Toward the End of Time; John
This MAY be a post-Apocalyptic, science fiction novel! True: The Apocalypse was only semi, and the science fiction seems confined only to self-reproducing, metallic life forms. Perhaps it's just a novel of the future? No, it's more: Updike's deft, beautifully crafted, inspired prose relates the somewhat unreal, first person thoughts and actions of 66 year old, retired Ben Turnball. It is the year 2020, in Massachusetts; a post-war Federal government has broken down, as has law enforcement, national currency, etc.. Surprisingly, life is about the same as now - except for extortion payments (in state currency) for "protection". It is intriguing - and seems absolutely right - that, at the end of the story, it appears "FedEx" is beginning to provide services and stability in linking parts of the country! Updike tells us of sexually-driven Ben, his wife, his and her children, their conflicts, his golfing, his musings about science, and his prostate cancer, in a deeply introspective story with little plot, laid in a world that is simultaneously familiar and strange. There is an implication of distortions - or branchings - of time or reality. The narrative frequently segues into a first person account by someone from the past. Personae range from a prehistoric hunter through the New Testament's John Mark. It is, I think, a brilliant, somewhat puzzling piece of work that I did not enjoy: A statement I can make about a number of Updike's creations.
Updike,J.;Toward the End of Time;Knopf;NY;1997;ISBN 0-375-40006-0
Smilla's Sense of Snow; Peter
I once started this book, read only a few pages, and quit (for reasons I've forgot). I then avoided Hoeg's later book: Borderliners. Comments in a local book forum enticed me to read both, and I enjoyed them. I've noted Borderliners, so here's the other. Smillaaaraq Jasperson, an authority on snow and ice, is a 37 year old, part- Inuit Greenlander, who lives alone in Denmark. She's befriended by a 6 year old neighbor, who is found dead after jumping off the apartment-building roof. Smilla knows the boy feared heights, and decides to find out what happened. A neighbor, "the mechanic", helps her. The result is a suspense-thriller that differs from most. Smilla is a smart, off-beat, stubborn, tough person of action, and she works methodically, daringly, and surprisingly (expertly picks one man's pocket!) to uncover the mysterious facts behind the boy's death. It becomes a complex, dangerous search that leads to a hush-hush maritime expedition (which she joins) to recover a mysterious object buried in an ice cave. It is an interesting, complicated, exciting, well crafted story, with an excellent, continually developing, detailed portrayal of Smilla - a complex, memorable person whose world is entangled with ice. It's a mesmerizing story.
NOTE:Bette did not finish the book. Too many people - too confusing! Hoeg,P.;Smilla's Sense of Snow;Farrar Straus & Giroux;NY;1993;ISBN (none)
Reckoning Infinity; John E. Stith
Technically a "first contact" Science Fiction (SF) yarn. A huge, spherical body, enters the solar system, and a team is dropped to examine two surface anomalies: What looks like a crashed probe, and a vertical shaft. One member is killed in an accident with the crashed probe. The others drop into the shaft to explore (a poor team-leader decision, in my humble opinion), and get trapped under the surface. Most of the story is of the exploration of vast numbers of natural tunnels and tunnels made by the probe, and of encounters with strange things that might be repair mechanisms in an organic creature. The story is well told, although the characters are never quite real, and the adventure inside the sphere is not up to Asimov's:Fantastic Journey. The internal adventure goes on FAR too long, and is repetitious. The idea is different, the concept and the final revelation are interesting, but the trials and meanderings of the team finally get boring. Should have been pruned.
Stith,J.E.;Reckoning Infinity;Tom Doherty Ass.;NY;1997;ISBN 0-312-86298-0
Breakup; Dana Stabenow
Latest in a mystery-adventure series, laid in Alaska, featuring Kate Shugak. Bizarre events seem to explode in Alaska at Breakup - break-up of the long winter (and the river ice). There are almost daily charges by Grizzly bears, wrecking of Kate's cabin by a falling jet engine, casual demolition of a number of vehicles, and a series of shootings in local feuds. An accidental death from a bear attack may NOT be an accident, and that is the slight mystery that Kate pursues. I was taken aback by the profusion of calamities and shootings. Perhaps lots of Alaska bush is like that presented (or so interpreted by me): Relatively unpleasant, and populated by unprepossessing people. If so, I guess I didn't get around enough to notice it. Shugak is a good creation, and the author uses this story to develop Kate's sense of responsibility for the local Inuits and the local society; but that didn't save this one - for me!
Stabenow,D.;Breakup;G.P.Putnam's Sons;NY;1997;ISBN 0-399-14250-9
Flood Tide; Clive Cussler
It has the same basic plot as the other zippy, adventure-action stories in a series that stars Cussler's alter-ego: Fearless, adventurer-explorer, Dirk Pitt. (Cussler again makes a cameo appearance!). Pitt and his colleagues in the National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA) undertake, as always, to stop the machinations of a super-villain, to save either part of the world or part of the USA (the latter in this case), and to locate an old shipwreck. A riveting, good, no-brainer yarn, laid in the year 2000. Excellent for the beach. Cussler,C.;Flood Tide;Simon & Schuster;NY;1997;ISBN 0-684-80298-8
Freedom to Kill; Paul Lindsay
Lindsay's thriller-suspense, FBI-procedural series stars Mike Devlin, an agent at right angles to FBI thinking and rules. This is third in the good series, and very good. "The Freedom Killer" plans to bring the USA to a halt, and unleashes Ebola virus in Disney World, poisons on-the-shelf medicines, and promises to continue. The FBI seeks the killer - a very clever, intelligent adversary. Devlin is at the center of finding the culprit - a long, complicated chase. Typical of the series.
Lindsay,P.;Freedom to Kill;Villard;NY;1997;ISBN 0-679-45016-5
The Gun Seller; Hugh Laurie
This British novel, narrated by Thomas Lang, an ex-Scots Guard officer, is a crisp, action-adventure tale. Lang is a hard-case; a good, smart guy who is also a smart-ass. For the first 50 pages or so, the author works (irritatingly) at smart remarks and clever retorts. By page 100, much of that has vanished (or perhaps I got used to it) and it becomes more a breezy style. Jacket blurbs indicate this is "a comic novel", "full of jokes", "equivalent to 'The Naked Gun'", "a witty departure from the classic spy novel", and "a spoof of the spy genre". It is mostly none of those. If anything, it is more like "The Maltese Falcon"! It has good story telling, and is deftly plotted; the only stumbling points are where the author tries hard to be funny. Lang is propositioned to kill an important industrialist. He refuses, decides to warn the potential victim, goes to the man's house where he is surprised and assaulted by a man (not the industrialist) whom he subdues. The industrialist's daughter thinks Lang is there to kill her father; so do various bureaucrats in the Ministry of Defense - an organization that seems to be somehow involved. This is the unusual start of a convoluted, slightly dark, intriguing story that centers around arms dealing and intelligence, and ends in an improbable, spectacular, high-tech shoot-out on a roof. Very good example of the genre (especially for a first novel) even though the author doesn't quite understand the specs of current attack helicopters (or perhaps I don't!)
Laurie,H.;The Gun Seller;Soho;NY;1996;ISBN 1-56947-087-1
Flower Net; Lisa See
Lisa See's second book differs greatly from her fascinating, Chinese-American- family, historical memoir:On Gold Mountain, (highly recommended!). This is a mystery novel that shifts locale between China and the United States. In China, the son of the American Ambassador is found dead - poisoned. Off the coast of the United States, the son of the sixth richest man in China is found in a Chinese freighter, poisoned in the same manner as the Ambassador's son. The countries agree to cooperate in examining the two cases. David Stark, an Assistant U.S. Attorney, is the American representative, and Liu Hulan, a female police detective, is the Chinese one. The two were once lovers in the United States, where Liu studied law. The story is a complicated one, with successive layers of deception. It involves love, smuggling, greed, hatred, and Chinese Triads (once called Tongs) among other things. The alternating societal contrasts are very telling, and perceptive; there is a keen portrayal of (nearly) current China. The mystery is involved, the characters are engaging, and the storytelling is good, although I felt the author needs a bit more experience in writing novels. Some detail and information clog the story line, and there is, at times, some unevenness, and too much complication - but I enjoyed it a great deal. See,L.;Flower Net;Harper Collins;NY;1997;ISBN 0-06-017527-3
The Hunters; James Salter
This was Salter's first novel (1956), now revised and republished. It is the story of F-86 fighter pilots in the 1950-53 Korean War (Salter was there, did that). It's a classic war novel. Capt. Cleve Connell, an expert, peace-time fighter pilot, arrives in Korea for his first real combat experience. The ONLY thing in this young- male, combat world is the number of enemy fighters that a pilot kills; five makes one an Ace. We watch Cleve, as a new flight commander who has little luck getting into combat with MIGs: The Russian [Mikoyan Gurevich] fighters. We follow his interactions with the pilots in his command, his frustration at not being able to "score", then growing disillusionment with the ferocious concentration on "kills" and the lies and misdeeds that are used, at times, to bolster the score. He retains his concern with "winning," but begins to doubt himself and his courage. There is, ultimately, a climactic dogfight near the Yalu river. This is not an "action" story. It is an introspective, brooding, somewhat dark examination of part of the military world of those days, involved in what seems, in retrospect, to be a mindless struggle to count coup. Impressive novel.
