Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2017 Evelyn C. Leeper.

AIG Publications:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/05/2009]

I own a few books published by AIG. I mention this because I'm hoping to find out they're incredibly valuable, but I suspect they are only marginally more valuable than AIG itself, given that they were distributed in the New Yorker magazine. One is a selection of Aesop's fables, one is Gracian's "Art of Worldly Wisdom", and one is "Well-Versed: Poems for the Road Ahead". All are sixteen pages long and consist of advisory tales, maxims, or poems. The poetry book has such poems as Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" and Rudyard Kipling's "If". What's great is the blurb on the back: "In life, there is no substitute for experience. The same goes for your money. 85 years of helping families and businesses worldwide means you can rely on the AIG companies. Over 50 million customers know that for long-term financial solutions, the AIG companies can help steer you and your family in the right direction." Right. It doesn't make you eager to trust their choice of literary advice either.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/23/2008]

We recently visited Arches National Park in Utah. Edward Abbey is the author of many novels and non-fiction books set in and about the West. At one of the book sales a couple of months before the trip, I picked up his book DESERT SOLITAIRE: A SEASON IN THE WILDERNESS (ISBN-13 978-0-671-69588-0, ISBN-10 0-671-69588-6), a collection of essays about his time as a Park ranger in Arches National Park. If this is true, I think the Park ought to have gone after him for dereliction of duty, since he seems to have spent a lot of time helping a near-by rancher herd cattle, rafting down the Colorado, and doing a lot of other things having nothing to do with the National Park Service. But let's give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that although he calls it a season, the book actually covers a couple of years or more.

Anyway, the most pertinent chapter would be "Polemic: Industrial Tourism and the National Parks". In this chapter, Abbey complains that the National Parks are effectively being destroyed in the attempt to make them more "accessible". Now, Abbey worked in Arches in the 1950s, and wrote the book in 1967, so by "accessible" he does not means wheelchair ramps and such, but paved roads and plumbing.

Abbey's suggestion was to close the Parks to all motor vehicle traffic (except for shuttle buses and other vehicles owned and operated by the National Park Service). All visitors would have to leave their cars outside the entrance. They would be issued a bicycle (or horse) for use inside the park. Their tents, bedrolls, etc., would be transported by shuttle bus to the campgrounds. (He even accepts that those "too elderly or too sickly to mount a bicycle" might be allowed to ride the shuttle buses.)

Something like this has been done in the bigger Parks (e.g., Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon). Cars are allowed in the Park, but they are barred from the most scenic parts, and people wanting to see those parts must walk, bicycle--or ride shuttle buses. This is not quite what Abbey suggested--he did not want shuttle buses running constantly up and down the roads every seven minutes. But it is vastly better than bumper-to-bumper cars and RVs.

Abbey then suggested no new roads be built in National Parks. This follows fairly directly from the first suggestion--if cars are not coming, why build roads? And rangers should be spending more time outside, guiding people on hikes, helping them with camping (in tents, since no vehicles are allowed in the Parks), and so on. All this--ranger service, bicycles, horses--should be free to the public. Abbey claims that by not building new roads or spending money to maintain the old ones--let them revert to unpaved roads again if necessary, but lack of traffic will probably lower the maintenance cost a lot--the Parks would have more than enough money to finance his proposals.

The major obstacle that he sees to this is that "Industrial Tourism"--motels, restaurants, tour companies, road-building contractors, etc.--are going to fight this tooth and nail. Well, maybe, although as I said, Abbey's suggestions have been implemented somewhat.

The real problem (as I see it) is that there is a feedback loop. Abbey bemoans the changes in Arches that the paved road brought. Tourists have to camp in the campgrounds rather than wherever they want, and must bring charcoal or their own wood for fires--there is not enough dead wood around for the numbers of campers that now arrive. But these changes were made because of the numbers of tourists. Are there lots of tourists because the paved road was put in, or was the paved road put in because there were so many tourists that an unpaved road could not support that many people? In the 1950s, it took a long time and a lot of effort to get even as close as the entrance of Arches. Now one can fly to Salt Lake City or Denver, rent a car (or even 4-wheel-drive vehicle) and be there in a day or two. (Admittedly, this may change with global warming and/or the increase in gas prices.) So if thousands of people show up at the entrance, the question is, what can the Park do? One option is to limit the number of people who can enter the Park on a given day. This, understandably, they are reluctant to do. The other is to figure out how to support this many people. The easiest way has been to build better roads, create campgrounds, open a Visitors Center to provide an orientation, and so on. Oh, and the campgrounds need plumbing, because the sort of backcountry camping where one digs a latrine fails spectacularly long before one reaches the numbers of tourists the Parks are currently getting. However, at some point even those changes doesn't work, and the Parks have switched to shuttle buses in the more congested areas.

A reasonable approach for the future is to consider before building a road whether this road is going to be a real solution or something that will be equally congested in ten years. If the latter, put in a dirt road for non-motorized traffic (and possibly Park buses) rather than a much more expensive paved road.

On the other hand, Abbey does make a logical error in his argument. He describes the people who visit the bottom of the Grand Canyon and other remote places in the mountains, or raft down rivers, as being "not consist[ing] solely of people young and athletic but also of old folks, fat folks, pale-faced office clerks who don't know a rucksack from a haversack, and even children." Yes, and Theodore Roosevelt was a weakling before he headed west. The point is that just because some old folks can climb Mt. Whitney, and some fat folks can raft down the Colorado, and some children can horse-back through the Smokies, does not mean that most, or even many, can. The existence of a few professional basketball players under six feet tall does not mean that the profession is as open to shorter people as it is to tall ones.

The irony is that he has an entire chapter about "The Dead Man at Grandview Point". In it, he describes the search for him: "Learning from the relative--a nephew--that the missing man is about sixty years old, an amateur photographer who liked to walk, and had never been in the Southwest before, we assume first of all that the object of the search is dead...." So much for Abbey's argument that anyone can explore the wilds of America on their own.

Abbey makes other logical errors. He says, for example, "To refute the solipsist or metaphysical idealist all that you have to do is take him out and throw a rock at his head; if he ducks he's a liar." This sounds reasonable, but in fact this does not refute the solipsist at all, because if the solipsist is right, he is merely a figment of your imagination, and there is no one to refute. All you have proved is that if solipsism is correct, you can create an imaginary person that does not believe in it. And similarly for metaphysical idealists, because though they believe that the external world exists, they also believe that it is still filtered through their own senses and mind.

Well, that last part had little to do with Arches (unless you are a solipsist, in which case, you have imagined the entire Park). The book itself had an interesting journey, having been bought originally in the bookshop at Capital Reef National Park, traveled to New Jersey, traveled back to Utah, and then back to New Jersey.

To order Desert Solitaire from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/25/2013]

I finally read BORGES Y LA CIENCIA FICCÍON by Carlos Abraham (ISBN 978-84-96013-85-8); first it took a few years to find at a reasonable price, and then it took several months to read (I think I started it before I broke my hip the first day of spring!). Part of the time was because it was in Spanish, but part was that whenever Abraham would draw parallels between a Borges story and an earlier science fiction story, I found I had to go dig them both out and read them.

I wrote a review/commentary/summary of the book, but since it came to almost 20,000 words, I'll do a much briefer commentary here; the full review is at

Briefly put, Abraham's contention is that Borges appropriated various science fiction stories he read and stripped them of their science fictional elements to create derivative works that would be "high literature" rather than "genre fiction." Some pairings he particularly looks at are:

(Apparently he thinks Borges read a lot of Lovecraft.)

Of course, his premise is predicated on the notion that science fiction (or other genre literature) is less worthy than "high literature" ("literatura alta") and if you do not buy into that argument, then the exercise of converting science fiction to non-science fiction does not seem worthwhile in and of itself. Abraham also presumes that Borges perceived the ideas (and indeed, a lot of the language, at least for the Lovecraft derivatives) of the stories as part of the common heritage, available for other authors (such as himself) to use. This may well be true--there are essays in which Borges says something very close to this--but I suspect a court of law might see things differently.

To order Borges y la ciencia ficcíon from, click here.

"The Cambist and Lord Iron: a Fairytale of Economics" by Daniel Abraham:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/11/2008]

"The Cambist and Lord Iron: a Fairytale of Economics" by Daniel Abraham (in the anthology LOGORRHEA) was apparently written as part of a project to write one story for each National Spelling Bee winning word. A cambist is an expert in foreign exchange, and the cambist in this story is asked to set a monetary value on some peculiar "currency" indeed, starting with ornate bills from the Independent Protectorate of Analdi-Wat and getting progressively stranger. It seems to be a tale pulled from a classic fairy tale, but it is of course entirely new.

To order Logorrhea from, click here.

THINGS FALL APART by Chinua Achebe:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/31/2006]

Our general discussion group chose THINGS FALL APART by Chinua Achebe (ISBN 0-385-47454-7) for this month's discussion. I had intended reading this ever since college--almost forty years ago. (Well, some books stay on the queue longer than others.) I can remember seeing it in the college bookstore in 1968 and thinking that here was something unlike what we had been reading in school or seeing in the library. (The library I frequented was an Air Force base library that emphasized more bestsellers and genre--science fiction, mysteries, and so on--than literary fiction.) Nowadays, of course, with the emphasis on diversity and book superstores dotting the country, finding literary novels by African authors is not a big surprise. (In fact, one reason the group chose it was that it was a book on the high school summer reading list, so the library had a lot of copies of it.)

