Saturday, May 31, 2014

First Contact by Murray Leinster - A short story review

I enjoyed this story very much.  While on survey of the Crab Nebula the crew of the LLANVABON encounter another craft in the region.

You'd think First Contact would be a good and exciting thing. Trouble is, how can you be sure the species you've just encountered won't just follow you back home and wage war?

The author came up with a compelling resolution to the problem. It's an interesting premise since much of these kinds of encounters on Star Trek do not have this level of paranoia to complicate things.

This story was first published in 1945, considering the Cold War started at the same time I can see how the author could push the attitudes into space.

I think the story stands the test of time. The technology could use some freshening up but the plot would make a fine 90 minute movie. 

Find out more about the author HERE and HERE.

Murray Leinster - circa 1930's
Astounding Science Fiction - May 1945

Monday, May 26, 2014

Book Report #92 - Who Could That Be at This Hour? by Lemony Snicket

Book 16 of 52
Page Count - 258

Book one of "All the Wrong Questions" series.

This is a very strange little book but, then again, what would you expect from Lemony Snicket? (AKA Daniel Handler)

I read him for the language and the wonderfully twisted worlds he creates.  It may be a children's book but he has never talked down to his audience and even makes his use of explaining more difficult words by throwing it in to the dialogue.  Handler is obviously a highly intelligent person and that comes through in his writing style.  I have never come across anybody who writes quite like him.

The plot is loosely follows Snicket's first adventure, he is an apprentice to a secret society, in the town of Stain'd-by-the-Sea.  Stain'd-by-the-Sea is a dying, one-industry town, that used to make the world's best ink.  Snicket and his chaperone are assigned to recover a statue of the Bombinating Beast.
The Bombinating Beast
The assignment is not as important as the world building that takes place in the book.  In Snicket/Handler's hands I actually enjoy the exposition more than the plot.

Because it's a children's book it is also filled with illustrations, something that was much more common during the days of the pulps.  I would love to see them make a comeback in some way.

I really enjoyed this first installment.

Daniel Handler AKA Lemony Snicket

Saturday, May 24, 2014

You Dirty Rat by Nigel Bird - a short story review

You Dirty Rat is the opening story from Speedloader, a six story collection of noir fiction.

First set in the trenches of WWI Verdun, France, we witness the brutal conditions there.

The story takes place over a span of many years, from the terrible death of a brother to a heartless application of military law to revenge.  This story will leave you chilled in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee.

This is the first story I've read by Bird; I'll be looking for his name from now on.

Speedloader is available as an eBook, I downloaded the sample of it for free from the Kindle store which included YDR.  I may have to go back to purchase the whole thing just to make sure Bird gets his 10 cents in royalties. The entire anthology is 99 cents by the way.

Loved it.

Nigel Bird's Goodreads pages is HERE.

Purchase the eBook HERE.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Book Report #91 - Redshirts by John Scalzi

Book 15 of 52
Page count - 314

I thought I'd try something new in picking my next book.  Up until now I've just followed my nose; this time I thought I'd pick an author who's birthday is celebrated in the current month, May 10th by the way.  Preferably I'd also have a book already on my shelf; Scalzi's name popped out and I have two of his books ready to read.  I've also read two of his books and enjoyed them very much.  The reading of those books, Old Man's War and Zoe's Tale, predate this blog so there are no reviews posted here.

Anybody who is even slightly interested in science fiction will get the Star Trek reference from the title and know that it will follow the "adventures" of those lowly ranked folks who tend to come to sticky ends on away missions.

The book is a fun romp through the TV SF tropes and was just a joy to read.  The book centers around a group of five "Redshirts" who begin to suspect that something very strange is happening on board the Intrepid, a ship much like the Enterprise.   Somewhere along the line our "heroes" find out their reality is being influenced by something unexpected

I loved this book, it was a wonderful way to roll around in TV SF lore and just laugh about it and enjoy it for what it is.  But then the book takes a turn, a wonderful turn, a turn that makes the book important, serious and wonderful.  There are three codas at the end, comprising the last 80 pages, that give the book weight; three codas written in three different voices, first, second and third person; that bring into focus the importance of the events of reality and fiction; of fiction on reality and reality on fiction.

If this sounds confusing, it should, and you should read this book.

The author has a blog HERE.

John Scalzi

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Plastic Soldiers by W. D. County - A short story review

Oh, yuck!

This was a chilling and disturbing story involving child abduction and sexual abuse.

As repulsive the subject is, and I can tell you, I very nearly stopped reading it, the author chose to write the story in the first person, from the point of view of one of the abducted boys, so I kept with it. County never exploited the horror, nor did he go into any gritty details.  He leaves it up to the readers' imagination, which was a very savvy and professional way to tell this story.

