Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane

Del Rey has been coming out with a series of trade paperbacks containing the works of Robert E. Howard. This installment was The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane. Other than a short encounter with this character sometime during college, I wasn't really all that familiar with Kane. As I recall, I thought the idea of a Puritan running around getting into sword fights, pistol duels and various encounters with the fantastic and supernatural was pretty silly.

However, when I spotted this book in the store, I was interested. For one, the artwork, by one Gary Gianni, was excellent. It seemed to really capture the pen-and-ink style used in the pulps that stories like these originally appeared in. For another, since this was a complete set of Kane stories, I figured I'd get a pretty good sense of the worth of the series.

The stories are pretty darn good, and I'll have to read more of Howard's stuff ths year. I have a feeling that my appreciation of his writing was probably ruined by the various camp followers (ranging from the good such as Poul Anderson to the simply atrocious such as Robert Jordan) who have attached themselves to Howard over the years. These tales (overall) were nicely plotted and had some good characters, not the least of which is Solomon Kane himself.

The stories range pretty widely and seem to be arranged in chronological (for the stories) order. Kane starts out in England, travels through Europe, and then (for the bulk of the book) spends a lot of time in Darkest Africa. While Howard occasionally slips into less than politically correct characterizations at time, many of the secondary characters in the African sequence are written a lot more sympathetically than his contemporaries.

There are a number of story fragments scattered throughout the book. It's a shame that Howard never finished them, as I would have liked to see how they ended. There are also a couple of poems about Kane, as well as a article by H.P. Lovecraft on Howard's death, an essay by the artist, and couple of articles in the end. These include a biography of Howard, a profile of the artist, and a series of notes on the texts themselves.

The book is made up of: Foreword (Gary Gianni); In Memorium: Robert Ervin Howard (H.P. Lovecraft); Skulls in the Stars; The Right Hand of Doom; Red Shadows; Rattle of Bones; The Castle of the Devil; Death's Black Rider; The Moon of Skulls; The One Black Stain; The Blue Flame of Vengeance; The Hills of the Dead; Hawk of Basti; The Return of Sir Richard Grenville; Wings in the Night; The Footfalls Within; The Children of Asshur; Solomon Kane's Homecoming (two versions); A Short Biography of Robert E. Howard (Rusty Burke); Gary Gianni; Notes on the Original Howard Text.

This book counts as 20 entries for the 2005 Short Story Project.
Rocket Boys

Former astronaut Walt Cunningham talks about his experiences as an astronaut up to the flight of Apollo 1 and then (in this revised edition of his The All-American Boys) looks at NASA and the space program today. The older story is more interesting than the new material; Cunningham manages to contradict himself on several occasions in the new material.

The Honorverse

David Weber's Honor Harrington Series...another end-to-end reading project!

This entry in the 2005 reading sprint was On Basilisk Station by David Weber (Baen Books, 1999 for the hardcover, but the paperback was published several years earlier).

David Weber is one of the more polished writers of science fiction snack food out there. Now, before you get angry, think about it. When we eat snack food, we enjoy the experience. But rarely does it conjure up the fond memories that a home-cooked meal does. Weber is of a similar ilk. I enjoy reading his stuff, while I'm reading it. But, when I discuss science fiction and my favorite books, his name does not come up. Like snack food, I'll keep on buying and reading his stuff as long as he produces it.

Weber was involved in the production of the Starfire series of games (originally from the same folks who brought us Star Fleet Battles). Star Fleet Battles started out pretty simply, one boxed set. Then came a couple of expansions, which added races and ships and rules. Still pretty playable. Eventually the whole system underwent a rewrite (and still seems to be rewritten on a regular basis), adding more and more ships, more and more races, until the whole thing creaks under its own weight. Starfire had a similar history; it started out simply, started growing. Weber got involved in one of the re-writes and eventually co-wrote a series of novels about the game universe.

On Basilisk Station is the start of a series of books dealing with Honor Harrington. Think of it as Horatio Hornblower (get it, HH?) in space. Ships have sails, of a sort, there are lots of broadsides; I haven't come across any cutlasses yet, but swords of another kind do play a role in the series a few books down. There's a good empire (based on England), and a not-so-good empire (a sort of a combination of post-revolution France, a corrupt pseudo-socialist country and a few other things thrown into the mix).

Follow us as we travel with Honor in her career from captain of a ship to eventually (I presume, but I haven't gotten that far) being Admiral.

There's action. Missiles! Lasers! Lots of explosions! Big ships (really, really big ships)! Death! Destruction! Strange societies! Alien cats! Intrigue! Schemes! And more...memorable characters? Not so much.

But like I said, it is snack food. Snack food doesn't stick with you for long. But you sure enjoy it while it is going down.

