Tag Archives: Book reviews

Ship of Theseus by VM Straka aka S by JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst

Hi readers.  Maybe you’ve been hearing about a book, S, by JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst.

Jeanne tossed it aside last night with a frustrated sigh.  Which was okay by me.  When she brought S home from the library a couple of weeks ago I had a look, examined the acompanying envelope full of notes, whiz wheels, maps, you name it.  I thumbed through the pages of Ship of Theseus enough to think someone had abused a book unmercifully and unforgiveably.  And when she and another library lady claimed Ship of Theseus isn’t a real book I didn’t believe them.

A quick web search proved me right.  I immediately found a site where VM Straka, his life, and his other books were being discussed in depth.

Sheeze, it required another search after I’d proved myself an idiot to discover it’s all a fake.  A book, Ship of Theseus, as a centerpoint for two imaginary people studying the imaginary author and leaving notes in the margins to one another, following an imaginary mystery about the author and the book.

Well, hell.  I’m the guy who’s read Umberto Eco’s Focault’s Pendulum haf-dozen times and loved it.  I’m almost unique on the planet Earth in that regard.  And I’m the guy who chased the Lost Adams Diggings through half the archives and dusty old books and microfilms pertaining to the 19th Century.

I smiled secretly to myself, knowing I’ve read The Eyre Affair and that entire Tuesday Next series by Jasper Fforde and would read more in an eyeblink, if I couldn’t find a heartbeat to read them in.  And I’ve read all, I think, of the Terry Pratchett Discworld novels and loved them without exception.  Read Filip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld series and loved it.  S wasn’t going to throw me any curves.

So I earmarked S in my mind as something I’d do when Jeanne finished it.  And last night when she declared it’s not her bag I smiled to myself and prepared to chase some devils and ghosts through the nights of the living dead I’ve noticed myself having of late.

This morning I picked it up, deciding to start by reading Ship of Theseus and ignoring the notes for a starter.  Tried, but I was continually distracted by the notes.  Because the notes in the margins are one hell of a lot more interesting and better written than the crappy novel they’re written in the margins of.

Probably Doug Doirst and JJ Abrams need to send their ideas off to Umberto Eco if they ever want to try this again.  Eco knows how to write a book.

Old Jules

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2010 Space Odyssey Two – Arthur C. Clarke

Hi readers.  Thanks for coming by for a read.

2014 is a good year to read 2010 Space Odyssey Two so’s to help get a better perspective when you read 2061 Odyssey Three.  I’ve got 2001 Space Odyssey sitting over there asking itself why I haven’t re-read it, prior to launching into 2010.  I haven’t confided to it that it’s just too damned far off the mark and leaves me pondering whether it was pure BS.  I was a bit distracted in 2001 because of Y2K, but I’m inclined to think 2001 Space Odyssey and 1984 by George Orwell might have shared some chronological disorders.

Anyway, Clarke’s 2010, published in 1982, at least has briefcase computers.  That’s an encouraging sign.  And although men haven’t ventured beyond the moon, nor even as far as the moon in a longish while, they’re back to discussing the possibility of going to Mars, or maybe an asteroid or comet.  Humanity decided somewhere back in the late-1970s that the moon wasn’t worth the price of admission.  They’ve shot a lot of rocketships at it, set of a bomb trying to find water, but the moon has proved to be more profitable as an abstraction than a reality.  Heck, people have made more money off the moon singing, recording, writing songs about it than they’ve managed to do sending rocketships to it.  Even movies.  There’s been more money made from movies about the moon and about people going to the moon, than from people actually doing it.

So while 2010 Odyssey Two is a fun, interesting and imaginative read by a fine author, it doesn’t recommend itself well under comparisons to reality as we mostly believe we’ve experienced it, or know of other humans experiencing it.

Planet of the Apes is a lot more accurate in that regard.  I don’t know how the hell Planet of the Apes managed to happen right here under our noses without me noticing it before.  But hell, there it is.  Spang spread out all over the planet.  Russian apes killing wossname, Ukraine apes, Syrian apes killing other Syrian apes, Iraq apes, Israel apes killing Palestine apes, Chinese apes killing India Indian apes, African apes killing other African apes, and US apes indiscriminately killing all but Israeli ones.  Which establishes who the real Chosen apes are.

Arthur C. Clarke should have anticipated Planet of the Apes and written about it.  Then he wouldn’t have to be consigned to the Nostradamus and George Orwell stream of close-but-no-cigar prognostications.

