In which Keith reads some books, watches some movies and TV, and whatnot

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In which Keith reads some books, watches some movies and TV, and whatnot

Editado: Dez 26, 2022, 2:47 pm

This is my first year at Club Read, having joined LT just a few weeks back. I live in Los Angeles, where I am relatively recently retired after 30 years as a librarian at LA Public Library. Grew up in Vermont, educated in St. Louis (Washington U) and Ann Arbor (U of Michigan).

I read about 30 books in 2022, down from my usual. The two hours of daily commute time on the bus and subway was the bulk of my reading time, and I'm still figuring out how to make time for reading without the commute. I'd like to get that closer to a book a week in 2023.

My reading "plan" is strictly "whatever looks good at the moment" from my ridiculously long Libby wishlist (778 books and constantly growing!). But I will probably tackle the BingoDog this year, if only in a casual way, and I'll make note when something can knock a state off the 50 state challenge. And I do have one absurdly long-range goal: to read all of the short stories nominated for the major American SF awards. (Lord knows there a zillion such awards, but I'm focused on the Hugo, Nebula, and the top 5 from the Locus list.) The oldest are the 1939 Retro Hugos, which I read last month, so let's ambitiously shoot for knocking off the 1940s this year!

Last year's reading was mostly fiction (roughly 2-1). The fiction was mostly SF and mystery; the nonfiction leaned heavily towards TV and movies. I'd like to broaden those, especially the nonfiction. I will never be the sort who sits down with Tolstoy and Proust for fun, but I could stand to go one or two rungs higher on the literary ladder now and then.

Also a huge movie/TV fan, with subscriptions to all of the major streaming services. Currently making my way through (among others) Columbo, The Muppet Show, NewsRadio, and The Magicians.

Looking forward to getting to know this place and its people!

Dez 27, 2022, 7:41 am

Welcome to Club Read 2023, Keith! I'm glad you decided to start a thread this year. A fellow New Englander, I grew up in Maine but lived in Norwich, VT briefly. Beautiful state. I had always envisioned retiring there, but ended up back in Maine near family after 30+ years away. Your Bingo Dog card looks fun. Do you pick your own categories, or is it random?

Dez 27, 2022, 9:37 am

>3 labfs39: BingoDog is an annual event over in the Category Challenge group. The members there collectively choose 25 categories for a new Bingo every year.

Dez 27, 2022, 4:51 pm

Welcome. Nice new thread. You’re definitely a Libby devotee. I used Libby for audiobooks until it got too hard to find something I liked in my library system. (Now I use audible.)

Dez 27, 2022, 9:33 pm

Welcome to Club Read, Keith. I look forward to following your reading.

Dez 28, 2022, 2:09 am

Welcome! Libby is the only place I keep any sort of wishlist, and I thought mine was bad with over 500 books on it!

I've never been to New England, but I lived briefly in Michigan (the UP) 5 years ago. Hope you enjoy Club Read!

Dez 31, 2022, 10:26 pm

And as we roll into the new year, I'm in the middle of a long vacation away from home, which means I'm busy enough with tourist-y stuff that I'm not doing much reading. I'm still in the middle of the same two books I've been in the middle of for the last couple of weeks, I'll Never Be Long Gone by Thomas Christopher Greene and Let's Do It by Bob Stanley. By chance, those will knock off both of the January AlphaKIT letters, if I get them done by the end of the month!

Jan 1, 8:29 am

Safe travels, Keith!

Jan 1, 1:59 pm

Welcome, Keith. I look forward to your reading in 2023.

Editado: Jan 13, 7:32 pm

1: I'll Never Be Long Gone, Thomas Christopher Greene

When you set your novel in a place called Eden, but make a point of telling the reader in an introductory "Note on Place" that your Eden, Vermont should not be mistaken for the actual Eden, Vermont, it seems pretty clear that you're mostly interested in the religious and symbolic overtones of the name. When your story is about two brothers, one favored by their domineering (dare I say God-like?) father and one not, those overtones are even harder to ignore.

And when those two brothers are in love with the same women, you're also steering firmly into Steinbeck territory. But Greene is not interested in the sweeping melodrama of East of Eden; his story is more muted and melancholy. If Steinbeck was aiming for the intense emotion of grand opera, Greene is instead giving the quiet intensity of chamber music. (There are only the three major characters in the book; the father dies early on, and the mother removes herself from the scene almost immediately after his death.)

And that's....nice? I guess? Greene's a good enough writer to keep me reading; the prose flows nicely, if never particularly memorably, and his characters are vivid enough, though they share (most of the time) a stolid nature that keeps the drama from ever really building.

Ultimately, it's a story of romantic temptation among three people who like one another and are fundamentally decent, which doesn't make for much of a story. This book really could have used a villain.

(BingoDog: A book by a local/regional author; AlphaKIT: I)

Jan 3, 6:41 pm

>11 KeithChaffee: This book really could have used a villain.

That brought out a chortle

Jan 3, 6:45 pm

>12 labfs39: Right?

>11 KeithChaffee: I am not sure about the need of a villain, even if the comment made me smile. I think that there is still a place somewhere in there for the quiet novels where the drama does not come from people being people but from what is inside one's heart. Most modern authors just cannot pull off that kind of stories though so we end up with navel gazing long novels that go nowhere... Sounds like this one worked out - I need to look into this author.

Jan 4, 3:27 pm

>11 KeithChaffee: lovely review. I’m not familiar with the title or author, so all new to me. I found your description of what the book is doing very interesting.

Jan 4, 11:53 pm

>1 KeithChaffee: to read all of the short stories nominated for the major American SF awards

Have you read NK Jemisens collection how long til black future month(love that title) really excellents, several of them later became stories for her award winning novels

Jan 5, 6:34 am

>13 AnnieMod: Perhaps "drama" or "conflict" would be a better word than "villain," but I thought that Greene needed something to up the emotional temperature a bit, which is an odd problem to have when you're writing about marital infidelity and a potential divorce that could cause a permanent estrangement between loving brothers.

>14 dchaikin: Thank you. Opinionated blathering has always been one of my strong suits, and I'm always happy to find a place where it might actually be an asset for a change.

>15 cindydavid4: I don't remember reading any of Jemisin's short stories, though I may have come across some in various anthologies. I tried her first novel a few years back, and it didn't click for me at all. I know she's highly regarded, though, and I will go back and try again someday.

Editado: Jan 13, 7:31 pm

2: The Bigger They Come, Erle Stanley Gardner

Gardner is best known for the 80+ novels he wrote featuring Perry Mason, but he also wrote (under the pseudonym A.A. Fair) 30 novels about the Cool & Lam detective agency; this is the first of those, published in 1939.

Bertha Cool is a 60-ish widow who runs the agency she founded after her husband's death. She is a large woman, in both height and weight; Gardner's descriptions of her size are less mean-spirited (*) than they might have been in that era, but it's referred to a lot. That is somewhat counterbalanced by the fact that Bertha herself is what we might today call "fat-positive;" she likes to eat, isn't embarrassed about it, and tells people "Don't be bashful; I'm fat."

(*--Note that "less mean-spirited" doesn't mean not mean-spirited. It's hard not to wince at sentences like "She wiggled and jiggled around inside her loose apparel like a cylinder of currant jelly on a plate." But in 1939? It could have been even worse.)

Donald Lam is the narrator of the novel, which opens with his job interview. He's not typical private eye material himself; he's short and slender, and not a good fighter by his own admission. What he has going for him is intellect and a skill for analysis.

The case at hand starts off simply enough. Donald is tasked with tracking down a man in order to serve him with divorce papers; the problem is that the man is wanted by the police, and has done a very good job of hiding himself.

Of course, it doesn't stay that simple, and by the time we're done, Gardner has ended with a doozy of a twist, based on an actual loophole in Arizona law of the day; after the book was published, the state legislature promptly passed legislation to solve the problem.

The great strength here is the relationship between Cool and Lam. They're both used to being underestimated, and have both learned to stand up for themselves, which makes the dynamic between them a little more prickly than your typical employer-employee pairing. Donald challenges Bertha, and she respects him for it.

And unlike a lot of crime fiction (including, for the most part, the Perry Mason novels), Cool and Lam are funny. Their banter is lively, crisp, and witty. I can easily imagine going back for more of this series.

(BingoDog: switched or stolen identities)

Jan 5, 11:45 pm

>17 KeithChaffee: I’m amazed they changed a law based on a novel. (What would Carl Hiassen write if he thought this were possible today?…sorry, Florida). That’s all new to me in your review. I’m not drawn to mysteries, but this sounds fun.

Jan 6, 7:18 am

>17 KeithChaffee: Great review, Keith

Jan 8, 10:11 pm

Hi, Keith. I read one Gardner, The case of the musical cow, a book with as much cowbell as anyone might want.

Columbo and the Muppets? We are practically TV twins...

Jan 9, 9:09 am

>20 LolaWalser: If only they’d worked together…

“Just one more thing, Kermit. See, I don’t think it could have happened that way because Statler never would have left Waldorf alone in the balcony. Oh sure, they bickered and quarreled, but deep down, they were the best of friends. And the only other person who could have killed Beaker was… well, it was you, Miss Piggy.”


Jan 9, 10:41 am

I just stopped by to see what your reading plans are. I’ll be checking back in periodically. There were several smiles reading through your thread.

Editado: Jan 13, 7:31 pm

3: The Burnt Orange Heresy, Charles Willeford

A little bit noir, a little bit con-man, a little bit heist, but mostly a long-winded shaggy dog story that doesn't do any of those things very well, and adds up to significantly less than the sum of its parts.

James Figueras is a modestly successful art critic, getting just enough work for the major art magazines to support himself, and dreaming of the big break that will push him into the top tier of the critical world. When art dealer Joseph Cassidy offers him the chance to interview the extremely reclusive painter Jacques Debierue, Figueras might have his opportunity, but the interview comes with a price.

The backstory on Debierue comes in an awkward information dump, as Figueras narrates to his girlfriend the artist's life. But she's only sort of pretending to be interested, and James has made it clear that he doesn't have much respect for Berenice's intellect anyway, so James is really telling the story for our benefit. It's a long, graceless blob of biography that derails the story's momentum for about 20 pages.

In fairness, whatever freshness this story might have had is somewhat lost on me because I saw the 2019 film adaptation about a year ago. And I liked it more than I liked the book, despite the fact that none of the actors are who would have come to mind to play the book's characters -- Claes Bang as the critic; Elizabeth Debicki as the girlfriend; Mick Jagger as the art dealer; Donald Sutherland as the artist, who is no longer French in the movie.

You lose a lot when you lose the element of surprise. Some books are strong enough to withstand that loss; I didn't think this one was. (I will add that I don't think anything I've said here spoils any of the crucial surprises or plot twists, so I don't think I'm taking away the element of surprise for anyone who might be curious about the book.)

(BingoDog: art or craft related)

Jan 9, 9:35 pm

catching your review maybe too soon, but anyway fun commentary and you've made me interested in checking out the movie.

Jan 11, 9:48 pm

>21 KeithChaffee:


>23 KeithChaffee:

I think I liked that better than you did, but I wasn't spoiled. IIRC, I was surprised and amused by the foray into the la-di-dah world of high art; not somewhere noir usually visits. And Willeford may be my fave noir author--not that I've read much...

Jan 12, 9:08 am

>25 LolaWalser: Any thoughts on which Willeford would be the best next step?

Editado: Jan 13, 7:30 pm

4: Nasty, Brutish, and Short: Adventures in Philosophy with My Kids, Scott Hershovitz

Children, Hershovitz tells us, are natural philosophers. They're curious about the big questions to which philosophers devote careers, and capable of exploring those questions with surprisingly deep levels of insight.

Hershovitz uses conversations with his sons Rex and Hank to introduce his discussions of philosophical issues. What are rights? When is revenge justified? What do we mean when we say that we know something? Are we responsible for the racist behavior of our ancestors? Is there a god?

Those are hefty issues for boys who were anywhere from three to pre-teen when those conversations took place, but Hershovitz is right that Hank and Rex are capable of more thoughtful responses than I'd have expected. It helps, of course, that they've grown up with a father who takes them seriously when those converations happen, who knows how to discuss difficult ideas at an age-appropriate level, and who has the skill of finding opportunities to talk about such things without making them feel like work.

And the boys' contributions are generally only the introduction to the topics, which Hershovitz goes on to discuss for his adult readers. These are introductory-level discussions; if you took an Intro to Philosophy class in college, there's not much here that will be new. But if the field is new to you, this is an entertaining introduction to some of its basic ideas and challenges, and approaching each topic from a kid's-eye point of view allows Hershovitz to ease his readers into the ideas without condescending to them.

If you're wondering about the title, the 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes once argued that without political community to regulate our behavior, our lives would be "nasty, brutish, and short;" Hershovitz jokingly uses the phrase to describe his kids.

(BingoDog: Topic I don't usually read)

Jan 13, 8:19 pm

It's not easy to get kids to talk about this stuff. (Definitely not mine.) Hershovitz's book sounds fun.

Jan 14, 5:22 pm

>26 KeithChaffee:

I read out of order a few Hoke Moseley titles and liked his voice, so I'd say (I'm just about to follow my own advice...) start with Miami Blues (number 1). But the first Willeford I read was High priest of California.

Jan 15, 10:32 am

>27 KeithChaffee: Is the cover a purposeful nod to Calvin and Hobbes?

Jan 15, 2:25 pm

>30 lisapeet: Could be, I guess. Hershovitz does mention Calvin and Hobbes a few times, and includes it in his "recommended reading" lists (one list for kids, one list for parents) at the end of the books.

Editado: Jan 16, 1:05 pm

5: Fall Guy, Archer Mayor

#33 in the Joe Gunther police procedural series, set primarily in southern Vermont.

An expensive stolen car is discovered, filled with a variety of stolen goods, including a very old flip phone. In the trunk is the body of the apparent burglar. The car's found in Vermont, but there's reason to believe that the burglar was killed in New Hampshire, and it quickly becomes apparent that federal crimes are also involved. And so our friends from the (fictional) Vermont Bureau of Investigation become part of a complicated multi-state/federal task force attempting to solve the many crimes connected to that stolen car.

When you're thirty-three volumes into a crime series, it's hard to keep coming up with fresh new plots; there are, after all, only so many types of crimes that call for the involvement of the VBI. So the pleasure doesn't come from the novelty of the crime. It's in the cleverness with which the familiar puzzle pieces are yet again reshuffled; a new set of victims, suspects, and police officers brought to life with brisk, efficient characterization; and of course, the comfort of spending a few more hours with the series characters.

And Archer Mayor does all of those things as well as anyone in the genre, to significantly less acclaim than he deserves. The Gunther novels are consistently entertaining, and the group of VBI officers who star in them are distinctive, memorable personalities who continue to grow and develop as the series goes on.

As in most crime series, each book stands perfectly well on its own, though there are character details that will mean a little more if they're read in order.

Content warning: The plot involves the sexual abuse of children. That never happens "on screen," as it were, but it is part of the criminal history of some characters.

(BingoDog: next book in a series you've started)

Editado: Jun 20, 2:48 pm

6: Let's Do It: The Birth of Pop Music: A History, Bob Stanley

A companion to Stanley's earlier book, Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! The Story of Modern Pop.

Stanley is a member of the British band Saint Etienne, and an entertaining chronicler of pop history. Let's Do It covers roughly the first half of the 20th century, with a few chapters at the end following a few of that era's major trends as far as the 1970s.

Chapters are devoted to specific artists (Scott Joplin, the Boswell Sisters, Nat King Cole), musical movements (swing, British dance bands, rock'n'roll), and major influences on popular music (the introduction of radio, two world wars, the growing importance of film soundtracks). His focus is on the US and the UK, and since not every artist found equal success on both sides of the Atlantic, both American and British readers are likely to come across artists and careers that they didn't know much about.

It's hard to write about the sound of music without diving so deeply into technical language that you lose that part of the audience that doesn't have musical training. Stanley does that very well, as in this passage on the Boswell Sisters:

Always, they sound like an enormous heap of fun. They would take a song like "There'll Be Some Changes Made," speed it up to Charleston tempo, slow it down to a twelve-bar blues; then Connee would do her trumpet impression, and finally the girls sing together, aching like a mournful coven of clarinets. Keys changed at the drop of a bobby pin. If jazz is about digging into the core of a song and reinterpreting it, then the Boswell Sisters were its Marx Brothers.

Or in these thoughts on the "best' version of a particular song:

You want to hear a technically perfect "Someone to Watch Over Me"? Listen to Ella Fitzgerald. You want to hear the ultimate "lost lamb" rendition? Go to Blossom Dearie. Barstool blear? Try Frank Sinatra. Who wants definitive anyway? Where's the fun in that?

I think I got a bit more pleasure from Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!, Stanley's book on the rock'n'roll/modern pop era, if only because I'm more familiar with that music. Stanley's unexpected takes and insights mean more if you know the things he's talking about. But both books are delightful reading, and in a world with unlimited time, I would be happy to spend six months making my way slowly through each with Spotify at my side so that I could listen to the music he talks about, especially the stuff that I don't already know.

(AlphaKIT: S; BingoDog: a book that taught me something. Stanley uses the word "brumal," which was new to me, to describe one of Petula Clark's albums. It means "wintry.")

Jan 30, 3:49 pm

>33 KeithChaffee: I like his writing in the excerpts you quoted. I think if I read it I would succumb to the Spotify playlist. Someday

Jan 30, 10:00 pm

That sounds very much up my Tin Pan Alley. Loved the compliment to the Boswell sisters.

Editado: Jan 31, 8:16 pm

7: The Big Bang Theory: The Definitive, Inside Story of the Epic Hit Series, Jessica Radloff

Radloff conducted hours of interviews with the cast, creators, and crew of The Big Bang Theory for this oral history, and fans will learn a lot about the show's history.

Everyone involved shares the opinion (and I agree with them) that apart from Jim Parsons' performance as Sheldon, the show rarely got the respect or critical acknowledgement that it deserved. The jokes were funny; the characters were distinct individuals; and the cast was one of the best sitcom ensembles in TV history, especially after the addition of Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch in season 4. Characters grew and relationships changed in ways that allowed the show itself to mature, becoming less cartoonish and sexist than it had been in its early years.

Guided by Radloff's questioning, the Big Bang family traces the history of the show -- the initial casting challenges, the years of massive success, the difficult decision to end the show after twelve seasons.

Obviously not a book for everyone, but if you were a Big Bang fan and you enjoy behind-the-scenes stories, this will make you happy.

Jan 31, 9:28 pm

>36 KeithChaffee: That would be a fun book to read sometime. It was a great ensemble cast, right down to Sheldon's mom and the comic book store owner.

Jan 31, 9:37 pm

I couldn't stand that show. Well, the couple episodes someone made me watch. The dudebro-in-the-street's idea of people who love science is just painful.

Editado: Fev 1, 7:08 pm

I thought for quite a while today about whether to make this comment. As I was thinking, I realized that I'd actually thought seriously about not mentioning that last book at all, because I knew that there would be somebody waiting to criticize. And that thought -- that I would censor myself -- really bothered me, because I don't think anyone should ever be shamed or embarrassed about what they read. S. R. Ranganathan's five laws of library science include the simple statement "Every reader to their book; every book to its reader," an idea which I have always loved. So I decided that it was worth saying this:

A lot of people read books about things that don't much interest me. It would never occur to me to jump into the conversation just to suggest that I thought they were wasting their time, because that would be rude. Even if I were directly asked for an opinion, I would express my dislike or lack of interest in the gentlest possible terms -- "that didn't really work for me" or "I don't generally enjoy zombie stories" -- rather than trying (as the kids say these days) to yuck someone else's yum.

Fev 1, 10:07 pm

>39 KeithChaffee: Keith, you dont have anything to worry about. Ive been here for 7 years have never felt criticzid for what I read(my typos are another story jk)We are pretty easy going (at least in CR) The most that would happen is for someone saying I really didn't like that book and perhaps explain why. And then you could respond or not. Hope that helps!

Fev 1, 11:02 pm

>39 KeithChaffee:

Is that directed at my comment, Keith? I commented on my own perception of the show, following on Lisa's comment about the show. So, first, it's not about the book, which could be a great book regardless of anyone's opinion about the show. Second, it didn't occur to me that I ran the danger of yucking anyone's yum because I take the diversity of opinion for granted. It seems to me, from the threads I've been visiting, that it happens pretty routinely and uncontroversially that someone will go "I loved this" and someone else go "huh I hated it". Thirdly, it also never occurred to me that such responses, from anyone's side, mean that someone is wasting their time. I'm sorry if you read that into my comment, it simply doesn't apply. I'm the last person to even think anyone else is wasting their time, considering how I spend mine.

Relax and don't worry about any further comments from me.

Fev 2, 1:09 pm

>41 LolaWalser: I'm sorry.

One of the aftereffects of having been a bullied kid is a lifelong tendency to put the harshest read on anything that's said to me, to look for the insult that must be there because it so often has been. I've gotten better at not doing that over the years, but there are still moments when that defensive paranoia flares up for no obvious reason, especially with people I don't know well. That happened yesterday. You were on the receiving end of it, and you didn't deserve to be. I apologize.

