Current Reading: Christopher Paolini

The Fork, The Witch and the Worm by Christopher Paolini, fantasy, Alfred Knopf, 2018

If you liked The Inheritance Cycle, consisting of the four novels Eragon, Eldest, Brisinger and Inheritance, then this is for you. If you didn’t read those, or read them and didn’t care for them, you might as well skip this collection of three short stories (or two stories and a short novella), as it refers to and depends on understanding the characters and places from those four books.

I did read them, and liked them quite a bit, and was sorry when the last book was finished, so I was glad to see this, a surprise discovery at the book store.

“The Fork” features Murtaugh, Eragon’s brother. The next two stories take place in their new – yet to be completed – aerie, which will be the home of Eragon and his dragon Saphra and the humans and dragons as eggs hatch. “The Witch” refers to witch Angela. The third story, “The Worm” tells a tale of the Urgal, and “The Worm of Kulkas”.

All fine tales, though less than a fan of the Cycle would hope for. Still, quite enjoyable.

So how about you?
What have you been reading?

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Friday Book: Death In the Old Country by Eric Wright

Death in the Old Country by Eric Wright © date 1985, Charles Scribner 1985 hardcover – mystery – 3rd Inspector Charlie Salter. (later paperback cover shown)

Death in the Old CountryAfter reading a review of this one, I decided I had to read it so I picked up a copy one afternoon at the library, and finished it that night. Now, it usually takes me two or three days to read even a moderately sized book – I’m not a fast reader – so for me to get through a 175 page book in an afternoon and evening is unusual, and an indication that (1) it’s an easy, entertaining book, and (2) I liked it quite a lot. I like that there a straight-forward plot, told in third person without any alternate points of view, flashbacks or anything else to detract from the story. Wright does a nice job with character, place, plot.

Death in the Old Country is about a Canadian homicide Inspector, Charlie Salter, who, with his wife Annie, is on holiday in England.

At a B&B that has excellent food and the weather socked in, they decide to stay an extra day or two to let the downpour subside before moving on to the Lake District. On their third day a murder occurs, and naturally Salter is pulled in, somewhat reluctantly, by the local coppers.

The plot contains some twists, and I saw the somebody-masquerading-as-somebody-else plot point coming from a distance, but that took none of the enjoyment out of the reading. I’m now looking to get the first in the series, The Night the Gods Smiled and read that one. I like Salter and want to read more of his adventures.

Update: I did read The Night the Gods Smiled and liked it a lot too.

Here’s the whole Charlie Salter Mysteries series:
The Night the Gods Smiled (1984)
Smoke Detector (1984)
Death in the Old Country (1985)
The Man Who Changed His Name, also published as A Single Death (1986)
A Body Surrounded by Water (1987)
A Question of Murder (1988)
A Sensitive Case (1990)
Final Cut (1991)
A Fine Italian Hand (1991)
Death by Degrees (1993)
The Last Hand (2001)

Posted in Books & Reading, Friday Forgotten Books | 8 Comments

Current Reading: Markel, Symonds

The Kelloggs, The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek by Howard Markel, biography. When I was a child, I remember my parents taking the family Pomona to see the Kellogg horse show. Beautiful Arabians in the ring prancing. I also remember we ate Kellogg Corn Flakes for breakfast. Kellogg was a household name for us.

This fat dual biography of the brothers Kellogg tells of their growing up as competing boys, their strict upbringing, their father’s opinions about health and wellness and how the family eventually became both wealthy and torn apart. Overly long and wordy, but fascinating nevertheless.

A Most Diabolical Plot by Tim Symonds, mystery short stories. These six Sherlock Holmes pastiche stories are just fair. There’s nothing here to make me seek out other writing by the author, featuring Holmes or any other character. Disappointing.

So how about you?
What have you been reading?

Posted in Books & Reading, current reading | 16 Comments

Friday Books – Interstellar Patrol by Christopher Anvil

Interstellar Patrol – Christopher Anvil, Baen Books 2004 paperback, “Colonization” series, 592 pages
Interstellar Patrol II – Christopher Anvil, Baen Books 2007 paperback, “Colonization” series, 882 pages

Interstellar Patrol II cvr - small

The pseudonym of Harry C. Crosby Jr., “Christopher Anvil” was one of my favorite authors in the days I was reading Astounding Science Fiction a long time ago. I’m talking about when John Campbell edited it, and before it became Analog, though Anvil stories appeared after the name change.