(Also read this year, so far, were: The Honor of the Queen and The Short Victorious War and Field of Dishonor, Flag in Exile and Honor Among Enemies.)

2009 Update: Re-read On Basilisk Station, The Honor of the Queen, The Short Victorious War, Field of Dishonor. Hoping to get through the series before Mission of Honor comes out next year!

Now that you've read this far, perhaps you'd be interested in buying (when it comes out) the game based on the series?

Friday, November 18, 2005


McAndrew Almost Complete

I first encountered Charles Sheffield, and his wonderful characters of brilliant physicist Arthur Morton McAndrew and spaceship captain Jeannie Rokker in Sheffield's first collection, Hidden Variables. That volume contained several of McAndrew's tales, along with a couple of independent stories. A few years later came a second collection, pure McAndrew, and even though there were only a couple of new entries I bought it. Ditto a few years after that when a third collection came out. I snapped it up in an instant. When Baen Books announced The Compleat McAndrew, I not only bought the paperback, but the electronic book version as well. And when I heard that T.K.F. Weisskopf's Cosmic Tales: Adventures in the Sol System was going to have a McAndrew story (alas, the last), I haunted the bookstores until I found a copy.

These are hard science fiction. They are all "puzzle stories", McAndrew tries to solve some sort of problem in physics and usually ends up in a fix that requires the help of his traveling companion Jeannie Rokker (who has more sense than him) to come to his rescue. We explore the mysteries of inertia, dark matter, the solar focus, see the future Earth, dive in the oceans of Europa and much more in these tales. There's a lot of hard science here, but the characters are fun, the dialogue is fun, and the stories are just plain fun, hard science or no. Highly recommended. Too bad Sheffield never found a problem in physics "worthy" of a McAndrew novel, I would have loved to seen him shine in a longer work.

Contains: Introduction; Killing Vector; Moment of Inertia; All the Colors of the Vacuum; The Manna Hunt; The Hidden Matter of McAndrew; The Invariants of Nature; Rogueworld; With McAndrew, Out of Focus; McAndrew and the Fifth Commandment; Appendix: Science & Science Fiction; McAndrew and The Law (appears in Cosmic Tales: Adventures in Sol System, edited by T.K.F. Weisskopf, Baen Books, 2004).

Counts as twelve entries in the 2005 Short Story Project.
Tarzan of the Apes

I thought I "knew" the story of Tarzan until I read this book by Edgar Rice Burroughs. After all, hadn't I seen the stories on television as a kid? In the movies as Greystoke or the Disney version? Nah, how wrong can you be! In general outline, you probably know the tale, but the animated, televised and filmed versions of Tarzan's life overlook a lot of interesting detail. For example, there's a lot of detail of Tarzan's life with the "apes" (not gorillas or chimps, as it is often depicted, but a "lost race" of primates). Tarzan learns to talk (multiple human languages), learns to read (on his own), heck, Tarzan even travels out of Africa (to the United States and Europe). The writing is not as "pulpy" as some of the work by Burroughs, this might be his high point. Good stuff!

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Baroque Cycle

It was time to tackle the Neal Stephenson world-hopping trio of bookstops end-to-end!

Quicksilver: What again? Yes, again. I read it last year and considered it to be one of the best books I read during that year. Enough time, however, had passed, before I started to tackle the other two volumes of The Baroque Cycle that I felt I needed a refresher. Plus, I had bought the eBook versions, and suddenly had the ability to do bookmarks, take notes and more. So away I went. Even more fun the second time around!

The Confusion: Hard on the heels of my re-read of Quicksilver, came my first time through with The Confusion. Holy smokes, what a read! Spanning from 1689 to 1702, we span the world with Jack Shaftoe, travel in smaller circles in Europe with Eliza (now Countess de la Zeur) and both in the inner circles of Europe's intellectual elite and in a general westerly direction (towards his goal of Massachusetts colony) with Daniel Waterhouse. As with Quicksilver, this is a immense and complicated book and I can see where reviewers (who go for quantity of reviews, not quality of fewer reviews) did not have the patience for it. I'll have to revisit it again. How can you not like a book with pirates, travels around the world, economics, the first hints of computers, politics, sex, romance, privateers, slavery, several fortunes made and lost, intrigue and much more?

The System of the World: Here ends The Baroque Cycle and what a long journey it has been! The final volume differs from the first two not only in its scope (it pretty much centers around England, unlike the globe-trotting plot of The Confusion) but its time frame (unlike the multi-year timelines of Quicksilver and The Confusion, this one takes place in 1714). Another wonderful mix of real and imagined characters, this one features more of Daniel Waterhouse and his friend Isaac Newton (both acting for a good part of the book like Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes tracking down Jack Shaftoe, a.k.a., "Jack the Coiner" in a Dr. Moriarty role). I'm sorry the story ended!

