Current Reading: this ‘n’ that

books on shelfOnce again, my reading is all over the map. I have a couple of library books I’ve just gotten, including When Books Went To War, and I have a Rex Stout that hasn’t grabbed me yet, and another Heinlein juvenile, Rocket Ship Galileo that I’m sort of stumbling along in.

Thus, this week I have nothing to feature for you, faithful reader. I’m hopeful I’ll finish something, and like it, in the next week, and I’ll tell you about it when that happens.

Meanwhile, what are you reading?

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Forgotten? Heinlein: Starman Jones

Starman Jones by Robert Heinlein, Scribners 1953 hardcover and paperback.

original 1953 edition

I’m reading my way through many of the Heinlein juvenile SF novels. Last time it was The Rolling Stones, this time, Starman Jones. No, it’s not forgotten, none of Heinlein’s juvenile SF novels are, really, but I recommend them, some more, some less, so here we go.

The Story: (edited from the Wikipedia entry)
Max Jones works the family farm in the Ozark Mountains. When stepmother marries a man Max detests, with good reason after the man tries to beat him, Max runs away from home, taking his late uncle’s astrogation manuals. Since his uncle had been a member of the Astrogators’ Guild and had no children, Max hopes his uncle had named him his heir, thus providing him entry into the Guild. He begins hitchhiking towards Earthport to find out. Along the way, he finds a friendly face in hobo Sam Anderson, who tells him he had once been in the Imperial Marines, but had deserted. The next morning Sam, and the valuable manuals were gone.

1968 Dell edition

At Guild’s headquarters, Max finds he had not been named as an heir, but he does receive his uncle’s substantial security deposit for his manuals. Max learns that Sam had returned the manuals and tried to claim the deposit for himself.

By chance, he runs into an apologetic Sam. With Max’s money, Sam is able to finagle them a one way job/trip aboard a starship using forged records of service as crewmen aboard other starships. Max signs on as a steward’s mate third class, and then he absorbs the contents of the Stewards’ Guild manual using his eidetic memory. Among his duties is caring for several animals, including passengers’ pets. When passenger Eldreth “Ellie” Coburn visits her pet, an alien, semi-intelligent “spider puppy” that Max has befriended, they discover they both play three-dimensional chess, and both are quite good. Meanwhile, Sam manages to rise to the position of master-at-arms.

current Baen edition

When, through Ellie’s machinations, the ship’s officers discover that Max had learned astrogation from his uncle, Max is promoted to the command deck. Under the tutelage of Chief Astrogator Hendrix and Chief Computerman Kelly, he becomes a probationary apprentice chartsman, then a probationary astrogator. Later, in a meeting with Hendrix who Max has come to respect, Max reluctantly admits to faking his record to get into space. Hendrix defers the matter until their return to Earth. The Asgard then departs for Halcyon, a human colony planet orbiting Nu Pegasi.

When Hendrix dies, the astrogation department is left dangerously shorthanded. The aging captain tries to take his place, but is not up to the task. When Max detects an error in his real-time calculations leading up to a transition, neither the captain nor Assistant Astrogator Simes believe him, and the ship becomes lost.

They locate a habitable world, which Ellie names Charity, and the passengers become colonists. Meanwhile, the crew continues to try to figure out where they are and whether they can return to Earth. Unfortunately, it turns out the planet is already inhabited by hostile centaur-like sapients. Max and Ellie are captured, but Ellie’s pet is able to guide Sam to them. They escape, though Sam is killed covering their retreat.

Upon his return, Max is informed that the captain has died. Simes tried to take command illegally and was killed by Sam, leaving Max as the only remaining astrogator, and thus the only person who can take the ship back into space. To make matters worse, Simes hid or destroyed the astrogation manuals.

The humans are forced to attempt a perilous return to known space by reversing the erroneous transition. Max must pilot the ship; he must also supply the missing astrogation tables from his eidetic memory. To add to his burdens, the remaining officers inform Max that he must take command, as only an astrogator can be the captain. The pressure is immense. Can Max handle it?