That’s where I  read “Pandora’s Planet” in 1956, and I was hooked. Baen published Pandora’s Legions in 2002 which contains “Pandora’s Planet” and  the rest of the Centra series. Then in September 2004 came the first of these two collections. Interstellar Patrol collects 14 stories, the first half of Anvil’s Colonization series of stories. Those stories were originally published in random order, but editor Eric Flint did a nice job of putting them into a fairly coherent saga. In 2007 came the second, massive, volume Interstellar Patrol II, with 23 stories, the rest of the Colonization series of stories.

John Clute in his excellent Encyclopedia of Science Fiction describes Anvil’s work as “archaic, simplistic and insistently readable”. For me these are a “guilty pleasure” of good old science fiction enjoyment. These are books to read in a gleeful swoop. Anvil’s sense of the absurd, his ability to twist logic and invest his characters with simultaneous strength and frailty makes the people and organizations in these stories a delight. These Interstellar Patrol stories include several first contact tales that are hilarious and thought provoking.

If anyone has wondered if there is a place in science fiction for humor, irony and fun in science fiction, I believe the answer – yes – lies in the stories collected in these volumes, and in the rest of Anvil’s work. I liked these a lot.

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Current Reading: Otto Penzler, Nicholas Fisk

Two fat anthologies and a slender tween/YA sf story this time. My reading has been very scattered.

Bibliomysteries edited by Otto Penzler, mystery short story anthology. Very enjoyable.
• “An Acceptable Sacrifice” by Jeffery Deaver deals with a Mexican drug lord with a taste for rare books.
• “Pronghorns of the Third Reich” by CJ Box deals with a man who believes himself wronged and seeks a book collection in order to square things.
• “The Book of Virtue” by Ken Bruen is next. Told in the first person, it deals with an inheritance that consists of a single book.
• “The Books of Ghosts” by Reed Farrell Coleman was a very interesting story. The Book of Ghosts is about a legendary book written in a Nazi Concentration Camp.
• “The Final Testament” by Peter Blauner is a nice piece of historical fiction dealing with Sigmund Freud!
• “What’s in a Name?” by Thomas H Cook relates the story of a world where WWII never took place. In this alternate history, a man is trying to publish a controversial book.
• In the “Book Club” by Loren D Estleman, the prolific author’s hero is a former detective turned bookseller!
• “Death Leaves a Bookmark” by William Link deals with a certain Lieutenant Columbo, who likely needs no introduction!
• In “The Book Thing” by Laura Lippman, the author writes about a real-world bookstore where all books are free.
• “The Scroll” by Anne Perry deals with a scroll found inside an old volume from an estate sale, which has very strange properties…
• “It’s in the Book” by Mickey Spillane and Max Allen Collins. Yes, it’s a Micky Spillane story.
• “The Long Sonata of the Dead” by Andrew Taylor finds two old foes running into each other at the London Library…
• In “Rides a Stranger” by David Bell, a man discovers that his father may have written a rare book…
• “The Caxton Lending Library” by John Connolly deals with a most unusual library in a most unusual place.
• “The Bookcase” by Nelson DeMille tells of a man who died when his heavy bookcase fell on him. Was it an accident, suicide, or murder?

Bibliomysteries II edited by Otto Penzler, mystery short story anthology. Fifteen more mystery stories featuring books. I don’t have the contents on the one, but though slightly weaker than the first volume, still very enjoyable.

Space Hostages by Nicholas Fisk, science fiction YA novel. A “space ship” or “flying saucer” lands on the green of a small British village. Out steps… a human. He’s a test pilot who has stolen the experimental craft, and he has an agenda.

The village children are fascinated, and when he offers them a look inside they scurry to the loading platform and are lifted up. But instead of returning them to the village green, the ship takes off, destination unknown. The children are space hostages. This is a pretty simple tween/YA science fiction story. Probably left to those readers.

So how about you?
What have you been reading?

Posted in Books & Reading, current reading | 13 Comments

FFB: Islands in the Sky by Arthur C. Clarke

Islands in the Sky by Arthur C. Clarke, 1952, Signet Books edition (this book) March 1960 Signet S1769, 127 page paperback, science fiction

I bought this copy when it came out in 1960, I was a sophomore in high school.