Editado: Fev 21, 2:42 pm

8: Finale: Late Conversations with Stephen Sondheim, D.T. Max

Stephen Sondheim was one of the very few people for whom I felt comfortable using the word "genius." His songs speak to me more consistently and more powerfully than those of any other songwriter; "Anyone Can Whistle" is essentially an 80-word summary of my life and personality.

So I was looking forward to this book, a collection of five interviews that Max conducted between 2016 and 2019 hoping that they would eventually become a major profile for The New Yorker. And for a variety of reasons, some of which were entirely predictable, it mostly made me sad.

Sondheim's final decades were relatively unproductive. He hadn't had a show on Broadway since Passion in 1994, after which he spent more than a decade working on different versions of the show that finally came to be called Road Show, which was generally greeted with disappointment when it played off-Broadway in 2008.

But as Max begins his series of interviews, Sondheim has begun a new project -- a paired set of one-act musical adaptations of Bunuel films. He's working with a new collaborator, playwright David Ives, and seems excited to be back at work.

As the interviews go on, though, you don't have to read too far between the lines to realize that the project isn't going well, and that one of the principal reasons is that Sondheim is no longer at the peak of his powers. He talks about struggling, both musically and lyrically, with things that shouldn't be as difficult as they are.

Understandably, that's made Sondheim -- never an outgoing interview subject under the best of circumstances -- even crankier than usual, and Max struggles to find a topic that Sondheim is willing to say anything new or interesting about. It's largely a rehashing of old grievances -- his difficult relationship with his mother, his continuing bitterness about the critical failures of Anyone Can Whistle (1964) and Merrily We Roll Along (1981), his resentment at attempts to pull him into some sort of "Sondheim vs. Lloyd Webber" debate.

The New Yorker profile Max had hoped to write never came to pass; by the final interview, Sondheim is openly belligerent and hostile. And it seems unlikely that there is a volume of memoirs lurking somewhere. Sondheim's final statement on his own life is likely to be the two volumes of his collected lyrics (Finishing the Hat and Look, I Made a Hat), and the Sondheim commentary that accompanies those lyrics does accumulate into something like a memoir, at least of his professional life. And that will have to be enough.

(BingoDog: about music or a musician; AlphaKIT: F)

Editado: Fev 8, 5:35 am

>33 KeithChaffee: Every so often I consider buying Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! but have managed to resist so far (partly because I would definitely want to read it slowly, with Spotify). I really like those two extracts you quoted though, and am listening to the Blossom Dearie version right now.

ETA: and have moved on from that to listening to more Blossom Dearie! I had never even heard of her.

Fev 8, 12:43 pm

>44 wandering_star: People of my generation knoe Dearie’s voice, even if they don’t know her name, from the Schoolhouse Rock segments “Figure Eight” and “Unpack Your Adjectives.” Such a lovely and distinctive voice, teetering on the edge of being too cloying and precious, but never quite toppling over into irritating. And it’s her actual name, not a stage name!

Fev 10, 8:09 am

I'm a big Blossom Dearie fan! What a lovely voice she has (and "Figure Eight" routinely gets stuck in my head).

Editado: Fev 22, 1:19 pm

9: The Days to Come, Tom Rosenstiel

4th in Rosenstiel's series about political fixers Peter Rena and Randi Brooks.

As we open, Washington is preparing for a presidential inauguration. David Traynor is new to Washington, a Silicon Valley tech guy with some radical ideas for jolting Congress out of its gridlock and solving the major problems that face the country.

Among his ideas -- tackling climate change by funding research into new types of batteries that will make solar energy more useful. And he plans to fund that research without telling Congress, by declaring climate change to be a national security crisis, which will give him more discretionary power over parts of the military budget.

And that's where Rena and Brooks come in. They've been advisors to the new vice-president in the past (the previous volume in the series, Oppo, was about the election campaign), and she fears that the companies involved in the new program might have their new technology stolen by foreign companies or governments. She asks R&B to dig into those companies and find the potential weak spots.

Meanwhile -- there's a lot of "meanwhile" going on in this book, which juggles many plotlines, not always successfully -- Rena is the target of an organized cybersmear campaign, and not coping very well with the stress.

As political thrillers go, this is meh; I remember liking Oppo more. The big problem is that Rosenstiel's ideas for fixing gridlock aren't real; if he actually had such ideas, he'd be (one hopes) explaining them in a non-fiction book, or consulting with real-world politicians on how to implement them. So President Traynor's ideas can't rise above the level of vaguely described abstractions; Rosenstiel writes those passages well enough that they sound good in the moment, but the second you stop to think about them, you realize that they're political vaporware.

And that means that the political half of the novel also has to be insubstantial. We get a few brief scenes of Congressional leaders grumbling to one another about that crazy new president and his radical ideas, but no real sense of the debate that might actually be happening.

Neither of the espionage-y plots -- foreign plots to steal technology or the smears of Rena -- digs very deep, either. The novel skates along the surface of its potentially interesting ideas, reading more like the outline for a book that never quite got fleshed out.

Editado: Jun 20, 2:53 pm

10: Rebel with a Clause: Tales and Tips from a Roving Grammarian, Ellen Jovin

For several years now, Jovin has taken her folding table and collection of reference books to various spots around New York City and invited people to talk to her about grammar, punctuation, and usage. Some have questions, some want to vent about pet peeves, and some are simply curious about why she's doing this.

This book follows Jovin on her journey to take the Grammar Table to all 50 states; she got to 47 before COVID ended the tour, but is now planning trips to Hawaii, Alaska, and Connecticut.

Each chapter focuses on a specific grammar question, which Jovin presents through her conversations with her visitors. You get all the things you'd probably expect -- the Oxford comma, the slowly fading distinction between pronoun cases (that is, when to use "I," "me," and "myself"), frequently confused words (affect/effect, there/their/they're) .

Jovin's husband travels with her and films most of her Grammar Table sessions, with an eye towards making a documentary about the tour, so she's able to report her conversations in more detail and with more accuracy than in some books of this type. As a result, the individual personalities of her interlocutors shine through.

Ultimately, though, this book is neither fish nor fowl. If you need a usage guide, I suspect you will want something that is more concisely organized; the reader needing clarification on the difference between "than" and "then" probably doesn't want to wade through a three-page anecdote about a nice young woman from Decatur, Alabama. And if you don't need a usage guide, I'm not sure that all of the nice young women from Decatur and elsewhere are quite substantial enough to make the book worthwhile solely as a pleasure read.

Fev 24, 10:29 am

>48 KeithChaffee: I'm not sure that all of the nice young women from Decatur and elsewhere are quite substantial enough to make the book worthwhile solely as a pleasure read.

I love the idea though. My own particular bête noir is 'that' and 'which', although when I think of them as demonstrative vs interrogative pronouns I have better luck.

Could 'than' and 'then' confusion be related to accent? That's a new one for me.

Fev 24, 2:06 pm

>49 SassyLassy: Jovin does have a chapter on accents, and a chapter on than/then, though they don't overlap. The accent chapter is focused mostly on a couple of vowel mergers that some American dialects have and some don't -- are the vowel sounds the same or different in "cot" and "caught" (for me, they're identical), or in "pin" and "pen" (to my ears, they're very different)?

Fev 25, 2:01 am

>50 KeithChaffee: I'm in the cot/caught merger too. And "pin" and "pen" are also very different - but my husband, in spite of being from generally the same area (northern California) says "ink pen" because he thinks saying "pen" isn't clear enough. It drives me insane, haha. But when pressed, he does say "pen" almost the same way as "pin" so I guess he's right-ish.

Editado: Mar 2, 2:01 pm

11: Light from Uncommon Stars, Ryka Aoki

A variety of familiar tropes -- a deal with the devil, a family of extraterrestrial refugees, a teenage runaway -- combine in delightful and unexpected ways in Aoki's beguiling novel about found families, the importance of unconditional love, and the power of creative expression from playing the violin to making the perfect donut.

Three women are at the center of the story. Shizuka Satomi has only a year left to capture a seventh soul for the devil and avoid damnation herself. That seventh soul just might be Katrina Nguyen, who's run away from an abusive home where things have only gotten worse since her father learned that she was trans. And former starship captain Lan Tran is running a donut shop in the San Gabriel Valley with her four children, all of them having taken human form.

It's a somewhat shambling novel, in need of tighter plotting, and the happy endings at the end come a little too easily. And Aoki's gender politics are heavy-handed; surely there was room for one likable male character to go alongside the bullying teenager, the abusive father, and the literal demon from Hell?

But as Aoki brought her characters into a sprawling and eccentric family, her warmth and compassion carried me through the occasional "let's get back to the story already" moments. Aoki's heart is always in the right place, and it's hard not to be moved by the force of her insistence that happy endings are real and that we all deserve to find one of our own.

(BingoDog: 4.0+ LT rating; currently at 4.1)

Editado: Fev 27, 4:04 pm

Like that review esp your last part; making me want to read this. thanks btw the touch stone includes this ""Good Omens meets The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet ) true?

Editado: Jun 2, 4:45 pm

>53 cindydavid4: Haven't read Good Omens, but the Becky Chambers comparison seems apt. Both books are built around an ensemble of basically decent people, trying however imperfectly to do the right thing and to care about one another.

Fev 27, 4:10 pm

Good Omens is about an angel and demon who try to stop armaggedon. and its quite funny. But that comparison works for me

Fev 28, 2:56 am

>52 KeithChaffee: This was a recommendation by JayneCM in the Category Challenge and I gave it to my husband as a christmas present. He just finished reading it and loved it. I read your review with interest and hope to get to this novel soon!

Fev 28, 3:14 am

>56 MissBrangwen: I look forward to hearing your reaction!

Editado: Mar 2, 2:01 pm

12: Lost in the Moment and Found, Seanan McGuire

8th in the Wayward Children series of novellas, and sadly, the first in the series that didn't work very well for me.

This has been one of my favorite series in recent years. It's built around the idea that children who travel through portals to fantasy worlds -- Alice going to Wonderland, or the Pevensies to Narnia -- are given that opportunity in order to escape some trauma they face in this world, or in order to learn some important lesson that this world cannot teach them. The Doors do not appear to just any child.

And when those children return to this world, they often have difficulty adjusting to the loss of what had seemed a perfect place. That's where the Home for Wayward Children comes in. It's a boarding school that provides support and a sort of emotional detox for such children, though parents are generally told that the school is helping children to get over their "delusions" of having been to another world.

Each book in the series is the story of one of the Wayward Children in some other world, with varying amounts of the story set at the Home among the other residents.

This one is the story of Antionette -- "Antsy" -- who is facing the most severe trauma the series has yet presented, a stepfather who is grooming and gaslighting her in preparation for inevitable sexual abuse. She runs away from home before anything truly horrific happens, and travels through a Door to a world that seems to offer the safe haven she needs.

There are things to admire in this book. As ever, McGuire remembers what it's like to be a child, and writes from a child's point of view extraordinarily well. The opening chapters, in which Antsy struggles to understand why she is so uncomfortable around her new stepfather, are powerful. And the things that happen to Antsy on the other side of the Door are a fine example of how fantasy can be used to dig more deeply into common metaphors by literalizing them.

But with the exception of the stepfather, none of the supporting characters ever come to life. The story isn't very compelling, and it becomes clear why in the final pages, when Antsy reaches a new destination; that arrival feels more like the starting point of the story than like the end. The book is less a complete novella than it is the introductory chapters of a full-length novel. (And those final pages, by the way, won't mean much to readers unfamiliar with the series; this is not a stand-alone installment in the series, and definitely not the place to enter it.)

I hate to criticize the book, because it's clearly a very personal story for McGuire. She dedicates the book to "the child I was," apologizing that she "didn't run soon enough," and provides an author's note/trigger warning that earlier volumes in the series don't have.

Perhaps McGuire (or her editor?) felt that the series was so firmly established at novella length that her readers wouldn't want a Wayward Children novel, but there is so clearly more of Antsy's story waiting to be told that I wish she'd been willing to break format to tell the whole story in one book.

Mar 2, 3:49 pm

Have you read The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune? Loved that book; wonder if thats similar to Home for wayward children Our sci fi/fan reading group read that and mostly liked it. Never kept up with the series

Mar 2, 4:18 pm

>59 cindydavid4: I haven’t, but it’s on the insanely long TBR list.

Mar 2, 6:35 pm

>58 KeithChaffee: This review made me put a hold on Every Heart a Doorway, the only Seanan McGuire book my library has.

Mar 2, 7:56 pm

>61 wandering_star: I hope you enjoy it!

Mar 5, 9:53 pm

I've got Every Heart a Doorway, and I'm looking forward to it, even if I don't end up doing the whole series. I love the idea of the theme.

Editado: Mar 8, 6:50 pm

13: I, Robot, Isaac Asimov

I am not generally one to plan my reading. I prefer to pick up whatever looks interesting at the moment. But I do have one absurdly large long-term reading project, and that is to read all of the short stories (and should I live long enough, the novellas and novelettes) nominated for the major science fiction awards.

Those awards begin with the Hugos, first awarded in 1953, and two of the stories in this collection were Hugo nominees. The stories were originally published during the 1940s (*), and gathered together as a book in 1950. There's a paper-thin linking device to tie the stories together; they are framed as the reminiscences of revered robopsychologist Susan Calvin on the occasion of her retirement.

(* -- I know, I know, if these stories were published in the 40s and the Hugos were first awarded in 1953, how could they be Hugo nominees? Well, the Hugos are awarded at the annual World Science Fiction Convention, which began in 1939, and the organizers eventually decided to award "Retro Hugos" for the WorldCon years that didn't give their own Hugos.)

Making the scientist at the center of the story a woman was unusually progressive in the 1940s (and even more so given what we now know about Asimov's "flirtatious" sexual harassment of women, which was obnoxious even by the standards of his era). Sadly, that progressiveness doesn't always carry through to the actual character. The story "Liar!" is the worst offender, presenting Dr. Calvin as a bitter spinster, convinced that she is too old and unattractive to ever be loved.

The stories mostly follow a formula: A robot is behaving strangely in a way that its programming should not allow, and the protagonists of the story have to figure out why it's happening and how to stop it from happening again. They're arranged in sequence, each showing us a slightly later stage in the history of human/robot interactions.

The two Hugo-nominated stories, "Robbie" and "Runaround," are the highlights. "Robbie" varies from the usual formula, in that the central robot is functioning perfectly and the drama instead centers around the difficulty some humans have in accepting robots as a part of their lives.

As a whole, these stories hold up reasonably well. The simplicity of the puzzle structure is old-fashioned, but the puzzles still seem clever enough. Characterization was never an Asimov strength, and that holds true here; none of his characters have any more personality than is absolutely required by the narrative. And while the prose has moments of the overwrought enthusiasm typical of early SF -- so many italics! -- they are less glaring to today's readers than in most of Asimov's contemporaries.

(BingoDog: author in their 30s; AlphaKIT: A)

Mar 8, 6:22 pm

Id really not been a big fan of his. but last year I read his compilation Creations: The Quest for Origins in Story and Science An anthology of stories and articles on the origin of the universe, the origin of the solar system, the earth, life, and the origin of humankind. Some very interesting fiction and non fiction you might be interested in

Mar 8, 6:32 pm

>64 KeithChaffee: absurdly large long-term reading project
As you are new to LT, you may not be aware of swynn in the 75 group; he too is a librarian and has been reading through the DAWs for several years. I don't want to assume compatible interests from the outside, but I immediately thought of him as I was reading your post.

Editado: Mar 8, 6:58 pm

>65 cindydavid4: When I was in high school, I read a lot of Asimov's nonfiction. He had a monthly science essay in Fantasy and Science Fiction for 30 years or so, and I devoured the collections of those that came out in book form every year or two. I imagine that most of them are outdated by now, but he had a real knack for explaining science to the layman.

>66 qebo: I hadn't been aware of that; thanks for pointing me there. All of the DAWs is an enormous project! Must be 2000+ books by now.

Mar 10, 9:40 pm

>64 KeithChaffee: Interesting review of a book that has been peripherally on my radar. Not sure I'll read it, but thanks to you I know what I'll be missing.

Mar 11, 5:22 pm

>64 KeithChaffee: Enjoyed your review of I, Robot I read it a couple of yers ago an enjoyed it. Robbie is the best story in my opinion. I agree with your thoughts on those stories and Asimov. Still worth a read.

Editado: Jun 2, 4:47 pm

14: The Devil Thumbs a Ride & Other Unforgettable Films, Barry Gifford

Thoughts on about 100 films, mostly crime-related, originally published as a regular column in Mystery Scene magazine.

"Thoughts" is about as generous as I can be to Gifford's musings here. They're too brief to be called "essays" and they aren't thoughtful enough to be called "criticism." "Summaries" might be the best word, because most of what Gifford does is simply to narrate the plot, complete with massive amounts of spoilers. Those spoilers mean this isn't a book for people who haven't seen these movies, and people who have seen them aren't going to get any interesting new insights on them from Gifford's superficial recaps, so I'm not sure who the intended audience is.

As for the quality of Gifford's opinions, they are intensely idiosyncratic and shaped by his particular likes and dislikes to an unusual degree. He essentially dismisses Double Indemnity and Body Heat out of hand, for instance, because he doesn't find Barbara Stanwyck or Kathleen Turner sexy enough to be convincing femmes fatales. (And good lord! I am gayer than a warehouse full of rainbows, and even I could get it up for Kathleen Turner in Body Heat!)

I suppose the book might be of some value to the film buff looking for interesting obscurities, but even that value is limited because Gifford sticks pretty closely to the classics. I don't think there are more than a dozen genuine rarities among his selections, and I don't really need one more uninteresting opinion on Laura or Shadow of a Doubt.

It's not even particularly interesting reading on the level of prose. Gifford has a knack for finding the least interesting way to express the most obvious thoughts.

A disappointment.

(AlphaKIT: G)

Editado: Mar 21, 2:03 pm

15: The Inside of the Cup, Winston Churchill

The American novelist Winston Churchill was born in 1871, three years before the British statesman who shares his name. He's faded into obscurity today, but a hundred years ago, he was one of the country's most successful novelists. He was so successful that when the British Churchill was preparing to publish his first (and only) novel, he wrote to the American about the potential confusion of their names. Since the American had established a reputation as a novelist -- the English Churchill had only published nonfiction -- the men agreed that the Englishman would publish as "Winston Spencer Churchill." The "Spencer" eventually got whittled down to "S.".

The Winston Churchills met briefly a couple of times, when each man visited the other's country, but apparently didn't get along very well. There were other similarities in their lives, though. Both men were educated at one of their nation's military academies, and both took up painting as a hobby. Both entered politics, though the American's career was far less significant, consisting of two terms in the New Hampshire state legislature and two unsuccessful campaigns for governor.

Churchill (and from this point on we're talking about the American) began as a writer of historical fiction, but shifted fairly quickly to novels about contemporary society. He wrote about the politics (in the broadest sense of the word) and social relationships of American communities, and in the 1913 novel The Inside of the Cup, he tackles issues that still feel topical today -- the role of religion in society and the very definition of Christianity.

John Hodder is appointed the new rector of St. John's church in an unspecified midwestern city. He moves there from a small town in Maine, and urban poverty and social stratification is new to him. He's also caught off guard by social trends which hadn't yet come to rural America, largely involving women demanding different roles and a bigger place in society, and by the corruption of local business leaders. All of this leads to a crisis of faith, and Hodder considers leaving the clergy.

The novel is very episodic. In most chapters, Hodder means a new member of the community, with whom he has a conversation about why and how that person became so disillusioned with religion. And these are deep dives into substantial issues; Churchill expects that his reader is familiar enough with current theological debate to keep up. I am no theologian, and by the final third of the book, when Hodder has come to a new understanding of what Christianity should mean, I was floundering through the actual discussions and following the story only in the most basic plot terms -- who's on Hodder's side and who's not, what threats are being made, and so on.

My floundering was only deepened by the prose style of the era. As a sample, here's the first paragraph:

With few exceptions, the incidents recorded in these pages take place in one of the largest cities of the United States of America, and of that portion called the Middle West, -- a city once conservative and provincial, and rather proud of those qualities; but now outgrown them, and linked by lightning limited trains to other teeming centers of the modern world: a city overtaken, in recent years, by the plague which has swept our country from the Atlantic to the Pacific -- Prosperity. Before its advent, the Goodriches and Gores, the Warings, the Prestons and the Atterburys lived leisurely lives in a sleepy quarter of shade trees and spacious yards and muddy macadam streets, now passed away forever. Existence was decorous, marriage an irrevocable step, wives were wives, and the Authorized Version of the Bible was true from cover to cover. So Dr. Gilman preached, and so they believed.

But I got enough to understand that the issues Churchill raises have never really left. What is the responsibility of the individual to his society? Is it sufficient for the wealthy to give money to the church and to charity, if they aren't also personally involved in doing good works? Is wealth inherently corrupting? Also still with us are the panicked cries of "Socialism!" that greet Hodder's answers to those questions.

