Current Reading: Age of Legend by Michael J. Sullivan

Age of Legend by Michael J. Sullivan, Riyira Enterprises, Grim Oak Press 2019 hardcover, Legends of the First Empire (Book 4) 480 pages, fantasy.

This is the just recently published fourth book in the series. Though I had a couple of other books waiting, I just had to read this right away.

In his author’s note at the front of the book, Sullivan explains “I went even deeper into the bedrock of Elan [note: the name of the world] to create something I feel is truly special and unusual.” Also, “…this book is not self-contained as all my previous works have been. When you get to the last page, you have only completed act one of the three-act play.”

Therefore, I had been warned. So when the last page was read, and I turned to the next one and it was blank, I shouldn’t have been surprised. But I was a little shocked at the abruptness of it. Now I’ll have to wait for months, who knows how many, and that doesn’t make me happy.

I liked the book. This series, volumes 1-3, were my favorite reading for 2018. I read them back-to-back and was delighted. I’m not positive I like the new direction the first book in the second trilogy is taking things, but all I can do now is wait and see.

Honestly, this is why I almost always wait for a series to be completed and published before starting it, but this was going to be a trilogy and so with the third book out I read Age of Myth, Age of Swords and Age of War. Then I found there was more, and I was going to have to wait. So I did, as I was very engaged with the plot and characters. Now, I’ll have to wait again. Darn.

This is a very good series, but my advice would be to wait until the whole thing is published before beginning it, as I probably should have done.

Meanwhile, what are you reading?

Posted in Books & Reading, current reading, Fantasy | 14 Comments

Forgotten? The Heinlein Juveniles: Space Cadet

Space Cadet by Robert A. Heinlein, juvenile sf #1.  Scribner’s 1948, hardcover and paperback.

This is the second of the Heinlein juveniles, a long and successful series of a dozen science fiction novels published by Scribner’s. These were originally envisioned as a series of books called “Young Rocket Engineers” but the idea was initially rejected by the publisher. Thus each of the novels has separate characters, locations, themes and plots. This one features Matt Dodson, who joins the Space Patrol to help preserve peace in the Solar System. The story translates the standard military academy story into outer space: a boy from Iowa goes to officer school, sees action and adventure, shoulders responsibilities far beyond his experience, and becomes a man.

The Plot
In 2075, teenager Matt Dodson applies to join the prestigious Space Patrol. After a number of physical, mental, and ethical tests, he is accepted as a cadet. They then go to the orbiting Patrol Academy school ship PRS James Randolph, where Matt makes friends with fellow recruits William ‘Tex’ Jarman, Venus-born Oscar Jensen, and Pierre Armand from Ganymede. His first roommate is Girard Burke, the arrogant son of a wealthy spaceship builder.

Burke eventually either goes into the merchant service. The other boys pass their classes and are assigned to Patrol ships. Dodson, Jarman and Jensen ship out on the Aes Triplex. Their first mission is to help search for a missing research vessel, the Pathfinder, in the Asteroid Belt. They find it, though the crew have died. The captain of the Aes Triplex transfers half the crew to the repaired Pathfinder so that they can take the ship and the news of the startling discovery back to Earth quickly. With the remainder of the crew (including all three cadets), he plots a slower, fuel efficient, elliptical voyage back to earth.

The ship then receives an urgent message to investigate an incident on Venus. He sends Lieutenant Thurlow and the cadets to the planet’s surface. The lander touches down on a sinkhole, giving the crew barely enough time to get out before it disappears in the mud. Thurlow is injured in the landing so Jensen assumes command. He contacts the sentient usually-friendly Venerians, but the entire party is taken captive. They soon find out why.

These particular natives had never seen human beings until old classmate Burke showed up in a prospecting ship. He had taken the matriarch of the local clan hostage when she refused to give him permission to exploit a rich deposit of radioactive ores. The locals promptly attacked the ship and killed his crew; Burke managed to send a message for help before being taken prisoner.

They get out of the jam and return home expecting to be treated as heroes, only to find they’ve simply done their job as members of the Space Patrol.