Salter,J.;The Hunters;Counterpoint;Wash.DC;1997;ISBN 1-887178-36-8 10
the World is Made of; Ivan Amato
A lucid, informative, readable book about materials, material science, material engineering, and efforts on the daunting problem of material design. It is written for the layperson; I believe it succeeds. Amato, a prolific, recognized science writer, does an excellent job of explaining clearly without condescending, and livens the book with casual wit and clever phrases. He is concerned with the past as well as the present - and the future too. He notes (persuasively) that one current school of material "design" is probably applicable, for instance, to the design of ice cream - which may be considered a "superalloy"! The full spectrum of materials is covered, with particularly interesting (to me) comprehensive discussions of steel and diamonds. A nice piece of work, from which I learned a lot.
NOTE: In the interest of full disclosure, let me note that I know Mr. Amato - a fact that (of course) has NOT influenced this note!
ADDITIONAL NOTE: I posted this note on a local on-line book forum. A book-loving, "electronic" friend, who frequents the forum, pointed out that my note was concerned with science and technology, whereas she was interested in the social and political developments that surrounded the science and the technology. She's right. In the note above, I missed noting very interesting history - for the reason that I knew it, and didn't think of commenting!
Amato,I.;Stuff;Basic Books;NY;1997;ISBN 0-465-08328-5
Company:Habits for Survival in a Turbulent Business Environment; Arie
This impressive [specialist] book analyzes long-lived corporations; ones NOT driven solely by the bottom line. The author was with the Shell Group: Royal Dutch/Shell, an organization that dates back to 1890, and he discusses what makes for longevity in organizations. I found the conclusions mostly unsurprising: The "living" organization should be people oriented, have long life as its goal, be, primarily, NOT a money making machine, and be fiscally conservative . However, the author's analysis of such a corporation is very intriguing, informative, and rewarding. It is very difficult to create such an organism. It is, however, very easy to destroy an existing one - just treat the employees as impersonal "assets" in order to increase profit; i.e. turn it into a bottom-line company! It is difficult even to maintain an organization of the type described, and he points out the requisite atmosphere and learning experiences - and the necessary relinquishing of power by managers. Interesting, and sad reading for some of us people-oriented types, who are interested in organizational theory and see very few examples of corporations such as the author describes.
Note:I was startled to find this published by the Harvard Business School (HBS) press. I have had disdain for HBS over the years, because the organization has denigrated ideas that I, and the current author, think are important, and has touted things that we do not like! Has HBS seen the light? Well, the Millenium IS approaching....
de Geus,A.;The Living Company;Harvard Business School Press;Boston;1997;ISBN 0-87584- 782-X
Deja Dead; Kathy Reichs
The author is a renowned forensic anthropologist, presumably happily at ease with human remains, autopsies, rotting corpses and other such fun things, and she has written a novel about a forensic anthropologist just like her (I suppose). The first paragraph finds our heroine putting together pieces of a skull, and by page 21 she encounters the first - but not the last - rotting corpse. When the author adds gory serial killings to the pot, she creates a remarkably revolting stew. Be warned.
Reichs,K.;Deja Dead;Scribner;NY;1997;ISBN 0-684-84117-7
Skeleton Canyon; J.A.Jance
I'm impressed by this series (I hope that statement is not the kiss of death!). Jance's heroine is widowed Joanna Brady, serving as Cochise County Sheriff near the Mexican border, and raising an 11 year old daughter (off to camp in this book). Jance tells a story vividly, produces well-honed characters, and mixes, seamlessly, the professional and private personas of the strong and very likeable Joanna, who functions very well in a mostly male environment. The series portrays a steady development of Joanna, and this (fifth) excellent, gripping, occasionally touching tale of murder and police work, continues the pattern. It may keep you up past bed time.
NOTE: Jance has another, older series too, starring J.P. Beaumont.
Jance,J.A.;Skeleton Canyon;Avon Books;NY;1997;ISBN0-380-97395-2
The Harlequin Tea
Set; and Other Stories; Agatha Christie
I rarely read short stories. Agatha Christie is an exception, but this was a vast surprise. These are (with one exception) stories that Christie wrote in the twenties and thirties for various magazines. They are (with one or two exceptions) NOT the mystery stories I expected. Many are somewhat dark, moody, distressing tales, some of which have elements of the supernormal. Can't say I enjoyed all of them, but it WAS interesting!
Christie,A.;The Harlequin Tea Set;G.P.Putnam's Sons;NY;1997;ISBN 0-399-14287-8
Lost Man's River; Peter Matthiessen
It took a LONG time to get through this 525p, intense, dense story, the second of a trilogy. The first was Killing Mr. Watson - which I have not read. Matthiessen, a recognized naturalist and explorer, and a prolific writer, seems obsessed with creating a fictionalized version of the life (and death - in 1910) of a real person, E.J. Watson, about whom there is a host of legends. This novel follows Lucius Watson, a son of E.J., and obsessed with learning what happened to his father - and why. E.J. was gunned down by a group of neighbors. Legends suggest he was a cold blooded murderer. Lucius, believing the rumors false, is on a quest to determine the truth. It is about 1950 (I think). The location is Florida's southwest coast, in the Thousand Islands, adjacent to the Everglades. People are fiercely independent, suspicious of outsiders, contemptuous of authority, loyal to family, accustomed to using violence, and at home with hatreds and feuds. Those Lucius wants to talk to believe (incorrectly) that he wants revenge; even relatives are reluctant to see him. It's a complicated, uneven, diffuse story, with a mind-numbing series of interlocking family structures that are examined, in detail, by various narrators in the story. The story picks up intensity as E.J.'s history is unraveled gradually, inexorably. It is NOT easy reading, it meanders unevenly (surprising for an author of Mathiesson's stature), there are lots of people and families, and it's distressing in spots: The Ku Klux Klan mentality abounds; but it finally hooked me. Descriptions of people and their attitudes, and the land and seascapes, are superb - if interrupting. I found it an interesting exposition of the (probable) culture of the area at that time. Ultimately a gripping but taxing story. The author has written better books
Mattheissen,P.; Lost Man's River;Random House;NY;1997;ISBN 0-679-40377-9
Brandenburg; Glenn Meade
It's the author's second action-suspense story (the other was Snow Wolf - see earlier note). Current Hitler enthusiasts have a nuclear missile and plan a putsch, in Germany, to create a Fourth Reich. Their networks have been functioning, with headquarters in South America, since WWII. Oh yes: Their leader is Hitler's son. The plot is uncovered, and thwarted, by (essentially) a lone agent. It's a fairly good, formulaic tale, but the plot is certainly unoriginal. Several other novels, including one of Ludlum's standardized tales, are pretty much the same stuff.
Meade,G.; Brandenburg;St.Martin's Press;NY;1997;ISBN 0-312-15483-6
the Hundred Brothers; Donald Antrim
This small sized, 206 page novel, is industrial-strength weird - I mean REALLY STRANGE. It took me longer to read this it would to finish an adventure novel; NOT high-speed reading stuff. It's a first-person description, by Doug, of his perceptions, thoughts, and actions during one of the occasional assemblies of 100 biological brothers - of which he is one (the oldest is 97). He names and describes all of them, and their foibles, and we gradually learn about him - indirectly. They meet in the dimly lighted, huge, Red Library, in the isolated, decrepit, family mansion (in which the Addams Family would feel right at home) around which the wind is always howling. It's a cold, snowy night. We are told of the night's doings: Socializing, quarreling, drinking, eating, and the unusual actions of many of the brothers leading up to the sacrifice of the Corn King. Surrealism is rampant. It is slightly scary, and not pleasant, yet I read it with increasing, uneasy eagerness. The startling thing was that, after a while, the strange occurences began to seem not all that strange! That was scariest of all. I cannot recall reading anything else like this. And, grotesquely fascinating as it was, I don't think I shall read anything else by this author - a misanthrope (I suspect). It was a remarkable experience that boggled my mind. Antrim,D.; the Hundred Brothers;Crown;NY;1997;ISBN 0-517-70310-6
Reality and Dreams; Muriel Spark
Dame Muriel Spark is an august, prolific writer. In this novella (160p) she creates, in a distinctive style, a remarkable, restricted environment of reality and dreams. We see a view of the British world of film making, and of a particular family, through Tom, a successful director in his sixties, married to an extremely wealthy woman. The opening finds Tom in the hospital, after an accident; his current film is not finished. We follow him and his unusual family as he recuperates, watches his film being mishandled in his absence, finishes the film, and then starts another. He, his wife, their two daughters, and almost everyone else in the story, get involved in so many casual affairs that it is hard to keep track of who is sleeping with whom. We learn of Tom's dreams and ambitions, worries and fears, often via long talks with a cab driver, Dave, whose cab he hires to have someone to talk to! This is an unusual book, with probably nothing that the reader will find familiar, and probably no one she can identify with; yet it is peculiarly engrossing. I felt the characters were marionettes, perhaps created by the author with a deliberate lack of solidity, in order to emphasize the dreams aspect of the story. Very interesting - and unusual.