Were I a bigger fan of classic fiction, I might someday pick up another of Churchill's novels, preferably one that feels more like a novel and less like a graduate seminar in theology. But for now, I think this one has satisfied the curiosity I felt when I learned that there was an American Winston Churchill.

Mar 21, 2:18 pm

Fascinating about the two Winston Churchills. I have not read anything by the British one and probably never will. I had not heard of the American one.

Mar 22, 4:20 am

Fabulous review of The Inside of the Cup, Keith. I had also never heard of the American Winston Churchill, and since the topic of this novel is compelling and timely I just downloaded the free ebook version onto my Kindle.

Mar 22, 8:04 am

>71 KeithChaffee: Winston Churchill
The only reason I'd heard of him is that swynn and lyzard of the 75ers were reading through bestsellers from... I'm not sure what the date range was. You can see their threads in the Conversations for this book.

Editado: Abr 1, 4:33 pm

16: Confess, Fletch, Gregory Mcdonald

2nd (of 9) in the Fletch series of comic mysteries; winner of the 1977 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original.

We find Fletch in Boston, where he is, at least in theory, researching his biography of a minor New England artist. But what he's mostly up to is attempting to find the stolen art collection of his Italian fiancee after the kidnapping and presumed murder of her father. She and her stepmother are squabbling over who is to inherit the paintings (if they are found); the lawyers refuse to release the Count's will until his body is actually found.

Fletch's investigation into the stolen art is complicated when he arrives at his rental apartment to find the naked body of a young woman; he becomes, inevitably, the chief suspect in her murder.

Mcdonald writes with such a breezy comic style that the plot sometimes seems to take a back scene to the witty conversations and the snappy banter. Entire scenes feel like drifty interludes that are beside the point, but I never minded because they are so much fun. When all of those things that felt like amusing digressions turn out to have been relevant after all, and all of the plot threads are neatly tied together into a clever solution, you realize just how smartly Mcdonald has conceived his story.

The murder is being investigated by Inspector Francis Xavier Flynn of the Boston police department, who is such a charming eccentric that Mcdonald spun him off into his own 4-book series.

Confess, Fletch was adapted into a very good movie last year starring Jon Hamm, perfect for the role. The movie was barely released in theaters for being dumped onto Showtime's streaming service, where almost nobody saw it. In a better world, it would have been the first of a long-running franchise for Hamm.

(BingoDog: features a journalist. A bit of a stretch, perhaps, but Fletch is at least a former journalist, and he does provide some emergency assistance to his former editor at a moment when the newsroom is short-staffed.)

Mar 27, 8:20 pm

>70 KeithChaffee: Gifford has a knack for finding the least interesting way to express the most obvious thoughts. What a burn! But I definitely know people like this...

Editado: Abr 3, 3:50 pm

17: Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories 1 (1939), edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg

I have always been one who sets himself impractically large projects, and in retirement, I have become even more so. I have spreadsheets of all the Oscar-nominated movies I haven't seen, all the symphonies and concertos I haven't heard, all the old TV shows I missed the first time around. Any one of these projects is far too large to complete in the years left to me, but I find it reassuring to have them there in the background to be enjoyed/worked on.

My impractical reading project is perhaps the largest and most impractical of them all -- to review the history of short science fiction by reading all of the various "year's best" volumes, as well as picking up the stories that were nominated for the major awards but somehow missed those collections.

The first major "best of" series began with the stories of 1949, a full decade after the first World Science Fiction Convention. In the late 1970s, Asimov and Greenberg began this series of anthologies meant to cover the earliest years of the genre; the series ran for 25 volumes, covering the years through 1963. It is the only major "best of" series to be published years after the time being covered, giving it the benefit of hindsight.

The challenge with reading early science fiction is not only that the writing style is archaic, but even by the standards of its time, it's generally rather poor writing. These stories were quickly written for magazines that didn't pay very well, and the readers were more interested in thrilling new ideas than they were in deathless prose.

And because SF, even more than most genres, is an accumulative genre -- the stories of the present are constantly building on the ideas and innovations of the previous generation -- the ideas in even the best stories of 1939 don't always feel very bold or clever. The challenge for the modern reader is to remember that when they were published, these stories were not pale retreads of cliched ideas; they were surprising and innovative. These stories are where today's cliches were invented.

And with that in mind, you can appreciate Robert Bloch's handling of the still-new idea of relativistic time distortion in "The Strange Flight of Richard Clayton;" Henry Kuttner's comic tale of an incompetent angel, "The Misguided Halo;" or Nelson Bond's journey through a post-apocalyptic American landscape, "Pilgrimage;" for what they offered at the time.

Even the most generous reader, I'm afraid, will find some of these stories a hard slog. Reading "Cloak of Aesir" makes it clear why John W. Campbell is better remembered as an editor than for the stories he published as Don A. Stuart (*); and A. E. van Vogt's "Black Destroyer" offers even clunkier prose than the rest of these stories.

(*The one Campbell/Stuart story that has deservedly endured is his 1938 "Who Goes There?," and that is probably due less to the quality of the writing than it is to the brilliance of the central idea and the film adaptations of the story as The Thing.)

But there are also bright spots. Robert A. Heinlein's prose is levels above most of his contemporaries, reading with an easy grace that wouldn't be the norm in the genre for another ten or twenty years; his "Life-Line" is a solid early take on the scientist who claims to know when everyone will die. And while "Trends" isn't a particularly interesting story, it shows that Isaac Asimov's clean, unobtrusive style was present from the very beginning of his career.

In these stories, we're watching a genre take its first clumsy steps. And while it is true that there is a lot of awkwardness in that process, and more than a few painful faceplants, there is also the thrill and the mystery of enormous potential waiting to be realized.

Abr 5, 4:32 pm

I enjoyed your excellent review of Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF stories 1 (1939). I agree with everything you say about reading those old stories from the so-called golden age. Hope you keep going with your project. I have a project that is horizontal rather than vertical, that is I am reading SF books published in the year 1951, so there should be one of isaac Asimov presents in that year.

Abr 6, 9:07 pm

>78 baswood: Thanks! '51 would be an interesting year. The writing quality should have improved significantly from '39, even if you don't yet have the experimentation and playfulness of the British New Wave, and Heinlein must be well into his series of "juvenile" novels. I would guess that a fair number of what are being published as novels are "fix-ups," short story collections given just enough narrative glue to hold them together as a (somewhat) unified whole. Had Lewis begun the Narnia books yet?

Editado: Abr 6, 11:09 pm

>77 KeithChaffee: That review reminds me that I have most of the series in one of my boxes. Nice review. :)

>79 KeithChaffee: Prince Caspian came out in 1951 so yep.

Editado: Abr 11, 4:01 pm

18: Murder Your Employer, Rupert Holmes

The title page tells us that Rupert Holmes (yes, the "Pina Colada Song" singer/songwriter) is merely the editor of this book, which is actually "from the chronicles of Dean Harbinger Harrow, The McMasters Conservatory for the Applied Arts." The "arts" studied by McMasters students are those involved in murder, and this is the first volume in the dean's projected series, "The McMasters Guide to Homicide," offering tips and anecdotes for the would-be murderer (or, in McMasters jargon, "deletist") who cannot afford the school's rather pricy tuition.

The dean makes his agenda clear (and Holmes makes the tone of the novel equally clear) at the very beginning:

So you've decided to commit a murder.

Congratulations. Simply by purchasing this volume, you've already taken the all-important first step toward a successful homicide of which you can be proud, one that would gain you the admiration of your peers, were they ever to learn of it.

This book will see to it that they don't.

Harrow tells us three stories of McMasters students whose "thesis" -- the murder for which their tutelage is meant to prepare them -- is the death of their employers. Given the need to avoid possible legal exposure for his alums, he has chosen a set of stories set about 70 years ago: An aerospace engineer has designed a new plane, and his employer plans to cut corners on its manufacture in a way that will surely lead to many deaths; a nurse is being blackmailed by her supervisor; an actress struggles to maintain her career when the studio boss won't give her any decent roles.

The three students are at McMasters at the same time, in the first half of the book, though their stories overlap only tangentially; they're entirely separate stories in the second half, when the three are sent back into the world to complete their theses.

The murder schemes are clever; the three villains are nasty enough, and the would-be killers likable enough, that we don't feel too awful about rooting for the murderers to succeed; and the early 50s setting gives the story something of a Golden Age aura while still allowing Holmes/Harrow to narrate in a more contemporary style, witty and winking without crossing the line into snark.

As noted above, Harrow presents this as the first in a planned series of McMasters volumes, and Holmes has created a world that allows for a wide range of follow-ups. New McMasters volumes could focus on different types of murders (there is a reference to "the oft-requested Murder Those Cruel to You in Adolescence"), be centered on a single murder instead of the three-part story found here, or be set in a wide variety of historical periods. And the final pages of the book do allow for the possibility of return visits to McMasters, while also suggesting that those visits might have to take very different form than these pages from Harrow's chronicles. Whatever form that might be, I eagerly await Holmes's next tale of the McMasters Conservatory.

Abr 11, 5:10 pm

>81 KeithChaffee: You are a real danger for my reading plans... Great review (and an interesting sounding book. Unfortunately...) :)

Abr 18, 4:59 pm

One of this year's Bingo Dog squares is "bestseller from 20 years ago," so I finally got around to picking up Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. And after slogging through about half of it, I give up. It's painstakingly researched, but Larson's insistence on sharing with you every single thing he learned in that research overwhelms the story he's telling. Or to be more precise, the stories, because the story of the serial killer and the story of how the 1893 Chicago World's Fair came to be are so disconnected that I felt like I was being bounced back and forth from one book to another, with only the most tangential connections. It's certainly possible that they get tied together with a dramatic flourish in the back half, but neither one on its own is interesting me enough to keep me going in hope of that big reveal. I can see how it would be terrific stuff for serial killer devotees or fans of minutely detailed history, but I am neither, and it's just not for me.

Abr 19, 10:50 am

>83 KeithChaffee: I had the same experience with that book. I had enjoyed Isaac's Storm and had hoped this would be on the same level, but it just didn't work.

Abr 19, 11:13 am

>83 KeithChaffee: Back when this book was a bestseller, my book club read it, and my experience was the same as yours. I didn't find any relation between the 2 parts (the serial killer and the world's fair), and I did finish it. Since then, I've read several nonfiction books where the author covers two seemingly distinct topics, and most of the time I couldn't see the connection, and found them to be unsuccessful. Unfortunately, I can't think of any titles at the moment, but it seemed to happen enough I was thinking it was some sort of trend.

Abr 19, 11:22 am

Liked Isaacs Storm very much, but agree on this one. I have the splendid and the vile on my bookshelf, wonder how that is

Abr 19, 1:33 pm

Well, that's certainly good to hear. It's always an odd feeling when you bounce this hard off something that was so popular; you can't help but wonder "what am I missing?," so it's nice to know that whatever it is, I'm not the only one missing it.

Abr 19, 2:56 pm

>86 cindydavid4: My book club members (and I) all thought The Splendid and the Vile was pretty good. That's the only Larson I've read.

Abr 21, 8:21 pm

>62 KeithChaffee: I really did!!

Abr 21, 8:33 pm

Editado: Maio 7, 6:49 pm

19: Blitz, Daniel O'Malley

Third in O'Malley's series of comic supernatural spy capers, following The Rook and Stiletto. The novels are stories of the Chequy, which is (as one character explains) "the department within the British government responsible for individuals and occurrences for which there is no scientific or rational explanation, the unregulated existence of which could cause damage to public safety." In other words, these are the agents who deal with the supernatural, and most of the Chequy's operatives have inexplicable powers of their own.

The general tone of the series is "what if Douglas Adams and H. P. Lovecraft collaborated on a James Bond novel?" There are lots of bizarre monsters and powers, plenty of jokes and random digressions, and plots that are more serious and coherent than you might have expected. Blitz is somewhat more serious in tone than the earlier installments, in large part because much of the novel takes place during World War II, a backdrop that makes it harder to be quite as goofy; there are still plenty of delightfully surreal moments and spectacular action set pieces to enjoy, though.

We jump back and forth between two stories. In the present day, Lyn, a young librarian, is recruited by the Chequy (or kidnapped into; the lines get a little blurry sometimes) after nearly burning her house down with an unexpected series of electrical discharges from her body. And in London during the Blitz, three inexperienced operatives find try to track down a Nazi pilot who's been using his powers to go on a killing spree. The stories are -- no surprise here -- tied together eventually, though the connection is a bit looser than I would have liked, and O'Malley takes too long to reveal it.

But fortunately, each story on its own is quite entertaining. The present-day story allows us a peek into the boarding school where the Chequy trains children to use their powers without inadvertently killing anyone. The WWII story gives us the nuttiest action sequences, as the Nazi hunt leads the three young women into battles with London gangsters who have powers of their own.

(On a side note, while I wasn't entirely satisfied with the answer the characters offer to why the Chequy doesn't simply step in and defeat Hitler outright, I was pleased that O'Malley at least recognized that the question needed to be addressed. Too many superhero stories ignore such matters entirely.)

O'Malley's series is perhaps slightly starting to run out of steam. I don't think this one is quite at the level of the first two books. But that was such a high level that even a slight step down leaves us with a rollicking good time. And opening up the possibility of Chequy stories set in other time periods is a smart idea -- the first two were both set in the present -- that could keep the series rolling briskly along for a few more books.

(AlphaKIT: W; Bingo Dog: A book involving an accident; an accidental housefire is the starting point for one plot thread.)

Editado: Maio 1, 1:53 pm

20: Way Station, Clifford D. Simak

I don't think Simak is read much these days, but he had a long career in science fiction, publishing his first short story in 1931 and his last novel in 1986. He was the third author to be named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America, and one of the first class of authors to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Horror Writers Association.

He's often described as the genre's great pastoral writer; his stories are more likely to be set in the country than in futuristic cities or on spaceships. And Way Station, the 1964 Hugo winner for Best Novel, is a fine example.

The novel is set in the (then) present day in a particularly isolated corner of Wisconsin, where Enoch Wallace lives in the home his father built, keeping mostly to himself. With the exception of a daily walk and chats with the mailman, he doesn't even leave his house all that often.

The locals know that Enoch is a bit odd; they notice, for instance, that he doesn't ever seem to age much, seeming to be permanently stuck somewhere in his 30s. He is, in fact, a Civil War veteran, and owes his longevity to the fact that the house he rarely leaves is part of an interstellar travel network; his longevity is a gift from the aliens on whose behalf he manages this station. By traditional standards, it's a lonely existence, but Enoch is a smart and curious man, and his conversations with the travelers who come through his station are more than enough compensation for the lack of human relationships.

But a man and a house this strange can't go unnoticed by the outside world forever, and a federal stakeout of Enoch's home sets the story in motion.

Simak's style is calm and quiet, so much so that the novel feels less eventful than it is. It's a novel filled with awe, as Enoch marvels that he has been given this strange role in a universe that is so much larger than he ever might have imagined. Here's a sample of Simak's style, after one unexpected event:

There was a quietness. As if the entire world had caught its breath and stood attentive and in awe, waiting for a sound that did not come, that would never come but would always be expected.

And with the quietness came an abiding sense of peace that seemed to seep into the very fiber of one's being. It was no synthetic thing -- not as if someone had invoked a peace and peace then was alllowed to exist by sufferance. It was a present and an actual peace, the peace of mind that came with the calmness of a sunset after a long, hot day, or the sparkling, ghost-like shimmer of a springtime dawn. You felt it inside of you and all about you, and there was the feeling that it was not only here but that the peace extended on and out in all directions, to the farthest reaches of infinity, and that it had a depth which would enable it to endure until the final gasp of all enternity.

That style and those ideas are unusual in science fiction, which is not (he wildly overgeneralized) a genre given to calm contemplation and awesome majesty. Perhaps that's why Simak has fallen out of vogue. I haven't read much of his work myself; this book makes me want to read more.

(AlphaKIT: W)

Editado: Maio 1, 5:36 pm

We read that for our book group a few years back, Everyone really liked it. tried others of his and just werent as good. Not that they were too quiet, but I think I had trouble getting in to them

Maio 1, 5:59 pm

Enjoyed your review of Way Station I have Simak's Empire on my list to read soon.

Maio 2, 6:56 am

>92 KeithChaffee: Wow, did you send me down a rabbit hole. When I was a teen and young adult I read a lot of these SFF classics, though I don't think I read any Simak, I was more into fantasy, things like Conan the barbarian. When I started reading books in English, "sword" was one of the first new words I learned.

Anyway I didn't think I would find much Simak on the Kobo shop, but boy was I wrong, though I didn't find Waystation. Turns out there are a lot of anthologies with his and others' books, and most of them are available through the Kobo subscription. I immediately added Planet Stories Collection 7 to my ever increasing TBR stack, because the cover is so neat. Ebook covers of older books are often extremely boring, but this one is definitely not! Also, it contains a novelette by Leigh Brackett, and I used to love her books.

Waystation sounds good though, I'll keep trying to find it.

Maio 2, 2:25 pm

>95 FlorenceArt: Simak is more in print than many authors of his era, if only in e-book format. His major novels are all available, and there's a ten-volume series of his complete short fiction.

Editado: Maio 5, 3:54 pm

21: Symphony of Secrets, Brendan Slocumb

Bern Hendricks is a music professor, one of the world's leading authorities on the (fictional) early 20th-century composer Frederic Delaney. Delaney was a composer of astonishing range, writing not only symphonies and operas, but popular songs and musicals; he died abruptly after the critical failure of his opera RED, which he had hoped would restore his reputation after several years in a creative slump.

Bern is asked by the Delaney Foundation to take on a top-secret project. They've discovered the long-lost original manuscript for RED -- the version that flopped was Delaney's reconstruction of the work after he lost the only copy of the manuscript -- and asked Bern to edit the manuscript for performance and publication.

Slocumb cuts back and forth between that story and the story of how RED was written and lost in the 1920s and 1930s. When we meet him, Freddy Delaney is an aspiring composer. He's not having much success, though, and is supporting himself by working as a mediocre pianist in a jazz band by ight, and a song plugger by day. (In the days before radio, music publishers hired song pluggers to play their latest songs at the piano in large department stores to drum up sales of sheet music. George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Jerome Kern all worked as song pluggers in their youth.)

Freddy's luck begins to change when he meets Josephine Reed, a Black woman who becomes his piano teacher. The two become close companions. It's not quite a romantic relationship, but in that era, even a friendship between a man and a woman of different races needs to be hidden.

For the first two-thirds of the novel, this is a terrific piece of entertainment. But as Slocumb reveals (and Bern begins to piece together) the full extent of the relationship between Freddy and Josephine, the novel becomes more melodramatic and violent in ways that don't always feel organic. Particularly in the present-day story, some of the violence feels more like the author wanting to make a political statement than like something that would actually happen in these circumstances.

(Please note: I am not trying to suggest that such events -- I'm trying to avoid spoiling things here -- never happen in the real world; they do, far too often. I'm only saying that I didn't find them credible in this specific context.)

Despite some of the final act problems, I would recommend the book. Slocumb's characters are distinctive and well-defined. Josephine is a particularly fine creation; we'd probably recognize her today as being on the autism spectrum. She also has a form of synesthesia in which she experiences music as both color and shape; she confuses Bern no end by saying things like "you need to put the blue on the speedway" or "he pulled those tabs too soon." And Bern's best friend/computer whiz Eboni brings some bite and sarcasm to her scenes, but is never reduced to just another Sassy Black Sidekick.

The story moves briskly along, and Slocumb does a fine job of building suspense, both in terms of "what's going to happen next?" and "oh, no, I can see the disaster coming around the bend" anticipation.

And if you're listening, Hollywood: This would make a great miniseries for streaming. William Jackson Harper as Bern, Janelle Monae as Eboni, Audra McDonald as Josephine -- someone get on that, please.

Maio 7, 10:01 am

Great review of Symphony of Secrets, Keith. I plan to read his earlier novel, The Violin Conspiracy, and I may read this novel if I like that one.

Maio 7, 2:05 pm

>98 kidzdoc: I'll be curious to hear what you think of either one.

Editado: Maio 9, 12:49 pm

22: Under the Rainbow, Celia Laskey

"A novel." Says so right there on the cover. I'm not convinced. This is a collection of linked short stories, and even that is being generous; they're more like vignettes.

The background for these character sketches: An LGBT rights organization called Acceptance Across America has determined, through some combination of polling and analysis of social media posts, that Big Burr, Kansas, is "the most homophobic town in America." On the theory that people who actually know gay people are less likely to be homophobic, AAA sends a 15-person task force to live in Big Burr for two years.

This is pretty much nonsense on every level, of course. What changes minds about gay folks is learning that someone you already care about is gay; random strangers showing up with a cheerful "Hello, bigots! I'm a gay person! Get to know me!" is not going to have the desired effect.

Laskey gives us a dozen chapters set during the two-year experiment, each focused on a different person, some Big Burr residents and some task force members. A POV character from one chapter might show up briefly in the background of some other chapter, but no one gets a full-length plot. Everyone gets one momentary glimpse into their lives, then it's on to the next. Laskey mostly avoids the worst of the bigotry; her characters are usually either task force members or Big Burr residents who find that the arrival of AAA is causing them to examine their own unresolved sexual identities.

