Only fourteen books this month, as I was on vacay and totally doing other stuff than reading like a heroin addict.
Balance of Power, Brian Stableford (re-read)
Y’know, for a mind like mine that has trouble retaining simple things like how electricity works, I sure do like my sf to have sociological and political themes. This one is hard to explain, because it’s in the middle of a series and I haven’t read the rest of ’em. I also don’t want to ruin anything (because I know so many of you are waiting to read this hot little number). Here’s some copy I made:
One far flung planet, two continents. On the first: a human colony, finally being visited on a check-up from the UN survey team after well over a hundred years. The other, on the far side of a sea that has yet to be crossed, are the native people of the planet, with their own hopes and dreams that don’t necessarily synch with the colonists.
Manifest Destiny, socio-religious political manoeuvring and plain old superstition combat the patient, yet persistent Daedalus scientists as they try to set the planet on a more stable course.
Ralestone Luck, Andre Norton (Gutenberg)
I was very excited to find this, as I sort of adore Norton and it was nice to read some non-sf work from her.
It could almost be Gothic, if it weren’t as light hearted as the Boxcar Children. The last scions of the Ralestone family, penniless and uprooted, return to their old family home in the States. There’s all sorts of intrigue and mystery and sass. There’s this sword and some creepy folks and some uncomfortable dialect.
Defiant Agents, Andre Norton (Gutenberg)
Apache v. Tartar! In space! And there are Reds, and coyotes! And some time travel, though mostly mental, oh my goodness Norton how I adore you.
This is the first of a couple Norton books that had animals and TP of some sort. Only she does it in a way that is not lame.
Key out of Time, Andre Norton (Gutenberg)
I’m pretty meh about dolphins, but they do a nice job of being the telepath-link animals used in this entry of Norton’s galaxy-colonising, time-travelly, trying not to be noticed by angry aliens we stole tech from sorta-series.
Also, there are witches and whoopsie-doo-dang we done went back in time, shit about the history, we’re just tryin’ to survive.
Storm Over Warlock, Andre Norton (Gutenberg)
WOLVERINES! All snarly and snuffly and into burying half their kill for later. They are not the focus of the books, just sidekicks to Norton’s standard intrepid kid adventurer. Hearts forever, seriously here.
Also some wyverns, I guess? And wishes might come true and they fight beetle people and I pretty much dug this.
Might as well note now, I read pretty light stuff this month.
Gold in the Sky, Alan E. Nourse (Gutenberg)
Future miners, argumentative brothers make good to revenge the death of their pops. Villain totally foiled, snap, etc. It’s a mid-par action mystery that didn’t do much.
Star Surgeon, Alan E. Nourse (Gutenberg)
In Future, racial oppression is based on what world you’re from, and only Earthlings get to be doctors. Oh noes, seriously? But Main Character totally slogs on anyhow and goes to school on Hospital Earth (what? yes, apparently only humans figured out how to overcome bacteria nasties, do brain surgery and stop plague, etc), a planet bucking for galactic membership.
It is okay! Everyone learns their lesson in the end and loves each other.
The City Machine, Louis Trimble (re-read)
So. Society is very clearly and very strictly broken into three (literal) tiers in a city built by (you guessed it) a city-making machine. On the lowest level are the folks who run the factories, the middle one you’ve got technicians and managers and up top are folks who seem to just do fancy stuff and think a lot.
We have a Hero and he is not only a ‘Riser’, having worked and proven himself to move up (again, literally) in the world, but he’s the last person who can read the old written language, being all descended from folks who did that. He’s got a True Love and there is a Resistance and all sorts of double and triple crossing.
And yet, the book isn’t that rote. The characters are enjoyable, the ideas are interesting and it’s a good entry into its era of sf.
Well of Shiuan (Morgaine Cycle), C.J. Cherryh (re-read)
It’s so clearly in the middle of the series, but nice little story anyhow—Interesting character interaction, development, though Cherryh is always just a touch obvious.
The Battle of Forever, A.E. Van Vogt
Complete and burning hatred for this book. This was one of four I picked up at my local coffee shop (for fifty cents each, at least) to read on vacation. The only reason I picked this one up was because there was a hippo holding a gun on it and a floating egg headed guy.
I wanted to strangle this book. It was like reading Slapstick again. I understand that Vogt was trying, in his style of writing and narrative, to accurately portray an advanced, cultured human and that my violent reaction towards that character’s hella stupid decisions was a by-product of dealing with something like that as a not very advanced or cultured human.