My Take
Space Cadet is better than the first book, Space Ship Galileo (reviewed last week), but not by a lot. The plot has more elements and depth, but the interactions between the boy is still very YA indeed. Although I enjoyed it, I’m looking forward to the next couple of Heinlein’s juveniles. Next time: Red Planet.

Posted in Books & Reading, Friday Forgotten Books | 13 Comments

Current Reading: The Art of Rafael DeSoto edited by David Saunders

The Art of Rafael DeSoto edited by David Saunders, The Illustrated Press, July 2019 oversized (9×12) hardcover.

Just published! This beautiful 224 page look at the work of pulp artist extraordinaire Rafael DeSoto is a must have for anyone with an interest in the artwork that graced pulp covers. From the front flap: “The DeSoto stage trope includes Irish Cops and fearless gumshoes, burly thugs and midgets in derbies, low-slung vamps and helpless dames–and everybody’s holding a smoking .45!”

As you can see by the cover, DeSoto did artwork for many of the covers for The Spider as well as many for Dime Detective and many more. The book also includes, in addition to the stunning artwork, for the first time,  a biography chronicling the life and work of this influential artist.

I buy most of the books The Illustrated Press publishes, but this one is special for any lover of pulp art.

Do you buy art books?
Meanwhile, what are you reading?

Posted in Books & Reading, current reading | 12 Comments

Forgotten? Heinlein: Rocket Ship Galileo

Rocket Ship Galileo by Robert A. Heinlein, juvenile sf #1.  Scribner’s 1947, hardcover and paperback.

first edition cover

Another in my series of reading the Heinlein juvenile SF novels. Last time it was Citizen of the Galaxy, this time it’s the first of his juveniles, Rocket Ship Galileo. Again, though these aren’t forgotten, they are of interest to science fiction readers.

It was the first in the Heinlein juveniles, a long and successful series of a dozen science fiction novels published by Scribner’s. The novel was originally envisioned as the first of a series of books called “Young Rocket Engineers” but was initially rejected by publishers, because at the time going to the moon was considered unlikely. Thus each of the novels has separate characters, locations, themes and plots.


The Plot
Rocket Ship Galileo 2After World War II, three teenage boy rocket experimenters are recruited by one boy’s uncle, Dr. Cargraves, a renowned physicist. They buy a conventionally powered surplus “mail rocket” and convert it to run on a thorium nuclear pile which boils zinc as a propellant. In a desert test range, which has been cleared of WWII military test weapons, they set up shop and get to work, despite prying and sabotage attempts by unknown agents.

Upon completion of the modifications, they stock the rocket, which they name Galileo, and take off for the Moon, taking approximately three days to arrive. After establishing a semi-permanent structure based on a Quonset hut, they claim the Moon on behalf of the United Nations.

As they set up a radio to communicate with the Earth they pick up a local transmission, the sender of which promises to meet them. Instead, their ship is bombed. However, they are able to hole up undetected in their hut and discover that there is a Nazi base on the Moon. They are able to capture one of the enemy ships and bomb the base. One survivor is found, revived, and questioned.

Using the unwilling Nazi leader’s instructions on how to fly the ship back to earth, they are able to radio Earth of the location of the hidden Nazi base, leading to its destruction; they return as heroes.

My Take
This, the first of Heinlein’s juvenile SF novels is the weakest of those I’ve read so far. It had a Rick Brant, Tom Swift Jr. feel to it that made me take it lightly, which is about right. The books get much better after this. I’ll do a wrap-up of the novels at the end of my series of post on them, but I’m pretty sure this one will land at the bottom. Next time: Space Cadet.

Posted in Books & Reading, Friday Forgotten Books | 12 Comments

A Small Dilemma

In various blogs which include reading and readers, we’ve all seen discussions of what to read next. My answer is always the same: if I have a library book, and thus a book with a deadline, that’s what I read first, after that I read the book that most interests me at the time.

So, here’s my small dilemma: I have two books from the library in hand now. I also just got delivered a book I pre-ordered six months ago. It’s a book I’ve been eager to get and I intended to read it the minute I got it. Now it’s in hand.

What would YOU do?
Finish reading the two library books first, or dive straight into the new book?