Be warned, if your squeamish this may be a difficult read.

That said, it was very well written.

I also believe County is doing readers a service by bringing the horror of this kind of crime to light.  Whenever I hear of child abuse in the news I can touch this story and think, "I'm glad they caught the bastard!"  This is not the kind of story I seek, I don't like being that close this kind of crime but I do feel that I'm better off for reading it.

I still want to take a shower. Yuck!

The author's website is HERE.

W. D. County

Monday, May 12, 2014

Book Report #90 - Train by Tom Zoellner

Book 14 of 52
Page count - 310-ish

I really enjoyed this book.  It's hard to classify; it's part travel & adventure, part history and part social science. Through it all is a passion for trains, all of them, and why not?  Trains are quite a fantastic invention, something that has blended into the background that we don't notice unless we are at a crossing waiting for it to pass.

Zoellner focuses much of the book on the passenger train, something that is nearly unknown in North America but in each segment he points out that it was, and still is, the freight train that is the driving force that brings these machines into existence.  The first train was built to haul coal and, for most regions in the world, that is exactly what they are still doing today.

Passenger service is an interesting part of the railroad business and through Zoellner's travels we see just how the character of each country is infused into each length of track.  We go from the frumpy old British system to the chaos of India; I found myself gasping at how insanely the Indian system operates.  We also get to experience Amtrak, the Trans-Siberian, the Peruvian freight over the Andes and the Chinese high-speed train into Tibet.

Although Zoeller begins each trip as a travelogue he quickly blends the history of the railway with the history and politics of the region and brings the present day into the story.  Not only does he tell us how the thing was built but also how it impacts the people around it.

His last segment is spent on the Spanish AVE high-speed passenger train.  It is here that he also talks about the future of passenger travel and how it is struggling to take hold in the USA.

I highly recommend this book.  It has a nice way of appealing to travel enthusiasts, history buffs and has a nice way of describing life in other parts of the world.

 His website is HERE.

Tom Zoellner

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Last Fair Deal Gone Down by Ace Atkins - a short story review

According to the Ace Atkins website this short story was lost for years until it was found on an old floppy disc.

It fits right in with his first novel, Crossroad Blues, actually, in 2008, this short was included as bonus material, in a 10th anniversary edition of Crossroad Blues.

In it we see Nick unravel the unfortunate death of a beloved sax man after discovering that the saxophone is missing from his room.

Look up book report #42 to see my review of CB.  Since first reading it I discovered the HBO series Treme and learned to love New Orleans.  I got a wonderful sense of place from this short story and really enjoyed it. I got the sense that Atkins was ready to tell a fully fleshed out story when he wrote this one.

A very nice addition to the cannon.  I wish I knew more authors who wrote novels AND short stories with their characters. Sometimes it's nice to get a small bite from a bigger world.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Book Report #89 - The First Quarry by Max Allan Collins

Book 13 of 52
Page count - 204

Another paperback from Hard Case Crime.

This story was set in December 1970 when Quarry was in his 20's.

Compared to the previous novel this one was a bit more graphic; more sex and more killing.  The dark humor and unique narration style were still there making this book another fantastic read.

This is Quarry's origin story, how he got his start in the killing business.  What seemed like a simple enough job; kill a college professor and burn his manuscript, turned into a comedy of unexpected people walking into the scene and messing up Quarry's plans.

Through all of this Quarry still wants to do right by the people who've wandered into his life.

I loved this story.  I was flipping pages with a smile on my face wondering how he was going to untangle himself from all the complications.

Highly recommended.

Collins' website is HERE.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Short Story Saturdays

Now that I'm well in to my 52 book challenge I find myself wanting to read some of the short stuff too.

I have found that this type of fiction is a challenge for me, not so much in the reading of an individual tale, but in the switching of gears when I'm on to the next one.  In good stories, I find my imagination is immersed in the world created by the author and I find it jarring when I come to the end and have to learn a whole new world for the next story.

To give my imagination time to re-set I've chosen to read one short a week.  This also poses a problem, one of an abundance of choice; I have an entire shelf of books filled with collected short stories and I have subscribed to Analog Magazine for 10 years, all of which have remained unread.

With novels, I sometimes suffer through too much exposition; with short stories I find myself at the conclusion just when I was getting comfortable in the setting.  I find both forms interesting since they demand different things from the reader.

In any case I find the 52 week challenge is having the wonderful side effect of making me want to read more. 

I am looking forward to discovering more authors.