When she does attempt a chapter from one of the most hostile residents, it's the least successful in the book. Laskey is unable either to demonstrate or to generate any empathy for that point of view. I suppose that's not surprising; I would find it hard to live in that mindset at all, much less attempt to make the character a sympathetic one. But Laskey doesn't even come close. Christine is a cartoon villain, only a mustache away from Snidely Whiplash.

So we don't get any characters we can follow for the length of the book, and the ostensible plot never takes flight, which it really can't when it's built around so foolishly conceived a scheme. Hearts and minds are overwhelmingly not changed; the AAA leaves Big Burr having made only a few superficial changes (the high school now has one all-gender restroom! Hurrah!).

Laskey's intentions are good, and one or two of her vignettes carry some emotional force. A Big Burr man who can no longer ignore his own attraction to men is the most moving character in the book; he's also the only character to whom Laskey returns for a second chapter, in her "ten years later" epilogue. But like the social experiment at the center of the book, Under the Rainbow fizzles out without much happening.

(AlphaKIT: U; Bingo Dog: rural/small town setting)

Maio 9, 2:53 pm

Oh my. Sounds like something the Daily Show would do a piece about, but they would be much more sucessful

Editado: Maio 27, 6:42 pm

23: A Closed and Common Orbit, Becky Chambers

#2 in the Wayfarers series, but more of a stand-alone than a real sequel.

We do follow one of the characters from The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, but her circumstances are very much changed. Lovelace, the AI who ran the ship in that book, has had her core moved (illegally) into a synthetic human body.

She moves in with her new friends Pepper (an engineering/fix-it wizard) and Blue (a talented artist). She's going by the name Sidra now, and struggling to adapt to life in "the kit," which she can't bring herself to think of as "her body." Turns out that it's a challenge to live life as an illegal AI, especially when your core program includes requirements that you must answer direct questions and you cannot lie.

Chambers alternates between Sidra's story and the story of a child named Jane, a clone living in slavery in a scrap recycling plant; the two stories are, of course, eventually tied together.

I didn't enjoy this book as much as I liked Long Way, which had a wider range of interesting characters; neither Sidra nor Jane grabbed my interest quite as strongly. And the more comic, action-filled style of Long Way was more involving than the more contemplative story of this second book.

That's not to say that I disliked Closed and Common; it's a fine piece of thoughtful entertainment. I appreciate Chambers's exploration of the question of what it means to be human/alive (Sidra isn't the only significant AI character in the story), which never feels didactic or political.

This is certainly a good enough book to keep me moving on to the next in the series, though after two such different books, I have no idea what to expect from Record of a Spaceborn Few.

(AlphaKIT: C; Bingo Dog: 1000+ copies at LT)

Maio 17, 12:02 pm

>97 KeithChaffee: Thanks for reviewing that. I appreciated his first book and I think Slocumb might have a long career writing thrillers that are different enough from the usual fare to give him an edge, while still checking all the boxes of what a thriller should be.

>100 KeithChaffee: Sounds like a lower key version of We're Here. I'm wary of any situation that asks members of a marginalized group to go out and attempt to sway hostile people to recognize that they are regular people. But as a novel, that does sound interesting.

Editado: Jun 2, 4:54 pm

>103 RidgewayGirl: I have very mixed feelings about We're Here. It's skillfully made entertainment, and everyone involved knows just how to pull the heartstrings. And I would never argue against the power of openness to change minds, or the importance of being honest about your own life.

But I sometimes wonder what happens in those small towns after the queens leave. It's easy to swoop into Biloxi or Billings and be spectacularly flamboyant when (a) you have a security team on hand and (b) you know you get to leave. And for the locals, there's a big difference between being out to one's close circle of family and friends, and making a dramatic public declaration of one's sexuality (or one's support, in the case of the show's hetero participants).

Debbie the bank teller, Pastor Fred from the Methodist church, Rudy the bus driver -- what happens to those people when they go back to work on Monday morning after Bob and Shangela and Eureka have left town? How many jobs are lost, friendships are ended, family relationships shattered? The lack of any follow-up beyond the moment of the big public performance is a serious flaw in the show.

I get it, that's what works dramatically and sends the message the show wants to send: Declare yourself, and everything will still be OK. Your family will come to the show and give you a big hug (only rarely does the show give us a subject whose family members remain hostile as the credits roll); you'll feel better about yourself; you'll set a powerful example for other members of your community in East Podunk. But coming out is rarely that simple or tidy. Life is rarely that tidy.

Maio 17, 3:06 pm

>104 KeithChaffee: Yes, I think that the pastor ended up losing his job as a result. We're certainly not in an era of peaceful tolerance of the differences of others.

Editado: Maio 26, 6:35 pm

24: Cover Her Face, P. D. James

#1 of 14 in the Adam Dalgleish mystery series.

Our murder victim is Sallly Jupp, a young unwed mother who has been working for several months as a maid for the Maxie family. Sally is very pretty and ambitious, and everyone in the household seems to dislike her, or at least to be made quite uncomfortable by her. When she announces to the family that Dr. Stephen Maxie has proposed to her, it's not terribly surprising that she's found dead the next morning, strangled in her bed. Detective Chief Inspector Adam Dalgleish is brought in to solve the case, which he does with brisk efficiency.

Maybe even a bit too much brisk efficiency; James doesn't waste a lot of time on digressions or red herrings. The crime is committed; Dalgleish questions the family members, along with their friends and guests; the murderer is revealed. We get some time alone with some of the suspects, but I would have liked more of that. Perhaps James was, in her first book, avoiding the challenge of writing from the murderer's point of view without revealing that they are the murderer.

Even in 1962, I think this book would have felt a bit old-fashioned, a throwback to the Golden Age of the British murder mystery. A relatively isolated country estate housing a small group of suspects; a clash between servants and employers; a great deal of class snobbery (the Maxies' longtime maid, who is supervising Sally, looks down on her for being an unwed moter); an "I've gathered you all here in the drawing room" monologue from the detective -- it's all very 1940s.

But I liked the book, and I enjoyed James's writing, which has a tart snap. Take this moment, when one character is visiting the offices of a novel-of-the-month subscription service:
Select Books catered for that class of reader which likes a good story without caring much who writes it, prefers to be spared the tedium of personal choice, and believes that a bookcase of volumes equal in size and bound in exactly the same colour gives tone to any room. Select Books preferred virtue to be rewarded and vice suitably punished. They eschewed salacity, avoided controversy and took no risks with unestablished writers. Not surprisingly they often had to look far back in the publishers' lists to produce a current choice.

Or this, after the death of the family patriarch, who has been a comatose invalid for some time:
The long years of half-life were over at last. Emotionally and intellectually he had been dead for three years. His last breath was the technicality which finally and officially severed him from a world which he had once known and loved. It was not within his capacity now to die with courage or with dignity but he died without fuss.

That last sentence is marvelous.

I liked a lot about this book, and the things that didn't work were relatively minor problems that I'd expect to improve with time and experience. Had I not known that this was a first novel, I don't think I'd have pegged it as one. I could easily go back for more of this series.

(AlphaKIT: C; Bingo Dog: popular author's first book)

Maio 26, 4:49 pm

Probably not going to finish this one, because it's not really a book designed for casual reading, but Music for Prime Time by Jon Burlingame will be a terrific resource for some folks. It's a history of music written for American television, both theme songs and underscores. An introductory chapter covers the early years, in which most shows simply grabbed bits of music from Hollywood music libraries -- collections of generic chase music, romantic music, comedy music, etc. -- or used excerpts from classical pieces (think of Rossini's overture from William Tell recycled as theme music for The Lone Ranger).

After that, Burlingame devotes chapters to the major genres -- comedy, western, sci-fi, cop shows, and so on -- zipping through the history of who wrote music for what, giving a few paragraphs of biographical/historical detail for each of the most important figures in that history. And those figures include unexpected names from other areas of music -- film composers Franz Waxman and Bernard Herrmann, classical composers Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein, jazz greats Quincy Jones and Dave Brubeck.

Thoroughly researched, and comprehensively indexed. Scholars working in this area will find it invaluable, and it's another book that makes you wish it were accompanied by a Spotify playlist.

Maio 26, 6:14 pm

>106 KeithChaffee: A wonderful review that has reminded me of what made James such a good writer.

Maio 28, 11:14 am

Enjoyed your review of the first of the Adam Dalgleish mysteries. The recent TV series has the main actor delivering his lines in that 'tart snap' that you mention.

Editado: Maio 31, 3:07 pm

25: The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday, Saad Z. Hossain

When the djinn Melek Ahmar escapes from the stone tomb in which he's been imprisoned for a few thousand years -- even the best of spells wear off eventually -- he is determined to return to the power and status to which he is entitled as the Lord of Mars, the Red King, the Lord of Tuesday, Most August Rajah of Djinn.

But things have changed since Melek was entombed. There are no human servants waiting to greet him; the only person anywhere nearby is Bhan Gurung, an elderly Nepalese soldier. That's because almost everyone now lives in a handful of cities, where nanotech makes it possible to survive after the climate apocalypse has made most of the planet uninhabitable. But being ruler of Kathmandu is better than being ruler of nothing at all, so Melek and Gurung set off for the city.

Is there anything harder to read than comedy that doesn't mesh with your own sense of humor? I can see all of the influences on Hossain's comic style -- a bit of Christopher Buckley, a little Douglas Adams, some Christopher Moore -- and they are mostly authors who I like. But those influences clash badly; the artfully "random" digressions he draws from Adams don't mix well with Buckleyesque political satire. And the violent confrontations that end the book are jarringly out of place with all of it.

Humor is subjective, and I'm sure there are people for whom this will work beautifully. The prose is skillfully put together and pleasant to read; the ideas are clever. And there are even a handful of jokes scattered throughout that did click for me. But mostly, I found this an exercise in counting the endless series of Joke-Like Objects as they thudded to the floor.

(AlphaKIT: Z)

Maio 31, 3:19 pm

>110 KeithChaffee: I never finished that book. I only have a vague remembrance but I think I felt that there wasn’t much worth reading, apart from the humor, which wasn’t all that funny to me anyway.

Maio 31, 3:36 pm

>110 KeithChaffee: >111 FlorenceArt:

I loved that one. But taste is subjective indeed. :)

Maio 31, 4:30 pm

>112 AnnieMod: Yes, and there are books for everyone!

Maio 31, 8:39 pm

If nothing else I love the title! but Ive got enough to read so may skip this

Jun 3, 9:31 am

>107 KeithChaffee: Well, that's a book bullet!

Jun 3, 12:13 pm

joke-like objects... love it!

Jun 7, 3:52 pm

26: 18 Tiny Deaths, Bruce Goldfarb

Here we have a biography of Frances Glessner Lee (1878-1962), often described as the "mother of forensic science." The most colorful bit of her life was her creation of the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, the "18 tiny deaths" of the book's title.

The Nutshell Studies were painstakingly detailed dioramas of crime scenes which Lee made as a teaching aid for police officers. They weren't meant to be "solve this mystery" puzzles, from which an officer was intended to fully explain the crime. Rather, they were meant to teach officers how to look at a crime scene. What details should they be looking for, and what conclusions might be drawn from those details?

Lee was one of the first people to take seriously the role of forensic science -- "legal medicine," as it was known at the time -- in investigating murders. She had no background in either law or medicine; she was a Chicago heiress without even a high school diploma. But she took a serious interest in the field, and set out to reform the way murder was approached by both police and doctors.

At the time, there were no medical examiners to analyze cause of death (there still aren't, in more than half of the states), and police had no training in how to look at a crime scene. In cases of suspicious death, bodies were removed from the crime scene and examined by coroners, who were often political appointees and sometimes not even doctors.

Lee convinced Harvard to establish the country's first department of legal medicine as part of its medical school; her persuasion tactics were principally financial, as she paid most of the bills for the department for many years.

The problem with this biography is that apart from the creepy fascination of the Nutshell Studies, Lee's life simply isn't that interesting. She was, ultimately, a wealthy dilettante with enough money and clout to get what she wanted.

Goldfarb isn't a good enough writer to make repeated rounds of "I want you to do this, Harvard, and I will give you buckets full of money if you do" a compelling story, and the book only really snaps to life in the chapters on the Nutshell Studies, which seems to be the only part of the life that actually interests him much. (He is currently the curator of the Studies, which are currently housed at the Forensic Medical Center in Baltimore, and still used in the training of police officers.)

You can learn all that you really need to know about Lee and the Nutshell Studies by reading those two articles in Wikipedia. There might be an interesting book to be made about Lee, but it would have to be much more focused on, and go into more detail about, the creation of the Studies.

(AlphaKIT: B; Bingo Dog: number in the title)

Editado: Jun 14, 3:33 pm

27: Gays on Broadway, Ethan Mordden

Ethan Mordden has had a long career as a historian of American theater; his 7-volume history of the 20th-century Broadway musical is an extraordinary accomplishment. At his best, he combines thorough research and personal knowledge with a sharply opinionated, highly entertaining style. He writes as if he were there, and for anything after the mid-60s or so, he probably was.

In this book, he presents a decade-by-decade history of gay men and women on Broadway, mostly as actors, playwrights, and composers, but with some mention of directors and choreographers. The chapters get longer as the book progresses and gay visibility increases; the opening chapter on the 1910s and 1920s is 12 pages long in the print edition; the chapter on the 1970s is more than three times as long.

Mordden hits the obvious names -- Tennessee Williams, Tallullah Bankhead, The Boys in the Band, Edward Albee (who gets an entire chapter all to himself) -- but also talks about lesser-known people and plays who have been largely lost to history. He writes about the big hits and the flops in a way that will make you wish you'd seen them all. (Wouldn't you love, for instance, to have seen the 1989 Broadway cast of Terrence McNally's The Lisbon Traviata: Anthony Heald, Nathan Lane, Dan Butler, and John Slattery!)

On the downside, Mordden goes a little heavier on the Bitchy Queen side of his personality in this book than he has in the past, and it's sometimes tiring to wade through that much attitude. And in the first half of the book, he hunts awfully hard for the implication of gay characters and relationships where there probably don't exist. An understandable impulse, I suppose, when writing about so many years when implication was all that was allowed.

But those are relatively small flaws in a book that is both a breezy, entertaining read and a valuable historical reference.

Jun 14, 10:04 pm

>117 KeithChaffee: I read an article about Frances Glessner Lee and I would love to take a look at those nutshell studies. But I'll take your advice and skip the book.

Jun 14, 11:14 pm

>119 RidgewayGirl: There are only one or two photos of the studies in the book; Lee didn't like (and the folks who hold them now don't like) to let too many photos be taken because they're still being used in police training. They were displayed at the Smithsonian for a few weeks once, but with that exception, they're rarely visible to the public.

Editado: Jun 19, 1:54 pm

28: A Killing in Costumes, Zac Bissonnette

First in a projected series of "Hollywood Treasures Mysteries."

Jay and Cindy have a long past together. Twenty years ago, they were soap opera stars, married in real life and on the show. When they both came out and got divorced, they lost their jobs. But they're still best friends sharing a home in Palm Springs, where they've recently opened an upscale Hollywood memorabilia shop. The shop is still struggling, but it might be saved if they can land the job of selling the collection of Yana Tosh, legendary femme fatale of the B-movie era.

There's competition for the job, in the form of a giant auction house that specializes in such items and has a lot more resources than Jay and Cindy do. When the auction house's agent is murdered while Yana is still trying to decide who gets the collection, Jay and Cindy become suspects, and as one does under such circumstances (well, as one does if one is a character in a mystery novel, anyway), they decide to investigate the murder themselves.

There are plenty of other suspects: the dead guy's assistant/girlfriend, who still wants the business for her firm; Yana's son, who is strongly opposed to the sale; a shady financial advisor with a gambling problem; the gossip columnist for the local newspaper. And there's a hunky police investigator who just might be flirting with Jay.

This is as fluffy as a cozy can get; if it were any lighter, it would blow away like dandelion seeds in a gentle breeze. And that's not meant to be a derogatory comment. It's not easy to write a story centered around a murder in which the prevailing tone is still one of gentle humor. Bissonnette pulls off the balancing act of putting the amateur detective heroes into genuine peril without stressing out the reader too much.

Characters are sharply drawn and memorable; the plot is admirably twisty; clues are fairly planted; and the ending falls neatly into place while still being surprising. Bissonnette does precisely what he sets out to do in this novel, and does it very well indeed.

(AlphaKIT: K; Bingo Dog: has a plant on the cover)

Editado: Jun 26, 6:46 pm

29: The Fantasy Hall of Fame, edited by Robert Silverberg

Some clarification is necessary here, as Silverberg edited two different anthologies with the same title -- a 1983 collection, co-edited with Martin H. Greenberg, and this 1998 volume.

This book came about after the Science Fiction Writers of America changed their name in 1992 to the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. They decided to publish a Fantasy Hall of Fame analogous to the Science Fiction Hall of Fame they'd produced in 1970, also edited by Silverberg.

SFWA's members voted on the authors and stories they thought belonged in the book. The top fifteen of each list are collected here (with the exception of James Tiptree, Jr. and her story "Her Smoke Rose Up Forever;" presumably there were rights issues), and Silverberg chose additional stories to bring the volume up to 30 stories. The stories are arranged chronologically, from H. L. Gold's "Trouble with Water" (1939) to Ted Chiang's "Tower of Babylon" (1990).

Reading this book knocked ten titles off my spreadsheet of award-nominated SF stories; let's zip through those quickly:

"Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," Jorge Luis Borges -- This one escapes me, I'm afraid. An exploration of the history of a non-existent place (that is, non-existent within the world of the story), it's a meandering collection of philosophical musings and intellectual masturbation.

"The Compleat Werewolf," Anthony Boucher -- A bit long, but a lively comic werewolf tale. Boucher imagines that in some cases, lycanthropy is voluntary, triggered by magical incantations; the problem is that the wolf needs a trusted associate to speak the magic word to bring him back to human form. (James Blish's "There Shall Be No Darkness," also included here, is a sharply contrasting werewolf story.)

"That Hell-Bound Train," Robert Bloch -- Very clever "deal with the devil" story.

"Faith of Our Fathers," Philip K. Dick -- In a world in which Vietnam apparently won the war decisively enough that they now rule America, a Hanoi professor is caught up in a potential political revolution. Late enough Dick (1967) that the trippiness is taking over, which if you ask me, is not a good thing.

"Jeffty Is Five," Harlan Ellison -- A stunner. Starts off as an exercise in warm nostalgia, almost a riff on Bradbury (though since this is Ellison, it's a somewhat cranky Bradbury) that takes a turn into Ellisonian darkness at the end. (Interestingly enough, the Bradbury story in the book, "The Small Assassin" is a dark excursion into postpartum horror that would almost feel like a riff on Ellison, if chronology didn't make such a thing impossible.)

"Unicorn Variations," Roger Zelazny -- I haven't read a lot of Zelazny, but I don't generally think light comedy when I hear his name; this is a charming tale of a man who must play chess with a unicorn to save humanity.

"The Jaguar Hunter," Lucius Shepard -- Shepard's Central American magical realism was never really my cuppa, but he does it well, and this is probably his best story.

"Buffalo Gals, Won't You Come Out Tonight," Ursula K. Le Guin -- I confess that I didn't finish this one; I will have to come back to it later. I think it suffered by being placed directly after the Shepard; it's another bit of magical realist fantasy, this one set in the desert Southwest, and I can only take so much of that.

"Bears Discover Fire," Terry Bisson -- the premise is right there in the title. Pleasant enough story, I suppose, but didn't strike me as anything extraordinary.

"Tower of Babylon," Ted Chiang -- his first published story, announcing him as a major talent. Set in Biblical times, as the titular tower has reached the floor of Heaven; we climb the tower with the miners who have been tasked with breaking through that floor. Not my favorite Chiang, but I do like the Twilight Zone-style ending.

I also very much enjoyed L. Sprague de Camp's "Nothing in the Rules," a proto-Air Bud about a mermaid and a swim meet; Peter S. Beagle's "Come Lady Death," a courtly tale of a bored noblewoman; and R. A. Lafferty's "Narrow Valley," a rollicking tall tale.

I am not a big fantasy reader, and there were a few stories here that did nothing for me, but it's a very strong collection, and a worthy introduction to the history of the genre up to that moment.

Jun 26, 3:12 pm suddenly occurs to me to wonder if the absence of Tiptree and her work might be the result of bad blood between Tiptree and Silverberg. The SF community knew that "Tiptree" was a pseudonym, and in the early 1970s, speculation was growing that the author might be female (and that speculation was correct). Silverberg pooh-pooh'd the notion, saying that Tiptree's writing was "ineluctably masculine," and comparing its "prevailing masculinity" to that of Hemingway.