Posted in Books & Reading, current reading, Mystery | 10 Comments

Forgotten? Heinlein: Citizen of the Galaxy

ASF September 1957

Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Heinlein, Scribners 1957, hardcover and paperback. Originally serialized in Astounding Science Fiction (September, October, November, December 1957 – see cover to right) and then published in hardcover as part of Scribner’s series of Heinlein’s juveniles.

Yet another of the Heinlein juvenile SF novels. Last time it was The Star Beast, this time it’s Citizen of the Galaxy a favorite of many readers. Again, though these aren’t forgotten, I recommend them, some more than others. Here we go.

Plot (my text and edits from Wikpedia)
Thorby is a young, defiant slave boy recently arrived at the slave auction at Jubbulpore, capital city on Jubbul. He is purchased by an old beggar, Baslim the Cripple, for a trivial sum and taken to the beggar’s surprisingly well-furnished underground home. Thereafter Baslim treats the boy as a son, teaching him not only the begging trade but also mathematics, history, and several languages, while sending Thorby on errands all over the city, carefully passing along information and keeping track of the comings and goings of starships.

first edition cover

Thorby slowly realizes that his foster father is not a simple beggar but is gathering intelligence, particularly on the slave trade. In addition, Baslim has Thorby memorize a contingency plan and a message to deliver to one of five starship captains in the event of Baslim’s arrest or death. When Baslim is captured by the local authorities and commits suicide, Thorby is able to deliver the message to the Captain of one of the ‘Free Trader’ starships which is in port. The Captain, Krausa, owes a debt to Baslim for the rescue of one of their crews from a slave trader, the captain takes Thorby aboard the Sisu at great risk to himself and his clan.

The Free Trader people of the Sisu are an insular, clannish, matriarchal culture who live their lives in space, traveling from world to world trading. Thorby is adopted by the captain (thereby gaining considerable shipboard social status) and adjusts to the culture of the traders, learning their language and intricate social rules. The advanced education provided by Baslim and the fast reflexes of youth allow him to fit into the ships crew.

The captain obeys Baslim’s last wish, in defiance of his wife, who is the executive officer and head of the clan by transferring Thorby off the ship. He entrusts the boy to a military cruiser of the Hegemonic Guard of the Terran Hegemony, the dominant military power in the galaxy. The captain, who also acted as one of Baslim’s couriers, passes along Baslim’s request to its captain to assist Thorby in finding his own people. Thorby discovers that his foster father Baslim was actually a colonel in the Hegemonic Guard who volunteered for the dangerous mission of an undercover operative on Jubbul to fight slavery.

Thorby is ultimately identified as Thor Bradley Rudbek, the long-lost heir of a very powerful family and a substantial shareholder in Rudbek and Associates, a large, sprawling interstellar business including one of the largest starship-manufacturing companies and the entire city of Rudbek. In his absence, the business is run by a relative by marriage, “Uncle” John Weemsby, who encourages his stepdaughter Leda to guide Thorby in adjustment to his new situation while secretly scheming to block Thorby’s growing interest and interference in the company.

Thorby, investigating his parents’ disappearance and his capture and sale by slavers, comes to suspect that his parents were eliminated to prevent the discovery that some portions of Rudbek and Associates were secretly profiting from the slave trade. When Weemsby quashes further investigation, Thorby seeks legal help and launches a proxy fight, which he unexpectedly wins when Leda votes her shares in his favor. He fires Weemsby and assumes full control of the firm. When Thorby realizes that it will take a lifetime to remove Rudbek and Associates from the slave trade, he reluctantly abandons his dream of imitating Baslim as a member of the elite anti-slaver “X” Corps of the Hegemonic Guard. Knowing that “a person can’t run out on his responsibilities”, he resolves to fight the slave trade as the head of Rudbek and Associates.

My Take
This was well received when it was published, again being favorably compared to the “adult” science fiction of the time. I certainly enjoyed it, in spite of Heinlein telegraphing a lot of the plot throughout the book. Still, it’s good solid SF, and I’ll rank it just below Starman Jones which remains my favorite of the juveniles I’ve read thus far. I’ll do a ranking of the full list when I’m done reading these. Next up: Rocket Ship Galileo.