So after forty years, what about the book? Frankly, I do not know what the fuss is about. The main character is described by critics as being made sympathetic, but I did not find him so. Critics do seem to agree that Achebe's portrayal of Ibo tribal society is unsentimental, but I would go further and say that I found it hard to work up a lot of distress that someone was trying to end such traditional practices as killing twins at birth, or beating one's wives. [How appropriate. See my editorial this issue. -mrl] And the writing is very spare (someone compared him to Hemingway), which is a very tricky style to carry off.

To order Things Fall Apart from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/17/2013]

THE CASEBOOK OF VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN by Peter Ackroyd (ISBN 978-0-307-47377-6) is a "re-imagination" of Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN. One way it is a re-imagination is that Mary Shelley, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron, and John Polidori are all characters in THE CASEBOOK OF VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN. (There is also a character named Jack Keat. I don't think this is supposed to be John Keats, but I cannot be sure.) Given that the historical facts about the real characters are not entirely consistent with incorporating them into the story as Mary Shelley told it, Ackroyd has to some extent given himself an almost impossible task, but he does pull it off (although the complete explanation is more something to be inferred than explicitly explained).

There is a lot more politics in THE CASEBOOK OF VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN than there was in Shelley's work, but part of this is that Ackroyd is writing with hindsight from almost two centuries later. The biggest problem, though, is that through most of the book the reader is wondering why Ackroyd wrote it, and it is not until the end that it all comes together.

To order The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/25/2003]

And on a more technical note, Amir D. Aczel's THE MYSTERY OF THE ALEPH tries to tie together infinity, transfinite numbers, and the Kabbalah. He is only moderately successful, even if there were serious religious concerns with the whole notion of infinity. But his description of the lives of the various mathematicians who worked on this question is less dry than usual, and you get to find out who didn't get along with whom, and yet another explanation of why there is no Nobel Prize in mathematics. (Actually, he presents two possible explanations.) And in addition, Aczel talks about Georg Cantor's mental aberrations, including that he would leave his work on transfinite numbers for long periods of time in order to try to convince people that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare's plays. Synchronicity! [-ecl]

To order The Mystery of the Aleph from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/29/2011]

THE RIDDLE OF THE COMPASS: THE INVENTION THAT CHANGED THE WORLD by Amir D. Aczel (ISBN 978-0-15-600753-3) is a bit lighter than his earlier books (FERMAT'S LAST THEOREM, THE MYSTERY OF THE ALEPH, PROBABILITY I, and GOD'S EQUATION). Aczel starts in Amalfi, home of Flavio Gioia, cited by the Amalfis as the inventor of the compass. But since the compass seems to have been invented by the Chinese several centuries earlier, and since Flavio Gioia seems not even to have existed, the amount of time Aczel spends on this seems excessive. He also talks about Marco Polo, but barely mentions the current controversy about whether Polo actually made the trip himself. Given that I think there is considerable support for the view that Marco Polo got most of his information about Asia from other travelers and did very little traveling himself, this is odd. There is also a lot about navigation before the compass in this book and surprisingly little about the compass itself.

To order The Riddle of the Compass from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/20/2009]

THE HITCH HIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY by Douglas Adams (ISBN-13 978-0-345-41891-3, ISBN-10 0-345-41891-3) was the choice for the joint meeting of the general book discussion group and the science fiction book discussion group this month. (The science fiction book discussion group normally meets the fourth Thursday of each month, a problem in November.) This time through I noted all the cultural and literary references. For example, Chapter 10 ends with Arthur Dent saying, "Ford! There's an infinite number of monkeys outside who want to talk to us about this script for 'Hamlet' they've worked out." Or in Chapter 5: "He was experiencing the aural equivalent of looking at a picture of two black silhouetted faces and suddenly seeing it as a picture of a white candlestick."

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/20/2010]

The book-and-movie science fiction group chose THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY by Douglas Adams (ISBN 978-1-400-05292-9) for this month, and the film (rather than the radio play, the record, or the television series) for the dramatization part.

Even though the work is very familiar, there are still new comments to be made. "They still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea"--nowadays I think digital watches are in decline, as more and more people are using their cell phones as their timepiece. "Small green pieces of paper" made no sense in a British context--it was only American money that fit that description and even American money seems to be moving away from it. (The movie also seems to be Americanized, with American billions, and "zee" rather than "zed").

[As Keith Lynch pointed out in the 03/19/10 issue of the MT VOID American billions have been the same as British billions since 1974. That is, in both countries a billion is 10^9. That is called the "short" scale. Prior to 1974 as in Britain and in many other countries all along a billion was/is 10^12. That convention is called the "long" scale. See -mrl]

The actual "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" seems to be an early example of an ebook in fiction.

Was the eponymous character in the film FORD FAIRLANE inspired by Ford Prefect?

One of Adams's distinctive stylistic touches is the use of positive adverbs (e.g., totally, exactly) paired with negative verbs or prepositions (e.g. failed): "more or less exactly failed to please the eye" or "almost entirely, but not quite, unlike tea".

[This is distinct from litotes, which is exressing a positive by the use of a double negative of sorts, e.g., "not a bad dinner."

Adams wrote about Prosser being a direct male-line descendent of Genghis Khan well before a geneticist discovered the Genghis Khan Effect, which is that there are approximately 15,000,000 direct descendents of Genghis Khan alive today (though not all in the direct-male line). (See for details.)

Adams claims that in space you asphyxiate and taking a lungful of air before being ejected helps. Actually, that's backwards--expelling the air from your lungs is what you want to do.

And I found Alan Rickman's voice far too familiar to use for Marvin; I kept thinking of Rickman as walking around in the Marvin suit.

To order The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy from, click here.

To order The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/14/2007]

WHY WE READ WHAT WE READ: A DELIGHTFULLY OPINIONATED JOURNEY THROUGH CONTEMPORARY BESTSELLERS by Lisa Adams and John Heath (ISBN-13 978-1-4022-1054-9, ISBN-10 1-4022-1054-X) tries to analyze the bestsellers of the last couple of decades. While bemoaning the lack of depth in most of what made the bestseller lists, Adams and Heath skim over a lot of books, dismissing them with quips and zingers. Yes, it is fun to read, but in the back of my mind is the thought that they are not raising the level of discourse. Adams and Heath do find books of depth on the lists, though not in the numbers they (or we) might wish. And even if books sell, are they read? Adams and Heath claim that 92% of Americans own at least one Bible, yet fewer than half can name the first book of the Bible. (Then again, all they know is that 92% of Americans say they own at least one Bible.)

The book is amusing and entertaining, and the authors do pinpoint recurring themes and trends, but whether there is any more depth to it than to many of the books they skewer is a matter of dispute.

To order Why We Read What We Read from, click here.

TRAVELLER by Richard Adams:

[From MT VOID, 1991]

At first glance, this sounds like a pretty silly idea: to tell the story of the Civil War from the point of view of General Robert E. Lee's horse. But then, Adams's first book, WATERSHIP DOWN, was rejected by dozens of publishers because it was a "bunny story." When Penguin finally published it, it went on to become their best-seller ever, and was recognized as an adult story told with non-human characters, rather than "just" a children's story. Adams followed this up with SHARDIK, the story of a bear revered by a primitive tribe, and PLAGUE DOGS, a dark tale of animals used in medical research. So Adams has a history of taking unlikely approaches to fiction and making them work.

And it does work. Clayton Cramer said, "I can see it now. 'Hmmm. Today we went to a place with very tasty grass. Spent much of the day walking slowly past thousands of boots, standing on lovely green grass. Had my shoes replaced today. Nice blacksmith -- very gentle on my hooves.'" This is not far off the mark, at least as far as style goes, but it misses the point of the book. Traveller (Lee's horse in real life, by the way; many of the events recounted in TRAVELLER are based on documented events in history) does see things from a horse's viewpoint, but he sees more than just eating grass and getting new shoes.

One of the things that struck me when reading TRAVELLER is that what we have here is a different point of view (in the technical sense) than one usually has. We have seen third person omniscient, and third person non-omniscient, and first person, but what we have here is first person "reader-omniscient". That is, because the story is based on history the reader knows what is coming, and what is really going on, in a fashion not normally encountered. Well, perhaps other historical novels would have this, but the ones I can remember are either third person omniscient or first person, but with the narrator finding out everything of importance in the course of the book. This is not true here. As is mentioned on the dust jacket (so I fell it's not a major spoiler), Traveller never realizes Lee lost the war--he thinks Lee won! But Adams does this in such a way that the reader finds herself asking whether that is really so unreasonable a conclusion. Certainly many people have asked of World War II whether we really won, or whether the Germans and Japanese won in the end, for many of the same reasons. So do we really understand what is going on in the world better than Traveller? (Adams does help out the reader a bit by interspersing historical summaries every few chapters, so that we can keep track of what is going on in terms we can understand.)

Adams does a good job of giving his characters individual personalities. His animals (in other books as well as this one) are not the usual caricatures, but real individuals. His horses act like horses, not like "humans in horse suits," and his rabbits act like rabbits, and so on. He manages the dialects well in TRAVELLER, balancing readability with accuracy of sound. The only quibble might be that his animals can communicate inter-species (he talks to cats and other non-horses), but not with humans.

Some of the techniques in TRAVELLER parallel techniques Adams used in previous novels. For example, there is a prescient horse (Sorrel) in TRAVELLER who seems patterned after a prescient rabbit in WATERSHIP DOWN: both see vague hints of what is to come, but not specific events.