As I read, I kept putting down the book and looking quizzically at Chase, or his family’s dog, or a tree or whatever and angrily explaining just how stupid the characters decisions were. What made it worse was that the set up was interesting (again, like Vonnegut’s Slapstick)—I mean, humanity reduced to a couple thousand or whatever, animals engineered to be like people living in the rest of the world, reaping the benefits of technology while humans meditate and junk in their little oasis with Super Telepathy. And then there’s the aliens who are (and had been) orchastrating all this and there’s the arguments of who’s worthy to expand into the universe, etc. So, great ideas. But all the characters were horribly flat archetypes that made dumb, dumb, dumb, selfish and transparent choices that you could see coming from a mile away and yet it still pissed you off, because holy God, seriously here. And then a variation of “It was all a dream” ending that made me actually throw down the book on re-reading the last paragraph multiple times and forecully hold back a thirty minute, incomprehensible swearing fit only because I didn’t want to offend Chase’s mom.
I was like “Thank you for being over, stupid book,” and happily went to the next in my stack. Which, unfortnately, was:
The Others, Irving A. Greenfield
Oh. My. God. What a fucking bait and switch.
I have the 1969 edition of this (NEVER BEFORE PUBLISHED) and totally picked up for the cover copy, the total sum of which, front and back, reads as follows.
Does the universe belong to man . . . or to the dolphins? Dr. Edward Blake had to find the answer.
The enigma of . . .the others.
Are the secrets of Earth’s past—and man’s future—locked away at the bottom of the unknown caverns and crevasses beneath the seas?
Driven against his will to uncover his own strange heritage, Dr. Edward Blake becomes engaged in a quest that makes him the focus of scorn, ridicule . . . and menace. He finds himself the one man in the world who knows the ocean’s most powerful secret—a secret that can save or destroy the world.
The dolphins could hold man’s fate locked in their mysterious minds, and Edward Blake is alone with the knowledge that—in a world devoted to hedonistic pleasures and technological joys—he is the only man who cares . . .
Get a load of those ellipses!
It does not involve dolphins as much as it implies. Nor is Dr. Blake a dolphin, which I was kind of really hoping. It does involve a nice idea that gets bogged all to hell. Crap writing, a Gothic ending involving Dr. Blake seeing his dad again (who he’d thrown a puppy at when he’d last seen him, and yes he was a kid and it was his fave puppy and the thing died ’cause he threw it and it splatted, what the shit), the world explodes although the dolphins (in their barely tertiary character status) had tried to warn everybody, fin. All of which I normally can handle and even enjoy, but since I’d just finished The Battle of Forever I sort of felt like God was punishing me.
The Star Fox, Poul Anderson
My feelings for this book are so biased by the super-crap pulp I’d finished before. But Anderson is a totally enjoyable author and the story never devolves into a tale of privateers (kind of bummed about that, but I understand why). He focuses instead on the enjoyable characters and a look at how different folks do it differently and how folks should probably remember that.
Enjoyable space battles balanced by political lawyering that even I found totally interesting.
Watchmen, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
Well, I see why this is a classic.
I mean, what can I say that hasn’t been said a million times? Fully formed, flawed characters, multiple interlocked storylines, interludes of relevant media like news clippings (love it!), a whammo! ending. I mean, shit. Wow.
Deeper than the Darkness, Greg Benford
Zowie, the themes in this one. Crippling, contagious agoraphobia as a weapon! Humanity’s desire to explore and expand! Religion!
Can’t really sum this one up. It has perfectly horrifying moments, like the housing used by the folks mentioned with the above malady. Here’s a hint, it’s called “The Slots”.
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Tom Robbins
Um, okay. I know people dig on Tom Robbins. And I know that his work was formative for a lot of folks (shit, Dune, which I recently finished reading for the tenth time was formative for me, I’ve got no pride here). But ever since I decided to read Skinny Legs and All immediately after reading Still Life with Woodpecker, I realised that—to me, at least—one of his books was as good as another.
Constant themes: The Mysteries of Womanhood, finding your place with the earth, ever the traveller, damn the man, moon blood, cunts and sexin’, Everything is Connected and ain’t we quirky.
Great themes, totally interesting and I do pick up Still Life with Woodpecker every couple of years and poke through bits again, but if I want free-wheelin’, thought-provokin’, fanciful, beat poet magic in a book I’ll read Brautigan.
I didn’t even skim The Mysterious Island, which I hated with a passion. Yet, I totally started skimming this one about halfway through, because I’d read it before, just with a different coat of paint.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (re-read)
This has got to be the least intimidating classic out there. I mean, yes, totally full of thinking and smarts and importance to the culture, but it doesn’t hit you over the head with it. We’ve just got a couple of kids, existing in a little town and just living, with all the crazy brave truthfulness that kids have.
I mean, dang, anything you say (and don’t it dare be the word “poignant”) has been said and whatever. Nothing I can add.
Oh! Except this, a drawing by the wonderful Calamity Jon Morris of Scout in her ham costume that I totally pictured during the relevant scene.