Posted in Books & Reading, Friday Forgotten Books | 20 Comments

Thoughts on Reading, Or Not

glassesYou may have heard someone say their favorite book is the one they’re reading at the moment, but that’s never really true, is it? Think a moment about what your real favorite book is, and it’s probably something you read some time ago, right?

Recently I had some problems with my eyes, and over the period of two months my sight went from fine to poor and kept degrading from there. The optometrist I see said he couldn’t do anything for me in the way of stronger glasses. I was in despair. It seemed I might lose my sight, and it was frightening.

One of the things I thought about was losing the ability to read, which led me to think about how precious whatever remaining time I might have for books. What books would I read if I had only time enough for a limited number?

Favorites, obviously, but which ones? Or, perhaps, books that I have always meant to read but still haven’t? I made mental lists, favorite authors, books I remembered really liking a lot, series I might want to re-read if there was time, those meant-to-read books.

I thought about audiobooks for the time when I needed them, but for the moment I thought only about physical (or e-) books. Nothing was out of bounds, from children books (Make Way For Ducklings, Winnie The Pooh) to the big thick ones (Shogun, Lord of the Rings).

The eye specialist I went to solved the problem with laser treatment on scars from my nearly two years ago cataract surgery, and miraculously my clear, sharp sight was restored. What a relief!

Still, the question remained. What books would I read if I had limited time? I’ve started a list. But how about youwhat would you choose to read, if you only had time for a dozen or two?

Posted in At Home in Portland, Books & Reading | 19 Comments

Forgotten? Heinlein: The Star Beast

original 1954 cover

The Star Beast by Robert Heinlein, Scribners 1954, hardcover and paperback. Originally serialized, somewhat abridged, in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (May, June, July 1954) as Star Lummox and then published in hardcover as part of Scribner’s series of Heinlein’s juveniles.

I’m continuing to read my way through many of the Heinlein juvenile SF novels. Last time it was Starman Jones this time, The Star Beast. Again, though these aren’t forgotten, I recommend them, some more than others. Here we go.

Plot (thanks in part to Wikpedia)
The novel is set on the future Earth which has had interstellar spaceflight for centuries and has contact with numerous extraterrestrial species, which is handled by a department of the Earth government. John Thomas Stuart XI, the teenage protagonist, lives in a small Rocky Mountain town, Westville, caring for Lummox, an extraterrestrial beast which he inherited from his great-grandfather who brought it home from an interstellar voyage.

The pet has learned how to speak, and has gradually grown from the size of a collie pup to a ridable behemoth—especially after consuming a quantity of metal. The childlike Lummox is perceived to be a neighborhood nuisance and, upon leaving the Stuart property one day, causes substantial property damage across the city of Westville. John’s widowed mother wants him to get rid of it, and brings an action in the local court to have it destroyed.

Desperate to save his pet, John Thomas considers selling Lummox to a zoo. He rapidly changes his mind and runs away from home, riding into the nearby wilderness on Lummox’s back. His girlfriend Betty Sorenson joins him and suggests bringing the beast back into town and hiding it in a neighbor’s greenhouse. However, it is not easy to conceal such a large creature. Eventually, the court orders Lummox destroyed. In an amusing scene Westville’s officials try several methods to kill Lummox but fail, as his alien physiology appears to be virtually invulnerable to ordinary weapons or poisons, and Lummox does not even realize they are attempting to execute him.

Meanwhile, at the Earth government Department of Spacial Affairs, Mr. Kiku, an experienced diplomat, is dealing with the Hroshii, a previously unknown alien race, advanced and powerful, which appear in the solar system and demand the return of their lost child, or they will destroy Earth. A friendly alien diplomat of a third species intimates that the threat is not an empty one, and it seems Lummox is the missing child.

My Take
I enjoyed this one quite a bit. Yes, it’s a juvenile (these days it might be called a YA) novel, but fun nevertheless, and there is a goodly amount of humor. Though not quite as good as Starman Jones, it’s a close second of the ones I’ve read so far. Next time: Citizen of the Galaxy.

Posted in Books & Reading, Friday Forgotten Books | 13 Comments

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?

Posted in Books & Reading | 13 Comments

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 | 22 Comments