The use of an animal as a narrator also allows Adams to make some strong statements about slavery. Traveller's constant comparison's of his life to that of the slaves ("always saying goodbye") brings home the reality of slavery more than writing it from a human point of view might. And again, Traveller's incomplete understanding of reality leads him to believe that Lee's black valet Perry is the most important man around other than Lee himself, because Perry is so close to Lee.

Traveller sees things from a horse's perspective. This leads him to conclude, for example, that there are fewer guns at some point because there are fewer horses around to pull them, rather than that there are fewer horses around because the guns have been damaged and so the horses aren't needed. When Lee talks to himself, Traveller naturally assumes that Lee is talking to him, and when Lee says, "Lord God, why is this happening?" Traveller naturally assumes that Lord God was a previous horse that Lee had, and Lee is just confused about who he is talking to. And all this talk about "the War" makes Traveller think "the War" is a place with glorious soldiers and fine grass and a big white house. When all is over, his one regret is that they never got to this place called "the War." We laugh at this naivete, but is this so difference from our preoccupation with the glory of war and our tendency to brush over the ugly reality?

Yes, maybe Traveller is just a horse. And maybe he is a little dense. But he's no more dense than we are at times, and maybe seeing things through his eyes can help remove the blinders from our own.

To order Traveller from, click here.

CATO by Joseph Addison:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/26/2003]

Somewhere I had read that Joseph Addison's CATO was a favorite of John Adams, and one can see why. While Shakespeare's JULIUS CAESAR concentrates on the treachery and in-fighting of the conspirators against Caesar, Addison looks at the situation from the point of view of those who genuinely feel that Caesar is becoming a dictator and destroying Roman freedom, but who don't necessarily want to assassinate him. That someone like Adams, concerned about American liberty, would like this play is not surprising. (It's a bit hard to find; I got it in an anthology edited by Richard Quintana titled 18TH CENTURY PLAYS.)

To order 18th Century Plays from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/04/2006]

OUTWITTING SQUIRRELS by Bill Adler, Jr., (ISBN 1-55652-302-5) is subtitled "101 Cunning Stratagems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Misappropriation of Seed from Your Birdfeeder by Squirrels". (The whole book is only 188 pages long, which makes it a bit title-heavy.) In addition to suggestions (most of which he admits do not work very well), Adler provides a lot of information about squirrels and their biology. It's of interest even to people like us who want to feed the squirrels.

To order Outwitting Squirrels from, click here.

The Oresteia by Aeschylus:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/05/2007]

I was listening to the Oresteia on CD recently, and I noted that one character tells Clytemnestra that "nothing happens except through the will of Zeus"--and then proceeds to criticize her for killing Agamemnon! Wasn't that through the will of Zeus by his own argument? Also, the only reason I can come up with for Electra and Orestes being so bent on vengeance against their mother for taking revenge on their father for his sacrifice of their sister is some sort of patriarchal bias. After all, shouldn't they be angry at him for murdering their sister, and grateful to their mother for exacting revenge?

THE BOOK OF CHAMELEONS by José Eduardo Agualusa:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/02/2013]

It is purely coincidence, I believe, that the next book I read after THE YEAR OF THE DEATH OF RICARDO REIS was THE BOOK OF CHAMELEONS by José Eduardo Agualusa (translated by Daniel Hahn, ISBN 978-1-4165-7351-7). Like THE YEAR OF THE DEATH OF RICARDO REIS, this novel was originally written in Portuguese. Like THE YEAR OF THE DEATH OF RICARDO REIS, this novel has a literary figure as one of the characters--or more specifically, the spirit of a literary figure. Like THE YEAR OF THE DEATH OF RICARDO REIS, this novel is a magical realist view of life. THE BOOK OF CHAMELEONS is about an Angolan albino who does what everyone describes as selling memories to people, and is narrated by a tiger gecko who turns out to be the reincarnation of Jorge Luis Borges. What the albino does seems more like the selling of new identities than the selling of memories, but that may be because when I hear the phrase "the selling of memories," I take it much more literally, probably because of my familiarity with science fiction. It reminds me of the discussion of the different modes of reading the sentence "Her world exploded." In a "mundane" novel, this is read figuratively. But in a novel set on Alderaan, this is a literal statement.

Unlike THE YEAR OF THE DEATH OF RICARDO REIS, this novel does not require a knowledge of Portuguese history. Instead, it seems to require a knowledge of Angolan geography. Sometimes you just cannot win.

To order The Book of Chameleons from, click here.

HOW TO DISAPPEAR by Frank M. Ahearn with Eileen C. Horan:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/15/2012]

HOW TO DISAPPEAR by Frank M. Ahearn with Eileen C. Horan (ISBN 978-1-59921-977-6) was recommended in Bruce Schneier's blog about security (), and since the library had a copy, I figured I would read it. Of course, the first thing to think about is that if I were going to try to disappear, checking books out of the library is the wrong way to go about (even if they are not for specific destinations). The thing to do is to go to a different library, where I am not known, and read the books there. I also discovered that it is easier to disappear if you are not all over the Web and the Internet already (no surprise there).

To order How to Disappear from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/21/2013]

THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON by Saladin Ahmed (ISBN 978-0-7564-0711-7) was okay. As many have noted, it is nice to find a fantasy not based on some European mythology or legend, and it is nice that though this is the first book in a series, it does actually have an ending, albeit one that leaves room for sequels. However, on the down side, the female characters are not developed as well as the male characters, and it seemed as though Ahmed could not decide if this was taking place on an alternate Earth with a slightly different geography, or a completely unrelated world. It really must be the former, because the names of kingdoms, animals, foods, etc., are all from Earth, but the addition of the fantasy elements and the map depicting a non-Earth geography works against this interpretation. (Yeah, I know, a lot of fantasy has this problem. "A Song of Fire and Ice" seems to take place not on our Earth, but it has horses and all the biology works like our biology.) It is not that I disliked THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON, but that I do not think it Hugo-worthy.

To order Throne of the Crescent Moon from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/20/2004]

Much of what I read this week were middle books of alternate history series as part of my responsibilities as a judge for the Sidewise Awards. The main thing I can report is that they do not stand on their own. The first was Joan Aiken's MIDWINTER NIGHTINGALE, the tenth of her young adult "Wolves of Willoughby Chase" series, set in a world in which the Stuarts won the Jacobite Wars and werewolves are real. (I don't think there is a cause-and-effect relationship here. :-) ) It seemed like the sort of book that children who had been reading all the others would like, but I can't say for sure.

To order Midwinter Nightingale from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/17/2013]

MURDER ON THE LEVIATHAN by Boris Akunin (ISBN 0-8129-6879-4) is an interesting mystery novel, in that it is apparently in a series featuring Erast Fandorin, and billed as "A Fandorin mystery", but the main character is not Fandorin. It is as if someone wrote a Sherlock Holmes novel where Lestrade was the main character and Holmes appeared only in a secondary role. Akunin's solution is ingenious, but not absolutely original. (I won't say more, since any explanation might be a spoiler.) This is not a great novel, but it's a reasonable way to pass the time.

To order Murder on the Leviathan from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/28/2005]

Tony Albarella is editing a series of books of Rod Serling's "Twilight Zone" scripts. The first is titled AS TIMELESS AS INFINITY: THE COMPLETE TWILIGHT ZONE SCRIPTS OF ROD SERLING, VOLUME ONE (Gauntlet Press, ISBN 1-887368-71-X); the next volume is due this February. At $66, this is even more expensive than the Christopher Lee bibliography I reviewed last week. The commentaries here adds some to each episode, but not appreciably more than Marc Scott Zicree's TWILIGHT ZONE COMPANION of several years ago (still in print, ISBN 0-553-01416-1). So the main reason for buying this would be for the scripts themselves. Included are the scripts for "The Time Element", "Where Is Everybody?", "Third from the Sun", "The Purple Testament", "The Big, Tall Wish", "Eye of the Beholder", "A Most Unusual Camera" (two versions), "The Mind and the Matter", and "The Dummy". By my count, Serling wrote 78 scripts, so we're talking about at least eight volumes. What I don't understand is why Albarella is not doing the stories sequentially--the first volume selects from the first two seasons, but seemingly at random. This is the same objection that people had to the initial release of the shows on DVD--they were assembled in sets at random, rather than "Season 1", "Season 2", and so on. (They have since been re-issued by season.)

To order As Timeless As Infinity from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/06/2004]

Mitch Albom's TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE is the story of the author's visits with his old college professor, who is dying of ALS. I suspect it was chosen for high school students because it does deal with old age, and serious illness, and death. The advice his professor gives is good, but hardly new, and the work is too overly sentimental for me.

To order Tuesdays with Morrie from, click here.

BURY MY HEART AT W. H. SMITH'S by Brian Aldiss:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/25/2003]

Brian Aldiss has written a couple of autobiographies. One was BURY MY HEART AT W. H. SMITH'S. Another, dealing more (from what I know of BURY) with his earlier years, was THE TWINKLING OF AN EYE. I found the latter in a used bookstore and tried it, but it somehow failed to grab me the way other literary autobiographies have. (It's possible a greater familiarity with all of Aldiss's work might have made a difference.)

To order Bury My Heart at W. H. Smith's from, click here.
To order The Twinkling of an Eye from, click here.