Addendum (November 5, 2006): This 2005 interview with Neal Stephenson just popped up in my inbox.
Just Wild About Harry

I decided to re-read the various Harry Potter books (J.K. Rowling) for two reasons. One, I just finished watching the third movie (and re-watched the first two movies during my weekend shifts). A good job, overall. The change in directors (and one actor) was not obtrusive. However, they better get cracking on filming the remaining books. Those kids are starting to grow up faster than the books are being filmed!

I first read Sorcerer's Stone when it came out in 1998 (American edition). This was before the craze had gripped us. I enjoyed the book, thought it rather lightweight, but enjoyed it.

Now we've got bookstores staying up until midnight when a new volume comes out and the next installment (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) is perpetually poised at the top of Amazon.com's bestseller list...months before it gets released.

So, what do I think of the book with all this buzz and three movies? I still like it. I still think its rather lightweight, but I still enjoyed it. Rowling manages to toss all sorts of fantasy elements into the pot without regard for real consistency and manages to make it work with a page-turner of a book (even though I had read it previously and have seen the movie more than once at this point, I still raced through to see if it would all turn out right in the end!) The writing is crude compared to folks in the field that I admire (e.g., Tolkien, Leiber, Hodgell, Hughart and others), but its fun.

I'm all for these books, and encourage J.K. Rowling to keep on rolling. Anything to get kids reading these days should be encouraged, not banned, due to allegations of black magic and all that rot (allegations leveled, probably, by those who have not read the books).

One thing that amazes me is to line up the volumes (one to five) and see how they keep growing. Volumes one and two are roughly the same size. Volume three starts the growth spurt...it is maybe 25% (not even) thicker than the first two. Volume four, look out! Ditto volume five. How big will volume six be?

Two more entries in the reading list for the year, both by J.K. Rowling, both re-reads. The first was Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and the second was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It was especially interesting to re-read these as (a) I had not read them since they first came out; and, (b) I was working from the perspective (as with the re-read of the first book) having better memories of the movies than of the books.

As most of the folks who read this blog have probably encountered the Potter marketing machine in some form or another, I won't go into much detail. Overall, I enjoyed reading the books again, having forgotten enough plot details to make many things a surprise the second time around. If I was bothered by anything, it is Rowling's tendency to make too many things "cute" (names of creatures, names of spells, etc.). Reading one of the series, it isn't bothersome. Reading two back-to-back and you get a bit irked.

One thing that I thought interesting was how much had been trimmed out of the third film when I re-read the third book. Nothing vital was really taken out, but I think that I would have liked some of the background information (e.g., the origin of the map that Fred and George Weasley pass on to Harry) in the third movie. I also think that some of the "end game" was better played out in the book than the movie.

On to the Goblet of Fire (after, probably, a break for some non-Harry Potter reading!)!

After plowing quickly through the first three volumes of the Harry Potter series, I came to the two doorstops: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Scholastic Press, 2000) and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Scholastic Press, 2003).

I found Goblet, overall, to be a better book than Phoenix. We'll get to that in a moment.

Both of these are "bridge" books. Rowling has stated that the series will be seven books long, one for each of Harry's years at Hogwarts. So, like The Empire Strikes Back or The Two Towers, we've got to have a bridge between the set up and the climax. Sometimes an author (or filmmaker) succeeds, sometimes not so much.

Goblet broke some of the mold set up in the first three books. We still have a bit with Harry's "muggle" family, but Harry gets to go to the World Quidditch Cup. There a few things happen to indicate that our big nasty bad guy is on the move again. Harry returns to school where he gets thrown into the midst of a contest that he should not have been involved in. Eventually there's a big showdown with you-know-who and you-know-who returns to human form, although his ultimate triumph (getting rid of Harry) is thrawted. Overall, as a bridge book, it works. There's enough interesting new stuff to keep you moving, but no real resolution. You're nicely set up for the two book climax.

With Phoenix, things dragged a bit. Weighing in over 800 pages, there's a lot of bridge to cross here. The first 350 pages I found a bit annoying. Harry is such a git that you want to strangle him at times. It's not until he takes things into his own hands, and starts to fight back the forces of stupidity (descended upon Hogwarts from the Ministry of Magic), that things get interesting. There are a number of neat new characters (starting to appeal to a older crowd), some love interest, and even what will be (if done right) a nifty battle that will film nicely. However, even after the book picks up, Harry gets into annoying mode. I'm not sure if Rowling was trying for major character development or what, but overall, it came off making me want to race through the book instead of enjoying the book.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: The latest installment in the series. One tale to go! While I enjoyed it, not much really happens here until the end of the book. Much of the tale explains the origins of Lord Valdemort. An enjoyable tale, but I wonder how it will translate to the big screen when it makes it there.