Roy Malcolm is a contestant in a television quiz show on aviation, sponsored by World Airways, Inc. He is one of the dozen national finalists, the first prize being a free trip to any part of Earth to which Earth World Airways flies. Roy wins the contest and then, in front of the national audience, drops a bombshell. When asked where he wants to go, he answers “I want to go to the Inner Station.”

The Inner Station is a space station circling Earth in a fairly tight orbit, the stopping place for travelers and goods going to and from Earth and Venus and Mars, both of which have been colonized. Note: the book follows the timeline for colonization which puts it directly after The Sands of Mars (my review of that book is here). After a small battle of words and definitions, during which Roy clarifies that “In 2054, the United States, like all other members of the Atlantic Federation, signed the Tycho Convention, which decided how far into space any planet’s legal rights extended. Under that convention, the Inner Station is part of Earth because it is inside the thousand kilometer limit.” Smart kid, eh?

So he gets to go, mostly because World is afraid of a lot of really bad publicity if they change the rules on him (the TV show was very popular). The rest of the book is about his departure, trip to and arrival at the station, described, as we saw in the previous book, in enough detail to make it believable. What’s amazing to me is how accurately Clarke predicts much of what came about a decade or two later, and since then.

Roy gets to stay for about three weeks, and even has a chance to take a trip to the Outer Station , which is the arrival terminus for passengers from Mars, who must wait to adjust to the heavier gravity of Earth. On the return trip, a malfunction causes the small shuttle to rocket off into space, beyond Earth’s gravity pull. They will need to be rescued or run out of air in a week.

Eventually all turns out okay (I’ll let you read how) and finally Roy returns to Earth after his extended stay in space, most of it in zero gee. Gravity is difficult to handle at first, but he manages. The book ends with his determination to one day become not just a space station worker, but an emigrant to Mars Colony.

I liked this one more than Sands of Mars, though both are good, and are now considered classics of the early genre. Both would be considered YA level today, a distinction that wasn’t of much importance when this was written. Both Clarke and Heinlein wrote books that would be enjoyed by younger readers and adults, and they remain very popular, though Clarke less so, which is too bad.

Posted in Books & Reading, Friday Forgotten Books | 6 Comments

Reading in 2019

I was taking another look at my reading by genre counts (here) the other day, thinking what I might focus on more this year. In 2018 the majority of my reading was mystery fiction, with science fiction and fantasy a distant second, closely followed by nonfiction, straight fiction (sometimes called “literature”) and then the rest.

While I’ll still be reading mysteries, lately I’ve been feeling an itch for science fiction and – especially – fantasy, and will be reading more of it in the first half of the year. You’ll see one SF oldie this Friday, and likely more SF/F in the coming weeks.

Stay tuned, It’ll be a blast.

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Current Reading: Mike Shayne comics collection

The Complete Mike Shayne, Private Eye, Guandanaland Comic, 2018

On his blog Rough Edges, James Reasoner said in a May 9, 2009 post:

“When I was a kid, I bought a lot of comic books published by Dell. Where I lived, they seemed to have the best distribution of all the comics publishers, because they were all over the place. … Dell had great stuff for an eight- or nine-year-old.

What I didn’t know then — and probably wouldn’t have been interested in if I had — was that Dell also published three issues of a comic book based on the exploits of redheaded Miami shamus Mike Shayne. I found out about these years later but have never tried to get my hands on them.”

Then, on November 9 of 2018, he posted this on his blog Rough Edges:

“A number of years ago, I posted (see above) about the Mike Shayne comic book series published by Dell in 1961 and ’62. Dell was publishing the Mike Shayne novels in paperback, very successfully, and I suppose someone there decided a comic book version of the character might work, too. That didn’t really pan out, since there were only three issues. I’d heard about them for years but never came across any copies. However, they’ve recently been reprinted in a nice trade paperback edition by some outfit called Gwandanaland Comics, so I picked up a copy and finally read them after all these years.

Each issue is based on one of the novels by Davis Dresser writing as Brett Halliday: THE PRIVATE PRACTICE OF MICHAEL SHAYNE, BODIES ARE WHERE YOU FIND THEM, and HEADS—YOU LOSE (originally published as BLOOD ON THE BLACK MARKET). By the way, nowhere in this reprint or the original comics is there any mention of Dresser or Halliday, and the copyright is by Dell Publishing Company. Any kid coming across these back in the Sixties who wasn’t familiar with the books would have thought Shayne had been created for the comics.