GREYBEARD by Brian Aldiss:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/02/2007]

Spurred by comments from various readers about books similar to CHILDREN OF MEN, I read a novel that has been compared to CHILDREN OF MEN, GREYBEARD by Brian Aldiss (ISBN-10 0-755-10063-8, ISBN-13 978-0--75510063-7). The reason for sterility here is a series of atomic tests in the atmosphere that interfere with Earth's shielding from damaging solar radiation. (At least here it seems to be an equal opportunity disaster--in both D. F. Jones's IMPLOSION and the film CHILDREN OF MEN, it appears to be only the women who are affected. I am told that in P. D. James's original novel CHILDREN OF MEN it is the men that are sterile.) This is even more "English" than D. F. Jones's IMPLOSION, with characters fairly stoically slogging along in a world without any children for decades. The story gradually unfolds (backwards, with flashbacks to more recent events first and the explanation of what originally happened last), and Aldiss manages to include all sorts of settings: England, United States, market town, college town, rural village, etc. The ending, which seems a bit unlikely, is the novel's only weak point.

To order Greybeard from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/10/2011]

Having just watched a documentary on Sholem Aleichem, and a Russian silent film, JEWISH LUCK, which was based on one of his Menahem-Mendl stories, I decided I should read THE ADVENTURES OF MENAHEM-MENDL by Sholom Aleichem (translated by Tamara Kahana) (no ISBN). Menahem-Mendl is the ultimate schlemiel--everything he puts his hand to turns to lead. He tries to speculate in currency, and loses everything. He dabbles in stocks, and loses everything. And so on. All of these are very topical--he writes long explanations of buying stocks on margin to his wife, to whom it makes no sense, and frankly, it is not clear it makes sense to us either. And his description of speculation on houses sounds distressingly familiar: "You probably imagine that in Yehupetz you buy a place to live in, the way you do in Kasrilevka. Well, you're mistaken. When you buy a house here in Yehupetz, you immediately carry it over to a bank and get money for it; then you mortgage it and again get some money; then you rent the apartments and get some more money. In short, you buy a house without spending a single penny, and you become a houseowner painlessly." Or as Qoheleth says, "The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

To order The Adventures of Menahem-Mendl from, click here.

TIME AFTER TIME by Karl Alexander:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/16/2007]

I recently watched the film TIME AFTER TIME and have a couple of comments. First, the "vaporizing equalizer" on the time machine is similar to the planetary ignition switch in FORBIDDEN PLANET--both of them seem like amazingly bad designs. (In Karl Alexander's book TIME AFTER TIME, the plot purpose served by the "vaporizing equalizer" is handled in a more realistic manner.) Also, it is often said that some people are too dumb to live, and I would say that anyone who knows they are in danger and has to leave in an hour and still takes Valium and brandy together may fall into this category.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/21/2004]

Trudi Alexy's THE MEZUZAH IN THE MADONNA'S FOOT: A WOMAN DISCOVERS HER SPIRITUAL HERITAGE (ISBN 0-06-060340-2) began as an examination of the phenomenon of Fascist Spain as a haven for Jews fleeing the Nazis, among them Alexy's parents. It covers this, of course, with stories both of the Jews and of the people who helped to save them, but it also expanded to include the stories of Marranos in Spain and the Crypto-Jews of the American Southwest as well. This was a wise decision, I think, because the original idea was not all that different from many other books. It's true that Alexy does attempt to explain why a country that expelled its Jews five centuries earlier, and persecuted any suspected Jews for another three hundred years, and was friendly with Nazi Germany, would make such an effort to rescue Jews from the Nazis. Her conclusion--that because the Spanish had no experience with Jews for so long that they had no basis for any anti-Semitic feeling--is intriguing but not entirely convincing or encouraging. But her experiences dealing with Marranos and Crypto-Jews, and their reactions to her research, are far more interesting from a psychological point of view.

To order The Mezuzah in the Madonna's Foot from, click here.

"The Art of Space Travel" by Nina Allan:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/30/2017]

"The Art of Space Travel" by Nina Allan (, July 2016): This is more a story about dreams for one's future than a science fiction story. Even the inclusion of a couple of Mars missions as catalysts and focal points does not make it science fiction.

"My Stephen King Problem: A Snob's Notes" by Dwight Allen:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/27/2012]

In THE LA REVIEW OF BOOKS, Dwight Allen wrote an article, "My Stephen King Problem: A Snob's Notes", in which he says:

"King coddles his readers, all nice, good, ordinary, likeable people (just like the heroes of his books), though this doesn't completely explain why these readers are so tolerant of the bloat in these novels, why they will let King go on for a couple hundred pages about some matter that has no vital connection to the subject of the book."

Oh, yes, God forbid we should have bloat about some matter that has no vital connection to the subject of the book, such as the sewers of Paris, or the Battle of Waterloo, or the taxonomy of whales.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/09/2010]

My copy of AN AFRICAN MILLIONAIRE by Grant Allen (ISBN-13 978-1-6164-6014-3) is one of those books for which Dover used to be known: a facsimile edition of an older mystery long out of print. In this case, the original publication was in 1897, and the Dover price in 1980 was $4.50. (Now it costs $12.95 from Coachwhip Publications; Dover no longer publishes it.)

This is a collection of twelve stories, which really form a continuous story (so I guess this might be considered a fix-up novel, though this was no fixing up involved). The stories are narrated by Seymour Wentworth, secretary to Sir Charles Vandrift. Vandrift is the title character, and he is the target of confidence trickster Colonel Cuthbert Clay, which appears in the stories under different names and with different disguises. After a while, the stories become predictable and the reader can figure out what is going on well before Vandrift--in fact, soon enough that the reader begins to think that for a millionaire, Vandrift is pretty dense.

To order My African Millionaire from, click here.

SIDE EFFECTS by Woody Allen:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/21/2008]

SIDE EFFECTS by Woody Allen (ISBN-13 978-0-345-34335-2, ISBN-10 0-345-34335-2) was this month's discussion group pick. At first it seemed like a tough book to review, or discuss, because the first few pieces were primarily one-liners strung together. They were supposedly "stories", but had very little plot or characterization. In his movies, Allen manages to have a plot, because he does not have the other actors delivering the jokes--he saves those for himself. So these were like taking a movie and removing everyone except Allen from them. Even one short story at a time could be too much of a good thing.

But then some of the later pieces were stories, and fairly interesting ones, though often for strange reasons. For example, "The Kugelmass Episode" could very well have been the inspiration for Jasper Fforde's THE EYRE AFFAIR: in both, characters use a machine to propel themselves into the world of a classic novel. (It was a jolt, however, to realize that when Emma Bovary says to Kugelmass, "Tell me again about O. J. Simpson," she means as a football player and actor--the book was published in 1979.) "The Diet" is a parody of Franz Kafka's THE TRIAL. So while some pieces are fairly non-descript, there is also some content here.

To order Side Effects from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/11/2005]

Woody Allen's THREE ONE-ACT PLAYS (ISBN 0-812-97244-9) was published only recently (2004) but the plays seemed older. "Riverside Drive", for example, seemed to be a work that he later expanded into one of his movies. (I won't say which one, though I suspect you'll recognize it about a third of the way through.) Well, checking on it, I discovered that "Riverside Drive" was apparently written after the movie, and could be considered a condensation of it--not the usual direction a writer takes. "Old Saybrook" is an Escher-esque sort of work that examines whether life reflects art, or art reflects life, or maybe neither. And rounding out the set is "Central Park West".

To order Three One-Act Plays from, click here.

MY FRIEND MR CAMPION by Margaret Allingham:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 09/29/2017]

MY FRIEND MR CAMPION by Margaret Allingham (ISBN 978-1-848-58025-1) is a collection of mysteries centered around amateur sleuth Albert Campion. (In keeping with British usage, the "Mr" in the title has no period after it; the British rule is that abbreviations are followed by a period only if they form an initial segment of the word. Hence, "Hon." and "Rev.", but "Dr" and "Mr".) There is nothing very amazing or startling about these--they are just cozy comfort reads, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Allingham wrote twenty-one Campion novels and enough short stories to fill four collections.

To order My Friend Mr Campion from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/01/2016]

ROME'S REVOLUTION: DEATH OF THE REPUBLIC & BIRTH OF THE EMPIRE by Richard Alston (ISBN 978-0-19-973976-9) shows the reader a depressing number of parallels to today's political situations (the trading of liberty for security, the establishment of political dynastic families, the economic disparities, the labeling of opposition as treason, and so on). This is not surprising, since the closing lines indicate that this is probably Alston's purpose:

"Historians and politicians have too often allowed themselves to be awed by Rome's empire, and by the Augustan age in particular. Before we praise the Caesars and their civilization, we should consider what was taken from the Roman people in exchange for those imperial benefits. We should remember that dissident voices, such as those of the Christians, were often silenced. We might think of the numerous aristocratic victims of the emperors who found themselves on the losing side in the vicious politics of the imperial court. We should reflect on the vast and increasing inequalities of imperial society which divided aristocrat from slave, rich from poor. In sum, we should consider the value of the liberty lost in exchange for the supposed peace of an imperial age."

So clearly Alston has an agenda for his book. The thing is, I noticed the same similarities to current politics in Edward Gibbon's THE HISTORY OF THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, which covers a much later (and longer) period of the Roman Empire. But all the same parallels seem to be present. It could be that these are permanent parts of the human condition, and we are unable to escape them.

To order Rome's Revolution from, click here.

OMNE IGNOTUM PRO MAGNIFICO by Donato Altomare and Mike Resnick:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/09/2012]

I did not read OMNE IGNOTUM PRO MAGNIFICO by Donato Altomare and Mike Resnick (translated by Roberto Bianchi, special Chicon 7 edition), because the translation was into Latin, a language in which I am not fluent. Bianchi included a Latin-to-Italian/English glossary for all the words he had to coin (or possibly he got some from papers issued by the Vatican). This is not a co-authored novel, but rather four stories by Altomare and one, "Article of Faith", by Resnick. "Article of Faith" was first published in JIM BAEN'S UNIVERSE and then translated into Italian for an eBook prior to this publication.