Will Rowling be able to write anything that follows on to these books?

2010 Update: Finally got The Young Lady interested in the books—she asked to see the movies, after we watched several, I started re-reading the books and she picked up the first as well. We're now "racing" through the series, discussing it. So far, I have re-read: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. (Mention here.)
Just About Half of the Callahan Saga

I first encountered Spider Robinson in the pages of Analog, when I purchased it from a local newsstand (one that I had to walk about 4 miles to get to, ah, the "good old" days!). So I've been reading the Callahan tales since the initial appearance of The Guy With the Eyes. I haven't read all of the books, there's a few of the later novels that I have bought and not gotten to. This re-read is part an encounter with old, beloved friends and part getting me up to speed so that I finish all the books.

Overall, from the few novels that I have read, I prefer Callahan (or Lady Sally or Mary's Place) as a series of shorter works than novels. The impact has usually been greater and I still think that Spider Robinson is weaker as a novel writer than a writer of shorter works. I've read a number of his other novels, only the Stardance sequence has been a set that I've wanted to re-visit (other than the Callahan tales).

The Callahan tales are wonderful. I urge you to seek them out, at least the first three (all collections, sometimes available in an omnibus). Imagine a bar where time travelers, aliens, mutant dogs, punsters, tellers of tall tales and more can all gather and are freely accepted. Imagine a place that actually cares about their regulars (and strangers) and tries to help those who need it. Good stuff, those tales, I actually wept the first time I read The Mick of Time and XXXXXXXXX (censored for those who haven't read it) happened. Seek them out. Pain shared is pain lessened.

Off the Wall at Callahan's: This one is actually not a Callahan novel or collection, per se. It is a collection of sayings, filk songs, tall tales and the like that have appeared in the various stories and novels. Not recommended until you have read some of the other collections or novels.

Callahan's Crosstime Saloon: The book contains Introduction (Ben Bova); The Guy With the Eyes; The Time-Traveler; The Centipede's Dilemma; Two Heads Are Better Than One; The Law of Conversation of Pain; Just Desserts; "A Voice Is Heard in Ramah..."; Unnatural Causes; The Wonderful Conspiracy. Counts as ten contributions to the 2005 Short Story Project.

Of these, The Time-Traveler and "A Voice Is Heard in Ramah..." have the most impact. Interestingly, according to Spider Robinson's notes, The Time-Traveler resulted in one subscriber threatening to stop getting Analog because it "wasn't science fiction". Ben Bova apparently replied and nothing was heard back, so I guess he or she still subscribed!

Time Travelers Strictly Cash: Contains a mixture of Callahan tales and independents. It seems that Spider Robinson promised a second collection, but when the book came due, he didn't quite have a second collection's worth of stories. So he filled it up with a mixed bag of other items. The non-Callahn material is made up of Soul Search (short story, has some interesting ideas); Spider vs. the Hax of Sol III (his first book review column, a couple of books that have stood the test of time since it was published plus one author that sank from sight); God Is An Iron (a chapter from a non-Callahan novel that could stand on its own as a story); Rah Rah R.A.H.! (an essay about Robert A. Heinlein that I have used here in this blog to counter critics of the Grand Master); Local Champ (a fantasy tale, possibly his only contribution to that genre, and fairly weak); The Web of Sanity (a speech to a SF convention, marginal value); Serpent's Teeth (a tale of young society gone amok, also fairly weak). The Callahan tales in this collection are Fivesight; Dog Day Evening; Have You Heard the One; and Mirror/rorriM Off the Wall. Counts as twelve contributions to the 2005 Short Story Project.

These are all excellent tales. Dog Day Evening introduces my second favorite Callahan character and Have You Heard the One introduces my favorite (sadly non-recurring) character. Good stuff.

Callahan's Secret: Foreword; The Blacksmith's Tale; Pyotr's Story; Involuntary Man's Laughter; The Mick of Time. Counts as four contributions to the 2005 Short Story Project.

A very good quartet of tales, especially, I think Involuntary Man's Laughter and The Mick of Time. Can such a place as Callahan's exist in our increasingly weird and fractionalized work? One hopes so!

For a while, with The Mick of Time, it appeared that we saw the end of the Callahan stories. That hasn't turned out to be true, luckily. The series was expanded to include the Lady Sally tales and the tales of Mary's Place. I'll start working on them and let you know what I think as I either read or re-read the books.

Callahan's Lady: Contains A Very Very Very Fine House; Revolver; The Paranoid; Dollars to Donuts. Counts as four entries in the 2005 Short Story Project.