Spark,M.; Reality and Dreams;Houghton Mifflin;NY&Boston;1997;ISBN 0-395-83811-8
Cold Mountain; Charles Frazier
This novel is a prestigious best-seller, and a memorable piece of storytelling. Inman, a wounded Confederate soldier, goes AWOL from a hospital, south of Petersburg, to walk the very long distance to Cold Mountain in the Blue Ridge - his home. He wants to see Ada Monroe, who had moved to Cold Mountain from Charleston, with her father, a minister. After his death, she doesn't wish to return to Charleston, but, raised in a city, she can't keep the farm going. Then appears Ruby: A young woman competent in all the rural-living skills that Ada doesn't know. They become friends, and work to get the farm self supporting. The story alternates between Inman, and his vivid experiences during the grueling journey, and Ada and Ruby, as Ada learns rural skills. Description in the book is spellbinding, and contributes to slow reading - it is too good to speed through. Inman's harrowing walk reveals vignettes of the devastated rural society in the South, near the end of the Civil War. Ada's story is a fascinating exposition of a woman's development, and her growth in understanding the world she has chosen. The stories converge in a climactic few days, with a bitter-sweet ending. It is a powerful, enthralling novel.
Frazier,C.; Cold Mountain;$24;356pp;Atlantic Monthly Press;NY;1997;ISBN 0-87113-679-1
A Gracious Plenty; Sheri Reynolds
A well-titled, VERY unusual fantasy. Although not all sweetness and light, it's an entrancing, lean (205pp) examination of suffering, healing, forgiveness and love. It is anguishing and heart-touching and gripping (even a touch humorous, at times). Finch, the narrator, was severely burned as a child. Her face, neck, and shoulder are a mass of scar tissue. She, a disfigured loner, takes care of a cemetery, where she sees and talks to the dead, and learns of them and their relations to the living community of the town. The story tells us of Finch, the interesting (and very human) dead, and their unresolved problems - and Finch's involvement with trying to rectify the problems. Reynolds has created (for me, at least; not for Bette - see below) a fascinating and satisfactory world of the dead - with its unique customs and protocol (and daily tasks!); one this reader gradually accepted as naturally as does Finch! She has also created a nicely complimentary world of the living. At the end, a vicious tornado resolves some dead - and live - situations, and changes Finch's life (it appears). I found it a magical tale, with an unforgettable heroine; and it seemed wonderfully longer than it truly is!
NOTE: Another of the few books on which Bette and I differ completely. She read this one all the way through, and decided it was TOO strange for her taste. She, FIRMLY grounded in reality, couldn't develop any empathy with anyone or anything in the book, and wondered what sort of person could WRITE such a story! So beware. Her reaction, plus a puzzled reaction by a friend to my enthusiasm about the fantasy, Snow in August, MIGHT indicate that I am becoming blindingly besotted by fantasy. I don't think so - but I'd be the last to know! Opinions welcome.
Reynolds,S.; A Gracious Plenty;$21;205pp;Harmony Books;NY;ISBN 0-609-60225-X
The Matarese Countdown; Robert Ludlum
A vintage-Ludlum, action, adventure thriller. A huge, secret, international, financial cabal plans to undo the industrial and financial world, for profit. The CIA and the British Secret Service try to stop this, but are handicapped by moles. The sinister organization was created by Ludlum some years ago, in a story called The Matarese Circle, and was demolished, in that story, by several individuals - one a CIA operative. In this sequel, the cabal has been regenerated, and the original CIA guy is recalled from retirement, as an expert on the organization. He and his wife (active in the first story) as well as a younger, current CIA operative, and a female Army colonel charge through the violent story in classic Ludlum style. Certainly formula, but a good yarn; and you needn't have read the first one.
Ludlum,R.; The Matarese Countdown;$27.50:487pp;Bantam Books;NY;1997;ISBN 0-553-10667-8
Mysteries of American History: An Eye-Opening Journey through 500 years
of Discoveries, Disappearances, and Baffling Events; Paul Aron
The subtitle covers it. The material is in 30 articles of 5-6 pages each, and each has about a one page bibliography for further reading. The events range from dating the arrival of humans in North America; through locating the place where Columbus landed, examining why Lee ordered Pickett's charge, and determining who kidnapped the Lindberg baby; to determining the extent of Reagan's knowledge about Iran-Contra. The comments are interesting and informative, albeit brief, and here and there a few of the author's biases work their way through. Where I could evaluate, the bibliographies are good - and contemporary. I kept hoping for a mystery to be solved; but then it would not have made the book!
Aron,P.; Unsolved Mysteries of American History;$22.95;217pp;John Wiley&Sons; NY;1997;ISBN 0-471-15369-9
Survival of the Fittest; Jonathan
This series stars Alex Delaware, psychologist, and Milo Sturgis, cop. This entry has a guest star: Daniel Sharavi, the Israeli detective who starred in Kellerman's novel of 10 years ago: The Butcher's Theater - a good but disturbing, vicious-psychopath, serial-killer, non-Delaware novel, laid in Israel. Sharavi appears because one victim, in a series of connected killings in LA, is the young daughter of an Israeli embassy official who doesn't trust the police to solve the case, and has enough clout to co-opt Sharivi's services. It's typical Kellerman: A taut, complicated story, good characterization, repulsive villains who have severe psychological pathologies, mounting tension, etc.; not to mention (in this one) Israeli vengeance. I found this one especially gripping, and better than some of the others. This somewhat dark series is not for everyone, but I think fans of the series will eagerly devour this tale.
Kellerman,J.; Survival of the Fittest;$24.95;401pp;Bantam Books;NY;1997; ISBN-0-553- 08923-4
Exit to Reality; Edith Forbes
An intriguingly different view of a future, a thousand years or so from now. It's a fixed-in-number, regulated society of immortals who periodically undergo "regeneration". The society is physically enclosed - everything that was alive in the "outside" world has been deliberately exterminated via ecosystem poisons. The narrator is Lydian, female, who accepts a "net" invitation to meet a man in Paris. She meets and falls in love with an astounding renegade, Merle - one who has learned to change bodies, and make things appear and disappear (in violation of the laws of physics). She too learns to change bodies or whatever else she wants, and the two alternate between male and female bodies - Merle prefers to be female. They - and Lydian's MOM (a sentient machine that serves as a "mother" - required in a society that has no natural mothers!) - end up in trouble with the omnipresent SECURITY types, and, while romping around, they discover the astounding secret of the society - and that there are others like them. Forbes,E.; Exit to Reality;$24;313pp;Seal Press;Seattle;ISBN 1-878067-93-1 7
The Perilous Gard; Elizabeth Marie
Pope (PB) (F)
This fantasy is 25 years old, was written "for children" (a Newbery "honor book"), but was not written down to them - my library has it in the "young adult" section. It's a neatly-woven adventure tale about the courage, fortitude, and determination of young Kate Sutton, of marriageable age, and lady-in-waiting to Princess Elizabeth during the reign of Queen Mary, in 1558. I think many female readers from 12(?) on, will enjoy it. I enjoyed it because I greatly enjoy adventure-fantasy. Because of her ditzy sister, Kate ends up exiled to isolated Elvenwood Castle - "the Perilous Gard." Locals believe (correctly) that the ubiquitous underground caves are a world of faerie, inhabited by otherworld, human-looking "People of the Hill"[the cautious ancient British term for Fairies], who endow the local Holy Well water with curative powers - in return for valuable gifts. The four year old daughter of the owner of the castle vanished while under the care of the owner's young brother, Christopher, and is believed dead. In fact, she was abducted by the People, the last existing group of Fairy Folk, ruled by the Lady in Green. She is to be a sacrifice. Christopher volunteers to become the sacrifice if the child is released. She is, and Christopher goes into the Hill. Kate sees the exchange, and she is taken too, and enslaved. She carefully studies the world of faerie in order to save herself and Christopher, and ends up winning a stunning bitter-sweet victory. I found it a delightful, well told, fairy tale, with a very likeable, mature heroine, and a number of poignant moments - among which is the last encounter of Kate with the Lady in Green. I still love fairy tales - even slightly dark ones!
NOTE: This is the last fantasy that I shall try on my wife. She read this one, and didn't like it; and if she did not like THIS one - then fantasy is indeed not for her!
Pope,E.M.; The Perilous Gard;$5.99;280pp;Penguin Group;NY;1992;ISBN 0-14-034912-X
Nowhere to Hide; James Elliot
A tense, exciting, violent, police procedural, crime, action-suspense novel that is somewhat different from others of the type. The female protagonist, Nicole Bass, a beautiful, very-up-scale call girl with a mysterious past, sees a Mafia crime boss kill his lawyer - her client for the evening. She barely escapes the killers, and leaves with the lawyer's brief case, which contains account data for 18 million dollars he stole from the Mob. Nikki becomes the target of a major Mob hunt. She is also sought by detective Jack Kirby, who wants her as a witness to get the crime boss. The chase and subsequent action are non-stop, and the plot gets a bit complicated; Nikki has her own agenda - besides staying alive. Good storytelling.
