in the public domain and can be freely downloaded from sites such as Project Gutenberg!

My son reads like mad on his own; his vocabulary and comprehension skills are excellent. And I continue to read to him every night. Next, we're going to tackle Rudyard Kipling's Kim.
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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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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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I haven't been pleased with Barnes & Noble's Nook Color. The book selection is relatively poor, and the prices are relatively high. Which is why I have been utterly delighted by Baen Books.

Not only do they offer a large selection of classic science fiction books for free, but they have a surprising number of books by classic and modern SF and fantasy authors for very reasonable prices. For example, they have quite a few of the Heinlein juveniles - which, I've been told, have often been out of print in recent years - for $5-$6 each. And they're well-formatted, have nice e-covers, and are available in many useful formats (including epub for the Nook and Kindle format too). What's more, they're not restricted by DRM, so you can download them to multiple devices.

I respect the hell out of a company that doesn't treat their customers as potential thieves. And so I've picked up a bunch of books from them for Sebastian, including most of the Heinlein juveniles as well as James H Schmitz's The Witches of Karres - a classic, and one of my favorites. Plus quite a few others! They can even be read online, on a computer, laptop, or tablet.

Most of their books are in the four to six-dollar range. I wish other ebook publishers had as much sense as Baen! But as it is, Baen has already gotten a lot more of my money than Barnes & Noble has. Or will, for that matter.
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While re-reading the Harry Potter series and watching the movies, I was struck by the ways in which J.K. Rowling's style resembles that of Agatha Christie. They share an intensely English, insular outlook - and rather a nationalistic, even racist one.

This is most evident in Rowling's portrayal of the two "visitor" schools in the Triwizard Tournament. Beauxbatons is a caricature of the French, at least as many older Britons perceive them: superficially attractive, concerned mainly about appearance (although to her credit Rowling did make an exception to that point later in the series, when Fleur surprises Mrs. Weasley by not breaking her engagement after Bill is badly scarred), and ultimately light-weights in every way (except, perhaps, in the field of romance). The movie accentuates this by representing the Beauxbatons student body as almost entirely female, and throws in a gratuitous mass-ass-wiggling scene which is simply ridiculous.

Likewise, Durmstrang is a heavy-handed parody of Russians and East Europeans in general. Virtually all male, sullen, buzz-cut, large, taciturn, and given to violence; the personification of the racist fantasies of some angry, graying old Briton, and an old-fashioned one at that. If they weren't school-age, I'd imagine Rowling would have made them drunks, too!

I almost wish that Rowling had included Americans in her books. Dame Agatha would doubtless once again have provided the template: quaint accents out of a 1930s western movie, combined with exaggerated New England ones from the 1890s. Ridiculous Biblical names like "Hiram", "Ezekiel", and "Jedediah". Poor taste in virtually everything. Far too much money than is good for them, and a propensity to throw that money around thoughtlessly. Ignorance combined with overweening arrogance. And I'd bet there'd be at least a touch of over-reliance on technology or its magical equivalent, as well - with a good solid comeuppance in the end, as our plucky British heroes prove that old-fashioned spunk and stick-to-it-iveness are the qualities that really matter when the chips are down.
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While re-reading the Harry Potter series and watching the movies, I was struck by the ways in which J.K. Rowling's style resembles that of Agatha Christie. They share an intensely English, insular outlook - and rather a nationalistic, even racist one.

This is most evident in Rowling's portrayal of the two "visitor" schools in the Triwizard Tournament. Beauxbatons is a caricature of the French, at least as many older Britons perceive them: superficially attractive, concerned mainly about appearance (although to her credit Rowling did make an exception to that point later in the series, when Fleur surprises Mrs. Weasley by not breaking her engagement after Bill is badly scarred), and ultimately light-weights in every way (except, perhaps, in the field of romance). The movie accentuates this by representing the Beauxbatons student body as almost entirely female, and throws in a gratuitous mass-ass-wiggling scene which is simply ridiculous.

Likewise, Durmstrang is a heavy-handed parody of Russians and East Europeans in general. Virtually all male, sullen, buzz-cut, large, taciturn, and given to violence; the personification of the racist fantasies of some angry, graying old Briton, and an old-fashioned one at that. If they weren't school-age, I'd imagine Rowling would have made them drunks, too!

I almost wish that Rowling had included Americans in her books. Dame Agatha would doubtless once again have provided the template: quaint accents out of a 1930s western movie, combined with exaggerated New England ones from the 1890s. Ridiculous Biblical names like "Hiram", "Ezekiel", and "Jedediah". Poor taste in virtually everything. Far too much money than is good for them, and a propensity to throw that money around thoughtlessly. Ignorance combined with overweening arrogance. And I'd bet there'd be at least a touch of over-reliance on technology or its magical equivalent, as well - with a good solid comeuppance in the end, as our plucky British heroes prove that old-fashioned spunk and stick-to-it-iveness are the qualities that really matter when the chips are down.
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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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bobquasit: (Lo Pan)
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.



View all my reviews
bobquasit: (Default)
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: (Default)
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.



View all my reviews
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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