My take:
J. Frances McComas, in 1954, called this one the best of the seven Heinlein juveniles available. Anthony Boucher and P. Schuyler Miller both praised it, Miller saying it ranked “close to the best in mainline science fiction.” The NY Times reviewer called it “superior science fiction.” Of the four I’ve read so far (more on that next week), I have to agree, this is the best of them. I recommend it. Next time: The Star Beast.

Posted in Books & Reading, Friday Forgotten Books | 11 Comments

Current Reading: my eyes, ELO, a book,

I’ve had some increasing trouble with my eyes for more than a month, and it got so I could hardly see anything, near or distance. Honestly, I was afraid I was on the road to blindness. My optometrist referred me back to Oregon Eye Associates, the folks who did my cataract surgery in November 2017. Turns out scar tissue was the problem, and it was removed with lasers. Now I’m seeing really well, though I’ll still need a new pair of glasses to sharpen everything up.

Last week we watched one of PBS’ pledge specials, Jeff Lynne’s ELO in Hyde Park. I’ve been a huge ELO fan since I first heard them way back in 1971, and a lot of their songs are real favorites, so it was a treat to hear this version of the band in live concert doing many of their hits. Needless to say, the next day I pulled up their CDs and played several of them. Very nice.

All that kept me from doing much reading, though I waded through an ebook with the print size turned way up. Since the laser work, I’ve managed to finish one book.

Loaded Dice by James Swain, (c) 2004, my copy Ballantine Books 2005 mass market paperback. Fourth in Tony Valentine series.

“When Tony Valentine, a master at catching casino cheaters, jets to Las Vegas to look for his missing son, he lands in the middle of a dangerous turf war between rival casinos. Valentine’s longtime pal then taps him to figure out how an amateur won $25,000 at his blackjack tables. But the job is full of land mines. For starters, the suspect bears a strong resemblance to his late wife. Upping the ante, a dead stripper is found with Valentine’s calling card–and her grief-stricken policeman boyfriend is vowing revenge.”
— Goodreads

I liked this pretty well, and it was certainly a change from the other books I’d been reading, so that was nice. If you haven’t tried this series, it’s fascinating for the gambling tricks and scams alone.

How are your eyes?
Are you an ELO fan?
What have you been reading?

Posted in Books & Reading, current reading | 14 Comments

Forgotten Book: The Wall Around The World

The Wall Around the World by Theodore R. Cogswell, Pyramid Books, 1962 mass market paperback. Science Fiction and Fantasy short story collection, two introductions and 10 short stories (described in the cover blurb as two novelettes and 8 short stories)

Not long ago, I read a blog post about the June 1952 issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, and the cover story “The Spector General” by Kurt Dixon, a pseudonym of Theodore Cogswell. I remembered that issue, the cover art was familiar, but I couldn’t recall one darn thing about the story. The blog post praised the story and Cogswell and it motivated me to seek and buy this collection.

I’m sure glad I did, because there are pretty darn good stories, and three of them, “Spector General”, “The Wall Around the World” and “Invasion Report” are better than good, they’re terrific. While “Wolfie” is the weakest of the lot, the truth is I liked all of them pretty much and would recommend this collection to anyone.

Notice there are two introductions? You don’t see that every day, and there’s a reason for them being here: labels. At the time this was published, labels were a big deal in SF and in Fantasy and there was a lot of feeling that the two of them should not cross, touch, be combined or in any way contaminate each other. Elves and swords stayed on one side of “the line” and rockets and aliens stayed on the other. So Boucher and Pohl both make, in their own way, a case for the reader to forget the labels, don’t worry about genre, and just read and enjoy the stories, which is very good advice from knowledgeable persons.

I’d buy this for “The Spector General” alone, and did, I guess, so the rest was all a bonus, and what a nice one it is.