Elliot,J.; Nowhere to Hide;$23;333pp;Simon&Schuster;NY;1997;ISBN 0-684-82362-4
The Color of Water; James McBride
(PB) (AB & B)
This touching, exciting, sad, funny memoir that reads like a novel, is one of the very few not-to-be-missed-by-anyone books. It is McBride's account of growing up poor, as one of twelve children in a family with a white mother - a Rabbi's daughter - and a black father. It is a loving, admiring paean to his 74 year old mother - a most unusual and fascinating woman. All twelve children finished college, and many took advanced degrees - pushed continuously by their mother. McBride, who knew almost nothing about his mother (she never shared!), wheedled her into recording her recollections a few years ago, and these are juxtaposed with abridged accounts of his family's life and problems, and his own personal life and trials. There are problems with the book, but it is a compelling commentary on race and humanity, and I think that you will find it an engrossing, inspiring read - regardless of your ethnicity. That is certainly how I, a 76 year old, white, male found it. Oh yes: the wonderful title is his mother's response when the author asked her - as a child - what color God is!
McBride,J.; The Color of Water;$12;291pp;Riverhead Books;NY;1997:ISBN 1-57322-022-1
in Blood:The Lost Secrets of Freemasonry; John J. Robinson
This nine year old book, which presents a hypothesis of the beginning of Freemasonry, appeared on my library's new book shelf. I MAY have read it earlier - my memory is fading! Regardless, I enjoyed it because I am interested in the Knights Templar. The author, an enthusiast about medieval times, neither a Mason nor a Catholic, argues that Freemasonry began in the early fourteenth century, in Great Britain, as a secret organization succoring fugitive Knights Templar after their suppression by the Catholic Church and the Crown. Any association with stone masons was a cover. The somewhat piecemeal, cumulative arguments are circumstantial, and very interesting as well as persuasive at times (stretched hard at other times!), but problems remain. Extensive, cogent bits of the history of Great Britain are interspersed with the arguments. It is nicely written, and a good example of enthusiastic amateur research - note that all the sources are secondary. I enjoyed it a great deal, but it IS a book of specialized content.
Robinson,J.J.;Born in Blood;$19.95;376pp;M.Evans & Co,;NY;1989;ISBN 0-87131-602-1
The Woman and the Ape; Peter
A VERY strange fantasy described as "a fable for our time" - well written, well told, dark, and sometimes funny. Madeline Burden is the lovely, alcoholic wife of a London behavioral scientist, Adam Burden, whose politically powerful sister is a proactive, animal-rights type. Erasmus, originally classified as a large, very intelligent chimpanzee [probably a variant Bonobo "ape"!], turns out to have some human physical characteristics, and is, in fact, a previously unknown hominid species. He has been smuggled into England to become part of Burden's special zoo. What the smugglers don't know is that Erasmus has his own agenda. Madeline is taken with Erasmus. He begins to talk, and Madeline falls in love with him, quits drinking, and decides to get Erasmus out of confinement. They escape from London, and fall into a torrid sexual relationship! The intriguing rest you have to read for yourself. The ending is (somewhat) funny, and startling - but for those of us who have watched the English for a while - not all THAT surprising! (Washington is next!) The author presents an impressive, sympathetic, empathic development of Madeline and her addiction to and separation from alcohol - the best part of the story, I think. I am ambivalent about this story - I certainly did not like it nearly as much as I did the other two of Hoeg's; but it IS is an hypnotic read - albeit a tad unsettling!
Hoeg,P; The Woman and the Ape;$23;261pp;Farrar,Strauss,& Giroux;NY;1996:ISBN
Einstein's Bridge; John Cramer
Cramer, a high-energy-particle physicist, has written a pleasantly readable, hard-science fiction (SF) story that includes wormholes in space, a killer alien horde, time travel, high tech, etc.. What more could a SF fan want! The Superconducting Supercollider (SSC) exists in 2004 [it was killed by Congress in our world], and its use draws the attention of a beneficent civilization that creates a wormhole through which vast quantities of technical data, as well as a representative, are transferred. It also draws the attention of the malevolent Hive World, which sets out to take over Earth and kill everyone. The beneficent types try to prevent this, but they are a bit late, so they have to shift the local universe back in time - to before the SSC was built! Two men are shifted to 1989 - with knowledge of all the alien technology. They set out to accumulate wealth and power in order to prevent the construction of the SSC. It's a clever story that weaves real people and events [as we know them] into imaginary science and events, and may present as good an explanation as any for the events that contributed to killing [appropriately, I think] the real SSC! There are pithy quotes through the book (by real people - including ditzy Dan Quale), and an intriguing and informative AFTERWORD. I enjoyed the book, although with more a sense of enjoyment than excitement!
Cramer,J.; Einstein's Bridge;$13;354pp;Avon Books;NY;1997;ISBN: 0-380-79279-6
Hunt:A New York Times Reporter Tracks the Quelinburg Hoard; William
The Nazis confiscated a hoard of priceless medieval artworks and hid them in a cave outside Quelinburg, in Germany. After the Allies took over, and were shown the cave by the locals, a dozen of the greatest treasures vanished, and no hint of their whereabouts ever appeared. In 1989, the author was enticed into helping find them by a somewhat off-the-wall, German researcher, Willi Korte, who was convinced that some American soldier had stolen them. The book is of their efforts - singly and jointly (and with occasional friction) - to follow a VERY cold trail to identify the thief, locate the treasures, and have them returned. The trail meandered through a forest of old records, a lot of dead ends, a host of possible suspects, court cases, secret negotiations, and danger. The searchers were ultimately successful (mainly), and the reader may recall newspaper stories about the matter. I found the story very interesting, and slightly depressing, with a cold-eyed view of the cupidity of ordinary people, art experts, auction houses and governments. It is also somewhat rambling, with what seems like a lot of extraneous material. The author is a journalist and has several other books to his credit, so perhaps it is just his slap-dash style. An intriguing tale.
Honan,W.H.; Treasure Hunt;$24.95;289pp;Fromm International;NY;1997;ISBN 0-88064-174-6
The Plague Tales; Ann Benson
An unusual suspense, adventure novel about bubonic plague. Two stories weave together in alternating narratives. One is of a fourteenth century Spanish Jew, a physician caught doing an autopsy (forbidden by the Church) who had to flee Spain for England. The other is of Janie Crowe, forensic anthropologist, and her friend, Caroline, in the year 2005. The latter fly to England to do some excavating. Great pandemics - especially those in America - have caused England to create high-tech Bio- Cops to prevent the entry, into England, of pathogenic organisms, and to exterminate any found - and their carriers! NOT a friendly, pleasant place; wait till you read of how air passengers are treated!. The medieval physician gets increasingly involved with the bubonic plague that is sweeping the world, falls in love, and finds he needs a cure to save those he loves. Crowe illegally digs up a core of earth, and unknowingly releases an archaic, medieval form of the Plague bacillus - against which modern drugs seem not to be effective. However, the medieval physician was given a cure for the Plague, by the equivalent of a "witch"; and the procedure, and the interesting (and POSSIBLY effective materials for it!) have been passed down through the "witch"'s family 600 years to the present, and Crowe finds urgent need of it. Interesting, attention-holding yarn with a touch of the supernormal.
Benson,A.;The Plague Tales;$?;474pp;Delacorte;NY;1997:ISBN 0-385-31651-8
Thrones, Dominations; Dorothy L. Sayers
& Jill Paton Walsh (Series - OLD!)
A Harriet Vane - Lord Peter Wimsey story, written recently by Walsh, following an outline generated by Sayers in 1936, just before she gave up writing mysteries. It is placed in 1936, after the events of Busman's Honeymoon, which took place just after Vane and Wimsey married. In this one, the lives of Harriet and Peter cross paths from time to time with another couple. The wife in the other couple is found strangled, and Peter helps investigate the crime. There are lots of observations about Harriet and Peter, and Peter's relatives, and the activities of Peter as World War II begins to loom in the distance [Walsh, of course, has information Sayers didn't!]. I enjoyed it. It's not up to Sayers storytelling, although Walsh does a pretty good job of imitating style. And, in current jargon, it brings closure to the series! Even Bunter is married off; and an addendum tells of the later lives of the characters. Will be read nostalgically by Peter Wimsey fans - of whom I am one!
NOTE: A cover note (presumably by Sayers) indicates the angelology title occurred to her because of a quoted excerpt from Milton; my problem is I don't understand why she thought the Milton quotation expressed the essence of the story! I was also puzzled to find (confirmed by my NEW dictionary) that the class of angels I have always thought was DOMINIONS seems to have become DOMINATIONS; from the cover note it seems to have been so in 1936, in England. (it was not so here!). Sigh...the important things that have slipped by me!
