Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2011 Evelyn C. Leeper.


THE INTERNATIONAL BANK OF BOB: CONNECTING OUR WORLDS ONE $25 KIVA LOAN AT A TIME by Bob Harris:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/20/2013]

THE INTERNATIONAL BANK OF BOB: CONNECTING OUR WORLDS ONE $25 KIVA LOAN AT A TIME by Bob Harris (ISBN 978-0-8027-7751-5) is about Bob's experiences with Kiva. Kiva is perhaps the best-known of the non-profits that work with micro-finance agencies to "provide small loans to low-income individuals or to those who do not have access to typical banking services." Mark wrote a more complete--and highly entertaining, in my opinion--description at Kiva in the 02/15/08 issue of the MT VOID, available at http://leepers.us/mtvoid/2008/VOID0215.htm#kiva.

Bob was a travel writer writing about luxury hotels when he started noticing the disparity between those and the way the other end of the spectrum lived. So he decided to try to improve the way the poorest people lived, which eventually led him to join Kiva. And then he came up with the idea of traveling around the world to meet the people he had been lending money to. (Note: He did not tell the recipients he was one of their lenders.)

Maybe it was his choice of destinations, but for many of them-- for example, Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia--the underlying question in Bob's mind for the people he talked to in these war-ravaged areas was, "How are you not completely insane?" And after a while, you notice that you are not hearing from Bob any stories of failures, though it is not surprising that the local offices want to emphasize successes. The result may be a bit overly optimistic, though in fact the repayment statistics for Kiva loans seem to indicate that it is not wildly deceptive.

Harris has a very readable style, and the book is often more travelogue than micro-finance sermon (though there are a lot of details about how Kiva works), but by the end, you may well find yourself wanting to get involved in lending money through them. If so, go to http://www.kiva.org/invitedto/worldcon/by/markleeper. Signing up here will automatically put you on the "Worldcon" team, and because you are responding to our invitation, some donor contributes enough for us to make a free loan. (Bob explains teams in his book, but they're basically a group of people with something in common who lend through Kiva, sort of like your local knitting group might get together to donate food for a local food bank.) Originally set up as a team for members of the 2011 World Science Fiction Convention, the Worldcon team is now more for science fiction fans in general.

To order The International Bank of Bob from amazon.com, click here.


DEAD AFTER DARK by Charlaine Harris:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/13/2012]

DEAD AFTER DARK by Charlaine Harris (ISBN 978-0-441-01597-9) is the first of Harris's "Sookie Stackhouse" series. Sookie Stackhouse is a telepathic waitress in Bon Temps, Louisiana, in a world where there are vampires and they have, in their own words, "come out of the coffin." (Is this world an alternate world, or a future world, or what? There is no way to tell.) Sookie gets involved with a vampire who has just arrived in town, but they both get caught up in a series of murders which may or may not have been committed by a vampire. So we have a telepathy-vampire-murder mystery-romance novel. This may be trying to juggle too many balls at once.

The series has been compared to Laurell K. Hamilton's "Anita Blake" series, but since I have not read any of those, I cannot judge the comparison. DEAD UNTIL DARK is acceptable enough, but not so enthralling as to make me continue with the series.

To order Dead after Dark from amazon.com, click here.


FATHERLAND by Robert Harris:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/05/2008]

Our two discussion groups meet jointly in November because the science fiction group usually meets on the fourth Thursday of the month. So we try to pick a science fiction book that has appeal to non-science fiction fans as well. In previous years we have chosen THE EYRE AFFAIR by Jasper Fforde, BRING THE JUBILEE by Ward Moore, THE WOMAN AND THE APE by Peter Hoeg, KING AND JOKER by Peter Dickinson; this year we chose FATHERLAND by Robert Harris. One thing you may notice about this list is that all except the Hoeg are alternate histories. This ties in with my panel at this year's Philcon, "Are Alternate Histories Really Science Fiction?" It seems to be true that one reaction people have to the books we have chosen is "Is this really science fiction?" After all, there are no rockets, robots, or rivets.

The answer to "Are alternate histories really science fiction?" seems to be yes, though the explanation varies. Take your pick of:

  1. It often uses the science fiction plot of time travel, or may refer to the scientific theory of multiple universes.
  2. It is read by science fiction fans.
  3. It is written by science fiction writers.
  4. It uses a very science fictional approach: change one thing and see what happens. (Mike Resnick)
  5. It is, like the future, "the history we cannot know." (Kim Stanley Robinson)

Regarding FATHERLAND, reading it led people to do further research on the "White Rose" student anti-Nazi movement and Sophie Scholl (about whom there was a biopic last year), and to a discussion of Nazi architecture, both that which was built and that which was merely in the planning stages. (In FATHERLAND, these plans have come to fruition.) We had a brief digression about the Berlin Wall, and I was startled to realize that there was one group member who not only did not remember the Wall going up--she hadn't been born yet when the Wall came down! (The first item on the Beloit College "Mindset List for the Class of 2100" is "What Berlin Wall?" it also notes that for "most of the ... members of the Class of 2011, ... Alvin Ailey, Andrei Sakharov, Huey Newton, Emperor Hirohito, Ted Bundy, Abbie Hoffman, and Don the Beachcomber have always been dead."

A few additional items from that list:

    9. Nelson Mandela has always been free and a force in 
       South Africa.
   10. Pete Rose has never played baseball.
   16. Women have always been police chiefs in major cities.
   18. The NBA season has always gone on and on and on and on.
   34. They were introduced to Jack Nicholson as "The Joker."
   42. Women's studies majors have always been offered on campus.
   64. Chavez has nothing to do with iceberg lettuce and 
       everything to do with oil.
   66. The World Wide Web has always been an online tool.
   68. Burma has always been Myanmar.
   69. Dilbert has always been ridiculing cubicle culture.

I will dispute #4, though ("They never 'rolled down' a car window.") since I got a new rental car last month that had windows that rolled down.

And I will cite #17: "They were born the year Harvard Law Review editor Barack Obama announced he might run for office some day."

To order Fatherland from amazon.com, click here.


POMPEII by Robert Harris:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/24/2013]

POMPEII by Robert Harris (ISBN 978-0-679-42889-3) is a historical novel set in Pompeii right before and during the eruption in 79 C.E. Harris is the author of FATHERLAND, a "Germany-won-World-War-II" alternate history, which is a sort of historical fiction, and has apparently done a fair amount of research on Pompeii for this novel as well. Unfortunately, the story that he has attached to the eruption, having to do with the engineering of aqueducts and political corruption around it, is not very engaging.

To order Pompeii from amazon.com, click here.


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