THE KING'S ENGLISH by Kingsley Amis:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/26/2007]

THE KING'S ENGLISH by Kingsley Amis (ISBN-13 978-0-312-20657-4, ISBN-10 0-312-20657-7) is a follow-on book to FOWLER'S MODERN USAGE (and who knows what either of them would have had to say about the word "follow-on"?). Two samples:

"-athon" and "-thon": "... Competitive events demanding comparable endurance were quickly set up, like the so-called 'dance marathon' in the USA. This institution may have been in doubtful taste but at least its name and nature were clear enough. Not as much could be said for what followed, when the second half of the word 'marathon' was taken as a sort of verbal building-block when devising names fir less edifying activities ... [telethon, sale-a-thon, walkathon-talkathon]. Not every Americanism deserves to have its credentials carefully examined. Some ought to be shot on sight."

"Twice two": "Whether you should say twice two is four or are four was the sort of 'argument' people interested in words were sometimes asked to 'settle'. All right, then: either is correct, and the two have been so for a half dozen centuries. The 'was' and 'were' in the first sentence are in the past tense because the problem involves some acquaintance with multiplication. Next question."

I cannot say I always agree with Amis, but he does make many good points, and also realizes that languages evolve and that there are perfectly good American usages which do not pass muster in Britain (though obviously not all of them, as evidenced by the passage above!). Even if you do not agree with his conclusions, his style is full of wit and intelligence, and well worth reading.

To order The King's English from, click here.

LUCKY JIM by Kingsley Amis:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/17/2006]

Last week, I reviewed LEAVE ME ALONE, I'M READING by Maureen Corrigan. In that book, Corrigan recommended LUCKY JIM by Kingsley Amis (ISBN 0-140-18630-1) as the funniest book about academia she had read. And the blurb on the edition in the library says, "No one has been so funny in this vein since Evelyn Waugh was at his best." [Arthur Mizener] Well, add this to the list of books that I tried, but could not see the point in finishing.

To order Lucky Jim from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/18/2011]

By contrast, THINGS WE DIDN'T SEE COMING by Steve Amsterdam (ISBN 978-0-307-37850-7) is a post-apocalyptic novel written in 2010. The apocalypse here is less well-defined than in EARTH ABIDES; at first it appears to be a Y2K breakdown (making this an alternate history, I suppose), but then there seem to be climate disasters (e.g., areas of never-ending rain), virulent epidemics, killer bugs from Brazil, and a host of other problems. Hence, I suppose, the title: THINGS WE DIDN'T SEE COMING--not just one thing, but many. And it is told as a series of vignettes/short stories, each one with a different explanation for the problems that are besetting our protagonist in that story. In classic post-apocalyptic fiction, the reason for the break-down of society is given, and usually some lesson is supposed to be learned from it. Amsterdam has a much more nihilistic approach: something is bound to get us, and there's nothing we can do about it, and everything will be a meaningless struggle. Amsterdam may be more accurate, but it does not make for a better story.

To order Things We Didn't See Coming from, click here.

"Six Months, Three Daus" by Charlie Jane Anders:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/29/2012]

"Six Months, Three Days" by Charlie Jane Anders ( is about two clairvoyants--with a twist. One sees "the" future, while the other sees a branching tree of futures. Needless to say, their relationship is affected--one might almost say controlled--by their differing world views. He sees the future as fixed, hence is a firm determinist, while she see a range of choices, hence believes in free will. It is, I suppose, a somewhat constrained form of free will, but then to some extent all free will is. (You cannot decide to call spirits from the vasty deep, or rather, you can decide to, and so can any man, but you cannot actually do it.)

A couple of sentences really seemed to encapsulate the hoarder in all of us: "Judy hoards items she might need in one of the futures she's witnessed, and they cover every surface. There's a plastic replica of a Filipino fast food mascot, Jollibee, which she might give to this one girl Sukey in a couple of years, completing Sukey's collection and making her a friend for life--or Judy and Sukey may never meet at all."

SIDEWAYS IN CRIME edited by Lou Anders:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/10/2008]

SIDEWAYS IN CRIME edited by Lou Anders (ISBN-13 978-1-844-16566-7, ISBN-10 1-844-16566-3) is an anthology of (mostly) alternate history mystery stories. As is also true of science fiction mysteries, the biggest problem is reconciling the two, in that the alternate history means that some of what we know and take for granted in our world is not true in the story's world, and yet we are in general expected to be able to pick up clues based on something being out of place. For example, if a clue is the presence of a written note, it is important that we know whether most people can write or not.

But in addition, the author has to come up with both a reasonable alternate history and a reasonable mystery, and this is not easy, especially in short story form. The result is often lopsided. For example, "Sacrifice" by Mary Rosenblum has the most interesting alternate history (Aztecs not conquered by Spain). But it is hampered by too much "info-dump" about the alternate history, not to mention bad proof-reading (missing or superfluous commas in particular), and copy-editing--Rosenblum scatters Nahautl words throughout, even when an English word would be just as good, but then refers to a "turkey", surely incorrect in this world. Tobias Buckell's "The People's Machine" is also set in an Aztec-Empire-survives world--this seems to be very popular these days. But Bucknell's story has a conclusion that makes no sense. (I'm not talking about the solution to the crime, but rather to the thoughts of the protagonist at the end.)

Both Kage Baker's "Running the Snake" (Boudicca successful) and Theodore Judson's "The Sultan's Emissary" (no Crusades) show different histories of England, and both run into the same problem: too much the same or similar after centuries. In Baker's case, it's Shakespeare; in Judson's, the entire royal line. Judson also has problems with names such as Abdul Erickson representing someone from a long line of Norse Muslims--but he would be something like Abdul Jafarson then.

John Meaney's "Via Vortex" is a "Nazis won" story, but involving the use of energy vortices for teleportation in what seems like a particularly unlikely and bizarre way. There is far too much "peculiar science" to make this a believable alternate history (at least to me).

Stephen Baxter's "Fate and the Fire-Lance" is yet another of the "history repeats itself across timelines" sub-genre, this time with the son of a (Serbian) Roman Emperor being assassinated in 1914. This story is weakened by the extremely unlikely introduction of a royal tutor, first as translator and then as detective, fully accepted by the police.

Jack McDevitt's "The Adventure of the Southsea Trunk" has someone else publishing the first few Holmes stories that Doyle wrote but could not sell in that world, but the whole thing seemed like a big "so what?"

Kristine Kathryn Rusch's "G-Men" takes us to a change point, but so little forward of it that we have to do all the extrapolation. (I agree with William Mingin when he says in his review of SIDEWAYS IN CRIME in "Strange Horizons": "To my mind, the most pleasing and productive sort of alternate history story gives us a world in which there has been a significant historical disjunction some time in the fairly distant past, so that we find ourselves in a political and cultural reality much different from our own. The stories themselves tend to (but don't have to) occur some time after the hinge event, and also in the 'past,'" relative to our own time."

Jon Courtenay Grimwood's "Chicago" has cloning and memory adjustments in Capone's era without any explanation whatsoever.

Some are not even alternate histories. Pat Cadigan's "Worlds of Possibilities" is a many-worlds story with not much focus on any of them. The same is true of Chris Roberson's "Death on the Crosstime Express". S. M. Stirling's "A Murder in Eddsford" is one of his "Change" stories (the laws of physics change on March 17, 1998, and you can no longer get "a useful amount of mechanical work out of heat." This is way too off-the-wall to even be considered as fantasy, let alone a reasonable alternate history. (At least Poul Anderson's BRAIN WAVE had a reasonable answer for why everything in that story suddenly changed.)

Paul Park's "The Blood of Peter Francisco" is so dense with cultural referents that I am unable to understand it. The same may well have been true of his "Roumania" trilogy, which everyone seemed to like a lot more than I did. So I will only say that I may be tone-deaf to his appeal, and you should judge it for yourself. (In his review, William Mingin says this is an example of what the "Turkey City Lexicon calls "Card Tricks in the Dark: 'Elaborately contrived plot which arrives at (a) the punch line of a private joke no reader will get or (b) the display of some bit of learned trivia relevant only to the author. This stunt may be intensely ingenious, and very gratifying to the author, but it serves no visible fictional purpose.")

Both "Murder in Geektopia" by Paul Di Filippo and "Conspiracies: A Very Condensed 937-Page Novel" by Mike Resnick and Eric Flint are supposed to be humorous, but I found them both too much interested in constant culture references and other humorous techniques to tell an interesting alternate history story. (Which is not to say it cannot be done--just that they did not do it.)

To order Sideways in Crime from, click here.

QUEST OF THE SNOW LEOPARD by Roy Chapman Andrews:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/19/2008]

At first glance, QUEST OF THE SNOW LEOPARD by Roy Chapman Andrews (no ISBN) seems to be a travelogue, recounting one of Andrews's expeditions to Asia for the American Museum of Natural History. But what it turns out to be is a novel. If it were written today, it would be marketed as a "young adult" novel because the main character is a seventeen-year-old boy on this expedition. (Indeed, the book is dedicated to the Boy Scouts!) Andrews claims that everything in the book really happened at one time or other, though not always to the same small set of people, and excluding the actual capture of the snow leopard(!). The capture he says could have happened that way, and he wanted to include it.