Callahan's Lady is the first of two books set in the Lady Sally sequence, a kind of spin-off of the Callahan's series. Instead of a bar, we have a house of "ill repute". As with the bar in Callahan's, the House is not what you'd expect, the "artists" are treated decently, as are the "clients" (unless they misbehave). Some characters from the Callahan sequence show up in these stories such as Eddie (the piano player) and Ralph (the talking German Shepherd). There are some amusing nods to Heinlein here, especially with the fourth tale (Dollars to Donuts). However, overall, I haven't found the Lady Sally stories as appealing as the Callahan stories. Too strange a setting? Characters not as sympathetic? I'm not sure. This book was a series of interconnected long stories, the next in the sequence (Lady Slings the Booze) appears to be a novel. So I'll reserve final judgment until I see how the sequence develops. After that will come the Mary's Place sequence to wrap up this little corner of the universe (for now).

Lady Slings the Booze: The second book that takes place at (and around) Lady Sally's place. A tad better than the first in that the first of two tales is long enough to do a better job of developing a major new character. Hints are dropped of further tales in the sequence.
The Many Voices of Sir Arthur C. Clarke

I'll be reading a lot of Clarke's books this year. Mostly they are re-reads, but they are old friends and I like to revisit old friends every now and again. Some I have read or re-read relatively recently, others I have not visited for decades.

Like Simak, Clarke is a master of sparse writing. We need that every now and again, too much of a good thing, over and over again, becomes boring. It is not that Clarke lacks for ideas, any one of his books, even short stories, have enough ideas to keep several other authors busy for a long time.

And look at some of the subject matter covered! The Fountains of Paradise with space elevators, those puppies maight actually become reality. The Hammer of God with rogue comets; look at our recent efforts with Deep Impact. While it may be a long time before we see the quantum overdrive of The Songs of Distant Earth, there seems to be something going on in "empty space".

It has been said that Clarke does not do characters well. Upon reading some of these again, I tend to disagree. There are some finely drawn characters in books such as The Ghost from Grand Banks and The Songs of Distant Earth. Many of the short stories in The Wind from the Sun have excellent characters.

And even if he doesn't "do characters", he can raise a lot of emotions. The grand sweep of time, the grand scale of the cosmos, the end of the Earth, the meeting with aliens (on Earth or in the Universe). Wonderful stuff!

To be honest, the reason I'm reading and re-reading so much of his stuff is because of what I've heard recently about Clarke's health. I'm visiting with an ailing friend, one who has had almost as much influence on me as any relative. Perhaps through the visit, I'll help him get better.

The Ghost from Grand Banks: One of several books in which Clarke explores his love of the story of the Titanic. This book is probably the closest to our own time of any Clarke's books, in fact, much of the story is already in the past. Some interesting stuff about obsession (of several kinds) plus fractals and the genius of mathematics.

The Hammer of God: Clarke's contribution to the killer comet/asteroid sub-genre. In fact, the book was optioned by the folks that made the movie Deep Impact.

Rendezvous With Rama: This was Clarke's first novel past 2001: A Space Odyssey and remains one of my favorites. It's a typical "compact" novel where ideas are sprinkled throughout that would take volumes for other authors to explore (contrast this slim book and all of its ideas with the three sequels "co-written" with Gentry Lee and you'll see what I mean). Rama is a mystery object, discovered falling towards the Solar System. First thought to be a comet or asteroid, it is discovered to be a vast artificial structure, a ship, a sort of extraterrestrial Noah's Ark. A ship from Earth manages to rendezvous with Rama and the crew makes their way inside to explore. Not as big as Niven's Ringworld, Clarke does a better job of conveying the vastness of this artificial structure. Political intrigue, strange aliens, incomprehensible technology, even Clarke's first use of s-e-x. Highly recommended.

The Songs of Distant Earth: Expanded from a story that he wrote relatively early on in his career. One of his best when it comes to character realizations, and chock-full (as usual with more ideas per page than most other authors explore throughout an entire book. One of his best.

The Wind from the Sun: This collection contains stories that Clarke wrote after the Space Age began (earlier collections, e.g., Tales from Ten Worlds, The Other Side of the Sky, Reach for Tomorrow, etc., were all written before Sputnik.) Some are set in space, some set underwater and some set in various places on Earth. It's a fine mix, especially A Meeting with Medusa and its hair-raising trip into the atmosphere of Jupiter using a "hot air" balloon. You can get all these (plus Clarke's other short stories to date) in The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke (a fine collection, but marred by lousy proofreading on the part of the collection's editor).