Sayers,D.L.& Walsh,J.P.; Thrones, Dominations;$23.95;312pp;St. Martin's Press;NY;1998;ISBN 0-312-18196-5
World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy; Jostein Gaarder Translated
by Paulette Moller
This international-best-seller fantasy is EXACTLY what the subtitle proclaims, and would seem a most unlikely best seller! The Norwegian author teaches philosophy, and the novel compiles a very readable, remarkably lucid, chronologically-arranged account of the beliefs of the various schools of Western philosophy (with a sidebar on Buddhism). There is a fair index! The expositions are initially in the form of mysterious letters to Sophie Amundsen, who is close to her 15th birthday (the majority age in Norway!), and are later in the form of interactive lectures from the mysterious older chap who had been sending the letters. As the story progresses, it appears that Sophie's world is, in fact, imaginary: Being created (in a STORY called: Sophie's World!) by a Norwegian army officer in Lebanon! He is writing it for the fifteenth birthday of his daughter, Hilde (who begins to believe that there really is a "Sophie", who begins to realize there really is a Hilde!). The story part (related to some of the philosophy) explores: is Sophie real? Which is the real world? Can Sophie ever make contact with Hilde, etc, etc. I skimmed a lot of the philosophy - a subject that I have tried to forget. However, if I knew someone who was about to begin a study of philosophy (heaven forbid), or who was genuinely interested in the subject, I would buy a copy for her; the fantasy elements are easily skipped - if desired (of course I would also recommend Will Durant's book - old though it is). Although baffled by its best- seller status, I may buy a copy of this book!
Gaarder.J.; Sophie's World;$14;523pp;Berkeley Books;NY;1997, 1st ed 1994; ISBN 0-425- 15684-2
Bed & Breakfast; Bill Richardson (PB)
Up to sixteen pages from the end of this very brief, disjointed book (kluged together from radio scripts), I found it one of the more delightful books I had encountered since 84, Charing Cross Road. Virgil and Hector are fraternal twins in thier fifties. They live with Waffle, a cat, and Mrs. Rochester, a crotchety parrot, in the Canadian island home where they grew up, and which they have turned into a B&B. They, their mother (deceased - but almost omnipresent), neighbors and friends, and many of their guests, appear as genuine eccentrics. Mrs. Rochester is in a class by herself. The book alternates between first person narratives by one of the brothers, and sometimes touching "guest book" commentaries, in which guests write of themselves. Books are important to the brothers and their guests - there are several book lists instead of chapters! There are exquisite turns of phrase, wonderful throw-away lines, hilarious anecdotes (WAIT till you read why Virgil fell from the tree house), perceptive insights into people, very funny doggerel, outrageous yarns, all via impressive, witty, dead-pan writing that occasionally becomes arch. Even though there are subsequent soothing passages, I thought I perceived a dark aura in some of the last pages. When I read those pages again, they did not seem as dark as the first time - but then I KNEW what was going on. Perhaps it was just me - I believe my wife thinks so! At any rate, do NOT miss the first 135 pages - at least!
NOTE: The author states in a Prologue that there really is such a B&B. I'd like to believe it - but I think that is poetic license. Still, there ARE improbable finds: Ten years ago we found, on an Oregon Coast beach, an unlikely old place, The Sylvia Beach Hotel (named after the famous publisher - not a beach!), where rooms were named after authors, or books, and then decorated in a fitting style. It had a great library, and unbelievably good food. The guests seemed slightly off-beat; but they were book- lovers....
Richardson,B.;Bachelor Brothers' Bed & Breakfast;$9.95;152pp;A Wyatt Book for St. Martin's Press;NY;1997 -1st print.1996;ISBN 0-312-17183-8
Story of the Legendary Civil War Ironclad and the Man Whose Invention Changed
the Course of History; James Tertius deKay
deKay is a naval historian; and his small-sized book is a pellucid, popular account of the MONITOR that is thrilling, informative, and surprising. We meet young John Ericsson, the designer, watch him develop the revolutionary monitor concept, and then 35 years later, hurriedly build his design just in time to help defeat the Confederacy. It's fascinating to watch how chance, and seemingly minor decisions, set the stage for the MONITOR - VIRGINIA battle that changed the world's navies overnight. The author explains the situation faced by both the North and the South with regard to the war-time role of ships and shipping. He details the events around the loss of the North's MERRIMAC, and its conversion, by the Confederates, into the iron-clad VIRGINIA. The battle, and the subsequent fate of the ships, is excitingly told, and the intriguingly different perceptions of the battle by the two sides are discussed, as is the mythology that has developed. I was unaware how much Ericsson changed warship technology, that he invented the modern ship's screw because he needed underwater propulsion for his concept, or that the last monitor-class ship was not dropped from the Navy till 1937! An eminently readable book (with a good index) that tells a remarkably interesting story; one that, unfortunately, does not reflect well on the US Navy.
deKay,J.T.; Monitor;$21;247pp;Walker and Co.;NY;1997;ISBN 0-8027-1330-0
Shadow Woman; Thomas Perry
In this adventure-suspense-thriller series, Jane Whitfield, of Seneca Indian descent, is a "guide" who helps people get new identities and vanish. She is a savvy, very tough, very likeable person. The novels are quintessential Perry: Well told, taut, exciting, hard-boiled, with protagonists who are somewhat on the wrong side of the law. In this one, Perry expands the character and personality of Jane - who, in fact, gets married! it is a complex story, in which the man whom Jane guides is ducking from Los Vegas (LV) casino operators. She VERY slickly gets him away, but the LV chief of Security sends two experienced killers to find the man, who abruptly realizes he needs Jane's help again. The subsequent story is of the expert chase, expert escapes, and violent confrontations. These stories are - besides dandy yarns - detailed "how to" books on finding people, hiding from people, changing identity, etc. If I had a friend who needed to go on the lam, I'd give him copies of this series: Everything an amateur would need to know! Come to think of it, it's nearly tax time - could I skip from the IRS....?
Perry,T.; Shadow Woman;$22;350pp;Random House;NY;1997;ISBN 0-679-45302-4
The Last Hostage; John J. Nance
This is a thriller with a mystery. It's also a hijacked-airplane-with- hostages yarn, and a taut, exciting story. AirBridge Flight 90, out of Colorado Springs, ends up with the Captain announcing that an explosive-toting hijacker in the cockpit demands that officials must arrest and indict the murderer of a young girl. The FBI reluctantly assigns rookie hostage-negotiator, psychologist Katherine Bronsky, to the case, because she is the only expert available nearby. The story follows the erratic flight of the aircraft, the chase by Bronsky - who ends up a hostage too - and the unraveling of the rape-murder of a child. A riveting, unusual thriller that becomes more complex as it goes, and has a surprising finale. Very good heroine - may indicate the start of a series.
Nance,J.J; The Last Hostage;$23.95;373pp;Doubleday;NY;1998;ISBN 0-385-49055-0
Monstrum:a novel; Donald James
A powerful, serial-killing, political-thriller, police story laid in Russia, in 2015, at the end of a civil war. The narrator is police inspector Constantin Vadim, who gets in trouble in Murmansk - his home - and is assigned to Moscow in a dual role. He is to be a double (after surgery) for the new Vice President of Russia, AND he is to head the investigation of the "Monstrum" murders: Gruesome serial killings of young women. He also gets involved again with his divorced wife, who was a general in the opposition army that lost the war, and who is wanted by the State. As the hypnotic, well-told story progresses into increasing complexity, Vadim discovers that the new government - which promised openness - is in fact another deceptive, oppressive regime. By the time of the violent, unusual ending, this reader was wrung out, and somewhat ambivalent in feelings. Not your ordinary police novel!
James,D.; Monstrum;$24.95;437pp;Villard;NY;1997;ISBN 0-679-45770-4
All Aboard With E.M. Frimbo:World's Greatest Railroad Buff; Rogers E.M. Whitaker and Tony Hiss (PB)
Whitaker, a multi-talented writer for the New Yorker magazine - sports reporting, show reporting, night clubs, etc. - was obsessed by trains, and rode them everywhere, as often as he could. He ended up traveling 2.7 million miles before he died in 1980. In 1945, Brendan Gill at the New Yorker, invented (for "Talk of the Town") a fictitious railroad buff: E.M. Frimbo; gave him the characteristics of Whitaker, and had Whitaker write up glowing semi-true accounts of Whitaker's (Frimbo's) adventures with trains. Hiss came along later, and collaborated with Whitaker. The current book is a compilation of "Talk" articles that Whitaker wrote as "Frimbo", joint "Frimbo" articles with Hiss, and a few essays by Hiss and other authors - the first is by Gill. They range from 1945 to 1980, and some were published in an earlier version of this book. The book is a nostalgic paean to railroading and Whitaker, and it is both fun, and sad, to read if you are a railway enthusiast. Those days are gone. Perhaps Amtrak will survive, but that is not clear. If you like railways you will enjoy this as a bitter-sweet read. Even so, I could not read very many of the essays at one time; small doses were required!
NOTE: This book was a gift from my namesake son, who got it from Hiss, in New York, in a private railway car that Amtrak provided for the author's book signing, and one that Lou had ridden from Washington.