Actually, if it were written today, there would probably be much outrage over it, as Andrews gives instructions to his hunters that when they shoot a particular species, he wants them to get a male, a female, and a few young so they can make a nice exhibit of their stuffed skins back at the Museum. It is clear that the attitudes of 1916-1917 (when the expedition supposedly took place) or even 1955 (when the book was written) are not those of today.

To order Quest of the Snow Leopard from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/03/2009]

SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE GHOST OF BAKER STREET by Val Andrews (ISBN-13 978-1-84782-110-2, ISBN-10 1-84782-110-3) is a bit different. It is a novel about a screenwriter who goes to London in the early 1950s and takes certain rooms in Baker Street, only to discover that they are haunted. The ghost of Holmes seems to be visible to everyone and manages to walk around, sit on a sofa, and so on, while claiming he is unable to affect material objects. I found Holmes's inconsistent "properties" to be distracting. He can be heard, so apparently he can affect air, at least to the extent of forming waves in it. Although he can be seen with no problem, he cannot be filmed or photographed (though he can be tape-recorded). And I don't care how eccentric the (American) narrator considers the English to be, his explanations of why his friend "Cyril" shows up all over London in the same red dressing gown would soon start to wear thin.

This volume was also abysmally proofread. I found "effect" instead of "affect", "infer" instead of "imply", "Vivienne" instead "Vivian", and "Hercules Poirot" instead of "Hercule". There is also the problem of a story supposedly written by an American, though with British spelling throughout.

Andrews has written well over a dozen other novels for this series. From their titles, it appears that at least some of them are more traditional Holmes stories, and I will probably give some of them a try if my library has them, but if they do not, I will not be terribly disappointed.

To order Sherlock Holmes: The Ghost of Baker Street from, click here.

FLANDERS by Patricia Anthony (Ace, ISBN 0-441-00528-3, 1998, 384pp, hardback):

In Flanders Field the poppies blow ....

To Flanders in 1916 comes Travis Lee Stanhope. He has volunteered for the British Army, looking for escape and adventure. What he finds is hell. (As a Southerner, one suspects he refused to listen to General Sherman's statement along these lines.) Kim Stanley Robinson summarized it well in "A History of the Twentieth Century, with Illustrations": 54,000 men who died over a fifteen-year period are remembered on the Vietnam Memorial. Imagine one of those for the Triple Entente losses every six weeks of the Western front of World War I, or thirty-five Vietnam Memorials in all, lined up in a row. Along the Western front, there were 7500 casualties each day, not in battle, but from sniping; this was called "wastage." This is particularly noteworthy, because it is as a sniper that Stanhope comes to Flanders.

Stanhope is an outsider: an American in the British Army, a Southerner constantly called "Yank," a reader of the Romantic poets in a company of men more interested in more earthly delights, a man blessed (or cursed) with "second sight." As such, he finds himself attracted to other outsiders, and Anthony does a good job of showing us the many faces of the outsider.

Publishers Weekly compares this book to Erich Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. I also saw a lot of parallels between FLanders and Stanley Kubrick's classic film Paths of Glory. There is the heartlessness of the distant commanders in their commands. There is the insular attitude, the use of the outsider as scapegoat. What there is more of in Anthony's novel is the hell of war, a hell that could not be brought to the screen in the 1950s. She lays it all out--not just the battles and sniping and "authorized" killing, but also the disease and the maggots and the hardening of men's hearts and souls.

Stanhope tries desperately to hold on to his humanity in all this, but he finds himself gradually sinking further into not just despair, but death--the death of his soul.

Although the fantasy content is on a much more restrained level that most fantasy novels, it is necessary to the story. Without it, Anthony would still have a powerful novel, but a different novel. As it stands, though, this will be on my Hugo nomination ballot next year.

To order Flanders from, click here.

PANDORA'S PLANET by Christopher Anvil:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/04/2011]

I picked up PANDORA'S PLANET by Christopher Anvil (no ISBN, DAW No. 66) because I heard a friend discussing it with the owner of a local used bookstore and it sounded like fun. Although it is constructed as a "surprise" in Chapter VIII, it is obvious from the first page that the point-of-view characters are aliens and the "aliens" are humans. And even though the aliens have spaceflight and the humans do not, it turns out that the humans are smarter than the aliens. (Given that it was published in John W. Campbell's "Astounding", that is not very surprising.) Reading it, I was strongly reminded of the alien point-of-view sections of Harry Turtledove's "Worldwar" series. In both, the aliens seem to have the technological advantage, but the humans are smarter, shrewder, more adaptable, etc.

Oh, and while the Centrans on the Kelly Freas cover may fit the description in the book, the woman is more a typical Freas female than anyone in the novel.

To order Pandora's Planet from, click here.

THE BEST JAPANESE SCIENCE FICTION STORIES edited by John L. Apostolou and Martin H. Greenberg:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/12/2003]

Though it was published in 1997, John L. Apostolou and Martin H. Greenberg's THE BEST JAPANESE SCIENCE FICTION STORIES doesn't include anything more recent than 1989. I suppose the time and effort required to translate works makes it more reasonable to choose older ones that have proved their worth--certainly the Seiun Awards for translated works are for older works as well. At 174 pages, this book is much shorter than many anthologies, but because the stories are all fairly short it does include thirteen stories. (No novelettes or novellas here!) I don't know if most Japanese stories are this short, or if these are atypical. Not surprisingly, the best stories in this volume are by what everyone seems to refer to as the "big three" of Japanese science fiction: Ryo Hanmura, Shinichi Hoshi, and Sakyo Komatsu. I loved Ryo Hanmura's "Cardboard Box", though I can't say why. And I would call it fantasy rather than science fiction. Shinichi Hoshi's "He--y, Come on Ou--t!" was science fiction but a bit predictable. However, it was somehow short enough that the predictability didn't bother me. Sakyo Komatsu's "The Savage Mouth" was so disturbing that I actually stopped reading it, so I have to say it was effective horror. His "Take Your Choice" was another story that seemed predictable, but again, this didn't bother me. Thinking about it, I think there is a difference in ... something. Not style, but perhaps purpose. The predictable stories don't have the purpose of giving you an amazing new idea, but they do let you consider the implications of what is happening while you are reading the story, rather than the "American" style of having the reader think about the implications only after the story is finished. It's almost as if you are re-reading the story, even the first time through. On the other hand, some of the other stories I found rather opaque, suggesting that there may be some major literary differences between English and Japanese science fiction. Still, a good anthology. One might wish for more like it, but I suspect that there aren't enough Japanese translators, or enough of a market for the translations to pay them very well. If Japan wins the Worldcon bid for 2007, it would be nice if they could do a similar book as a souvenir book. (And I wrote this review before I realized that this issue would end up as a Japanese-themed one.) [-ecl]

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[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/17/2008]

I recently read a selection of THE ARABIAN NIGHTS (a.k.a. "Kitab Alf Laylah wa Laylah", a.k.a. "Mille et une Nuits", a.k.a. "The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night", a.k.a. "1001 Nights"), in this case the Barnes & Noble edition (ISBN-13 978-1-59308-281-9, ISBN-10 1-59308-281-9).

When talking about THE ARABIAN NIGHTS, one is almost obliged to talk about the various translations. The translation I read was by H. W. Dulcken (also spelled Dulken) (1863-1865) from Antoine Galland's French translation (1704-1712). As a sample passage, consider the beginning of "The History of the First Calender, the Son of a King":

"That you may know, madam, how I lost my right eye, and the reason why I have been obliged to take the habit of a calendar, I must begin by telling you, that I am the son of a King. My father had a brother, who, like himself, was a monarch, and this brother ruled over a neighbouring state. He had two children, a son and a daughter; the former of whom was about my age."

By comparison, Edward William Lane's translation (1840) calls it "The First Mendicant's Story of the Royal Lovers" and starts:

"Know, O my mistress, that the cause my my having shaved my beard and of the loss of my eye was this: -- My father was a King, and he had a bother who was also a King, and resided in another capital. It happened that my mother gave birth to me on the same day on which the son of my uncle was born; and years and days passed away until we attained to manhood."

And Sir Richard Francis Burton's translation (1879-1888) calls the story "The First Kalandar's Tale" and begins:

"Know, O my lady, that the cause of my beard being shorn and my eye being out-torn was as follows. My father was a King and he had a brother who was a King over another city; and it came to pass that I and my cousin, the son of my paternal uncle, were both born on one and the same day. And years and days rolled on; and as we grew up, ..."

Obviously, which one prefers stylistically is a matter of taste, but the consensus seems to be that Lane "toned down" some of the scenes, and Dulcken bowdlerized them even further, while Burton left it all in. On the other hand, Dulcken's translation stressed readability, which I think one might agree is not a strong point of the Burton translation. Even Jorge Luis Borges, in his lecture "The Thousand and One Nights", says that Burton writes "in a curious English partly derived from the fourteenth century, an English full of archaisms and neologisms, an English not devoid of beauty but which at times is difficult to read." (It should be noted that English, not Spanish, was actually Borges's first language.)

By the way, Borges confirms Burton's "raciness", saying that he loved THE ARABIAN NIGHTS when he was young, but, "La obra de Burton, llena de lo que entonces era considerado obsceno, me estaba prohibida y tenía que leerla a escondidas en la azotea. Pero en aquella época yo estaba tan entusiasmado con el mágico que no prestaba atención a las partes censurables." ["Burton's work, full of what was then considered obscene, was forbidden to me and I had to read it secretly on the roof. But at that time I was so enthusiatic about the the magic that I did not pay any attention to the censurable parts."]