Old Jules

 

Jasper Fforde – The Fourth Bear

Hi readers.  Thanks for coming by for a read, despite the fact none of you ever take my advice about authors and books.  I’d be disappointed in you if I didn’t know you probably wouldn’t have liked them anyway.

For instance, Balzac’s Droll Stories, you’ll probably recall, I told you was the funniest book I’ve ever read.  Told you where you can download it free on wossname, gutenberg.org website.  And I’ll go to my grave confident not a damned one of you bothered to have a look.

So when I tell you about Jasper Fforde I can do it with a high level of confidence I could say anything and not get caught in a lie.

I first told you about The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde, along with The Well of Lost Plots, and maybe some others in that series.  I’ve managed to actually get a few people to try some of those and nobody liked them.  Gave some the books free.  Poof!  Not a, “Hey!  Funny, intriguing book.”  Nothing.

Jeanne likes Jasper Fforde.  Might well be she introduced me to his works.  Shows how the coincidence coordinators are always at work.  Two people, the only two in Christiandom who’d enjoy Jasper Fforde, happen to be close friends.  I love those guys, the CCs.

Anyway, The Fourth Bear is a good book I think you’d enjoy if you were ever stuck in a prison cell the way Steve McQueen was in Pappilon and not allowed to talk to anyone for several years, do anything but read the book.  Fforde explains the deep mystery, for instance, of why three bowls of porridge all poured at the same time, are vastly different temperatures.

 Fforde, for the purposes of this book, lands the reader in a world where talking bears are fighting for their rights, trying to become civilized the way Native American tribes tried to become civilized to keep from being slaughtered by whites.  But the bears come at a later time in history, when a larger or more vocal part of sympatric humanity carries some weight. 

Not to say they’re able to pass legislation, THE RIGHT TO KEEP AND ARM BEARS, to allow bears to defend themselves from hunters.  But the do put them on reservations where it’s more difficult to shoot them.

 Fforde’s main character, Detective Jack Spratt, heads the Nursery Crimes Division of a city police department.  Constantly he’s chasing down criminals out of nursery rhymes.  Persons Of Questionable Reality.

But he’s one himself, and from the time his wife died from overeating fat, he’s able to overcome certain behaviors considered compulsive.

This  plot contains a fast moving set of  plot devices involving the Gingerbread Man, various bears, Goldilox, and giant cucumbers responsible for cuclear detonations threatening the bears, the humans, and possibly world peace.

Read it if you’re ever in prison.

Old Jules

Zen etc, Persig – The Phaedrus Chatauqua – Classical and Romantic Reality

Persig’s decided to do his Chatauqua on Phaedrus.  Begins by explaining how Phaedrus saw the world in a classical reality form, explains the difference between those two ways of approaching reality.

Hydrox:  So what’s the Classical reality way of viewing cat food?  Are we cats viewing the Romantic way, or the Classical way?

Me:  Romantic.  No question about it, no compromise, even.  The Classical’s the underlying form.  The components that make up the food, the nutritional value.  The process that went into canning it.  You cats couldn’t care less about that.  Taste and odor are the immediately apparent form, the Romantic.  They’re all you care about.

Hydrox:   I like to eat the insides out of things I catch.  Leave the head and sometimes tail and legs.  I like the underlying form best.

Me:  Actually not.  If you were opening that mouse and looking at the way the digestive tract works, the circulatory system, the nerves, lungs, then you’d be getting into Classical form.  You aren’t looking at underlying function even though it’s inside.  You’re after taste, odor and texture.  There are no goods, no bads in the Classical form. No feelings.  Those are all Romantic form.

Hydrox Okay.  But you’re saying this Phaedrus guy was only interested in underlying form?  Classical form?  Is that why he was crazy?

Me:  Not really, but we’ll get into that.  Crazy doesn’t seem to confine itself to one form or another.    And the reasons Phaedrus had his insanity are a lot deeper than that.   More in the manner of the way he broke the world down to analyse it than in the form itself.

Niaid:  Off the subject, but wasn’t the kid here in the story killed in a driveby shooting a few years ago?  A long time after this story.

Me:  Yeah, he was.  Before you cats were even born.  Before Persig wrote Lila, too.

Tabby:  So are we supposed to keep that in mind while we’re doing this?  That this kid’s going to end up dead in a driveby shooting?

Me:  Not if you can keep from it, though it’s not easy to keep it separate.  What happened to that kid later on didn’t have anything to do with Phaedrus, and the way you’ll be thinking about him is Romantic.  Feelings.