Whitaker,R.E.M.& Hiss,T.; All Aboard With E.M. Frimbo;$16;388pp;Kodansha America;NY;1997;ISBN 1-56836-114-9
2.0:A Design for Living in the Digital Age; Esther Dyson
An very interesting and slightly peculiar book, written by a very interesting and very peculiar and fascinating woman. Dyson is an entrepreneur and venture capitalist, and a compulsively-organized, frenetic, driven proponent of the digital age and the Internet. She is one of the most influential people in the business. She is also (by beliefs, at least) a strong libertarian, and a fanatic believer in "markets" - she has a degree in Economics. She is a True Believer in the current and future wonders of the Internet, and she makes a lot of money because of the Internet. The reader should keep this in mind. She is the staggeringly intelligent offshoot of two well known scientists - her mother is a mathematician, and her father is a physicist. She had almost no childhood, or teen-age time, and she has essentially no friends - although she is friendly with many. She has no "community" - except on the Internet. Direct personal involvement (as distinguished from business involvement) with others is almost non-existent. And she has no inkling of the fact that most people are NOT like her and her digital-age acquaintances. The reader will gradually realize that the future of the Internet - as Dyson sees it - is to augment greatly the world of innovative, creative, intelligent people. Others are not considered! The book - which I think shows some signs of being written in a hurry - is an interesting exposition of what she sees as the great potential of the Internet, and an examination of what she sees as some of the problems that have to be solved - WITHOUT government intervention. She is sure that "market forces" will resolve them. It is a book that is in the "true believer" camp, but it is well worth reading, although written from the point of view of a person who seems to have almost no awareness of the ordinary world that you and I live in, and an unjustified (I think) faith in "the market"! Of course she is a LOT smarter than I, so perhaps .......
NOTE: In fact, the author is far more interesting than the book. And her office is the only one I am aware of that is a bigger mess than mine! There is a very interesting and perceptive view of her in the Nov. 1997 issue of Vanity Fair, and I strongly recommend that any reader of this book also read the magazine article - from which I gathered some of the above. She plans Release 2.1 next year; it will incorporate responses and reactions to this one. That should be interesting.
Dyson,E.; Release 2.0;$25;307pp;Broadway Books;NY;1997;ISBN0-7679-0011-1
The Last Day; Glenn Kleier
This intriguing, imaginative, suspenseful story involves the turn of the new century, and the coming of a Messiah - or perhaps the AntiChrist! As 1999 draws to a close, multitudes anticipate the Apocalypse and Armageddon, and World News Network (WNN) is in the Holy Land to cover all the activity. Just as Christmas day begins, an mysterious meteorite demolishes a secret Israeli research establishment in the Negev, and sets in motion this complicated story; fantasy - thriller, I'm not sure. Then, at midnight, on New Years Eve, there appears one who may be the Messiah. The activity is covered feverishly by Jonathan Feldman and Breck Hunter for WNN. As the story develops, the self proclaimed Messiah declaims the new way that the old teachings must be understood, and decries the way that churches have corrupted messages from God. Feldman and Breck follow the Messiah, providing transportation and TV coverage: a "wired" Messiah! The religious world tries to determine whether the Messiah is real, or a hoax, or the AntiChrist. The Pope decides the latter. The story is strongly Christian oriented, and really a vehicle for the author's personal feelings about religion, and the teachings of the Hebrew Bible and The New Testament; he puts those feelings in the mouth of his intriguing Messiah: New beatitudes, parables, pronouncements, and cryptic prophetic preaching. The book could have been constructively trimmed, and there seems to me to be some confusion about prophecies concerning the future of the world after the "coming." And the GOG MAGOG bit is too cute for words. Doesn't matter - it's a spell-binding yarn. I wasn't sure how my wife would take it. She thought it was great!
NOTE: Earlier, I noted a book, Joshua, which is about Christ - returned - and another polemic about religion and churches. And some while ago I noted on the cover sheet to one of my compilations: Only Begotten Daughter, by John Powell; a black-comedy that also deals (delightfully outrageously!) with an apparent second coming, and which has something to shock everyone!. Well, as I have noted before: the Millenium IS coming....
Kleier,G.; The Last Day;$24;484pp;Warner Books;NY;1997;ISBN 0-446-52285-6
The Cobra Event; Richard Preston
Preston wrote a good, non-fiction book, The Hot Zone, about the presence of the dangerous Ebola virus in monkeys in the USA. The virus mutated, and did not become a danger to people. I suspect Preston felt (correctly) that the story would have been much more intense if the virus had, in fact, been deadly. So he wrote this novel - which is only partly non-fiction - about small releases of a deadly, engineered virus: COBRA, and the efforts of a physician from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to track and diagnose it, and the efforts of the FBI to find the perpetrator. It is sort of what the first book WOULD have been - if the Ebola virus strain had been deadly! There is nothing new in the suspenseful fictional story - except for several REVOLTING autopsy descriptions, and an imaginary virus that might, in fact, be creatable. There is, however, a lot of factual information about biological warfare, including discussions of the USA release and testing of biological agents in the Pacific, near Johnston Island. It is a frightening discussion of the dangers that genetic engineering can bring to biological warfare, and subsequently to the public.
NOTE: By coincidence, the day after I wrote this note I was unexpectedly invited to attend a briefing on biological warfare by one William C. Patrick,III, whose card lists him as a Biological Warfare Consultant and has a skull and crossbones imprinted on it. He used to work for the Army at Detrich, and later at Deseret, and is an authority on "weaponizing" pathogenic agents. He is a jolly, enthusiastic soul who obviously thoroughly enjoyed creating the ghastly "weapons". He said he also has a lecture on "Biological Terrorism" - I think that is the one he should have been asked to give!
Preston,R.; The Cobra Event;$25.95;404pp;Random House;NY;1997;ISBN 0-679-45714-3
of a Restless Planet:Scientific Perspectives on Natural Disasters;
Ernest Zebrowski, Jr.
Zebrowski is a teacher of science, and is an expert on industrial accidents (whatever that means). He has written an interesting book that is really two books: one is a recounting of a selected group of natural disasters including earthquakes, volcanos, floods, hurricanes, etc., and the other is an elementary science book, made up of sections that discuss the science associated with each type of disaster. The first will be interesting to everyone. The science appended to each section makes this really what I call a specialists book - you had better be especially interested in the subject! In fact, the science discussions seem to me to be lucid, but they are mostly physics - of which I am knowledgeable. I read about 70% of the book, and skipped the rest, which was technical material. Many of the related discussions I found informative - e.g. the discussion of earthquake scales, the nature of the shocks, etc.. I do not know the audience for which the book was designed, but I found parts of it very interesting and informative. The author regularly considers the possibility of forecasting such events, and those are quite interesting bits. There are also a number of typos and misspellings - perhaps CHAOS is overtaking the book world as well as the natural world.
Zebrowski, Jr.,E.; Perils of a Restless Planet;$?;306pp;Cambridge U. Press; Cambridge (UK);1997;ISBN 0-521-57374-2
Highways & Byways:From the Telegraph to the 21st Century; Irwin
This is an unexciting but often interesting version of the history of electrical communication, and the societal changes wrought by the communications. Lebow has a set of prejudices about who "invented" various technologies, but one can ignore that - the more interesting material concerns the changes. The material is about six years old, so the latter part of the history has been partially overtaken by events (Lebow also does not know that ARPA became DARPA about ten years ago). There is an interesting examination of the AT&T divestiture however. I found it very interesting that Lebow feels that the "information highway" will be accepted by the masses only if it is constructed for entertainment purposes, and that consumers of information will always be in a small minority. Shades of the TV wasteland!! This is to some degree a specialist's book, interesting only if you are interested in the subject. Lebow,I.; Information Highways & Byways;$?;IEEE Press;NY;1995;ISBN 0-7803-1073-X
Life of a Country Vet; Graham Lord (B)
James Herriot was an outstanding Scots soccer player. When Alf Wight decided to write stories based on his experience as a veterinarian he needed a pen-name, and he chose "James Herriot." The rest is history. As James Herriot, Alf Wight became (justly) one of the most widely read and loved authors in modern times, starting with his first book in this country: All Creatures Great and Small. This is Lord's intriguing attempt to write a biography of Wight, whom he knew - at somewhat of a distance - for twenty years. Gradually the reader realizes that Lord knows almost nothing about the gentlemanly and NICE Wight, except for the last some years of the man's life! The stories that he told as James Herriot are pure fiction, and contain no autobiographical material. Wight told wildly conflicting stories about his parents and their lives, to the point that it finally becomes clear that Lord has little of substance to go on. Wight deliberately confused dates, and was totally unreliable about events that he narrated about the past. Lord knows nothing about Wight's life as a boy, except what he could find in school records. His classmates could not remember him! So he goes to accounts of the area (Glasgow) and indicates that Wight "probably" saw this, "most likely" did that, etc. One realizes that he is neatly inventing a likely life! He does the same in other places too. Much of the book is actually a biography of the fictional James Harriot! In a fairly futile attempt to compare it with Wight's shadowy life, he retells stories from Wight's works. The same holds with respect to the movies and TV series about "Herriot," so there is a fair amount about the people who PLAYED "Herriot." He gets conflicting stories from a few acquaintances of Wight's (e.g all suggest he REALLY liked to drink, but hasten to add that he was not a heavy drinker), and a lot of material from an "old friend" who became bitterly estranged from Wight. It is a remarkably padded work that is a peculiar "biography" of a remarkably enigmatic, almost shadowy man. So much so, that it is quite interesting to watch how Lord goes about constructing a largely slight-of-hand work! There is an IMPRESSIVE index.