Borges also says, "The Arabs say that no one can read THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS to the end." He adds, "Not for reasons of boredom: one feels the book is infinite," perhaps to head off anyone from responding, "That's because they are reading the Burton translation." Borges also provides an example of how one must be cautious of reading too much into a work from a translation. He describes the story of the fisherman and the genie as saying that the fisherman goes down to "a sea" and casts his nets. "Already," Borges says, "the expression 'a sea' is magical, placing us in a world of undefined geography. The fisherman doesn't go down to the sea, he goes down to a sea and casts his net." This may be true in some translations, but Dulcken says, when [the fisherman] had got to the sea-shore..." No indefinite article here (although no specific sea is named either). Lane says, "One day he went forth at the hour of noon to the shore of the sea..." Even Burton says, One day he went forth about noontide to the sea shore...."

Lane and Burton provided notes; indeed, Lane's notes are now considered the main "selling point" of his translation. My edition of Lane has 963 pages of text and 300 pages of notes--and the notes are in a smaller font than the main text--say 70% story, 30% notes. Burton's are not collected at the end of the book, but appear with each story, so the calculation is not as easy, but it appears that the division is about 80% story, 20% notes. Barnes & Noble provides no notes from Dulcken, and I don't know if he even published any.

However, the Barnes & Noble edition does include a lot of introductory material by Professor Muhsin al-Musawi, a renowned scholar of Arabic studies. He points out (among other things) that the tales of Aladdin and Ali Baba are not authentic to the "Kitab Alf Laylah wa Laylah", having appeared first in Galland's translation and apparently based on stories narrated to him by a Syrian, and not found in any written sources. But they are included, partly because they have traditionally been included, and partly because they are so enormously popular with readers (and filmmakers, I might add).

Now if someone would produce an edition combined the readability of the Dulcken translation with both Lane's and Burton's notes--I envision a sort of "Arabian Nights Talmud (*)"--that would be ideal.

(*) The Talmud (for those who don't know) consists of text and annotations from multiple sources, these annotations being arranged on the page around the text such that a given source is always in the same place. So, for example, one might put the text of THE ARABIAN NIGHTS in the center of three columns on a page, with Lane's annotations in the left column and Burton's on the right.

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Sam Arkoff's autobiography, FLYING THROUGH HOLLYWOOD BY THE SEAT OF MY PANTS is a much less polished autobiography than one usually finds. It is more informal chatting than thorough, and I have to say that it doesn't necessarily paint a completely favorable picture of the man who started American International Pictures. (Of course, this may be more that's it's not the usual self-aggrandizing autobiography we have become used to from celebrities.)

To order Flying Through Hollywood by the Seat of My Pants from, click here.

THE BIBLE: A BIOGRAPHY by Karen Armstrong:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/21/2008]

THE BIBLE: A BIOGRAPHY by Karen Armstrong (read by Josephine Bailey) (audio ISBN-13 978-1-400-10394-2, ISBN-10 1-400-10394-0; book ISBN-13 978-0-871-13969-6, ISBN-10 0-871-13969-3) seems to be more a condensation of Armstrong's book THE HISTORY OF GOD than a book about the Bible per se. For example, she spends a lot of time on the Talmud and the Mishna, which are not part of the Bible. (She justifies this, as far as I can tell, by talking about them as an oral rather than a written Bible, even though they are eventually written down.) There are also odd slips, such as when she contrasts second Isaiah with "the rest of the Pentateuch," even though second Isaiah is not part of the Pentateuch at all. I thought THE HISTORY OF GOD was excellent, but I have been disappointed in all her other books that I have read.

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[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/13/2010]

MAMMOTHS OF THE GREAT PLAINS by Eleanor Arnason (ISBN 978-1-60476-075-7) is a small press publication that contains the title novella (novelette?), a revision of Arnason's 2004 Guest of Honor speech at Wiscon ("Writing Science Fiction During World War III"), and an interview of Arnason by Terry Bisson. Oddly, the cover design does not include mammoths, but in a way it makes sense, as the mammoths are really superfluous to the story. It's a story of living in balance with nature (or restoring that balance with technology), and how the Indians were better at it than the Europeans, and how the mammoth spirits and the bison spirits speak to people. The mammoths are basically off-stage for the whole book, and so far as I can tell if you told the story with just bison, it would not be that different.

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[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/11/2012]

CONFABULARIO AND OTHER INVENTIONS by Juan José Arreola (translated by George D. Schade) (ISBN 978-0-292-71030-6) is an omnibus volume comprising VARIA INVENCION (1949), CONFABULARIO (1952), and PUNTA DE PLATA (1958). In 1961 these three works, plus some additional pieces were published as CONFABULARIO TOTAL 1941-1961. It is a collection of essays, stories, and other, un-categorizable short pieces, many of which can best be described as "Borgesian". There are a couple of interesting items I want to note.

BESTIARY (the English title of PUNTA DE PLATA) may seem the most Borgesian due to its similarity to THE BOOK OF IMAGINARY BEINGS, but the pieces in PUNTA DE PLATA were published mostly in 1958 and 1959, while THE BOOK OF IMAGINARY BEINGS was not published until 1968. (I doubt that Borges copied Arreola either--the concept of a bestiary goes back to at least the Middle Ages.)

The most "Borgesian" story might be "The Switchman" (1951), which is also the most fun.

The story "I'm Telling You the Truth" (1951) talks about a project that has "the sympathy and moral support (not officially confirmed yet) of the Interplanetary League, presided over in London by the eminent Olaf Stapledon." It is not often that one finds a reference to Stapledon, even in science fiction, let alone outside of it.

To order Confabulario and Other Inventions from, click here.

"Walk in Silence" by Catherine Asaro:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/25/2004]

I found "Walk in Silence" by Catherine Asaro a fairly standard human-alien love story, competent but nothing special.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood (Fawcett Crest, 1986 (1985c), paperback):

[This first part of this was originally printed in the April 10, 1987 MT VOID.]

They say that politics make strange bedfellows, and they point to the feminists and the fundamentalists marching side-by-side to "take back the night" and punish all those horrible, evil pornographers. Well, Margaret Atwood has brought new meaning to that cliché of bedfellows. In a world where the fertility rate has been drastically reduced because of pollution and who knows what other evils, the Gileadean solution is that of Rachel and her handmaid Bilhah. And this is made palatable by couching it as the solution that both the anti-pornography ("AP") fundamentalists and the AP feminists have been promoting for years. The AP fundamentalists get the strict morality, the elimination of divorce, the return of woman to her role as keeper of the home. The AP feminists get the banning of pornography, the death penalty for rape, and the elimination of violence against women. So why do I have the feeling that none of those promoting these goals today would actually want the reality Atwood gives us?

Actually one of the characters makes the point best. There are two kinds of freedom, she says, freedom to and freedom from. Both the AP feminists and the AP fundamentalists have been emphasizing the freedom from: freedom from fear, freedom from violence, freedom from anything that offends, etc. (Sounds a bit like Franklin Roosevelt, doesn't it? But I digress.) They have forgotten that freedom from and freedom to have to balance out: an increase in one is only achieved by a decrease in the other. Or, as Henry Drummond says in Inherit the Wind, "Yes, you can learn to fly. But the birds will lose their wonder, and the clouds will smell of gasoline." In the case of The Handmaid's Tale, the freedom from fear et al has been achieved by giving up the freedom to live as one chooses, to work in a profession, to have financial independence, to have an identity of one's own. The handmaids are "Ofglen" or "Offred"--which Atwood mislabels as patronymics--having given up their own names when they were recruited. The AP fundamentalists and the AP feminists have been so busy joining forces on what they want everyone to have freedom from that they have overlooked the fact that they disagree on what people should have freedom to. If they achieve their goals they may discover that the world they have made is not to their liking after all.

The other interesting point about the society that Atwood portrays is that it is very similar to another science fictional society--that of John Norman's "Gor" series. Bizarre though this sounds, let's examine the two. Atwood describes women's roles as being one of five types: Marthas, Handmaidens, Wives, Aunts, or Colonists. The Marthas do the cooking and cleaning; they are the equivalent of Norman's state slaves. Both dress in drab colors and do the menial work. The Handmaidens provide procreation (and sex); they are the equivalent of Norman's pleasure slaves. Both dress in red. The Wives are the equivalent of Norman's free companions--honored and respected, living their lives on a pedestal. The Aunts are the equivalent of the slaves who train the pleasure slaves (I don't recall if there is a specific term for them). The Colonists have no direct parallel, though a disobedient slave on Gor does end up doing some sort of unpleasant/dangerous work. While it's true that these roles are not unpredictable, the parallels between Gilead and Gor are thought-provoking, to say the least. Add to this that Atwood, as part of the main character's description of her indoctrination, includes graphic descriptions of violent sex, and one wonders if those who would ban Norman's books would do the same to The Handmaid's Tale. Consider the following excerpt from a proposed anti-pornography ordinance: "Pornography is the sexually explicit subordination of women, graphically depicted, whether in pictures or in words, that also includes one or more of the following: ... women are presented dehumanized as sexual objects, things or commodities...." (Note that the portrayal does not have to be favorable.) My reading of this is that The Handmaid's Tale would be considered pornographic by this definition. All this indicates, of course, is that this definition is crap.