Editado: Jun 26, 6:27 pm

I have read the Ellison as well as small assassinyeah Id compare this one and others of his to Bradbury, esp i have no mouth and I must scream. There stories about every day becomes rather disturbing with lots to think about. Love both

Jul 1, 5:38 pm

So, at mid-year:

I read about 30 books last year, and hoped to get that closer to a book a week this year. So far, so good, with 29 books read already.

I optimistically hoped to get through the 1940s in my award-nominated short SF project. Probably not going to happen, but in addition to the 1940s short stories that I have read, I've picked off enough stories from other years that by the end of the year, I will have read the equivalent of a decade's worth, even if I haven't been tightly focused on that particular decade.

And I had hoped to broaden my reading a bit. Fiction so far has still been mostly SF and mysteries, but the non-fiction has broadened out a little bit from last year's reading, which was almost entirely show biz.

As for my LT-specific projects, my Bingo Dog card has 17 squares filled (and I finally picked up my first Bingo last month!), and I expect to have the whole card full by December. And I'm on track to complete that AlphaKIT alphabet, with tentative titles for each month's letters already on my reading calendar.

All in all, a good six months. I'm content.

Jul 10, 7:34 pm

30: Oscar Wars, Michael Schulman

What we have here isn't exactly a history of the Oscars or a history of the Motion Picture Academy. It's a collection of glimpses into the life of each through the first century of their lives. The overall theme, Schulman says, is "power: who has it, who's straining to keep it, who's invading the golden citadel to snatch it." Each chapter is meant to represent a turning point in the history of these institutions.

Schulman's exploration of that theme is somewhat unfocused, feeling more like a collection of magazine articles than like a book with a single argument to make. Each chapter is well written, and I learned a lot from some of them. The chapter on how several consecutive Oscars dealt with the impact of the McCarthy era, focusing on blacklisted screenwriters, becomes a tragedy of absurd events. The most absurd, perhaps, was when Pierre Boulle, who did not speak English, won an Oscar for "his" screenplay for The Bridge on the River Kwai, which had actually been written by Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson, who were both blacklisted.

The chapter on the 1989 ceremony, which opened with the infamous Rob Lowe/Snow White dance number, is a bit more of a comic romp. Allan Carr was a producer who, after the success of Grease had finally gotten a bit of the respectability he desperately longed for. But he was totally unprepared for the job of producing an Oscars ceremony, and through a combination of indifference and incompetence, the executives at the Academy failed to rein him in as his plans got steadily larger and more ludicrously flamboyant. That led to what most observers would still call the worst Oscars show ever.

There are chapters on great Oscar races (Bette Davis vs. Gloria Swanson vs. Judy Holliday, Shakespeare in Love vs. Saving Private Ryan); the breakthrough victories of Hattie McDaniel, Sidney Poitier, and Halle Berry; and "EnvelopeGate," when Faye Dunaway accidentally announced the wrong winner of Best Picture.

I suppose the Oscars are enough of a throughline to hold the book together as a whole, but only just enough. But even as I wished for a more coherent narrative, I enjoyed the individual mini-stories enough that I'm glad to have read the book.

(AlphaKIT: O)

Editado: Jul 15, 4:11 pm

31: The Paradox Hotel, Rob Hart

WARNING: The following prologue is filled with Broad Sweeping Generalizations, to which there are surely exceptions.

It's hard to combine murder mystery and SF, because the genres are working at cross-purposes. Mystery readers, somewhat counterintuitively, are seeking comfort and relief, the relaxing sigh that comes when order has been restored to a world in chaos. They're looking for a familiar world, in part because the world needs to be familiar if they're to have a fair shot at solving the mystery. By contrast, SF readers invite chaos and confusion, the intellectual puzzle of making sense of a strange world where even the most basic assumptions about reality might be challenged.

SF asks for constant surprise, world-building that keeps evolving and developing, but for a mystery reader, every new development in the basic rules of the world -- especially as you get further into the story -- can feel like cheap deus ex machina, a trick that gives the author an quick and easy solution to the mystery. The SF writer diving into mystery is obliged to lay out the basics of their created world quickly and clearly, so that the reader has a fair shot at playing along and figuring out the solution. That can frustrate the SF reader, who may feel that the story's getting bogged down in mere plot.

Mystery writers read "cozies" and "procedurals," a word implying that if we simply follow the right steps, order will be restored; SF readers read "hard" SF and various flavors of "punk," with its connotations of anti-authoritarian rebellion.

So mixing the two is always going to be a challenge. And in the book at hand, sadly, that challenge has not been met. It has, in fact, been failed in spectacular fashion.

Our protagonist is January Cole, head of security at the Paradox Hotel, which serves the travelers passing through the Einstein Timeport, wealthy vacationers looking forward to a vacation in Shakespeare's England or a jaunt through the Jurassic.

It's a stressful week at the Paradox, because the US government has decided to slash its debt by selling the Timeport and the hotel to a private owner, and the four bidders are arriving for the conference/auction at which the new owner will be chosen.

By all rights, January shouldn't be allowed to stay in her job, but she's hiding from her boss the fact that she's entered the second stage of a syndrome called "being Unstuck," which affects those who spend too much time traveling in the timestream. She's losing her tether to objective time, finding herself popping into moments from her past; those slips are happening more often and lasting longer. January knows that stage 3 isn't far away, and that stage ends with a complete severing of the patient's connection to time; she'll spend the rest of her life in a sort of coma. And now she seems to be having visions of the future, which isn't supposed to happen at all, and among those visions is a dead guy in one of the hotel rooms.

I am doing a certain amount of translation in writing those teaser paragraphs, making the story sound more sensible and coherent than it actually is in Hart's telling of it. The rules of time travel, and of Unstuckness, are muddled; and Hart too often fails to make it clear whether January is describing actual events or things she's seeing in a slip. A certain amount of that ambiguity is to be expected, but Hart overdoes it, and leaves too many moments up in the air when the reader really needs to know what's happening.

I liked some of the characters. January's principal sidekick is an AI drone named Ruby, whose tart personality and refusal to be condescended to as a mere servant provide a welcome jolt of energy.

But on the whole, this is a mess. Not recommended.

(AlphaKIT: P; Bingo Dog: set in an inn or hotel)

Jul 15, 5:45 pm

Interesting introduction about Science fiction combining with detective novels; Three very successful mergers spring to mind;

The Caves of Steel - Isaac Asimov
The City & the City - China Mieville

And a bit of a stretch Philip K Dicks's Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep

Jul 15, 5:49 pm

Haven't read the Dick, but I'd agree that the other two are among the rare successful SF/mystery mergers.

Jul 16, 6:15 am

I recently bought a book called The Mimicking of Known Successes, based on nothing more than the fact Kobo pushed it to me, the title, and a quick perusing of the excerpt. I hope it will work better than yours!

Jul 16, 1:53 pm

>130 cindydavid4: I'm not sure they're really trying to. Adams was primarily a comic writer, a genius of seemingly meandering digressions. In the Hitchhiker books, he housed the shtick in science fictional tropes, but you couldn't really take the books seriously as science fiction; there was no more plot -- and it wasn't paid any more attention -- than was absolutely necessary to hold the digressions together. The Dirk Gently books repeated the same trick, just swapping out the SF framework for private eye stuff. (To lesser effect, I always thought.) In either case, you don't read Adams for the plot; you read him for the jokes.

Jul 17, 3:20 am

>127 KeithChaffee: this sounds like an interesting premise, pity the author couldn't make it work

Editado: Jul 17, 11:24 am

>132 KeithChaffee: Yeah I know. just thinking of a combination and his was the first one that popped into my head!

Have you read his meaning of liff? just saw it on his wiki page

Jul 18, 5:55 pm

>134 cindydavid4: No, I haven't.

Editado: Jul 18, 6:17 pm

32: The Queer Film Guide, Kyle Turner

Turner surveys more than a century of movies about the LGBT experience, from 1919's Different from the Others (Anders als die Andern) to 2022's Fire Island.

Each of 100 movies gets a 2-page spread, featuring a full-color illustration by Andy Warren. The cover image gives you a good sense of Warren''s style -- abstracted images, crisp edges, intense and sharply contrasting colors. The text for each film, on the second page of each spread, is in a color drawn from Warren's palette; in a few cases, the text and background colors don't contrast sharply enough, and it's difficult to read.

Turner offers quick comments on each movie, offering not just plot teasers, but historical context and notes on the significance of the cast/crew involved. Each page ends with a "more to see" recommendation, one or two sentences on a possible double feature pairing. (So you're actually getting 200 suggestions from the book!) Some of those pairings are expected -- Rope leads to Swoon, another take on the Leopold & Loeb case -- but some are less obvious, like jumping from Tea and Sympathy to Querelle.

As Warren notes in his introduction, even 200 films is not going to be a comprehensive history, just an introduction to the wide range in styles and forms that such movies can take and have taken. His focus moves beyond feature films to include documentaries, short films, and experimental films, and he includes plenty of films from outside the US and UK.

This is meant to be something of a coffee-table book, I think, with a cotton-candy artistic style that makes for appealing browsing. But Turner's commentaries are thoughtful and his selections well chosen. It's a smarter book than the cutesy look might lead you to expect.

Editado: Jul 20, 7:13 pm

33: Promises Stronger Than Darkness, Charlie Jane Anders

Volume 3 of the Unstoppable trilogy, wirtten for a YA audience, but with plenty of appeal to adult fans of space opera.

It's always hard to talk about the final volume of a trilogy without being too spoiler-y about the events of the first two books that got you to where volume three starts. I'm lucky in this case because most of my thoughts apply to the series as a whole.

Back in volume one, Victories Greater Than Death, we met our protagonists, a group of teenagers from Earth who wind up going to space. They eventually take leading roles in the battle against Marrant, a would-be galactic overlord. He is, of course, evil, there being no such thing as a benevolent galactic overlord.

By the time we get to this concluding volume, they've been joined by another half-dozen characters of assorted alien species to form an interspecies army. Because it is 2023, after all, and both SF and YA literature are (thankfully) a lot more diverse in authorship, readership, and the characters who populate the books than they used to be, these kids represent a mix of genders, nationalities, skill sets, and neurodiversity status. Anders doesn't have time to establish full cultural backgrounds for all of her alien characters, but we get enough to sense that they are all misfits in their own societies.

And that's where Anders starts to get into trouble, because -- at the risk of sounding like Ron DeSantis -- lord oh lord, are these characters woke. They constantly express their support and understanding for one another; barely a page goes by without one character reminding another that they are good people trying to do the moral thing in a difficult world they didn't create. The words "is it OK if I hug you" appear way more often than a space opera really needs, and the universal translator won't start translating until it's told you what everyone's pronouns are.

Now, don't get me wrong, I share the values that all of that kindness and pronouning and empathy represent. But it's laid on awfully thick here -- and it's even heavier in the third volume than in the first two -- to the point that it all starts to have the sickly sweet didacticism of a Very Special Episode(*). I suppose you expect a certain amount of lesson and moral in YA fiction, but it is usually done far more subtly than Anders manages in these books.

(*-- For our younger LTers: During the Reagan era, television was plagued -- family sitcoms in particular -- with Very Special Episodes, which took a break from the usual assortment of goofball crises to deal with drug abuse or teenage pregnancy or domestic violence. Such episodes were usually advertised in advance with "This week, on a very special episode of Oh, Those Crazy Kids!...," and the phrase stuck.)

The other significant problem in this third volume is that Anders's ensemble cast has gotten too large. There are about a dozen misfit teens running about, and that's before we get to the villains, allies, and other supporting characters. As the final series of schemes and battles gets more complicated, I found it hard to keep track of what each set of characters was trying to accomplish.

Still, there is a lot to like in these books. The would-be overlord is a fine creation, and his method of killing is a novel one; not only do you melt into a puddle of goo, but everyone who knew you finds that they can only remember you with disgust and loathing. That surely resonates powerfully with kids who are preparing to leave the safety of high school and worrying about how their friends will remember them.

And while there are too many of them, I like Anders's platoon of reluctant soldiers. Their individual insecurities are convincingly drawn, and Anders is careful to give each character enough strengths and areas of confidence that they don't come off as only bundles of teen angst.

I'm probably sounding harsher towards the series than I intend to. I do think that the heavy intrusion of right-this-minute social concerns is going to date the books so precisely as artifacts of the early 2020s that they aren't likely to be enduring classics of the genre; all that fuss about pronouns is ultimately going to be a historical blip that's going to seem awfully silly. But in the meantime, this series is an entertaining update on old-fashioned space opera.

Editado: Jul 20, 6:27 pm

"The words "is it OK if I hug you" appear way more often than a space opera really needs, and the universal translator won't start translating until it's told you what everyone's pronouns are."

run away, run away! Not sure if it was necessary beggar or assassins apprentice but one of those had me cringing any time I read one of those. I do remember the very special episodes and where I think they might have helped some people lear something new, the acting was usually awful and the dialogue, well I never stuck long enough to find out anythihng good. Glad you ultimatly liked it, ill pass

Editado: Jul 23, 3:15 pm

34: Venus Plus X, Theodore Sturgeon

Sturgeon's 1960 novel is one of the earliest SF novels about the ways in which our society has been screwed up by our restrictive notions about gender roles. He makes the argument through contrast to his created world of Ledom (the same word is the name for the place, the people, and the language).

Charlie Johns seems to be a typical young man of 1960, but as the book opens, he's going through a bit of an existential crisis. He finds himself in a mysterious gray room, with no idea how he got there and struggling to cling to even the most basic information about himself.

When he finally emerges from that room, he finds himself in Ledom, where the locals explain that he has been brought forward to their time because the Ledom would like to hear a critique of their culture and society from someone of his era. They ask that he stay long enough to learn about their community, then he will be returned to his previous state.

The Ledom are basically human beings, but with one significant difference; they are neither male nor female, but both, with two sets of genitalia (modified significantly from those of 1960 humanity).

Sturgeon alternates the story of Charlie among the Ledom with short interludes about life in the world Charlie left behind, focused in various ways on the relationships between men and women, and how those gender roles are imposed. Some of those interludes seem well ahead of their time in their insights. This, for instance, feels a lot later than 1960 (Davy is 5; Karen is 3):

Herb Raile goes in to say goodnight to the kids. He kneels on the floor by Karen's bed. Davy watches. Herb cradles Karen in his arms, kisses the side of her neck and bites the lobe of her ear. Davy watches, big-eyed. Herb covers Karen's head with the blanket, quickly ducks out of sight so she can't see him when she pulls the blanket down. He kisses her again, smooths the blanket over her, whispers "Your daddy loves you," says goodnight and turns to Davy, who watches, solemn.

Herb reaches out his right hand. Davy takes it. Herb shakes it. "Good night, old man," he says. He releases the hand. "Good night, Dad," says Davy, not looking at Herb. Herb turns the light and leaves. Davy gets out of bed, wads up his pillow, crosses the room and whangs the pillow down as hard as he can on Karen's face.

"I can't," says Herb quite a while later, after the tears are dried and the recriminations done with, "understand whatever made him do that."

Colorful and exciting prose are not one of Sturgeon's strengths, at least not in this book, though the Charlie sections of the book are a bit more lively than the sociological dryness of the suburban interludes. And late in the novel, Sturgeon interrupts the whole thing with a ten-page lecture -- presented as a "letter" from the Ledom to Charlie, delivered to him via their mechanical education machine -- about how massively fucked up his culture (that is, our culture) was because of the ways in which it allowed religion to interfere with its thinking about sex.

It's a striking lecture, and once again shows Sturgeon ahead of his time, but it's a long, dense block of text that brings the momentum of the book to a halt. And once you've waded through it, you realize that Sturgeon had no real idea how to end his story, as the last few pages are filled with a series of unprepared twists and tricks in which we realize that Charlie and the Ledom have been lying to one another (and to us) all along, and that the novel in a very different world than we'd been led to believe.

As a jumping-off point for some fascinating sociological observations, Venus Plus X is an astonishing document, an exploration of ideas that wouldn't come anywhere near the mainstream for at least another decade. As a novel, it's less successful, cramming all of those big ideas into a poorly executed plot.

(AlphaKIT: X; Bingo Dog: Read a CAT -- July ClassicsCAT: the classic you've always wanted to read)

Editado: Jul 24, 4:36 pm

>139 KeithChaffee: I enjoyed your review. I read his More than Human a few years ago and note that in that novel he seemed to have trouble in wrapping up his story. However the book was full of interesting ideas and was well written.

Editado: Jul 30, 3:37 pm

35: Open: Inside the Ropes at Bethpage Black, John Feinstein

I don't read a lot of sports books, but I have always enjoyed John Feinstein's writing, so when "a bestseller from 20 years ago" popped up on this year's BingoDog card, I settled on this bestseller. The subject is the 2002 U.S. Open golf championship (*), and Feinstein is less interested in the golfing itself than in the event as a logistical matter. What goes into putting on one of the year's four major golf events?

(* -- Note that the U.S. Open is a "championship;" not a "tournament." The folks at the United States Golf Association are very prickly about that.)

Among our principal characters is David Fay, who had been executive director of the USGA since 1989. One of Fay's longtime goals had been to hold a U.S. Open at a public course instead of at a private club.

His target course was the Black course, the most challenging of the five courses at Bethpage State Park on Long Island. Bethpage Black had opened in 1936, and was designed by A. W. Tillinghast, one of the great golf architects of the era. Sixty-plus years of wear and tear had left the course looking rather ragged, but Fay believed that with proper care and maintenance, Bethpage Black could once again be a course worthy of a major championship.

Fay had to convince the rest of the USGA leadership that holding the event at any public course was possible, and there were good reasons to be opposed to the idea. Negotiating contracts with the state of New York would be a more drawn-out process than negotiating with the owners of a private club, and a club without members would complicate the recruitment of the hundreds of volunteers who help make a U.S. Open happen.

The entire undertaking becomes even more of an ordeal because of increased security demands after 9/11. Volunteers, vendors, staff, and players had to go through more background checks, and the private security company that was hired rarely provided the number of officers called for by their contract.

We're halfway through the book before the actual sport appears for the first time, when the first round of qualifying tournaments begins. And as the book shifts focus to the game, my interest began to drift. I recognize a lot of the golfers' names -- this was the peak of the Tiger Woods hullabaloo era, and it was hard not to be more aware of golf than usual in those days -- but their backstories and individual bits of drama didn't interest me much.

Still, Feinstein is a good enough writer to make even the golfing part of the book at least mildly interesting, and he never lets his focus shift entirely away from the organizing and logistics challenges that the tournament presents. Where is everyone going to park? If we're going to save time by starting half of the golfers on the 10th hole, how do we get them all from the clubhouse to the 10th tee? Do we have enough volunteers? Do we give in to NBC television's requests to start Sunday play at hour X, even though we'd like to start earlier because there's a good chance of rain that afternoon?

It is occasionally difficult to keep track of the many, many USGA officials, state officials, and Bethpage staff, much less a few dozen golfers who eventually enter the story. But even if you've forgotten which level of management Frankie Terwilliger might be a part of, the thrust of the story is always clear, and I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look at a side of the event that most people never have to think about.

(Bingo DOG: Read a bestseller from 20 years ago.)

Ago 2, 8:43 pm

DNF: Qualityland, Marc-Uwe Kling. You know a satirical dystopia's in trouble when you're already questioning its premises before you've gotten to the bottom of page 2. We're told that in Qualityland, each child takes as a last name the occupation of a parent; boys take their father's occupation and girls take their mother's. So, for instance, two of our characters are named Melissa Sex-Worker and Peter Jobless. But surely there are same-sex couples having kids with the help of anonymous sperm/egg donors, or promiscuous women who don't know the identity of their son's father? This is obviously not a workable system. And the further you get into the book, the more tepid the satire becomes.

Editado: Ago 7, 3:37 pm

36: The Dutch Shoe Mystery, Ellery Queen

Ellery Queen is a complicated name. It's the pseudonym used by cousins Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee for more than 30 mystery novels and several collections of short stories; it's also the name of the amateur detective who stars in most of those books. Dannay and Lee also farmed the name out to other authors, and there are another 30-ish novels published under the name Ellery Queen, though none of the non-Dannay & Lee Queen novels involve the character Ellery Queen. And there are also eleven "Ellery Queen Jr." novels for kids, not written by Dannay & Lee, in which the central character is either Ellery's nephew, Gulliver, or his houseboy, Djuna.

As if that's not enough, Dannay and Lee also wrote four novels in the 1930s under the name "Barnaby Ross;" that pseudonym was revived by a different author for a series of historical romances in the 1960s, and the 1930s Barnaby Ross novels are today usually published as by Ellery Queen.

There was a time when Ellery Queen was among the best known fictional detectives, but aside from the namesake Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (founded in 1941), he's largely faded from the current culture. He was once a B-movie staple, but the last Ellery Queen movie is more than 80 years old, and the most recent TV series ran for a single season in 1975-76.

The book at hand is the third of Dannay and Lee's Queen novels, originally published in 1931. The central mystery is the death of Abigail Doorn, who is strangled in a hospital as she is about to be taken into the operating room. Abigail is a major donor to the hospital and to several of its doctors, some of whom might have reason to wish her dead.