Lord,G.; James Herriot;$23;276pp;Carroll & Graf;NY;1997;ISBN 0-7867-0460-8
Company:The Consulting Powerhouses and the Businesses They Save and Ruin;
James O'Shea and Charles Madigan
A good companion to an earlier book that I commented on in these notes:The Witch Doctors:Making Sense of the Management Gurus; John Micklethwait & Adrian Wooldridge. The illustrious authors are senior newspaper professionals who have written a fascinating story of the secretive, elite, major consulting firms, and their tremendous influence in the corporate world. This is a BIG business; AT&T has spent about a half billion dollars on consultants [with essentially nothing to show for it!] The authors go through a number of case histories, and the reader follows with (mostly) horrified fascination! The authors note - correctly - that consultants will never be able to straighten out a company whose problems are caused by lack of vision or leadership incompetence on the part of the managers, and provide a number of insightful analyses of the relationship of managers and consultants. I found it an intriguing - if specialized - book that fits right in with my prejudices!
O'Shea,J. & Madigan,C.; Dangerous Company;$27,50;365pp;Times Books;NY;1997;ISBN 0- 8129-2634-X
Illusions; Bill Prozini
This is the 24th story, in a 30 year series, in which the protagonist is (now) a 60 year old private detective. It is an interesting, powerful, intriguing first person narrative, by the detective, of his investigation of two deaths. One is the suicide of the narrator's once close friend, the other is the murder of a man for whom the detective had just located a missing wife. The two unrelated cases actually come together in the end, in the sense that they are rooted in the same unhealthy soil, and both cause the detective anguished soul searching about ethics, justice, and guilt. Good yarn.
Prozini,B.; Illusions;$23;243pp;Carroll & Graf;NY;1997;ISBN 0-7867-0403-9
Naked in Cyberspace:How
to Find Personal Information Online;Carole A. Lane (PB)
The subtitle says it all about this very interesting reference book that is crammed with detailed information about available data bases with personal information: Genealogical, adoption, credit, public, etc. records. There is a stupendous list of fairly recent books on the subject(s), and a good index. There is also an on-line address that allows the reader to keep track of changes in the addresses given in the book.
Lane,C.A.; Naked in Cyberspace;$29.95;513pp;Pemberton Press;Wilton CT; 1997;ISBN 0- 910965-17-X
Cosm; Gregory Benford
Benford is a well known physicist, a recognized authority on high energy physics, and a good teller of science fiction tales - of which this is his latest. A young female physicist from University of California, Irvine, is conducting an experiment at Brookhaven, when her installation blows up. Left in the debris is a strange sphere about the size of a bowling ball, black and reflecting. She removes it from the test chamber, and hauls it back to California without telling the Brookhaven types. Finally, with the help of a theoretician, it becomes clear that the sphere is a window into another universe - one probably created by the high energy experiment! The story revolves around the discovery and its scientific and sociological aftermath, the personalities, the academic politics, the attitudes toward science, and a host of other interesting things. Benford is describing an environment he knows well. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
NOTE:This is the second book I've read in which a high energy particle experiment creates a connection to another universe! See Einstein's Bridge, by John Cramer (above)
Benford,G.; Cosm;$23;344pp;Avon Books;NY;1998;ISBN 0-380-97435-5
Maniac Mcgee; Jerry Spinelli
Jeffrey Lionel Mcgee was three when his parents were killed. He was shipped to his estranged aunt and uncle who lived totally separate lives in one house. Jeffrey spent 8 years in that ghastly environment, then snapped and ran away to Two Mills - where he became the legendary "Maniac Mcgee". Two Mills was divided by Hector street; the East end was black - the West end, white. Jeffrey, white, stopped running when he met Amanda, black, in the West end; and thus begins this gorgeous fable of a twelve year old orphan who became a legend in his own time, and who helped break the East-West barrier. "Maniac" is his own "man", and a wonderful creation - trying to find an address of his own (a home). It is a funny, serious, touching, poignant, beautifully- told story that will "charm your socks off" - if you are an adult. I do not know an analogous classification for non-socks-wearing "young adults", for whom this 1991 Newbery "childrens" winner was ostensibly written.
NOTE:This book was introduced to me by Karen, whose 9 year old grandson was delighted to learn that she not only knew of it, but had read it! There is a newly issued paper- back copy of the book.
Spinelli,J.; Maniac Mcgee;$13.95;184pp;Little Brown; Boston; 1990; ISBN 0-316-80722-2
The Faith Healers; James Randi
Randi is a very well-known conjurer, and a debunker of individuals who claim to be psychics, or gifted in extra-sensory perception, or any who claim to have supernormal powers. This controversial 1987 book is a polemic on the subject of popular "faith healers" who, as Randi notes, have never made ANY healing that could be verified - but have made tons of money! The book is aptly described by Carl Sagan in a Foreward: "Randi is rambling, anecdotal, crotchety, and ecumenically offensive. He raises questions that many of us would prefer not to consider." Randi discusses a considerable number of "healers", including, A.A. Allen, Pat Robertson, Leroy Jenkins, W.V. Grant, Peter Popoff, Oral Roberts, Father DiOrio, and a number of lesser lights. There is passing reference to Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart (whose involvement with prostitutes was not known till later), and the Baakers - who had already been caught-out. It is an interesting book, written by an angry man. Randi is distressed that the practitioners are essentially telling people that magic works (he knows it doesn't), but he is really angry at the pain and suffering that the practitioners cause their gullible victims. The last chapter,"Amen," is heart breaking. The book will be totally rejected by those who need to believe in such things, but the Introduction should be read by everyone. It has a perceptive analysis of three degrees of faith, and an illuminating explanation of why many times faith healing seems to work. The latter is summed up in a pithy observation by Emil J. Frierich, MD: "...any remedy, whether it be a drug or a psychological treatment, a mystical therapy or a physical treatment, will always prove to be effective for virtually every patient with any serious disease." "Effective" means that the patient will improve for a while; but is almost never cured.
NOTE:Randi does not necessarily preclude the existence of faith healing - although he does not believe in it. He simply notes that there is NO evidence of such a thing (beyond occasional temporary improvement, and possible random statistical remission), and that the major practitioners are almost all frauds of the first water: Slick con artists. I recently read an interesting examination of the statistical data on purported cancer "cures" at Lourdes; the data show that there are relatively fewer "cures" than there are bona fide remissions of the disease in the general population of those with the disease! I had an aunt who developed cancer of the uterus. She was hospitalized (in a Pennsylvania town) and was operated on by a visiting surgeon from Philadelphia. The surgeon opened the abdomen, and closed up again. He told her physician it was pointless to remove the uterus; Annie was riddled with cancer that had mestastasized. She would die in a month. Annie died 8 years later, from something else entirely. She suffered from the incision, but told us that it was because the surgeon "cured" her - she truly believed that she had been cured. And the cancer vanished! The surgeon and her internist had a shouting match in the halls of the Pottsville Hospital about 18 months after the operation. The internist told the surgeon that Annie was alive and well, and the surgeon said that was IMPOSSIBLE. When Annie died, the internist was bent out of shape because Annie's husband would not permit an autopsy!
Randi,J.; The Faith Healers;$18.95;314pp;Prometheus Press;Buffalo;1987; ISBN 0-87975- 369-2
Blind Descent; Nevada Barr
Barr's protagonist in the series is Anna Pigeon, a National Park Ranger, who has mystery adventures in various locales. This one is in Lechuguilla Cavern, discovered in the 80's as a fantastic adjunct to Carlsbad Cavern. The giant cavern is being gradually and carefully explored by cavers, under the direction of the Carlsbad authorities, and in this story a woman is trapped and injured in a rock fall. She is a friend of Anna's, and asks for Anna - who has strong claustrophobic tendencies. When Anna finally arrives on the scene after an arduous journey, her friend tells her the fall was no accident. Some one tried to kill her. The book is a long account of the tortuous and scary navigation through caverns, both going in and going out. Another deliberately caused slide, kills the woman, and almost kills Anna and some others. Anna decides to find out who is responsible - and finds she must go back into the cavern again. Not quite par for the series; Barr is fascinated by spelunking, and the technical aspects are covered with great care during the LONG trips into and out of the cavern. NOT for claustrophobes!
Barr,N.; Blind Descent;$22,95;341pp;G.P. Putnam's Sons;NY;1998; ISBN 0-399-14371-8
Someplace to be Flying; Charles
de Lint (F)
de Lint is a Canadian writer who, the jacket says, writes "modern urban fantasy." This is one. It mixes reality and magic with creation myths - mostly Native American. The concept is that there live among us Animal People - some of whom are pure-blooded "originals" - the first creatures here, brought by Raven. In the story Raven appears, as well as Coyote (who, as usual, causes the main trouble), Jackdaw, the story teller, and others of Indian legend. The story develops around Lily, an "uptown" photographer-journalist, and Hank, a street smart, experienced "down town" type. Lily is attacked on the street, Hank stops his "cab" to help, and is about to be shot when the attacker is killed by two young women who appear out of nowhere. The two are the "Crow Girls" - "originals" - who can change shape from crow to human. The shape- changing skill is possessed by the other animal people, who also posess other skills in magic . The story is complicated, but interesting - if you like fantasy. Most of the characters are interesting, but I was completely charmed by the "crow girls" who keep insisting that they live in a tree - and are considered to be joking! I enjoyed it.
de Lint,C.; Someplace to be Flying;$24,95;380pp;Tom Doherty Ass.;NY;1998; ISBN 0-312- 85849-3
The Puzzled Heart; Amanda Cross
The latest (12th) mystery by Professor Carolyn G. Heilbrun, writing as Amanda Cross, and starring Kate Fansler. Another intriguing, different literary mystery which begins with the abduction of Kate's husband. He will be returned when Kate retracts, publicly, her "feminist" position. Kate invokes a friend who works for a private detective, and the friend, and the head of the detective agency, set out to get Reed back. The problem leads to a murder, an examination of Kate's past in order to determine what enemies she may have made, and to her temporary acquisition of a St. Bernard puppy! The situation turns out to be a complicated one, and Kate's direct involvement in solving the mystery is crucial.