I haven't said much about the book itself. That's because the plot itself is not that original, or enthralling, or amazing. It's what the book makes you think about that counts. Atwood makes you think about what can lead to this society and, conversely, what the actions and attitudes of today can lead to. It doesn't bear multiple readings the way a novel like Last and First Men does. It's not a masterpiece of literary style. But the thoughts it generates will stay with you long after the details of the book itself have been forgotten.

[Addendum after seeing the film: In general, the film remained true to the novel, but some important bits were only hinted at or left out entirely. In the film we see all the shops are labeled by icons rather than lettered signs; in the novel we discover this is because women are forbidden to read and even the signs were considered too much temptation. This makes the Scrabble game take on a whole new level of meaning as well. In the movie, everything is bar coded--is someone claiming that bar codes are evil or what? The movie also drops all references to the fate of the Jews in Gilead, but uses--rather unsubtly--a scene in which women who fail their fertility test are first directed into a separate line from those who pass and then are put in a cattle-car to transport them to the "Colonies" for "resettlement." There are other bits, important to the novel, that are dropped entirely in the film, and the film suffers from it.]

To order The Handmaid's Tale from, click here.

CITY OF GOD by St. Augustine:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/06/2005]

I am slogging my way through the thousand-plus pages of St. Augustine's CITY OF GOD (ISBN 0-14-044426-2), but am finding a lot to dispute. Well, the fact that Passover affected my schedule should tell you something, but it's more than that. The first part of the book is Augustine trying to explain why Christianity is objectively provable as better than the Roman religion. In I:6-7, for example, he says that while the Romans would plunder Roman temples in the cities they were attacking, the Romans and even the barbarians respected the Christian churches. Well, even if this were entirely true then (which I doubt), subsequent centuries have shown this to be an anomaly. (And one reason it might have been true then was that the barbarians--the Goths--of which he was writing were also Christians.) In II:3, Augustine talks about all the "calamities [that] befell the Romans when they worshipped the pagan gods." Of course, since 413 C.E. when Augustine wrote that, lots of calamities have befallen Christians, so that argument seems to have caved in as well.

This is not to say that Augustine is not sometimes amazingly topical. In II:11, he writes, "It is another mark of consistency in the Greeks that they regarded even the actors of those stories as worthy of considerable worth" and admitted them to political office. (He thinks this is improper of them, because he disapproves of the stories those actors performed.)

I may have more to say about CITY OF GOD when I get past the Roman stuff and into the theology.

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/03/2005]

One doesn't expect to get mathematics from St. Augustine, but I did actually find some in his CITY OF GOD (previously discussed in the 05/06/05 issue of the VOID). In Chapter XI, section 30, Augustine discusses "the perfection of the number six". God created the world in six days, he says, because six is the first number which is the sum of its "parts" (by which he means factors). Six is divisible by one, two, and three, and is also the sum of one, two, and three. He explains the mathematics of perfect numbers and then says, "This point seemed worthy of a brief mention to show the perfection of the number six . . . and in this number God brought his works to complete perfection. Hence the theory of number is not to be lightly regarded, since it is made quite clear, in many passages of the holy Scriptures, how highly it is to be valued. It was not for nothing that it was said in praise of God, 'You have ordered all things in measure, number and weight' [Wisdom 11:21]." Of course, I'd be more impressed with his number theory if in XI:31 he did not say, "Three is the first odd whole number, and four the first whole even number," which is some odd definition of either "first" or "even". (He goes on to say that seven, being the sum of these two, is often used to stand for an unlimited number.)

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THE ESSENTIAL MARCUS AURELIUS by Marcus Aurelius (translated by Jacob Needleman and John P. Piazza):

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 09/19/2008]

THE ESSENTIAL MARCUS AURELIUS (translated by Jacob Needleman and John P. Piazza) (ISBN-13 978-1-58542-617-1, ISBN-10 1-58542-617-2) is in some ways riding on the whole self-help advice wave. (The fact that the blurb by Thomas Moore chosen for the cover starts "Set aside all your contemporary self-help books and read this classic slowly" supports this.) I don't dispute that Marcus Aurelius is worth reading, but the "distillation" of his writings to a series of brief precepts to live by of the sort one finds on a pull-off calendar is not exactly what Marcus had in mind.

One of the things Marcus recommends is "to read with precision and not be satisfied with the mere gist of things." (1.6) In some ways this is directly contradicted by the translators, who have tried to extract just the "gist" of Marcus's writings rather than presenting the full text.

While there is an appeal to having lines like "The noblest way of taking revenge on others is by refusing to become like them" (6.6), it hardly seems fair to reduce Marcus's "Meditations" to this.

To order The Essential Marcus Aurelius from, click here.

OF HOPE: A TRAGEDY by Shalom Auslander:


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/11/2013]

I decided to check out some of the books recommended by THE NEW YORK TIMES for 2012. OF HOPE: A TRAGEDY by Shalom Auslander (ISBN 978-1-594-48646-3) they said, "Hilarity alternates with pain in this novel about a Jewish man seeking peace in upstate New York who discovers Anne Frank in his attic." They also recommended WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT ANNE FRANK by Nathan Englander (ISBN 978-0-307-95870-9). The latter is a collection of stories, of which only the first is "about" Anne Frank, but there does seem to be either a trend in writing, or a theme in the NYT's choices. I cannot say that I was bowled over by either.

To order Of Hope: A Tragedy from, click here.

To order What We Talk about When We Talk about Anne Frank from, click here.

MAN IN THE DARK by Paul Auster:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/24/2008]

MAN IN THE DARK by Paul Auster (ISBN-13 978-0-8050-8839-7, ISBN-10 0-8050-8839-3) is an alternate history--sort of. The narrator Owen Brick (well, one of the narrators--the book has multiple first-person narrators) wakes up in a pit and soon discovers that he is in an alternate world and has been brought there to be given instructions to kill someone. The other narrator, August Brill, is entangled in this story in a very unusual way, and what makes things even odder is that the alternate history aspect vanishes entirely from the final third of the book. Given that the book is only 180 pages long, Auster has a lot going on in such a small space. As an alternate history, it's okay, but its real appeal is its convoluted structure rather than the alternate history aspect.

To order Man in the Dark from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/11/2013]

BORGES' TRAVEL, HEMINGWAY'S GARAGE: SECRET HISTORIES by Mark Axelrod (ISBN 978-1-57366-114-7) is best summarized by the blurb on the back: "Mark Axelrod has scoured Europe and the Americas, photographing products and businesses that bear the great names of Western civilization and then has recounted the little-known turns of fate by which our immortals ended in these mundane straits." (He seems to have scoured some places better than others: out of 45 names, he has six each from Brussels and Paris, and four from Helsinki.)

The places and products fall into two categories: the accidental and the intentional. For example, Borges' Travel in Tustin, California, is probably not named after Jorge Luis Borges, but after a different Borges who happened to open a travel agency. And I doubt that Fig Newtons were named after Isaac Newton. On the other hand, one can reasonably suppose that the James Joyce Irish Pub in Brussels or Virginia Woolf's Restaurant in London were named after the real authors.

In either case, Axelrod has decided that since the premise is fantastic, he does not have to accept any rules of time or place. So he claims that Marx sold the film rights of "The Communist Manifesto" to Warner Brothers in 1878, which is not only decades before Warner Brothers, but well before motion pictures. He also has E. M. Forster selling film rights to Merchant-Ivory in 1931, and a cafe in that same year serving "macrobiotic sandwiches."

Axelrod has Casanova in Carmel, California, in 1789. He also says that Casanova lived in "a charming cottage owned by Chenille Eastwode (a great-great descendent of a former Carmel mayor)." Descendents are in someone's future; what is meant is a great-great ancestor. (I have seen this mistake other places as well.)

You cannot read this straight through; it has to be read a bit at a time. And you have to be willing to accept both Axelrod's premise and also all the impossibilities of his histories. On the other hand, what may happen to you after reading this is that you will start noticing famous names everywhere and start composing your own stories. (It is harder here in suburban New Jersey, where the cafes, restaurants, an shops are all chains rather than being named for someone. I'm stuck with purely imaginary names: Romeo's Pizza, Wendy's Hamburgers, and the Athena Grill.)

To order Borges' Travels, Hemingway's Garage: Secret Histories from, click here.

LINT by Steve Aylett:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/16/2006]

LINT by Steve Aylett (ISBN 1-56025-684-2) is a novel, a purported biography of the (fictional) author Jeff Lint. I emphasize the fictional aspect, because this book comes with all the paraphrenalia that would make you think that Lint was real and that this is a real biography--footnotes, bibliography, index, .... But certainly an early hint is that Lint's mother has him reading Pierre Menard (a fictional author created by Jorge Luis Borges). Another is that he sells a couple of stories under the pseudonym "Isaac Asimov". And while Lint sells some stories to real editors such as John W. Campbell and real magazines such as "Astounding" and "Startling", he also sells to magazines such as "Baffling", "Useless", "Terrible", "Bewildering", "Confusing", "Frazzling", "Scalding", "Mental", "Marginal", "Fatal", "Made-Up", "Meandering", "Appalling", "Tales to Appall", "Daring Adventure Stories", "Troubling Developments", "Maggoty", "Maximum Tentacles", and my favorite, "Way Beyond Your Puny Mind". A little of this goes a long way, though, and this book is best taken in small doses. While I managed to get half-way through (with the promise of a Lintian "Star Trek" script mentioned in one review luring me on), I only skimmed the rest. As one reviewer noted, a problem is that it is not just Lint who is bizarre, but everyone (including the narrator), so there is no respite from the surrealism. Aylett may have intended this, but to me it is overkill.

To order Lint from, click here.

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