Each of the source novels has a pretty complicated plot, as was common in the Shayne series, and the comic book versions actually do a pretty solid, faithful job of adapting them. They’re toned down a little, but not much. You’ve still got murder, blackmail, adultery, and more murder. I can imagine a kid reading these and getting lost in all the twists and turns of the plots.”

Thanks for all that, James!

My take:
Well, I got a copy of the reprints, and I completely agree with James. If you’re a Mike Shayne fan, this is for you, otherwise, skip it. I’d read all three of the novels, so I had a pretty good idea what was happening, and they are still a little confusing. Still, good stuff.

So how about you?
What have you been reading?

Posted in Books & Reading, current reading | 6 Comments

Forgotten Book – Space Tug by Murray Leinster

Space Tug by Murray Leinster (William Fitzgerald Jenkins) © 1953, this edition Pocket Books 1954 mass market paperback, science fiction – 2nd Joe Kenmore novel

Space TugScience fiction was an entirely different thing more than sixty years ago, which should come as no surprise. Today this novel of early space travel, culminating with man’s first landing on the moon, is considered a YA novel, in it’s time it would have been aimed at all SF readers.

Story: After the United Nations couldn’t build and launch a “space platform”, what we now call a manned satellite, due to vetoes by “certain powers”, the United States did it on their own. In the previous Joe Kenmore book Space Platform the building and putting into orbit was detailed. In this one, it’s now time to set up routine supply rockets to the Platform, and to protect it from the wrathful attacks of  those certain powers, who fear the U.S. will try to force it’s will upon them. Defensive rockets must be transported to the platform at once in manned rocket transports. Joe will be the pilot, with his three-man crew.

An aside: This is certainly what would be described as “hard science fiction” today. Leinster, like most of the science fiction authors at the time, leans heavily on the science aspect and there are many paragraphs devoted to it, which give the book a strong believability if read with the 1953 level of science and knowledge in mind. Developments since have completely changed our views.

Story, continued: Joe and his crew endure high G forces on take-off, have to dodge hostile rockets, make adjustments to their course – not an easy thing – and then learn to deal with free fall and working on null gravity once on the Platform. The return trip to earth is even more harrowing.

My opinion: Remember, when this was written WWII was only eight years past, and when in a scene the characters drive somewhere they’re probably in a 1953 Ford. Read this one with the time it was written in mind and I think you’ll enjoy it.

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Current Reading: Stephen Kelly, Ron Corbett

The Language of the Dead by Stephen Kelly, mystery. Bombing runs by the Luftwaffe are only the most obvious sign of conflict in journalist Kelly’s first novel. It’s July 1940. Despite the proximity of a Spitfire factory, nobody thinks there’s anything in the Hampshire village of Quimby that the Führer would want to destroy. So the locals have plenty of leisure to ask who thrust farmhand Will Blackwell’s pitchfork through his neck, carved a cross onto his forehead and impaled his scythe in his chest, and who beat pregnant infirmary volunteer Emily Fordham to death along the roadside, and other seemingly unrelated (but we mystery readers know better, don’t we?) crimes.

DCI Thomas Lamb and DS David Wallace, both facing running battles in their private lives, wonder how the crimes are related and what Peter Wilkins, the mute teenager who lives on Lord Jeffrey Pembroke’s estate, may know about the case—and may be trying to communicate through his beautifully executed, deeply disturbing drawings of insects.

I liked much of it, but the attitudes of Lamb and Wallace put me off.

Cape Diamond by Ron Corbett, mystery. This is the second of Corbett’s mysteries, both featuring detective Frank Yakabuski. Set near the Northern Divide — as was the first book — this one opens with Yakabuski called to investigate a gruesome crime scene. A body has been left hanging from a schoolyard fence. On closer inspection, Yak finds a large diamond in the murder victim’s mouth.

Two criminal gangs — the Shiners and the Travellers — are fighting each other, and Yakabuski turns to his father, a now-retired detective who has a long history with the gangs, for advice in the interrogation. Is the conflict over the murder of two men? The kidnapping of a little girl? Or, possibly, the diamond found in Augustus Morrissey’s mouth? As if this weren’t enough for one detective, a serial killer is taking a deadly road trip through the United States, heading towards the Northern Divide.

This one is really good, and recommended, once you have read the first book.

So how about you?
What have you been reading?

Posted in Books & Reading, current reading | 17 Comments