Cross,A.; The Puzzled Heart;$21;257pp;Ballantine Books;NY;1998; ISBN-0-345-41883-2
Brunswick Gardens; Anne Perry
Latest (18th) in Perry's London Victorian police novels starring Superintendent Pitt, and his upper-class wife, Charlotte. A woman has died falling down steps in the mansion of the very highly respected Anglican clergyman, the Reverend Ramsey Parmenter. Several people testify they heard the woman shout "No, No, Reverend" before she fell; it thus appears that Parmenter pushed her. Pitt is to wrap up the case, while keeping down the scandal, but he gradually finds the problem is more complicated than it initially appeared. The book explores in depth the complicated psychological relationships in the Parmenter household - a thoroughly dysfunctional family with two other disturbed individuals as visitors. One of the latter was the dead woman, the other is a womanizing clergyman whom Pitt and Charlotte have known for some years, and with whom Charlotte once felt herself to be in love. Much of the time is also spent in explorations of the role of women in society, strident feminism, the effect of Darwinian theory on the Victorian society, etc. Charlotte is not on stage very much although she finally discovers the crucial clue! But well before she does, the reader will have determined the solution of the mystery. An interesting exploration of complicated people, most of them unlikeable; not all that great a mystery. Perry has produced better ones.
Perry,A.; Brunswick Gardens;$25;389pp;Ballantine;NY;1998; ISBN 0-449-90845-3
Darkness:A Memoir of the Pacific War; William Manchester (PB)
Manchester joined the U.S. Marines in WWII, and saw service in the Pacific. He was on Guadalcanal, and in combat on Okinawa. In 1978 he revisited Pacific combat zones in order to exorcise the buried traumas of his experience, and in 1979 he wrote this memoir about his trip and his war experiences. It is one of the most powerful war memoirs, and for a complicated set of reasons I bought this paperback reprint to read it again. It is just as powerful and gripping as I remembered. It is not only a deftly told story of Manchester's youth and growing up, and the influence of his father (a WWI marine), but it is also a brilliantly told story of his combat experiences, with a parallel, gripping account of the history of marine combat actions in the Pacific and the general war against Japan. A remarkable achievement. He tells us all the events really happened, but the reader may note that it is likely that they did not necessarily happen on the islands he indicates. Regardless: It is a riveting story of the remarkable courage of young men who were fighting for a society that has vanished - a society that Manchester describes wistfully - and of the stupidity, incompetence, and even cowardice of military leaders. Near the end, Manchester notes that he suddenly realized why he went AWOL from a hospital to join his section before an invasion, and why men fight. He went out of love, and he realized that men do not fight for flag or country - they fight for each other. A truly memorable reading experience.
Manchester,W.; Goodbye Darkness;$7.99;460pp;Dell Publishing;NY;1987;ISBN:0-440-32907-8
Universe and the Teacup:The Mathematics of Truth and Beauty ; K.C.
Cole is an award-winning science writer who tries here to illustrate the thesis that mathematics has "...much relevance to deep philosophical ideas that are the foundations of society." The book is in five sections: What's Math Got to do With It?; Where Mind Meets Math; Interpreting the Physical World; Interpreting the Social World; and The Mathematics of Truth. She notes that it was her editor who told her that the book she had written was a math book, and that "came as a complete surprise." I think the book shows it. There is the feeling that she went back to essays she had written, and added lots of stuff about the relationship of mathematics to the subject. It is fuzzy in places, and even a bit misleading in others. There are some very interesting parts, and reasonably informative discussions of probability and how statistics can be misleading; and I learned of Emmy Noether, a brilliant 19th century mathematician who demonstrated the crucial connection between laws of conservation and symmetry - a critical underpinning of the theory of relativity. The book leaves a lot to be desired, but most readers will find something of interest. There is a good index, and for those who find things of interest, there is a good bibliography.
Cole,K.C.; The Universe and the Teacup;$22;214pp;Harcourt Brace;NY;1998; ISBN:0-15- 100323-8
1916:A Novel of the Irish
Rebellion; Morgan Llywelyn
I have often wondered how a person with the quintessential Welsh name of Morgan Llywelyn became a chronicler of the Irish. She has continued it with this stirring, powerful historical novel of the Easter Rising in Dublin, starting Easter Monday in 1916. It is an "inside" view, seen through the eyes of Edward (Ned) Halloran, whom we meet at age 15 on the sinking Titanic; he survived, his parents drowned. They were on their way to Ned's sister's wedding. Ned returns to Dublin, and we follow him and the Irish rebellion leaders through a detailed three years that lead up to the Rising, then through the week of insurrection, and the final crushing of the rebellion, and the British execution of the leaders. The story is well told, and very well based on history - with notes on the source of much material (I have mixed feelings about that), and a bibliography. The references are by title, and the bibliography by author, and there are errors of printing; so at times the reference material is a bit frustrating. There is also a LARGE cast of characters - both real and imaginary - and of course a complicated political situation in Ireland, so the story is dense at times, and hard to keep track of. Still, it is a grabber - and heart wrenching in many places; the characters are well developed and sympathetically portrayed. The British stupidity and savagery were exactly as depicted - and the results are reverberating still. The author develops a far more minor but interesting parallel story of Ned's sister in America (married to a Protestant) and her involvement with a priest - but the story is never finished. It vanishes about three fourths of the way through the book. Regardless: it is a first class story.
Llywelyn,M.; 1916;$24.95;447pp;Tom Doherty;NY;1998; ISBN:0-312-86101-X
Brush Back; K.C.Constantine
I was surprised. I didn't read the book. I violated my own rule - and didn't read 100 pages before quitting. I read only about 40 or so. I am an admirer of the Rocksburg police novels that star Mario Balzic, and thought well of the first book in a new sequence that stars Sergeant "Rugs" Calucci, acting chief of police after Balzic's retirement. But by page 40 in this second Carlucci book, I was saturated with continuous, gratuitous sexual and scatalogical profanity, and startled by continual surliness on the part of the hero. True: That is probably a realistic conversational mode for the characters (and I have lived almost 18 months in construction camps, so there was nothing new!), and Rugs certainly had enough problems to make him surly. Still - it was a turn off. Skimming a bit lead me to feel that there was probably a pretty good story in the rest of the book, but the ending (probably an appropriate modality in this series) also did not appeal to me - so I never read the thing. The story involves a vicious, fatal beating that Carlucci has to investigate, and that story is interwoven with Carlucci's relationship and interactions with his horrible mother. This was never a fun series, and perhaps this one hit me at a wrong time.
Constantine,K.C.; Brush Back;$22;278pp;Warner Books;NY;1998; ISBN 0-89296-646-7
The Moor; Laurie R. King
The latest in the series starring the Beekeeper's Apprentice, Mary Russell, and Sherlock Holmes - to whom Mary is married. This story is much better than the last one. The two play out the mystery on Dartmoor, last visited by Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles. The Baskerville house and family again play a part - indirectly. The Moor is being visited by a ghostly coach, and a ghostly hound, and Russell and Holmes attempt to find out what is going on - at the request of an old friend of Holmes: The Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould. The latter was a real (and very interesting) person, and is beautifully integrated into the adventure - for that is what this is. There is a mystery, but the reader will work that out well before the protagonists. What King has done is to capture, beautifully, the atmosphere of brooding mystery that surrounds the moor, and describes wonderfully the actions and reactions of Mary in the adventure. I can vouch first-hand for the strangeness of the moor (at least as it was 30 years ago), and I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure - and Mary gets more interesting with each yarn. Holmes, of course, is Holmes!
King,L.B.; The Moor;$23.95;307pp;St. Martin's Press;NY;1998; ISBN:0-312-16934-5
Masked Dancers; Jean Hager
There is a developing rash of mystery series that involve Native American law officers, and murders on Indian Territory. I THINK Hillerman started it. This is one of those series (a pretty good one) - laid in Cherokee territory in Oklahoma. It stars Mitch Busheyhead, police chief in small town Buckskin. Mitch is an appealing character. In this one, Mitch (or rather his daughter) finds a murdered game warden, and Mitch finds an eagle killed with an arrow. He decides the eagle killer is a local high school principal who has disappeared after being seen at a Cherokee dance, and may be the killer of the warden. Mitch wends his way through the problem that involves a somewhat demented hater of Indians, and finally resolves the situation - after another murder. A good story of the type.
Hager,J.; Masked Dancers;$23;282pp;Warner Bros.;NY;1998;ISBN:0-89296-641-6