  • Fantasy and/or Science Fiction · Anthony Boucher · introduction # 1
  • Fantasy in Science Fiction—No · Frederik Pohl · introduction # 2
  • “The Masters”  (first published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, 1954)
  • “The Specter General”  (first published in Astounding Science Fiction, June 1952)
  • “Wolfie”  (first published in Beyond Fantasy Fiction, January 1954)
  • “Emergency Rations”  (first published in Imagination, September 1953)
  • “The Burning”  (first published in Fantasy & Science Fiction, July 1960
  • “Thimgs”  (first published in Fantasy & Science Fiction, May 1958)
  • “Test Area”,  (first published in Fantastic Universe, February 1955)
  • “Prisoner of Love”  (first publication unk)
  • “Invasion Report”  (first published in Galaxy, August 1954)
  • “The Wall Around the World”  (first published in Beyond Fantasy Fiction, September 1953)
Posted in Books & Reading, Friday Forgotten Books | 8 Comments

Current Reading: Railroad Stories # 2

Railroad Stories – The Legend of King Lawson byE. S. Dellinger, Bold Venture Press 2015 trade paper, short story / novelette collection

The Pulp Railroad Stories published these five stories in 1932 and 1933. At the time it was a very popular pulp aimed at both railroaders and fans. These five tales give the story of King Lawson, one of Dellinger’s best known characters.

From his beginning as a gandy dancer (track worker) to his rise to brakeman and telegraph operator, King met every challenge and conquered it, until he found his wife in another man’s arms. That’s when he took to the boomer trail, the name for railroad workers drifting from one railroad to another, picking up whatever job they could.

King succeeds against stiff odds, most often imposed by nature in the form of fire, flood and landslide. If you enjoy a little railroad fiction as a change of pace, this makes a nice choice.

Posted in Books & Reading, current reading | 11 Comments

Forgotten (?) – old Heinlein: The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones by Robert Heinlein, (published in the U.K. under the title Space Family Stone in 1952.


first edition cover

No, it’s not forgotten, none of Heinlein’s juvenile SF novels are, really, but I recommend them, some more, some less, so here we go.

For a break from reading mysteries, I was in the mood for an oldie by one of the “big three”, Asimov, Clarke or Heinlein. At least they were the big three when I was reading a lot of SF when I was in high school and college. Now? Who knows who the “big three” would be, if such even exists.

Since I read Heinlein’s Space Cadet and Have Space Suit, Will Travel not too long ago – well, in the last few years, – I picked this one.  Naturally, I read this when I was a teenager, and as far as I recalled it was just as good as all his other “juveniles.

This time I discovered The Rolling Stones didn’t stand up as well as those other books. I found it to be, well, too juvenile. The interaction within the family reminded me a lot of what we might experience in a late 1950s – early 1960s family comedy. I’m thinking of Leave it to Beaver, My Three Sons, or Ozzie and Harriet. That sort of thing.

The Stone family lives on Luna, the father is a writer of radio adventure serials, mother is a medical doctor, grandmother is a scientist (retired), the three kids, all sharp as tacks, do great in school and have had success and with inventions.

The family decides to pull up stakes and head of to Mars. After a few months there they move on to the outer planets. Enjoyable, but very light. My next Heinlein’s juvenile will be Starman Jones.

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Forgotten Music: The Go-Go’s & The Motels

Back in the days when cassettes were the most popular medium for  listening to music on the go, and for taping / creating our own playlists, I made a cassette with the Go-Go’s on one side and The Motels on the other.

Not too long ago, a short story anthology came out, Murder-A-Go-Go’s edited by Holly West, (which includes a great story by Patti Abbott) and reading it I got to thinking about that cassette, and the more I thought, the more I wanted to hear it. Not being able to find it after an hour or so of searching through poorly labelled boxes, I gave it up and ordered a couple of CDs.

The Best ofThe Motels – The Motels
On listening, it’s obvious to me this isn’t the Motels album I recorded on that cassette, but that’s okay. There is, apparently, a longer 2-disc version, but again, this is adequate. Good if you want a dose of Motels, which is what I wanted.