Other suspects include her personal assistant/companion, whom she has clearly hated for years, but would not fire; her daughter and her attorney, who are engaged to be married; and her brother, who is deep in gambling debt.

One of the trademarks of the Queen novels is the "challenge to the reader;" Ellery the detective is not the narrator of the novels, but at the point where the solution is about to be revealed, there is a note "from Ellery Queen" informing the reader that all of the information necessary to solve the mystery has now been provided. "I've figured it out," is the gist of Ellery's challenge, "and you should be able to do the same."

As always with mysteries of this era, there are going to be a few character descriptions that make modern readers wince. Ellery and his father, an Inspector with the New York Police Department, live with Djuna, their "gypsy houseboy" whose age is never specified and almost seems to waver from teens to late 20s as required by the plot. Djuna is treated with respect and affection by the Queens, but words like "swarthy" pop up just often enough to be a little uncomfortable. Even worse is the treatment of Abigail's brother, Hendrik, who is quite obese, and is described as basically a grotesquely disgusting circus freak.

If you can get past those unfortunate historical artifacts, though, the mystery itself is an entertaining one. The prose is more formal in style and vocabulary than today's norm, but it's never stiff or difficult to read. Characters are sharply defined; clues are fairly planted; and the solution has the proper mix of feeling both surprising and inevitable. I enjoyed the book enough that I would gladly go back for more Ellery Queen. I gather that Ellery's personality changes significantly in various eras of the series, which lasted from 1929 until Lee's death in 1971, and it might be interesting to read a book from a different era. Perhaps I'll try one of the late 1930s novels, in which Ellery is working as a Hollywood screenwriter and hanging out with the stars.

(AlphaKIT: Q)

Editado: Set 21, 3:17 pm

37: The Violin Maker, John Marchese

One of my basic principles of nonfiction, be it a book or a documentary film, is that people doing something they love are almost always interesting, even if what they're doing isn't something that you've ever been particularly interested in. Marchese's book is yet another fine illustration of that principle.

Marchese follows master luthier Sam Zygmantowski as he builds a new violin for Eugene Drucker of the Emerson String Quartet. Along the way, he explores the history of the violin and violin making, with emphasis on Antonio Stradivari (c. 1644-1737), widely considered to be the greatest violin maker who ever lived. Stradivari is such an important figure in the world of stringed instruments that the leading journal for string players is called The Strad.

(An aside on the Emerson String Quartet. They were founded in 1976, and for nearly 50 years have been considered one of the world's finest quartets. The group has announced that it is disbanding, with its final concerts scheduled for this October. Drucker is one of two members to have been with the Emerson since its founding.)

Making a violin is a mysterious process. There's no set of instructions that tells you that shaving another half-millimeter of wood from this spot will make the sound sweeter, or curving the holes just so will give you more power. We barely have enough shared vocabulary of sound to agree on what we mean by words like "sweeter" or "power."

And yet, those half-millimeters and minute curves are among the many tiny things that can shape the sound of a finished instrument; for a luthier to make all of the correct decisions seems to be equal parts skill, intuition, and luck. It is possible to be a successful luthier by making copies of famous violins, and Zygmantowski does some of that; his violin for Drucker is based on the shape of a specific earlier violin with some small modifications. But even when copying a renowned instrument, one can precisely duplicate every measurement with no guarantee of success. The wood might be less dense, or your varnish recipe might be slightly different, or the pieces might be joined together with an immeasurably small difference in tension; and many violinists will tell you that it takes a few years of breaking in to discover the true sound of a violin.

But Zygmantowski seems to have as good an understanding of why he's making those decisions as anyone can have, and he does a good job of explaining his choices. And Marchese does an equally good job, where necessary, of translating Zygmantowski's explanations into terms that the non-musician or non-woodworker can understand.

It is not entirely Marchese's fault that the digressions into the life and career of Stradivari are less entertaining. There are a lot of gaps in our knowledge of Stradivari's life, and Marchese is too often reduced to "some people believe X; some people think Y" in these sections of the book.

Marchese follows Drucker and his new violin for a year or two after it's finished, as the violinist learns the strengths and weaknesses of the new instrument. Is there certain music for which it's a better or worse choice than the Strad he's been playing? Does it sound better in particular types of halls? Is it well suited to the recording process?

A solid book that comes as close as I can imagine to successfully explaining the inexplicable.

(AlphaKIT: M; BingoDog: STEM topic --several, I think, including acoustics)

Ago 15, 1:30 am

>144 KeithChaffee: Nice! I had no idea building a violin was like this.

Editado: Ago 21, 4:30 pm

38: Golden Age Locked Room Mysteries, Otto Penzler, editor

Fourteen locked room mystery stories from the 1930s and 1940s, each with a short biographical/historical intro from Penzler.

Some of these writers made locked room stories their specialty. Clayton Rawson's "Off the Face of the Earth" features his series character, professional magician The Great Merlini, who must explain how a man could disappear from a phone booth even as the police are watching. In "The Third Bullet," John Dickson Carr offers a particularly complicated murder with one shooter, two guns, and a fatal bullet that came from a third gun which seems to have vanished.

Erle Stanley Gardner, best known for Perry Mason, is represented here with "The Exact Opposite," featuring Lester Leith, a sort of modern Robin Hood who only steals from crooks and gives the proceeds (well, most of the proceeds) to charity, which makes the story a sort of double locked room, as Leith solves the original theft of a large ruby while simultaneously managing to steal it for himself. And Ellery Queen appears in the book's longest story, "The House of Haunts," a nifty tale with Gothic overtones in which Queen must explain the disappearance of an entire house.

Most of the authors here will be familiar to fans of the era. Anthony Boucher's "Elsewhen" pulls off the tricky feat of adding time travel to the locked room mystery; Craig Rice's "His Heart Could Break" is a tragic romance, far less comic than most of her work; Cornell Woolrich's "Murder at the Automat" is a relatively minor work, but the idea of reducing the locked room to the small chamber in which food is placed for purchase is clever.

New to me were Joseph Commings, whose series character Senator Brooks Banner solves a murder at a seance in "Fingerprint Ghost," and Stuart Palmer, whose schoolteacher/sleuth Hildegarde Withers was popular during the Golden Age. Here, she solves a murder involving a music publisher and an aspring songwriter in "The Riddle of the Yellow Canary." Oddly, a music publisher in also a central character in Fredric Brown's "Whistler's Murder," which is a bit of a shaggy dog story, but the punchline works.

Also included: Mignon G. Eberhart's "The Calico Dog," in which two young men claim to be the same long-missing child of a wealthy woman; MacKinlay Kantor's "The Light at Three o'Clock," a horror-tinged tale of an apartment building switchboard operator who keeps getting calls from the same empty apartment; C. Daly King's "The Episode of the Nail and the Requiem," set in an artist's penthouse studio; and Manly Wade Wellman's "Murder Among Magicians," which raises the question of how "locked" any room can really be when it's filled with professional illusionists and escape artists.

For me, the highlights were the stories by Queen, Gardner, Eberhart, and Boucher, and I would be interested in exploring more by Rawson and Commings. If you're a fan of either the era in general or this sub-genre in particular, this collection is well worth your time.

Editado: Ago 26, 4:03 pm

39: The Road to Roswell, Connie Willis

Connie Willis loves screwball comedy, and a good chunk of her work is clearly attempting to recreate that energy. But while Willis comes closer than just about anyone to making it work -- and this is one of her best books in that mode -- I would argue that it is almost impossible to do screwball in print.

It's a style that relies on speed. Screwball is filled with rapid-fire banter, punchlines and comic bits piled up so quickly that you barely finish laughing at one before another arrives. And in a movie -- at least in the days before home media and the PAUSE button -- you don't get to take a break to stop and think about the implausibility of it all.

Print gives you none of that. Only a small fraction of us can read anywhere nearly as quickly as we can listen; a book can be set aside for a break whenever the reader chooses. The banter and the story can't move quickly enough in the reader's mind to reach the escape velocity that sends a screen comedy sailing into delirious orbit. (I am not an audiobook person, but I suspect that Willis's comedies might work better in that format.)

So it's a small miracle that Willis comes as close to pulling it off as she does here, and she does it by getting everything else so right that the slight sluggishness of the comic timing becomes a relatively small problem.

The story finds Francie headed for Roswell for the wedding of her best friend, Serena. Serena has a history of picking the wrong guy and breaking up with him at the last possible moment, and Francie assumes that this will be another wedding that she'll have to talk Serena out of. And of all the times to wind up in Roswell, Francie arrives just in time for the annual UFO convention; to make things worse, there are rumors of a sighting just outside town.

But before Francie gets the chance to meet the groom-of-the-week and extricate Serena from another potential disaster, she discovers that aliens are real, by getting kidnapped by one.

Her captor looks like a tentacled tumbleweed, and Indy (the nickname Francie gives him) urgently wants to go somewhere, though he seems awfully unclear as to exactly where. And since he doesn't speak, communication between Francie and Indy is pretty shaky.

They keep roaming semi-randomly around New Mexico, with Indy gradually picking up new captives until he's got a group of five prisoners, all of them packed into a large RV. At that point, Willis makes explicit the other movie genre she's paying homage to here -- the Western -- by comparing this random band of travelers to the passengers in Stagecoach.

So we've got a Western screwball alien abduction story, which is a strange assortment of tones and styles to juggle, but Willis makes it work. Her characters border on archetypes -- the UFO conspiracy kook, the sweet little old lady, the grizzled RV driver -- but with enough individuality and details given to each that they are never just their types. Indy is a delightful creation, and as he gradually learns enough English to communicate with his Scooby Gang of humans, he becomes the best character in the story.

It's not a perfect book. The comic set pieces tend to drag, and the romance at the heart of the comedy is so underdeveloped that the "why, I do love him!" moments feel unearned and don't pay off the way they should. But the things that work are strong enough to make this a delightful romp, and a distinctive take on the theme of first contact.

Ago 26, 10:48 pm

>147 KeithChaffee: Well, it's a plus that she's written another book, so I'll accept the flaws.

Ago 28, 12:21 pm

>147 KeithChaffee: Only a small fraction of us can read anywhere nearly as quickly as we can listen

Well, that explains why I was the only one who seemed to be driven absolutely crazy in school when we were instructed to read along while someone else read out loud, and I could never seem to stop being three paragraphs ahead. :)

I very much enjoy Connie Willis in comedy mode. This one is already on my wishlist, but I really ought to pick it up sometime soon. The fact that it's set in New Mexico, where I live, seems like a fun bonus, too.

Ago 28, 3:10 pm

>149 bragan: Well, that explains why I was the only one who seemed to be driven absolutely crazy in school when we were instructed to read along while someone else read out loud, and I could never seem to stop being three paragraphs ahead. :)

Oh, yeah, I know the feeling. I was an early reader, and a fast one. I've always hated being read to, even as a small child, which is why audiobooks just don't work for me. Partly an innate dislike of being dependent on anyone for anything, but mostly about thinking "just let me read it myself; it won't take nearly as long."

Editado: Ago 29, 4:00 pm

>144 KeithChaffee: people doing something they love are almost always interesting, even if what they're doing isn't something that you've ever been particularly interested in

I found this to be a true of professors as well as authors. I would listen to a good professor lecture on anything, but I learned to avoid bad professors, no matter how much I liked the subject.

>148 qebo: I agree, qebo. I should go look up her most recent books. I have probably missed a few, and they are always worth a look.

ETA: I thought To Say Nothing of the Dog was one of the funniest books I've ever read.

Ago 29, 4:50 pm

>151 labfs39: There are comments and phrases from some of my college professors that still stick with me after 40 years, long after I've forgotten the professors' names. My Shakespeare prof, in discussing Hamlet, told us that "likeness precludes identity," and I still drop that phrase into conversation every now and then. (I mean, not all that often; there aren't that many contexts in which it's a useful phrase. But when it is? Boy, it's perfect.)

Editado: Ago 31, 2:17 pm

40: Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories 2 (1940), edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg

The journey through SF history continues, with more clumsy first steps; this volume is a bit of a letdown from the 1939 volume that began the series.

Two of the stories were (eventually) award nominated, picking up Retro Hugo nominations in 2016, and they are by far the best work in the book. Theodore Sturgeon's "It" sits at the intersection of SF and horror, and it's an effectively scary tale of a strange creature wandering through a forest and the family who live nearby; and Harry Bates's "Farewell to the Master" is the story that inspired The Day the Earth Stood Still, though the movie changed the plot quite dramatically.

There are a few more worthwhile stories to be found.Asimov's "Strange Playfellow" is presented here in its original version; Asimov would polish the story a bit and change the title to "Robbie" when it was included in his I, Robot. Willard Hawkins's "The Dwindling Sphere" is notable as an early story on the problem of limited natural resources; Robert Arthur's "Postpaid to Paradise" is a tale of an idyllic tropical isle that can only be reached by fantastic means, a thematic forerunner to some of Jack Finney's work. Ross Rocklynne's "Quietus" is an early entry in a long line of stories in which first contact goes awry because of faulty assumptions made by one side, with an unusually melancholy ending as one character can't stop wondering what he might have done differently.

Rocklynne is one of three authors represented by two stories here, along with Sturgeon and L. Sprague De Camp. There's also some reasonably good work from legends Fritz Leiber and Jack Williamson, another impenetrable slog from A. E. van Vogt, and stories from the less well-remembered Oscar J. Friend and P. Schuyler Miller.

Three stories by Robert A. Heinlein were meant to be included, but rights issues got in the way. Asimov and Greenberg made the unusual choice to give each of those stories a page of the book, contributing their usual introductions -- Greenberg focuses on the career of each author, and Asimov reminisces about his personal relationships -- despite the fact that the stories aren't here. The inclusion of those stories -- "Requiem," "Coventry," and "Blowups Happen," all of which were Retro Hugo nominees -- would have raised the overall quality of the book significantly, and it would have felt more on a par with the 1939 volume.

On to 1941!

Set 6, 10:18 am

Enjoying reading your reviews of 1940's science fiction stories and The Golden Age of Locked Room Mysteries

Editado: Set 7, 2:08 pm

41: Ms. Demeanor, Elinor Lipman

Lipman writes what might be called modern-day comedies of manners. They're witty, frothy stories of social and romantic relationships, most often set in New York.

This one quickly sets up its premise in the first chapter. Jane Morgan is a successful attorney in her late 30s who has a one-night stand with a younger co-worker, in which they wind up having sex on the rooftop patio of her building. They are seen from the penthouse of the next building, and a neighbor calls the police; Jane winds up with her law license suspended, and a six-month sentence of home confinement for her indecent exposure.

Jane narrates the story of her life during those six months, which is unusually eventful for someone who's not allowed to leave her apartment building. We meet her family -- loving parents from the suburbs; identical twin sister, a dermatologist -- and the new friends she makes in the building. Her new gal pal is a rather impulsive dentist; her potential romantic interest is a dashing gentleman who's also serving a few months of home confinement, with his own ankle monitor and parole officer.

Lipman tosses in a touch of Rear Window-ish murder mystery when the cranky old woman who reported Jane's rooftop romp suddenly dies, leaving an "if I die, Jane probably did it" note for the police. That brings a few more characters into the story, most notably a pair of Polish immigrants, a young brother and sister who hope to be her heirs.

The story is never complicated or deep, and even the possibility of a murder doesn't disturb the bubbly tone too much. It's not a novel that asks for thoughtful critical analysis; it's just a light, charming book that sets out to entertain, and does precisely that.

Editado: Set 16, 2:56 pm

42: The Shadow Docket, Stephen Vladeck

Each year, the Supreme Court of the United States hears oral arguments and issues written rulings in somewhere between 50 and 60 cases. Those are the major rulings that get most of the attention and front-page newspaper headlines. Collectively, they make up what is known as the "merits docket" of the Court.

But there are a lot of decisions that get made with less fanfare. Most of them are administrative decisions -- which cases will be heard, who's going to write which rulings. But some of them are rulings on actual cases, and these decisions don't get the full-lenth reasoned decisions that the cases on the merits docket. These decisions and rulings have come to be known as the shadow docket, a term first used in 2015 by William Baude, a conservative professor constitutional law.

In this book, Vladeck traces the history of the shadow docket and its rapid growth. It began to grow, he argues, in the 1920s under Chief Justice (and former President) William Howard Taft, and over the last century, it's become a larger part of the Court's work. As the number of decisions issues on the merits docket has dwindled over the decades -- the number of annual rulings was in the 80s as recently as 30 years ago -- the number of shadow docket rulings, and their importance, has grown. The rate of growth accelerated dramatically during the Trump administration, and really exploded after the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Court in late 2020.

Vladeck argues that this is a problem for a lot of different reasons. When the Court issues rulings without explaining its reasoning -- and shadow docket rulings are rarely more than a few sentences long -- lower courts don't have the guidance they need to rule on similar cases. And given the ways in which the current Court has chosen to use its shadow docket, focusing on particular issues with high political significance and issuing very conservative rulings in the vast majority of cases, the increasing reliance on the shadow docket brings the Court's credibility into question.

This is not a light beach read. Vladeck is doing his best to make his arguments accessible to the intelligent layman, and he mostly succeeds, but there are sections where the legal proceedings and manipulations get a little dense for the average non-lawyer. ("Now let me see, which court was it that refused to deny the application for what stay, and in whose favor did that refusal work out?...") But it's an important set of issues, and the book is absolutely worth the effort. Vladeck has made a major contribution to our understanding of what is going on at the Supreme Court.

Set 16, 10:21 am

>156 KeithChaffee: an important set of issues
Agreed, though my interest is closer to the podcast level.

Set 16, 2:55 pm

>157 qebo: I get that. "Strict Scrutiny" is a regular part of my podcast diet.

Editado: Set 21, 3:13 pm

43: Blood on the Tracks: Railway Mysteries, edited by Martin Edwards

Martin Edwards's British Library Crime Classics series is essentially the British equivalent of Otto Penzler's American Mystery Classics series (a couple of titles from Penzler's series appear earlier in this thread); each brings back mystery stories and novels from the past, with a focus on the so-called "Golden Age" of mystery writing, roughly defined as the era between the two World Wars.

In this volume, Edwards offers 15 stories set on or around trains and railways. The original publication dates range a little earlier than usual for a British Library Crime volume, mostly between the late 1890s and the early 1930s. That means that the authors are more obscure or forgotten than usual; there will be relatively few readers who remember such names as Matthias McDonnell Bodkin or F. Tennyson Jesse.

It also means that the prose leans even more to the old-fashioned than Edwards's volumes usually do, occasionally crossing the line into the outright archaic. You will either be charmed or frustrated by opening sentences like "I was making experiments of some interest at South Kensington, and hoped that I had perfected a small but not unimportant discovery, when, on returning home one evening in late October in the year 1893, I found a visiting card on my table." (from "The Mystery of Felwyn Tunnel," by L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace, which has a particularly unusual solution)

But the modern reader will not be completely at sea with the authors gathered here. There's a non-Sherlock story from Arthur Conan Doyle; a story from Baroness Orczy, best remembered as the creator of the Scarlet Pimpernel; and stories from Dorothy L. Sayers and Michael Innes. (Sherlock does show up in this volume, though, in Ronald Knox's skillful Holmes pastiche "The Adventure of the First-Class Carriage.")

There's historical significance to some of the stories. Erenst Bramah's "The Knight's Cross Signal Problem" features his series character Max Carrados, one of the first blind detectives; R. Austin Freeman's "The Case of Oscar Brodski" is often cited as the first "inverted" detective story, in which we first see the murder committed, then watch as the detective puts together the clues.

Some of the stories are not exactly traditional mysteries. Both Roy Vickers's "The Eighth Lamp" and F. Tennyson Jesse's "The Railway Carriage" bring in supernatural elements, making them closer to ghost stories.

Highlights of the book include Freeman Wills Crofts's "The Level Crossing," a clever tale of blackmail and murder; the energetic "Mystery of the Slip-Coach," by the single-named Sapper; and Victor L. Whitechurch's "The Affair of the Corridor Express," featuring detective Thorpe Hazell, a Sherlockian detective who specialized in railway crimes.

This isn't my favorite of Edwards's story collections; the Golden Age really is my preferred era, and most of these stories are a bit too old-fashioned for my taste. But there are enough intriguing mysteries and clever solutions that I enjoyed the book.

(BingoDog: set on a plane, train, or ship)

Set 22, 2:05 am

>159 KeithChaffee: Love that quote. It’s so typical it could almost be a parody!

Set 22, 4:21 pm

Collections from the Golden Age of Crime - I'm interested.

Set 22, 4:39 pm

It is surprisingly hard to find complete lists of either Penzler's American series or Edwards's British series, but it looks as if Penzler's up to about 75 books and Edwards somewhere around 125. If you're particularly interested in story collections, you'll be better off with the British series. Both series focus mostly on novels, but roughly 15% of the British books are stories; there are only three or four story collections in the American series.

Editado: Out 15, 12:49 am

44: Starter Villain, John Scalzi

Charlie's life isn't going so well. He's struggling to keep up with the bills; his step-siblings want him to vacate the family home so they can sell the place; and he hates being a substitute teacher. So it's a welcome surprise when his long-lost uncle Jake, a tycoon in the parking garage business, dies and leaves his company to Charlie.