Contents: The Food of the Gods; Maelstrom II; The Shining Ones; The Secret; The Last Command; Dial F for Frankenstein; Reunion; Playback; The Light of Darkness; The Longest Science-Fiction Story Ever Told; Herbert George Morely Roberts Wells, Esq.; Love That Universe; Crusade; The Cruel Sky; Neutron Tide; Transit of Earth; A Meeting with Medusa.

Counts as 18 entries in the 2005 Short Story Project.
David Gerrold

The Voyage of the Star Wolf and The Middle of Nowhere: There's a pretty good website which summarizes the history behind these books; depending on which edition of the books you come across, you'll get some additional background information. Suffice it to say that Gerrold has tried to bring these tales to the small screen on a couple of occasions (scroll down to the article entitled "The Long March of Star Wolf" from 07/27/99), and it is a shame he never succeeded. While not great written science fiction, they are much more interesting than most of the dreck that passes for science fiction on television. For example, if this series had been done the first time I heard about it (through an article and some beautiful illustrations by Andrew Probert in Cinefantastique), and done the way Gerrold wanted it to be done, all the "buzz" you hear about the "re-imagined" Battlestar Galactica would be applied to these tales. Some nifty stuff here: a ship that is less than perfect, a crew that is definately less than perfect, a war that isn't going as well as it should, and the conflict is not resolved in one episode. It would have been a wonderful television series! Hopefully I'll get to the prequel/sequel/parallel universe novel, Starhunt (not republished by Ben Bella Books like these) as well as the latest book in the series, Blood and Fire before the year is out. One thing is for sure, like the (in)famous Chtoor series that Gerrold seems to be forever finishing, I'll probably get caught up with the series before the promised next installment is published!

Probably the most interesting part of these books are the introductions and afterwords in the various editions that I have, some by Gerrold, some by other authors who have worked with him. Neil Gaiman commented in one article I read that he held a record for the most unproduced scripts in Hollywood. Reading about Gerrold's many frustrated efforts to bring some intelligence to science fiction on television you wonder if he might hold that title (with Harlan Ellison in close proximity).
Perry Rhodan

(Various Authors)

Enterprise Stardust and The Radiant Dome and Galactic Alarm: Hey, they're popcorn, but I like popcorn every now and again. Perry Rhodan is the most prolific SF series around (and it's a shame we can't get him in English!) I actually read these three as eBooks, somebody has put the text of many of the Ace editions up online. So I copied them, started printing them out, and now I've been proofing them. As proofing is fairly time consuming, I've only managed to get through three. But it is a great activity for those guard shifts where I don't have access to other forms of entertainment. Go Perry!
The Chronicles of Narnia

Seeing that the first movie in the hoped for "franchise" based on the tales of C.S. Lewis is coming this December, I decided to re-read The Chronicles of Narnia for the first time since the 1970's.

The Magician's Nephew: The "first" of the Chronicles of Narnia chronologically but one of the last to be written. It gives you the backstory on how Narnia was formed, and why, for example, there's lampost standing in the middle of a wood. Probably the weakest of the set. I'm reading them to Young Miss Laura, so we'll see how far we get before she gets bored with them.

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe: Second installment in the Chronicles of Narnia and the one currently on the big screen. The book is bogged down on occasion by the "cuteness" of the writing (Lewis manages to outsilly H.P. Lovecraft's various names in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath) and the "writing down to a child's level" that I find annoying in a lot of children's literature. However, certain scenes (a lampost in the woods, the first meeting with Mr. Tumnus, dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Beaver) make up for the groaners.
I Really Tried to Like It

I really wanted to like Rocket Man by David A. Clary. I very much wanted to like this book. After all, Robert Goddard is a boyhood hero of mine. It's been too long since his accomplishments have been brought to the attention of a public that thinks we've always been able to fly in space. Heck, the cover of the book has quote from Arthur C. Clarke, "Rocket Man is a long overdue tribute to one of the greatest engineers of the Twentieth Century—whose work helped change the future of this and many other worlds.

Hello? Are we talking about the same book here? This was a terrible book on several fronts. My biggest complaint is that Clary seems shocked, shocked that Robert Goddard was not perfect. Finding him to have feet of clay, he spends much of the book shooting at those feet. Then he spends a smaller portion of the book contradicting himself and a very tiny portion of the book praising Goddard. It took me nearly the entire year to get through the book, so many times did I walk away in anger or disgust, constantly restraining myself from hurling the book against the wall.

Two examples. First, Clary berates Goddard for not following up on early radio and electronics work, work that became the basis (he asserts) for much of the later radio industry. But later in the book her berates Goddard for "wasting" time going after RCA for patents when it seemed that RCA had benefited from Goddard's early work. Second, Clary spends a lot of time complaining that Goddard either worked in what Clary felt were dead ends in rocketry or areas that had no immediate payoff. A prime example was the quest that Goddard had in trying to develop gyroscopic controls for rockets. But then in the final pages of the book, Clary shows how a rocket...using all these "dead-ends"...took man to the Moon.