Track Listing:
1. Suddenly Last Summer (link to YouTube with long ad and cheesy video)
2. Total Control
3. Danger
4. Celia
5. Only The Lonely
6. Shame
7. Take The L
8. Remember The Nights
9. Shock
10. Mission of Mercy

Greatest Go-Go’s – The Go-Go’s
Again, not the album I originally recorded, but again that’s fine. Between the two, in my opinion this is definitely the better band. Here’s the Track Listing:

1. Our Lips Are Sealed  (link to video)
2. Cool Jerk
3. We Got The Beat
4. Head Over HeelsGo-Go’s
5. Get Up And Go
6. Vacation
7. Beatnik Beach
8. You Thought
9. I’m The Only One
10. This Town
11. Lust To Love
12. Mercenary
13. How Much More
14. Turn To You

Posted in Books & Reading, current reading | 14 Comments

Current Reading: Julia Spencer-Fleming

Last September I read and reviewed the first in Spencer-Fleming’s series set in Miller’s Kill, New York, In Bleak Midwinter. (here). Now I’ve finished the second one, A Fountain Filled With Blood and liked it even more. The title comes from a line in the Common Book of Prayer, and isn’t indicative of the plot, though there is some violence as Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne and his small force deal with a series of crimes, including a murder, all of the victims gay. Are these just violent attacks by a group of red-necked gay-haters, or is there a deeper threat against a plan to open an upscale spa in Miller’s Kill?

Episcolal Preist Claire Ferguson is the discoverer of the third victim, which pulls her into the case. She and the Sheriff work together to stop the crimes from continuing.

My take:
I like the setting in the Adirondacks, the characters and the plot. I’ll be reading the next in the series right away.

The Claire Ferguson / Russ Van Alstyne series:

In the Bleak Midwinter – 2002
Fountain Filled with Blood  – 2003
Out of the Deep I Cry – 2004
To Darkness and To Death – 2005
All Mortal Flesh – 2006
I Shall Not Want – 2008
One Was A Soldier – 2009
Through Evil Days – 2013
Hid From Our Eyes scheduled for April 2020


Posted in Books & Reading, current reading | 9 Comments

Friday Forgotten – The Minerva Club by Victor Canning

[note: this is a slightly revised review from The Broken Bullhorn]

The Minerva Club by Victor Canning, collection © 2009, stories selected and edited by John Higgins, Crippen & Landru, 2009 hardcover

minerva clubThis mystery short story collection includes three sets of stories: of The Minerva Club, of The Department of Patterns and of Dr. Kang

This is the 27th offering in Crippen & Landru’s Lost Classics series of new collections by great writers of traditional mysteries.

If the cover looks familiar, it’s because I’m not the first member of the Friday Forgotten Books group to have featured it. Maybe that means it’s not really forgotten, but it certainly won’t hurt to add a little more awareness about what is an excellent collection of fun – and different – mystery short stories.

Victor Canning (1911-1986) created three unique series chronicling some of the most original characters in detective fiction. This collection of 24 stories begins with the misadventures of the Minerva Club, an exclusive club comprised of England’s criminals. Whether trying to break into a prison to retrieve a stash of diamonds stowed during a previous incarceration, resolve a faux kidnapping gone wrong, or figure out a way to heist all of the materials needed for a wedding, the Minerva Club always manages to achieve their goal…often in the most surprising of ways.

Also we have the enigmatic cases of the Department of Patterns, a French police agency who look for clues and connections between seemingly irrelevant events. Under the guidance of the jovial and hard nosed Papa Grand, new recruits are taught to see patterns in even the most obscure of places.

Finally, follow the journeys of Dr. Kang who finds mystery in his travels around the world. Never one to hide from trouble, Dr. Kang proves his talent for attracting death is surpassed only by his talent for avoiding it.

My favorites here were the seven Department of Patterns stores, followed by the Dr. Kang stories. I wish there had been more of both of those series. The Minerva Club stories are fun, clever and display humor, but it was the others that really made this nice collection shine for me.

Posted in Books & Reading, Friday Forgotten Books | 9 Comments


I don’t seem to be reading much, or much that is worthy of a blog post, just lately. Sorry for my lack of posts. Meanwhile, the weather is cool and rainy, which is nice, and at least it’s reading weather, if I were doing much of that. I did finish one of the Posadas County books last week.

What are you reading?

Posted in Books & Reading | 8 Comments