What Charlie doesn't know is that parking garages are merely a cover. Uncle Jake was actually one of the world's most powerful villains. Not a word that Jake would have used, mind you; they prefer to think of themselves as "disruptors." But villain is exactly what Jake was, and Charlie now has to learn the villain business.

And he needs to do it quickly, because Uncle Jake was on the outs with the consortium of the world's biggest super-villains, and they see Charlie as a naive patsy, and they're not entirely wrong on that point. They are, however, very wrong in thinking that Charlie will be easily manipulated into giving them exactly what they want.

And so we get a lively comedy in which Charlie, assisted by Jake's top lieutenants and his trusty staff of intelligent cats and dolphins, learns how to be a bad guy and how to defeat the even worse guys. There are terrific running jokes -- I loved the surly, foul-mouthed dolphins who demand the right to form a union -- that pay off in unexpected ways.

To be sure, there's not a lot of depth here. No one in the gang of villains is drawn with much subtlety; they are essentially a collection of particularly cartoonish Bond characters. But the comic frustration of Charlie's new advisors as they try frantically to bring him up to speed is entertaining, and Charlie is an enormously likable protagonist. The dialogue is sharp and funny, and different characters bring different varieties of funny to the table, a nice change for Scalzi, whose characters sometimes tend to speak in exactly the same wise-cracking sardonic tone.

Absolutely delightful, and highly recommended.

(BingoDog: features a member of the cat family)

Set 27, 7:43 am

>163 KeithChaffee: I like Scalzi's writing and humor, and this sounds like a hoot. I'll look for it.

Editado: Out 2, 3:23 pm

45: Leading Lady: A Memoir of a Most Unusual Boy, Charles Busch

I'm not a big reader of memoirs. Too many people who write them haven't done anything worth memorializing. Given my love of movies, TV, music, and theatre, you'd think that showbiz memoirs might work for me, but even there, I quickly tire of the "and then I wrote/sang/starred in/directed..." that they often devolve into.

But "read a memoir" is one of the squares on this year's BingoDog card, and I am enough of a completist that, having started the card, I must finish it.

You will probably get a sense of the corner of the showbiz universe where Charles Busch lives if you know that the blurbs for the book are written by (among others) Alan Cumming, Bette Midler, Jinkx Monsoon, and Armistead Maupin. Busch's childhood love of classic mid-century American cinema led him to a career as a playwright and actor, writing affectionate spoofs and parodies of the sorts of movies that once starred Bette Davis or Joan Crawford, plays that featured great leading lady roles for himself to play.

Busch doesn't much like the phrase "drag queen" to describe what he does, and will only reluctantly tolerate "female impersonator." He simply thinks of himself as an actor who plays female roles. And that's what he's been doing since college, when he wrote a play for himself and a (male) classmate to star in, as female conjoined twins who argue melodramatically about whether or not to be surgically separated.

In his memoir, Busch alternates between telling his life story and sharing name-dropping anecdotes about his encounters with showbiz legends (Debbie Reynolds! Joan Rivers! Rita Moreno!). The chapters are short, and have a very strong "as told to" flavor; you get the sense that Busch spent a few weeks with a ghostwriter (*) who chose and arranged all of the best bits from Busch's retelling of his life story. The good news is that Busch has a big personality and a sharp, campy wit, and is reasonably willing to tell stories that don't always show him in the best light, so his anecdotes are entertaining reading.

(*The book is dedicated to Katharine Carr, who also receives a paragraph of effusive thanks in the acknowledgments; that's often how you can identify the ghostwriter of a celebrity memoir.)

Busch he has had an unusual and successful career, beginning with off-off-Broadway successes like Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Theodora, She-Bitch of Byzantium. Initially seen as a campy, somewhat disreputable writer/actor who would never grow beyond a cult audience, Busch became a respected enough playwright to have a Tony-nominated play on Broadway (The Tale of the Allergist's Wife, in which he did not perform), and a skilled enough actor to star in movie adaptations of two of his plays (Psycho Beach Party and Die Mommie Die!).

In the personal side of the memoir, the dominant character is Busch's Aunt Lil, who raised him from the age of five after his mother died. She's a loving, practical, generous woman with more than a touch of Auntie Mame, and Busch's love for her shines through. I was always happy when Aunt Lil popped up for a page or two.

So as memoirs go, this one is pretty good, I guess. It's not going to make me rush out to read a lot more memoirs, but it was a moderately entertaining bit of breezy reading.

(BingoDog: memoir)

Editado: Out 5, 7:46 pm

46: Celeste Holm Syndrome, David Lazar

Well, the title's clever.

The contents, though, are a set of short, intensely self-absorbed essays that are ostensibly about character actors of the 1940s and 1950s -- William Demarest, Eve Arden, Thelma Ritter, Edward Everett Horton, and so on. They are mostly about Lazar, who seems to view movies and actors as an important tool to be used in self-analytical therapy. Which they can be, I suppose, but the navel-gazing of one person is rarely going to be of much interest to others.

There are a handful of interesting thoughts about the actors and their careers scattered through the book, but it's not worth slogging through the multiple variations on "my mother died when I was a child, and I worry that I can no longer remember her voice" to get to them.

(AlphaKIT: H; BingoDog: author shares my zodiac sign, Aquarius)

Out 7, 2:14 pm

>166 KeithChaffee: That's a great premise for a book, though it sounds like not the strongest end product. Too bad—my husband is always telling me Wiki-generated fun facts about character actors in movies we watch, and some of them, especially in that golden age of Hollywood where people earned really successful livings from tiny roles, are fascinating.

Out 8, 3:40 pm

>167 lisapeet: On the plus side, though, it reminded me of a fun little book from about 20 years ago. Hey! It's That Guy was based on a feature at the Fametracker website (which I believe still exists, though it hasn't been active for many years), and it featured profiles and career reviews for many of the great modern character actors. Much lighter in tone than what Lazar is attempting, but informative and entertaining. Still in print, too, so I've ordered a copy.

Editado: Out 10, 4:28 pm

47: The Number Ones, Tom Breihan

For several years now, Breihan has been writing his "The Number Ones" column at Stereogum. He's making his way through the history of the Billboard Hot 100, writing short essays on the historical and cultural background and impact of each song that reached the top of the chart. He's made his way to mid-2011; this week's entry is on Adele's "Rolling in the Deep."

In this book, he chooses twenty #1 hits, some more recent than he's yet gotten to at Stereogum, to examine in more detail; these are 15-20 page essays, rather than 15-20 paragraphs. He describes his choices as "BC/AD moments. They're points where pop history pivoted -- where new genres or technologies or cultural moments sent the pop charts off in a new direction."

We get songs that represent major musical movements; Motown is represented by The Supremes' "Where Did Our Love Go" and rap by Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby." (It was, after all, the first rap song to top the chart.) Britney Spears' "Baby One More Time" acknowledges the pop assembly line of producer Max Martin and his many proteges, and T-Pain's "Buy U a Drank" allows Auto-Tune to stand in for the many new technologies that have changed pop over the decades.

It can be difficult to write about music; our vocabulary feels too limited and imprecise. Breihan writes about music very well. If you know the song he's writing about, you'll hear it in a new way; if you don't know the song, you'll want to run to Spotify and listen to it. Here he is talking about Mariah Carey's "Vision of Love":
At the beginning of "Vision of Love," Carey sings without too many embellishments. As the song unfurls, though, she shows off more and more of what her voice can do. She never loses the melody or the emotional focus of the song. Instead, she builds it toward a climax, pushing toward gospel-style transcendence. As she gets closer and closer to her grand-showoff moments, Carey gets wilder and fiercer in the way she uses that voice. She holds grand, loud notes for long stretches, like a Broadway singer. She lets her voice fly all over the scale in the space of a single syllable, giving displays of melisma that not even Whitney Houston had attempted. In the song's grand finale, Carey flies up into the whistle register, the highest-pitched sound that a human voice can make.

...But Carey deploys that note as just one weapon in her arsenal, one flourish in a song that's practically nothing but flourishes. Even today, "Vision of Love" remains a wild highlight reel of a song. It's not just Carey's technique. It's the way she unveils that technique, one piece at a time. Carey knew that her vocal feats would astound people, so she built them up, adding one new piece at a time. That's showmanship.

Breihan is careful to put each song in context within its historical moment. How does it fit in with, or stand out from, the musical landscape of that year? How did the writer, the singer, the producer get to this point in this career? What made this song click with the public in a way that similar songs didn't?

This book takes seriously the cultural importance of music that doesn't very often get taken seriously. That's not to say that it feels ponderous or academic; Breihan's writing is entertaining, and it goes down easy without ever being condescending. If he wanted to write more books like this, choosing a new set of twenty songs for each volume, I'd be eager to read them.

(AlphaKIT: N)

Out 11, 9:46 am

>169 KeithChaffee: That book looks like a lot of fun. My problem with it would be that I don't much care about pop music post-1985 or so, but that's on me, obviously, and not on anybody else. Do the Beach Boys make his list of 20? How about Phil Spector?

Out 11, 12:47 pm

The Beach Boys do make the list, with “Good Vibrations.” None of Phil Spector’s work is directly addressed, but he comes up in the background of the chapter on The Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?”

And I confess that my eyes glazed over a little bit during a few of the later rap-focused chapters. Mind you, I’m not one of those reactionaries who grumble that rap isn’t really music, but it isn’t music that I connect to very easily.

Out 14, 11:29 am

I joined CR late so I just finished catching up with your thread. I enjoyed reading your reviews!

My own goal regarding the Hugo and Nebula awards is less ambitious than yours, I just want to read all the works (short-stories, novelettes, novellas and novels) which received one of these awards. I had some frustration with this goal as some of the books are really not to my taste. I was recently outraged that Camouflage won the Nebula when Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which I like much better, was nominated but did not win. I wonder if reading the nominees would increase or decrease my overall enjoyment...

We had some reading in common also. I specifically remember that you read Unicorn Variation by Zelazny which I also read earlier this year and really liked.

Out 14, 2:35 pm

>172 chlorine: Welcome, both to Club Read and to this thread, and thanks for the kind words.

"I wonder if reading the nominees would increase or decrease my overall enjoyment..."

I would imagine that the percentage of stuff you'd enjoy/dislike would remain about the same. You'd pick up some terrific stuff you would have missed, but you'd also find yourself slogging through things not to your taste. For instance, I have yet to finish the novellas/novellettes from the 1939 Retro Hugo awards because I am dreading the thought of reading Ayn Rand's Anthem, which is among the nominees.

What I think you do get by including the nominees along with the winners is a better sense of trends in the field. It can take a while for some authors or stylistic changes to reach the level of popularity where they actually win an award, but you might see them growing towards that level for a few years before.

It's a tradeoff, and there's no right answer. Either way, it is an absurdly large project; given the amount of reading time I have, and the amount of things I want to read that aren't part of this project, I know I'll never come close to finishing it. But I like absurdly large projects, and I'll keep on with this one happily. (See next post...)

Editado: Out 14, 3:10 pm

48: Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories 3 (1941), edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg

We take a quantum leap forward with this volume in the series. An all-star group of authors make their first appearances: Alfred Bester, James Blish, Anthony Boucher, Frederic Brown, C. M. Kornbluth, and Eric Frank Russell (sadly underrated these days). And we've got at least two all-time classic stories -- Theodore Sturgeon's "Microcosmic God" and Isaac Asimov's "Nightfall."

As with the previous volume in the series, Asimov and Greenberg include their introductions to several Robert A. Heinlein stories that are not included because of rights issues. Of the four, I'm especially fond of "And He Built a Crooked House" and the indispensable time-travel story "By His Bootstraps."

Several themes pop up in multiple stories. There are robots from Asimov ("Liar!") and Russell ("Jay Score"), Adam-and-Eve tales from Robert Arthur ("Evolution's End") and Bester ("Adam and No Eve"), mischievious fantasy creatures from Boucher ("Snulbug") and the husband-wife team of Henry Kuttner & C. L. Moore ("A Gnome There Was"), and little shops that vanish after selling mysterious artifacts from Sturgeon ("Shottle Bop") and A. E. van Vogt ("The Seesaw"). That last story, by the way, is significantly better than van Vogt's earlier stories in this series; I didn't love it, but it's at least readable, and it's of historical significance as his first working through some of the ideas that will eventually become his novel "The Weapon Makers."

Highlights: "Microcosmic God" and "Nightfall" both hold up beautifully, and deserve their legendary reputations. "Snulbug" rings some clever variations on the idea of using tomorrow's newspaper to get rich. The delayed revelation at the end of "Jay Score" isn't entirely successful, but the main action is a lively disaster-in-space story. Brown's "Armageddon" is a very short tale -- a specialty of his -- that's all about its punchline, but it's a cute joke, and the getting there is nicely done.

On the down side, the general progress seen in most of the book leaves stories by Robert Arthur and Ross Rocklynne feeling even more old-fashioned than those authors felt in earlier volumes. Del Rey's "Hereafter, Inc." is a somewhat muddled "am I in heaven or hell?" story, and Kornbluth's "The Words of Guru" ends beautifully, but getting to those final paragraphs is a bit of a slog.

But the genre is changing quickly, and this is the first volume in the series that I might feel comfortable recommending to the average modern reader of SF. They'd still find it old fashioned, but the quality of the ideas and the writing has improved enough that it no longer feels archaic.

Editado: Out 14, 2:37 pm

Mensagem removida pelo autor.

Out 14, 3:02 pm

>173 KeithChaffee: Interesting about the trends. Though in my case I'm reading them completely out of order so I wouldn't be able to spot any trend.
I'll keep with the winners for now. Anyway this is already a huge project for me and my current goal is to at least stay afloat by reading two works in each category each year, and then I'll finish it if/when I get retired. :)

Editado: Out 14, 3:21 pm

>176 chlorine: I've been reading mostly chronologically so far, but I think I may start being less focused on that. Perhaps I'll start mixing in the occasional "best of" volume from a major author in the field and knock off a bunch of their award stories in one go.

Out 15, 12:49 am

Don't know how it didn't occur to me at the time, but in addition to being a darned good book, Starter Villain is a book that features cats, which gives me the last square on my BingoDog card.

Out 15, 2:05 am

>178 KeithChaffee: Congrats on completing your bingo card! With much time to spare moreover. :)

Editado: Out 19, 12:37 pm

49: The Autumn Land and Other Stories, Clifford D. Simak

A half-dozen stories of varying length from Simak, including two award nominees, 1939's "Rule 18" and 1971's "The Autumn Land."

"Rule 18" is a time-travel comedy, in which after several humiliating defeats, Earth's football coach finds a way to defeat Mars in the annual Terrestrial-Martian football game. "The Autumn Land" is an elegiac fantasy, tinged with just a hint of horror, in which a man finds himself in a strange land where it is always autumn and his nameless neighbors arrive and leave seemingly at random.

The other four stories, written between 1951 and 1960, are all in some way or another about the simplest of virtues, basic kindness and decency; one of them is called "Courtesy," which cuts straight to the point.

And there, I think, we may get at why that Simak has fallen further into obscurity than some of his arguably less talented contemporaries: It's hard to make niceness dramatically compelling. The stories are, like their protagonists, nice, and reading them is a pleasant experience. Simak's sentences are well crafted, even in the story from 1939, and he knows how to create mood; there are some magnificent paragraphs to be found, especially in "The Autumn Land," the best of the stories gathered here. But the stakes always feel small and the conflicts relatively unimportant, even when they aren't.

"Courtesy," after all, is about whether a colony of human settlers on another world will be killed off by an indigenous virus; "Jackpot" deals with the morality of galactic scavenging; "Contraption" is rooted in the suffering of an abused child. These are not small stakes, but in Simak's hands, the storytelling remains polite and low-key, never rising to the level of urgency that their themes and ideas seem to demand. His belief in and commitment to the idea that most people are ultimately decent is admirable, and one can be absorbed by it for the length of a story or two, but taken in bulk, the mildness of his characters starts to wear thin.

Out 18, 10:37 pm

Only thing Ive read by him was way station that I absolutely loved.

"His belief in and commitment to the idea that most people are ultimately decent is admirable, and one can be absorbed by it for the length of a story or two, but taken in bulk, the mildness of his characters starts to wear thin".

I think that might be why other reads didn't work for me. Those short stories might work

Out 19, 7:49 am

>169 KeithChaffee: I started reading Tom's Number Ones column when he started writing them, which I see now was 6 years ago (!). And then I drifted away when he was in the early 2000s, I think. But I do enjoy his articles, I'm sure this collection is very readable!

Out 19, 9:47 am

>180 KeithChaffee: It is always difficult to judge such a prolific author as Simak with 30 science fiction novels to his credit and countless short stories, but I get your point when you say he writes about the simplest of virtues and the stories like his protagonists are nice. I have read City which is a collection of interrelated stories, which I liked very much and thought the philosophy behind them was homespun. I have also read Time and Again and Empire; two early novels which were OK. I wouldn't hesitate to pick up another of his books when I wanted a light read. Good to read your review.

Out 19, 12:35 pm

>180 KeithChaffee: Very interesting review of The Autumn Land and Other Stories.

Your comments made me think about the works of Becky Chambers who apparently actively tries to create nice and decent characters. The first book in her Wayfarers series, The long way to a small, angry planet felt a bit low-key to me but I liked the other two books much better.
Her novella A psalm for the wild built on the other hand is a pure delight.

Out 19, 12:36 pm

>183 baswood: Oh, I can certainly imagine going back for more Simak. And indeed, I will be; several more of his stories will be popping up as I make my way through this SF award fiction project. But for me, at least, I’m beginning to think he is an author who will work best in small, occasional doses. I’ll happily read each story as it comes up, but might not choose to sit down with a “best of” volume.

“Homespun” — very good word choice for his writing.

Out 19, 1:40 pm

>184 chlorine: Chambers is an interesting comparison. Yes, like Simak, she writes from a "people are good" viewpoint. But in my limited experience with both authors, Chambers is the reverse of Simak on the question of stakes; she manages to make the stakes feel bigger than they sometimes are, which gives me more reason to want to read further into the story.

Out 19, 1:53 pm

But speaking of authors who I'm probably not going to pick up a whole book of, the next story in our survey is John Wyndham's 1939 novella "Sleepers of Mars," making what will be his only appearance in this survey of award-nominated short SF. It's sort of a sequel to his novel Stowaway to Mars, though the two works can be read independently.

The novel deals with an international race to get to Mars, and in one of the minor plot threads, the Russian ship is left stranded there. This novella tells us what happened to them. Sadly, the answer is "not much." They learn that there is life on Mars, and that the Martian race is slowly headed towards extinction. Their arrogant indifference and failure to understand Martian culture leads the story to a tragic ending for all.

"Story," alas, is a generous word here. The novella is about 60 pages long in the edition I read, and the principal plot line -- the one involving the "sleepers" -- doesn't kick in until about page 40. The idea and the events are big enough to sustain more than 20 pages, which means we get the literary paradox of those last pages feeling simultaneously plodding, due to Wyndham's clunky prose, and rushed, because the plot's being crammed into such a small chunk of the story.

Wyndham is better known for his disaster novels of the 1950s, which I have not read -- The Day of the Triffids, The Chrysalids, The Midwich Cuckoos -- and it is certainly possible that his writing improves significantly in the decade between this story and those books. Goodness knows a lot of writers did, as did the genre as a whole. But this story is a slog, and I would not be eager to pick up more of his writing without a strong recommendation from someone I trusted very well.

Editado: Out 19, 7:04 pm

>187 KeithChaffee: Ah I think those three Wyndham novels are excellent. The whole feel of them is very 1950's provincial English, but that was when they were written.

Out 20, 3:55 am

>186 KeithChaffee: Interesting comparison between Simak and Chambers. I haven't read much Simak but indeed Chambers seems to be addressing high stakes to me.

>187 KeithChaffee: >188 baswood: Enjoying reading your comments about Wyndham. The Day of the Triffids is on my wishlist and I don't know if your combined comments make me want to get to to it more or less. :)

Out 21, 3:46 pm

>189 chlorine: Oh heavens, don't let me stop you. The novels have a strong enough reputation, and come so many years after the story I read, that I have no problem believing they'd be significantly better.

Out 22, 12:55 am

>190 KeithChaffee: Don't worry, those books weren't very close to the top of my wishlist anyway so a single review is not going to have a lot of influence on whether I get to them sooner or later. :)

Out 26, 3:53 pm

50: Prequel, Rachel Maddow

Maddow visits the late 1930s and early 1940s, when a surprisingly large number of prominent Americans not only took the side of Hitler and Germany in the developing European war, but hoped to see a similar fascist movement take hold in the United States. Some of them went beyond mere hope and advocacy, but took active steps to make it happen. In many cases, they crossed the line into criminal behavior, and the offenders included several high officials; some United States Senators abused their franking privileges -- the right to send mail postage-free to their constitutents -- to mail millions of pieces of Nazi propaganda.