Old Jules

Farnham’s Freehold, by Robert A. Heinlein 1964

Hi readers.  Here’s another one of those old early-days RAH tomes to give you some smiles, some anachronisms to feel smug about, and a couple of truly interesting things to think about.

The first part of the book is all the usual suspects, family with a bomb shelter before the bombs fall, etc.  If you haven’t read a thousand others, might as well get it done  with this one, I reckons.

But then the bombs hit, one of them dead-center.  Spang blows Farnham and his family into sometime a longish while in the future, same spot.  Then the fun starts.

The big powers destroyed themselves and most of the other non-ethnic places full of advanced white people.  So when Farnham and his white family come up for air it isn’t long before they’re discovered by the meek who inherited the earth.  Africans, mainly, in this area.  A sort of do-it-yourself African empire sitting atop the ruins of the US.

Sure, some white people survived.  Most have been adopted as slaves in a manner similar to the way the Ottomans treated captured Europeans during an earlier time.  Bred the good ones for physical and mental traits, castrated the others and put them to work.  Kept a lot of females for breeding stock, too.

So once they’re captured, Farnham and his family are forced to adapt themselves to a lifestyle most white people have spent a lot more generations becoming unaccustomed to than was good for them.  Farnham’s wife lucks into being the paramour of one of the black rulers, and being a 20th Century mom, wants her son with her.  But him being a male, her being part of the harem, he’s got to be castrated first.  Which gives her pause, but only momentarily.

And so on.

Lots of laughs in this book.  A truly fun read.

Old Jules

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert Heinlein circa 1966

Hi readers.  Thanks for coming by.

Just when you think the early work of RAH is bogging itself down in frozen-in-time anachronisms he drops a mickey into your martini.  Moon is a Harsh Mistress is one such.

Suddenly he’s taking a close look at political revolutions, at the institutions of marriage, at the relationships between men and women [and why they become what they become], why revolutions don’t work usually, and how to prevent them from becoming what revolutions invariably become.  He throws in a quickie about how you can always, always come out ahead betting the horses.  And an imaginary penal colony on the moon, several generations later when the prisoners are only a tiny percentage of a population composed mainly of the descendants of prisoners.

A society where males outnumber females 10 to 1, where the earth is on the brink of starvation and depends heavily on the labors of the Luna population for wheat production, crops catapulted to the earth surface to land in the Indian Ocean.  Depleting inevitably the water-ice reservoirs on the moon with no attempt to replace, even pay for the labors of folks who physically will never be able to ‘return’ to earth.

This was a great read in 1966, the first time I read it.  2013 I read it again, and aside from pickypickypicky details, it’s still a great read. 

Sheeze, catapults on the moon hurling rocks down the gravity well turning out the equivalents of H-bomb explosions after the earth governments dig in their heels and bomb moon colonies as an alternative to replacing the water required to grow the wheat.  A computer gone intelligent.  Marriages lasting 150 years through dozens of multiple-husbands and wives, always being replaced when one dies. 

I’d rank it one hell of a lot better than Stranger in a Strange Land.

Old Jules

Have Spacesuit Will Travel – Robert A. Heinlein

Came across this book in a thrift store in Kerrville recently and couldn’t resist it because they were having a dime-a-book sale.  As nearly as I can recall it was maybe the 3rd, or 4th science fiction book I read when I discovered the genre in the Portales Junior High School Library around 1958 or ’59. 

I’d qualify it as ‘middling’, probably nowadays young adult, Horatio Algeresque, and a nice evening read if a man has three cats interrupting to punctuate things.  Those times were full of first in orbit Sputink Explorer Cape Canavaral fizzles and it’s clear Heinlein, along with almost everyone else in the US, suddenly realized what an ignorant, poorly educated society we were becoming already.  Spends a considerable while early in the book with a father discussing the shortcomings of the education the young main character was getting for himself and how he, the kid, was going to have to take responsibility for changing that.  Assuming the kid wants it changed for the eventual outcome of his goal to go to the moon.

But there’s also a lot of other social commentary about responsibility, goals, paternalism, and finding a place outside the ‘normal’ shortcomings and flaws of humankind.  Surprising lot of insight as to where science and engineering were going to go, though it naturally overlooked the prospect of the field being increasingly dominated by Asians.  Even though RAH saw the social and educational conditions in the US that led in that direction, in those days nobody’d noticed whatever it was in Asia that would bring it to fruition.

All in all I doubt it would appeal much to the readership of today.  But most would never find it anyway.

Old Jules