All reviews copyright 1984-2016 Evelyn C. Leeper.
"The Clockwork Atom Bomb" by Dominic Green:
[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/19/2006]
"The Clockwork Atom Bomb" by Dominic Green (INTERZONE May/Jun 2005) could have been another quintessential ANALOG story, with its heavy dose of physics and technology. But the tone and direction of the story makes it unlikely to have been found in that other magazine. This is a much darker story, and if one grants the one major science-fiction premise, all too believable.
CLASSIC MYSTERY STORIES edited by Douglas G. Greene: [From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/02/2006]
CLASSIC MYSTERY STORIES edited by Douglas G. Greene (ISBN 0-486-40881-7) is an anthology of thirteen detective stories from 1841 through 1920 (not coincidentally, just about the most recent year for works to have passed into the public domain). Some may be overly familiar (Edgar Allan Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", for example, but most are far less well known, by such authors as Baroness Orczy, Susan Glaspell, And Rodrigues Ottolengui. Even the better-known authors are represented by less familiar stories; for example, Jacques Futrelle's story is not "The Problem of Cell 13", but "The Phantom Motor". While I suspect aficionados of this era's detective fiction will be familiar with a lot of these stories, they are a good introduction and overview for the reader wanting to expand their range from just post-World War II works. (And since it is a Dover Thrift Edition, it is a very cheap way to do it.)
To order Classic Mystery Stories from amazon.com, click here.
OUR MAN IN HAVANA by Graham Greene:
[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/04/2016]
Our book discussion group chose OUR MAN IN HAVANA by Graham Greene (ISBN 978-0-142-43800-8) for this month. (We have chosen several books from David J. Major's book 100 ONE-NIGHT READS, because we have a policy of limiting the length of books chosen to 300 pages.) OUR MAN IN HAVANA has Greene's trademark cynicism, which is probably more familiar to people in his works THE THIRD MAN and THE QUIET AMERICAN. Another trademark is the main character who bumbles through life, not understanding anything, not being in control of everything, but not realizing how at sea he is.
In THE THIRD MAN, the setting is post-war Vienna, full of intrigue and corruption. In OUR MAN IN HAVANA, the setting is pre-revolution Havana, full of intrigue and corruption. (The film with Alec Guinness was shot just after the Cuban Revolution, but remains true to the period of the book.) An English vacuum cleaner salesman is recruited by British intelligence as a spy, but he does not have the inclination for it. So he improvises, with results more in keeping with realism than with romanticism. The novel, and the film based on it, are considered in some sense humorous, but it is a very black humor indeed (at least to me)--far too much about torture and killing.
Some sample quotes:
"The cruel come and go like cities and thrones and powers, leaving their ruins behind them."
"Havana could be a key-spot. The Communists always go where there's trouble."
"If it is secret enough, you alone know it. All you need is a little imagination, Mr Wormold." "They want me to recruit agents. How does one recruit an agent, Hasselbacher?" "You could invent them, too, Mr Wormold."
"He was glad she could still accept fairy stories: a virgin who bore a child, pictures that wept or spoke words of love in the dark. Hawthorne and his kind were equally credulous, but what they swallowed were nightmares, grotesque stories out of science fiction."
"It is easy to laugh at the idea of torture on a sunny day."
"What accounted for the squalor of British possessions? The Spanish, the French and the Portuguese built cities where they settled, but the English just allowed them to grow. The poorest street in Havana had dignity compared with the shanty-life of Kingston huts built out of old petrol-tins roofed with scrap-metal purloined from some cemetery of abandoned cars."
There are even literary references:
"All the same, he thought there is something wrong with Mr Mac Dougall's Scottishness. It smelt of fraud like Ossian."
And one I can really identify with:
"'You are too young to keep things,' Wormold said. 'They accumulate too much. Soon you find you have nowhere left to live among the junk-boxes.'"
But probably the best-known is this exchange:
"Did you torture him?"
Captain Segura laughed. "No. He doesn't belong to the torturable class."
"I didn't know there were class-distinctions in torture."
"Dear Mr Wormold, surely you realize there are people who expect to be tortured and others who would be outraged by the idea. One never tortures except by a kind of mutual agreement."
"There's torture and torture. When they broke up Dr Hasselbacher's laboratory they were torturing ...?"
"One can never tell what amateurs may do. The police had no concern in that. Dr Hasselbacher does not belong to the torturable class."
The poor in my own country, in any Latin American country. The poor of Central Europe and the Orient. Of course in your welfare states you have no poor, so you are untorturable. In Cuba the police can deal as harshly as they like with emigres from Latin America and the Baltic States, but not with visitors from your country or Scandinavia. It is an instinctive matter on both sides. Catholics are more torturable than Protestants, just as they are more criminal. ... One reason why the West hates the great Communist states is that they don't recognize class-distinctions. Sometimes they torture the wrong people. So too of course did Hitler and shocked the world. Nobody cares what goes on in our prisons, or in the prisons of Lisbon and Caracas, but Hitler was too promiscuous. It was rather as though in your country a chauffeur had slept with a peeress."
"We're not shocked by that any longer."
"It is a great danger for everyone when what is shocking changes."
To order Our Man in Havana from amazon.com, click here.
THE THIRD MAN by Grahame Greene:
[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/05/2005]
The script for the film of Graham Greene's THE THIRD MAN is available from Faber & Faber (ISBN 0-571-12634-0), and even if you are familiar with the film, it is worth reading, because this edition is annotated to indicate the changes from the original script that were made in the film. For example, Anna was originally Estonian, but the filmmakers decided that people were more familiar with Czechoslovakia. The part of the British Cultural Officer (played in the film by Wilfred Hyde-White) was originally written as two parts, intended for the British comedy team of Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne (probably best known to fantasy fans as the golfers in DEAD OF NIGHT or to thriller buffs as the cricket fans from THE LADY VANISHES). And the "cuckoo clock" speech was not in the original; it was added by Orson Welles himself.
To order The Third Man from amazon.com, click here.
THE JIGSAW MEN by Gary Greenwood:
[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/30/2004]
Moving on, Gary Greenwood's THE JIGSAW MEN (ISBN 1-902-88077-3) assumes that the events in both Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN and H. G. Wells's THE WAR OF THE WORLDS were real, and constructs an alternate world based on that. While as an alternate history it is not particularly successful (too much remains unchanged between that world and ours), it succeeds as a story of "jigsaw men"--soldiers (mostly) who are resurrected when they die, and what that does to them and to society. Published by a small press in Britain, it is probably a novella rather than a novel, and may make it to the United States eventually as part of an anthology.
To order The Jigsaw Men from amazon.com, click here.