There are familiar names of the era to be found here -- Huey Long, Charles Lindbergh, Father Coughlin -- along with a variety of more obscure colorful figures. The would-be fascist Lois de Lafayette Washburn claimed to be a descendant of the Revolutionary War marquis, and entered the courtroom for her sedition trial with a Sieg Heil salute; she arrived at court on one occasion wearing only a blue satin nightgown.

It's a compelling story, with obvious parallels to the current state of affairs. To her credit, Maddow doesn't club the reader over the head with those parallels; she trusts that anyone who's likely to be reading this book is aware enough to pick up on them without too much hand-holding.

Prequel grows out of Maddow's 2022 podcast Ultra, and the last third of the book covers the same ground as that podcast. If you listened to Ultra, you may find yourself skimming through that chunk of the book; it's not quite so riveting a tale that you need to hear it twice, especially from the same narrator.

Maddow is as good a storyteller as journalism has these days. She has an eye for the telling detail, and knows how and when to deploy her wry sense of humor. If you're familiar with Maddow from her TV show or her podcasts, then the narrative voice here will be familiar, and you can practically hear her voice in your head as you read.

There are a few tics that work better in those aural media than they do in print; she's fond of constructions like this, for instance:
Nearly a year after Maloney's departure, there had been no good news from Justice. Which was good news to Wheeler, Fish, Hoffman, and the rest of Viereck's friends inside the U.S. Congress.
In a TV/podcast script, that's probably a useful way to help a reader put additional stress on the second part of that (and it probably served her well when recording the audiobook); in print, especially when it keeps happening, they make it look like Maddow never learned about sentence fragments.

Out 26, 11:30 pm

Last night my sis and I saw her reading in Phx to an amazingly large crowd (a local book store was sponsoring it, so lots of book folk in attendance.) she was well received and as usual on top of her game. Funny you mention " Maddow doesn't club the reader over the head with those parallels; she trusts that anyone who's likely to be reading this book is aware enough to pick up on them without too much hand-holding." She did the same thing in her talk, which I found refreshing.

The tics I always noticed from her is a tendency to repeat herself, or say the same thing in several ways, and I have heard her sentence fragments, which probably make more sense speaking then in writing

I remember first hearing about her on the radio program Air America, a short lived program that was supposed to run against Rush Limbaugh. I was glad she suceeded as a journalist . and have watched her for yeara. Havent read the book yet but did notice the last quarter of the book is filled with a bibliography, notes and other references; Looking forward to getting into it

Out 27, 12:18 am

>193 cindydavid4: I know some people find Maddow really repetitious, but it's never bothered me. I get more frustrated when she gets obsessed with some weird little story that isn't nearly as important as she'd like it to be, and spends ten minutes every night on it for a week. In fairness, there's been a lot less of it in the Trump era, when news has been crazed enough with a new outrage every other day to keep her from wandering down too many obscure rabbit holes. (And of course, now that she's only on one night a week, that sort of night-to-night repetition isn't really an option.)

Editado: Out 30, 2:44 pm

51: Dragged to the Wedding, Andrew Grey

James is happy living in Chicago. He's got a good job (he's a cop) and a nice circle of friends, and he doesn't have to deal with his overbearing mother, who's 2,000 miles away in Montana. But now his sister's getting married, and he's expected to bring a date to the wedding. And since he hasn't yet come out to his family, Mom expects that date to be a woman.

With his best female friend unavailable, James turns in desperation to Daniel Bonafonte -- or, as he's known when he's performing, Lala Traviata, the reigning diva of Chicago drag. The club where Daniel performs is going to be closed for renovations anyway, so Daniel's willing to take the job of spending a week as Daniella to keep James's family happily clueless.

Well, we know where this is going, don't we? The family will adore Daniella; James and Daniel will find themselves falling in love; there will be oodles of complications surrounding the wedding; and general wackiness will ensue!

But there's a reason that some plots and plot twists are familiar. It's because if they're done well, they work, and this one is done quite well. The jokes land, the emotional tension is fairly earned, and the complications are cleverly plotted.

Romantic comedy isn't my usual fare. I only pick up a romance novel, almost always comic and usually same-sex, once or twice a year. I liked this one a lot.

Out 30, 2:33 pm

>195 KeithChaffee: Romantic comedy isn't usually my fare either but this one is appealing! :)

Out 30, 5:08 pm

>195 KeithChaffee: I agree with Chlorine, this sounds like fun!

Editado: Nov 5, 5:45 pm

52: Lavender House, Lev AC Rosen

We open in a bar, and a woman enters:
Her lips are painted bright red. She's wearing a yellow skirt that cuts at the calf and a matching jacket decorated with a circular black-stoned brooch. Perched on her short, dark (surely dyed at her age) hair is a small hat with a small pin in it of an overlapping "WAC" -- the Women's Athletic Club. Her style is dated, but very high society. I've seen plenty of women like her, their money protecting them from the change they fear so badly, like a suit made of gold foil.

She lights her cigarette, perched in a holder, and asks the bartender for a Manhattan. She has a deep, sharp voice, adn it cuts through the fog of drunkenness in my mind. She's right out of a movie -- she could ask me to kill her husband any second now.
Can't get too much more noir than that, which is appropriate, because it's 1952. Evander "Andy" Mills, our narrator, has just been thrown off the San Francisco police force after being caught at a gay bar in a police raid doing "the things men do in the bathroom of the Black Cat."

The woman who approaches him in that opening scene is Pearl Velez, and she wants Andy to solve a murder. The two of them are alone in her car when he asks who's been murdered, but even in that isolation, it's still a shock when her answer is "my wife."

Pearl and Irene had built an unusual home for themselves on an isolated estate outside the city, a place where their small family of gay men and lesbians can be themselves and live without the constant fear of life in the city. The rest of the family: Irene's son, Henry, and his boyfriend; Henry's wife/beard, Margo, and her girlfriend; and Margo's elderly mother, the only straight resident of Lavender House. There's also a gay butler, and a lesbian couple who work as cook and gardener.

Irene's family is in the soap business, and she was the head chemist/perfumer. That means that in addition to the members of the household, there are business rivals who might have motive.

Lavender House is a smartly plotted mystery, with a fine assortment of characters/suspects and a strong narrative voice. It's also a fine historical novel, a reminder of just how bleak and difficult life could be for sexual minorities in the not-too-distant past (and sadly, still is for too many today). And putting gay and lesbian folks at the center of the story gives it a point of view that helps it to stand out from a sea of noir-ish detective stories.

A second Andy Mills novel is already available (The Bell in the Fog), and there are certainly a lot of possible stories that can be built around a gay private eye who specializes in helping people who don't always have the option of going to the police. A very fine start to a promising series.

(AlphaKIT: L)

Nov 5, 5:45 pm

>194 KeithChaffee: Agreed. And many TV commentators do this repeating thing ro make points. I do it in conversations myself - I try to say something in a clearer way. Repeatedly. Maddow and Christiane Amanpour are the only commentators I bother with now.

Nov 5, 5:46 pm

I said back in post #1 of this topic that after a couple years of somewhat sluggish reading, I hoped to get my average up to a book a week this year. That last book was #52, so success on that goal with nearly two months left to go!

Nov 5, 7:22 pm

>198 KeithChaffee: That sounds really intriguing, I've added it to my wishlist.

Nov 6, 1:46 am

>200 KeithChaffee: Congrats in achieving your goal, and with so much time left!

Nov 7, 2:40 pm

Another bit of short fiction knocked off my award-nominee project: Henry Kuttner's 1939 novelette "Hollywood on the Moon." It's a cute piece about a second-unit director struggling to finish shooting special effects sequences in space. The show-biz figures feel familiar even today (venal studio head, egotistical director, sharp-tongued diva), and the SF tropes haven't dated too badly (cute alien critter, clashes over mining rights). With a little updating of the old-fashioned prose, this wouldn't feel too out of place in today's market.

Nov 8, 10:43 am

>203 KeithChaffee: He wrote a lot of stories in his fairly short life.

Nov 8, 12:09 pm

>204 baswood: Yeah, I like Kuttner. I think his stories generally hold up pretty well. He frequently published under a large number of pseudonyms, which I think has kept him from having the stature he deserves within the genre.

Editado: Nov 19, 4:58 pm

53: The Avram Davidson Treasury, Avram Davidson

Updated/expanded 2022 edition of a collection originally published in 1998; a very generous collection -- roughly 650 pages, almost 40 stories -- of Davidson's stories, each with an introduction by one of his friends or colleagues, and with afterwords at the end of the book by even more of them.

Those other writers are not timid about placing Davidson among the very finest writers of short stories. Ray Bradbury imagines himself taking a long train trip with his favorite writers, including Davidson as well as Rudyard Kipling, Saki, John Collier, and G. K. Chesterton, then says:
I realize that is a rare fine company I have put him in, but I have always been one to stick my neck out through affection and admiration. If I would not say he measures completely to their height, I do say this: On such a train, on such a sweet night journey, these men would gladly listen to Avram Davidson and read and enjoy him. You would find his stories in their book bags, even as you would find theirs in his.
Bradbury isn't overstating the case. Davidson's stories are marvelous, and he deserves to be remembered in such company.

I am particularly struck by how well, and how quickly, he establishes mood and tone, and over what a range -- the unsettling grim creepiness of "Naples," the outlandish whimsy of "Help! I Am Dr. Morris Goldpepper," the ferociously dark humor of "Revolver." And he's always in absolute control of those moods, capable of pulling off shifts that might, in lesser hands, cause painful whiplash; the abruptly shocking end of "Crazy Old Lady" is a marvel.

Davidson also has a striking gift for language and dialect. His characters come from a variety of places around the world, and they speak accordingly. He writes dialect in a way that sounds authentic without ever feeling condescending. The elderly Jewish couple of "The Golem," for instance, could easily have slipped into horrible cliche, especially as far back as 1955, but Davidson presents them with a warmth and precision that makes them real people.

In reading this book, I knocked three more stories off my list of award-nominated short SF, and two of those are stunners. "Or All the Seas with Oysters" deftly adds touches of paranoia and the otherworldly to a story of bickering bicycle repairmen (and delivers another jawdropping ending); "The House the Blakeneys Built" is a slow-building gem of both comedy and horror. I was not quite as taken with "Polly Charms, the Sleeping Woman," a Sleeping Beauty variation featuring Davidson's series character, Dr. Eszterhazy, who is sort of a Ruritanian Sherlock Holmes, though it's certainly beautifully written prose.

This book covers Davidson's career from his first published story -- 1954's "My Boy Friend's Name Is Jello," a riff on the games children play -- to his last -- 1993's "The Spook-Box of Theodore Delafont De Brooks," a dryly melancholy look at the weight of self-imposed expectations.

Highly recommended.

Nov 19, 6:51 pm

Avram Davidson is new to me, enjoyed your review.

Nov 19, 8:03 pm

>206 KeithChaffee: oh Im so glad you liked it as well as I did (and incidentally my sci fi reading group where I recommended i) agree with everything you say; think The Old Lady who thought she could read was one of my favs; The Golem, the oysters, Help! I Am Dr. Morris Goldpepper, just perfection. I also have his Everybody Has Somebody in Heaven : Essential Jewish Tales of the Spirit most of which I really liked as well.

Nov 20, 7:38 am

>206 KeithChaffee: I don't read a lot of short stories, but you may have sold me on this one. Sounds fantastic.

Nov 20, 9:35 am

>206 KeithChaffee: I had never heard of Avram Davidson either, but I agree with the others that he sounds wonderful. This book doesn’t seem to be available in ebook format but others are, and one of the many short story collections I already downloaded contains a story by him. I need to check it out.

Nov 20, 2:37 pm

>206 KeithChaffee: Funny how tastes differ. I read "Or all the seas with oysters" this summer because it won the Hugo and was not that impressed. I'm glad you found something you really enjoyed though. :)

Nov 20, 2:54 pm

>210 FlorenceArt: I don't know what e-book reader you use, but I read the book on my Kindle, so it's available at least in that format.

Nov 20, 4:15 pm

yup, me too

Nov 21, 4:09 am

>212 KeithChaffee: >213 cindydavid4: Looks like the publishers didn’t bother with an ePub version, which is strange because the Kindle version was published in 2022. It’s available on Kobo but only as an audio book.

Editado: Nov 25, 2:27 pm

54: Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone, Benjamin Stevenson

A very meta murder mystery, in which our narrator, Ernest "Ern" Cunningham, is a writer of how-to-write guides for aspiring mystery writers. That means that he knows all of the rules, tricks, and tropes of the trade, so when he and his family are caught up in a murder story of their own, Ern can not only tell us the story, but point out all of the ways in which he might (or might not) be sneakily misleading us. He promises to be a "reliable narrator," never to lie to us, and not to withhold any information that proved useful in solving the mystery.

Ern (and Stevenson) mostly keep those promises in this lively story, which finds the Cunningham family gathering at a ski resort for a family reunion. It's going to be a stressful reunion; the family is gathering as Ern's brother is released from prison, and it was Ern's testimony that put him there.

When people start dying at the resort -- as a massive snowstorm moves in, of course -- the local bumbling cop naturally assumes that the Cunninghams must be involved. After all, as Ern keeps telling us, everyone in the family has killed someone. (This turns out not to be strictly true, but discovering how and why is a key part of the story.)

Stevenson's prose is lively, with a wink that never sours into smirk, and a bouncier tone that you might expect in a murder mystery. And it's occasionally unexpectedly lovely and emotional. Take, for instance, this passage about a family member who died young:
We never call Jeremy anything but his first name. It's a thing, I've noticed, when someone dies young. Like they haven't lived into the legacy of their surname. Sofia might not think so, that it's not what's in your blood or on your birth certificate that matters, but she still cares which way the names go around the hyphen. It's why you can go from Ernest, as you practice the rigid capital E over and over in bright crayon; to Cunners, on the second-grade football team; to Mr. Cunningham, speaking into the snake's head of a courtroom microphone; to Ernest James Cunningham printed inside a wreath, on a pamphlet handed out in the archway of a church. Because you get your name back when you die -- all of it. I've noticed that too. That's legacy. It's why Jeremy never made it past Jeremy.

I'm not saying he's not a Cunningham, because he is, in the truest, deepest sense of the word. But to call him "Jeremy Cunningham," I think, makes him smaller than he is, tethering him to us. As a Cunningham, he is part of those dreams that wake me dry-tongued, gagging. Without our surname to anchor him, he is part of the sky, the wind, the mind.

I think the wrap-up, which of course gathers everyone in the library for Ern's "I've called you all here..." speech, is overly convoluted, with a few too many scheming characters at the heart of the mystery, but Stevenson lays out the story as clearly as it can be laid out. But on the whole, nicely done, and I look forward to Ern's promised return in Everyone on This Train Is a Suspect.

Nov 29, 6:00 pm

55: Evil Earths, Brian Aldiss, ed.

I don't know how much actual evil there is in this anthology; it's a little hard to discern much of a theme at all, beyond a sort of bleakness. There are fourteen stories here, with original publication dates between 1935 and 1970, and I wouldn't say that any of them are enduring classics.

A few of them aren't bad, though. "Film of Death" by J. S. Campbell presents an ecological disaster that foreshadows "ice-nine" from Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle; Allen K. Lang's "Guest Expert" is a three-page joke about overpopulation with a crisply brutal punchline; and Howard Fast's "The Wound" is written with enough skill to get away with a concept that teeters on sappy sentiment.

The main reason I picked up the book was for its longest story, Henry Kuttner's Hugo-nominated novella "The Time Trap." It's from the late 1930s, and very much of its era. It's a good example of an early SF subgenre known as the "scientific romance," in which a brave hero faces an episodic series of creatures, disasters, and perils; this one is long enough that you can imagine it as an old-fashioned movie serial, leaving the hero in danger at every cliffhanger ending. Not a genre that holds up well today, though Kuttner certainly does offer breatless excitement and a sense of awe that transcend the limits of his story.

Dez 2, 5:40 am

>216 KeithChaffee: This seems like it wasn't a terrific read. Congrats on reading all the book even if you were mostly interested in one story.

Dez 2, 1:48 pm

>217 chlorine: Oh, I admit to skimming, even skipping, one or two of the dullest stories. I think that's inevitable with almost any story collection. But I figure if I give every story a good-faith effort and actually finish the bulk of them, it counts as a book read.

Dez 2, 2:02 pm

>218 KeithChaffee: It does completely count as a book read IMO too. :)

Dez 2, 9:06 pm

oh totally agree!

Dez 3, 3:37 am

>218 KeithChaffee: What >219 chlorine: and >220 cindydavid4: said. Sometimes I have to kick myself a little to skip a story in order to avoid staying stalled on the whole book.

Editado: Dez 3, 2:00 pm

56: Last Year, Robert Charles Wilson

Every time travel story has its own rules about how time travel works, and Wilson has devised some unusual variations in this novel.

In our not-too-distant future, time travel has been developed, and people can travel back in time to a limited extent. They aren't traveling back into the past of their own world, though; they're traveling into a parallel universe so closely located to their own that the two are essentially undistinguishable, so it feels like traveling into their own past. And when they return through The Mirror, they return to the present of their own universe, which will have been unchanged by whatever butterfly effect their presence in someone else's past might have caused.

That leads a certain type of tech billionaire to treat those parallel pasts as an opportunity to make a lot of money on time tourism, and to mingle our present with another world's past without much thought for how that will alter the development of that world.

Last Year takes place in the 1870s in one of those other worlds, where one of those billionaires, August Kemp, has founded the City of Futurity, a tourist destination for both worlds. Our rich folks get to go back and visit post-Civil War America; the 1870s locals get to visit a carefullly curated museum of the future. The longer Kemp stays in any one past, the more that world changes and the less it feels like a visit to the "real" past for his contemporaries, so each City of Futurity -- this is the second -- has a limited lifespan before Kemp abandons that universe, leaving the City's ruins behind him.

Our protagonist is Jesse Cullum, one of the many 1870s locals who has been hired to work at the City; he's in security. When he foils an attempted assassination of the visiting President Grant, he begins a rapid climb up the job ladder and finds himself working directly for Kemp. The new position gives him access to a lot more information about the future than he'd been given, and gives him a new partner, Elizabeth DePaul, a woman from the future.

Wilson's primary strength is plot. He tells a good story that moves briskly along with lots of action and plenty of plot twists to keep the reader involved.

Character development falls somewhat to the wayside by comparison. Wilson sometimes coasts on easy archetypes for Jesse (salt of the earth, Americana, decent guy who knows how to throw a punch if he must) and Elizabeth (sexually liberated, likes to curse, single mom, short haircut). But each is given just enough back story and individualization to keep them from feeling too thin, and Wilson makes effective use of the culture clash between them.

Last Year isn't Wilson at his very best, but it's a solid piece of entertainment, and if you find the premise appealing, you'll have a good time with it.

(AlphaKIT: R and Y)

Dez 3, 6:01 pm

>222 KeithChaffee: i love time travel so this goes on the tbr list

Dez 5, 9:55 pm

56: Anthem, Ayn Rand

I have never read any Ayn Rand before, and if I had to read anything, it might as well be this, her shortest work of fiction. It was a Retro Hugo nominated novella for 1939, which is why I picked it up.

Anthem was originally published in the UK. Its first US publication, in 1946, by a small libertarian publishing house, wasn't widely distributed. The book didn't get a major US edition until 1953. Rand revised the text for the '46 edition, and that's the version I read.

It's a dystopia, and after all of these years, its basic tropes are very familiar -- collective decision making; no room for joy, fun, or spontaneity; individuality thoroughly removed from society.

So thoroughly, in fact, that our protagonist, a young man named Equality 7-2521, refers to himself as "we" and "us." He meets and falls in love -- forbidden love, for it is unthinkable to prefer the company of any one person over that of any other -- with the beautiful Liberty 5-3000(*). Together, they run away and discover some of the forbidden knowledge of the Unmentionable Times. Those discoveries include -- I suppose this is a spoiler -- the word "I," and the final chapters are essentially a sermon/hymn to the glory of "I" and the self.

(* -- If you can read the name "Liberty 5-3000" without chanting it to the approximate rhythm of Glenn Miller's "Pennsylvania 6-5000," well, you're a better man than I am, Gunga Din.)

It is, of course, not fair to put all of the blame on Rand for the fact that her tropes feel stale and tired in 2023; people have been riffing on those ideas for more than 80 years. But she can certainly be blamed for the hamfisted way in which she pounds her political drum; for the childish selfishness of her philosophy; and for the general ineptitude of her prose, which is clunky and awkward even by the relatively low standards of late 1930s SF.

Editado: Dez 6, 6:40 pm

>222 KeithChaffee: I’m putting it on my list. Time travel is fascinating. Thank you!

Dez 7, 1:31 am

>224 KeithChaffee: Yikes Anthem does _not_ seem appealing! I find the older books in my Hugo/Nebula challenge often, well, challenging to read because they are not good by modern standards. At least now you have crossed this one off your list!

The Wilson book does seem interesting on the other hand.

Dez 7, 5:30 am

>224 KeithChaffee: Interesting that you feel the prose is clunky. This gives me a good excuse not to read anything by Ayn Rand

Editado: Dez 7, 8:57 am

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