Sigh. I really tried to like this book. Maybe in a few years somebody will undertake the project again (as well as similar projects for the other so-called "fathers of rocketry") and we'll get something worth reading.

The Wacky Worlds of "Doc" Taylor

Warp Speed (Baen Books, ISBN 0-7434-8862-8, 12/04. Cover artist David Mattingly) and The Quantum Connection (Baen Books, ISBN 0-7434-9896-8, 04/05. Cover artist David Mattingly) by Travis S. Taylor.

Warp Speed: Hey, didn't I read this last year? Sure did. However, I was feeling poorly one weekend and wanted some space opera to take my mind off the virus. While I'm in the middle of the David Weber Honor Harrington series, each of those entries is getting longer than the previous, and I wanted something that I thought I could finish in the weekend. I enjoyed this even more than the first time around. Perhaps it was because I read this after reading Sheffield's McAndrew stories, but I enjoyed the blend of odd characters, fantastic physics and technology and fast-paced action and thought to myself...hey, maybe this Taylor fella will become the new Sheffield! I've started on the second book of the series (The Quantum Connection) and hope to finish that soon.

(Addendum: October 2, 2008: Re-read it again!)

The Quantum Connection: The second installment in what I hope will be a long series. More of the same, but with lots of nifty new twists. Ever wonder about all those grey aliens running around? Learn the truth!

An excerpt of Warp Speed can be found here.

An excerpt of The Quantum Connection can be found here.

Expanded Universe

Expanded Universe by Robert A. Heinlein was an expansion (hence the title) of an earlier work, The Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein. The expansion was pretty dramatic; about two-thirds of the material are new to the book, and quite a bit of it was probably new (in 1980) when it was first published. This version was a Baen Books hardcover published in 2003.

The book is an odd mixture of material, very uneven in nature. There are some real Heinlein classics here and there are some items that you wish they had left in the files. At least half is non-fiction of various sorts, some of which has aged pretty badly.

The classics are stories such as Blowups Happen and Solution Unsatisfactory. In both cases we have tales that, on one level, don't work anymore (the science and engineering has been superceded). But, another level, they are just as good today as they were when they were first published. These are the kind of stories that make one think.

You've got some samplings from Heinlein's so-called Future History (Life-Line and Searchlight; Heinlein says Nothing Ever Happens on the Moon is "compatible" with the Future History), these are minor parts of the Future History, but like Let There Be Light, they are hard to find, so it's nice to be able to read them again. Nothing Ever Happens on the Moon is one of Heinlein's future Boy Scout stories. One of these was eventually expanded into Farmer in the Sky and I believe that there is another set on Venus. It would be nice to get them all under one cover.

There's a lot of non-fiction here, and as I said, the quality varies. I'd rather have Heinlein preaching via his fiction than preaching directly through non-fiction. Several of these have aged poorly (the society of the United States, for example, seems more prudish about certain things than Heinlein predicted); luckily we've avoided (so far) Nuclear Armageddon. Other non-fiction entries, like Heinlein's contribution to Encyclopaedia Britannica, are still well worth reading. There are a couple of examples of travel writing which are amusing, from a historical perspective, if nothing else.

There are a couple of real dogs. Cliff and the Calories is one of his Puddin' stories. He apparently had enough of these, planned or written, to fill a fat volume. Puddin', or Maureen, eventually became Podkayne and moved to Mars, she's much better under that incarnation.

One high point of the book, other than some of the titles mentioned above, are Heinlein's various Forewords, Afterwords and updatings to the individual stories and essays. Take this and the amusing Grumbles from the Grave and you've got about as close to a autobiography as we ever got from Heinlein.

Contains: Foreword; Life-Line; Successful Operation; Blowups Happen; Solution Unsatisfactory; The Last Days of the United States; How to Be a Survivor; Pie from the Sky; They Do It With Mirrors; Free Men; No Bands Playing, No Flags Flying-; A Bathroom of Her Own; On the Slopes of Vesuvius; Nothing Ever Happens on the Moon; Pandora's Box; Where To?; Cliff and the Calories; Ray Guns and Rocket Ships; The Third Millennium Opens; Where Are the Heirs of Patrick Henry?; "Pravada" Means "Truth"; Inside Intourist; Searchlight; The Pragmatics of Patriotism; Paul Dirac, Antimatter and You; Larger Than Life; Spinoff; The Happy Days Ahead.

Counts as twenty-eight entries in the 2005 Short Story Project.
Nova

This was probably the second novel by Samuel R. Delany that I read (I had encountered several of his shorter works in various Nebula Award collections) after Dhalgren. This remains, along with some shorter works in the same vein (Babel-17, Empire Star, The Star Pit) my favorite book by Delany. A mixture of the Grail Quest myths, Tarot, Moby Dick, space opera, heck, even grand opera! A strugggle between old cultures and new. The archtypical Delany character in the Mouse. Grand planets and settings worthy of Jack Vance. Interstellar action worthy of "Doc" Smith. Again, my favorite by Delany. I'll visit it many more times, I'm sure.
Starting Over Again with the Ring

The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring (J.R.R. Tolkien): This year marked the start of a long-planned project...to read the books that once appeared in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series of the late 1960's and the early 1970's (plus a few volumes that were not officially part of the series, but associated with it and one series—the Deryini tales of Katherine Kurtz—that have continued long after the demise of the series). I'm not going to read them quite in the same pace as the original publications (sometimes four volumes came out in a month; I intend on reading some things other than fantasy!), but over the next few years I should make it through the series.

The first two books published (not officially part of the series, but predating it) in what is considered the "canon" of the series are The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien. I've read both (and the rest of the Ring trilogy) many times over. They get better each time.
Dinosaur Summer

Greg Bear's Dinosaur Summer was a real change for the usual fare from Bear that I've been reading. He's probably been more known for sweeping tales involving grand themes like revolution on Mars (Moving Mars), altering humanity (Slant) or his more recent set of books revolving around genetics (Darwin's Radio, Darwin's Children) and others.

Dinosaur Summer returns him to the field of books written for young adults (like his earlier duo of The Forge of God and Anvil of Stars). However, there's a caveat: this (as with the two earlier) are written for young adults, with emphasis on the adult. There are occasional adult themes, adult language; these aren't watered down books.

The book is set in the same world as Arthur Conan Doyle's tales of Professor Challenger, specifically the book The Lost World. In that tale, Professor Challenger journeyed to South America and found an immense mesa populated with dinosaurs. Bear's book is set shortly after World War II. Numerous expeditions went to El Grande and brought back dinosaurs for museums, but also for circuses. The book opens at the last show for one dinosaur circus; the decision has been made to return the remaining dinosaurs to El Grande. The story follows the expedition as they try to bring the dinosaurs back to the wild, battling tin-pot dictators, saboteurs, the elements, revolutionaries and more all the way.

The characters are a mix of real and imagined. The main character is teenaged Peter Belzoni, who is taken on the journey by his father, Anthony (a freelance photographer). A number of real people are thick in the action of the book,notablyy Meriam Cooper, Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen.

My copy of the book was a hardcover from Warner Aspect from 1998. I hope they made money on it, because they put some nice touches into the book. The book is sprinkled with black-and-white illustrations by Tony DiTerlizzi as well as a number of color plates by the artist depicting various scenes of the book. Other than specialty books like the recent Del Rey series of books by Robert E. Howard, you don't see an effort like this too often!

Not a heavyweight book of grand themes like man of Bear's other books, but a fun tale. I can't wait to loan it to my daughter in a few years.


Two By O'Brian

I started re-reading and reading (where appropriate) Patrick O'Brian's nautical tales this year. I got through two of the books. Two is a good number. You need to savor books such as these.

Master & Commander: The start of a long series. These are books of craft and skill. You get the feeling that O'Brian wrote these longhand, and chose each word with care. Great characters, superb dialogue and wonderful tales of life at sea chock-ful of details of life during the 1800's. When I first bought these books, I limited myself to one a year, knowing that the author would not last forever. Now I'm working my way through the series again (hopefully at a faster rate!). Another one that I can't recommend highly enough!

Post Captain: The second in the series. All the praise I had for the first and then some.

Read these books and savor them.
Kinsman

A collection of short stories in one of Ben Bova's near-future series (the others being the Sam Gunn stories and the loosely-connected Grand Tour stories). Chet Kinsman is a USAF astronaut for much of the stories. There are several stories original to the collection (which act more as bridges than to advance the tale) and a couple of longer works that appeared elsewhere (these form the core of the book). In one Kinsman becomes the "founding father" of the zero-gee club when he gets to "make it" with a beautiful reporter in orbit. It turns out that she was using him to. In a second, Kinsman kills a Russian cosmonaut when he is investigating a Russian satellite. In the third, Kinsman partially redeems himself by saving a lost astronaut during a stint with NASA. In the fourth, Kinsman is instrumental in getting a USAF moonbase started. These tales lead to the novel Millennium, which in turn leads to the novel Colony. The longer tales are good and worth reading. Skip the shorter stuff.

This book counts as 8 entries for the 2005 Short Story Project. I would list titles, but any titles that existed when the stories were first published have been erased for generic titles like "Age 32", etc.