Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1994-2018 Evelyn C. Leeper.

ALICE'S PUZZLES IN WONDERLAND by Richard Wolfrick Galland:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/29/2017]

ALICE'S PUZZLES IN WONDERLAND by Richard Wolfrick Galland (ISBN 978-1-4351-6327-0) is your typical puzzle book, with the puzzles couched in "Alice in Wonderland" terms: instead of John and Jim you have Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and so on.

The real problem is that of the 75 puzzles in the book, at least two have incorrect answers.

The first is as follows: The Hatter finds a $50 bill. He went to the butcher and pays him the $50 he owed him. The butcher bought a pig from the farmer for $50. The farmer paid the carpenter $50 he owed him. The carpenter paid the King $50 in taxes. The King paid the Hatter $50 he owed him for a hat. Then the Hatter recognized the bill as the original $50 bill and realized it was fake. What was lost in this and by whom?

The other puzzle involves a shrinking potion and a growing potion. A witch has a quart iron cauldron of the growing potion and a quart bronze cauldron of the shrinking potion. She then takes three ladles of the stuff in the iron cauldron and poured them into the bronze cauldron, which she mixed thoroughly. Then she took two ladles from the bronze cauldron and put them in the iron cauldron, then a ladle from the iron to the bronze, and then two ladles from the iron to the bronze, mixing each time. Alice then asked which would make her shorter.

The answers--incorrect and correct--will be given next week.

To order Alice's Puzzles in Wonderland from, click here.

SIMULACRON-3 by Daniel F. Galouye:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/26/2017]

SIMULACRON-3 by Daniel F. Galouye (ISBN 978-1-612-42020-2) was the basis of the 1972 German mini-series WORLD ON A WIRE and the 1999 film THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR, yet it is not very well known.

There are some hints that we are looking at a world not our own, though frankly it is hard to tell. The book was written in 1964, so any advances in computers can be written off as what people of 1964 thought the future would look like, though the combination of a fully functional virtual reality simulation and "a whisper of whirring memory drums, a clatter of synaptic relays, [and] the rhythms of its servo mechanisms" seems inconsistent (at least to us). There could be a Thirty-Third Amendment banning tobacco, though this presupposes a much accelerated rate of adding amendments--by 1964, we were up to only the Twenty-Fourth, and in the last fifty-plus years we have added only three (one of them left over from 1792!), while the action in the book takes place in 2034.

And having a character say, "Can you think of a bigger financial empire than the one I've created? Is there anyone more logically qualified to sit in the White House?" is just too prescient for words.

The main point of discussion in the novel is the question of whether something (or anything) is material and substantial and, as a consequent of that, whether it is moral to treat entities known to be "merely" electrical impulses differently than entities which might be "merely" electrical impulses. Clearly, some of the characters are violating Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative, the principle that it is immoral to use another person merely as a means to an end; persons must be treated as an end in themselves. Of course, here the underlying question is what constitutes a person. For Kant it seems to have been a "rational conscious being," but that does not really provide a total answer. Is a gorilla a "rational conscious being"? Is an elephant? It is questions such as these that have changed our views of acceptable behavior towards animals (or "non-human animals," as some prefer to say), but we are reaching the point where the question of whether an AI is a "rational conscious being" is non-trivial.

THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR is one of the films sometimes listed as being a non-Philip K. Dick film that seems like a Philip K. Dick film, which seems a bit unfair to Galouye, who came up with the ideas in his own book, and one should read that rather than extrapolating some Dickian overlay.

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ROME THEN AND NOW by Giuseppe Gangi:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/10/2010]

ROME THEN AND NOW IN OVERLAY by Giuseppe Gangi (no ISBN) was a book that one of our guides in Rome used as a graphic aid. A nano-description would be "time viewer in a book". It is a set of twenty-four photographs of various ruins in Rome. With each photograph is an acetate overlay that is clear (see-through) for the parts of the picture that are the Roman ruins, and painted sections that cover the modern sections with a picture of what the scene would have looked like back then. For example, all that remains of the Forum of Augustus are four columns, the crosspiece above them, and the steps. With the overlay you see those as part of a complete building in its original setting (some of the modern buildings are cleverly blocked out by clouds). This seems like a great teaching aid for history classes (though probably not at the college level). It is probably more accurate than most of the movies--I have yet to see an accurate portrayal of the Roman Senate building in one of those.

To order Rome Then and Now from, click here.

THE MOON MAID AND OTHER FANTASTIC ADVENTURES by R. Garcia y Robertson (Golden Gryphon, ISBN 0-9655901-8-6, 1998, 275pp, hardback):

Garcia y Robertson writes novelettes rather than short stories, so this collection (the second publication of Golden Gryphon) contains eight stories rather than the usual eleven to fourteen. Most of his stories can best be described as science fantasy rather than science fiction, which does point to a narrower target audience.

The first story, "Gypsy Trade," used a standard science fiction device, time travel, but overlays it with gypsy curses and tarot cards and "Four Kings and an Ace," set in Nineteenth Century San Francisco, also uses forms of magic. On the other hand, "Cast on a Distant Shore" is strictly science fiction, with humans on an alien world hired by other aliens to collect zoological specimens.

The remaining stories ("The Moon Maid," "Gone to Glory," "The Wagon God's Wife," "The Other Magpie," and "The Werewolves of Luna") are fantasy in varying degrees: prehistoric fantasy, science fantasy, and so on.

On the plus side, Garcia y Robertson has a good grasp of characters. He seems particularly able to write female characters--reading his stories, I kept thinking that they were written by a woman. (I have no idea precisely what I mean by that. But if Robert Silverberg could say that he found Tiptree's writing "ineluctably masculine," I figure I can get away with this.)

This collection suffers from the fact that all its stories have appeared in either Asimov's Science Fiction or The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Readers who like this type of fiction, or Garcia y Robertson in particular may well have all the stories in magazine form. On the other hand, for readers who don't subscribe to one or both of those, but who enjoy this subgenre, this would be an excellent collection. And both this and Golden Gryphon's previous volume, Think Like a Dinosaur by James Patrick Kelly, would make good gifts to your friends who read novels but haven't discovered the joys of short fiction.

To order The Moon Maid and Other Fantastic Adventures from, click here.

"The American Civil War" by Gary W. Gallagher:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/16/2008]

We recently listened to the Teaching Company course "The American Civil War" by Professor Gary W. Gallagher, and I have a few comments (No surprise there, right? :-) ). An observation he made in one of the early lectures on the causes of the Civil War was that the North perceived the South in certain negative ways, and vice versa. For example, the South saw the North as uncultured, unrefined, and greedy. Whether these perceptions were accurate or not, Gallagher said, is rather beside the point: in generating conflict, perception is more important than reality.

Although the South maintained (even after the War) that their secession from the Union was legal and not in violation of the United States Constitution (Thaddeus Stephens wrote a very long and turgid work arguing this point), the Confederate Constitution explicitly forbade secession! I can see where the Confederacy would want this clarified, but it's ironic that the "gentlemen's club" argument seen in the film GETTYSBURG is completely negated by this. (The "gentlemen's club" argument goes like this: The states are like men who have joined a gentlemen's club. After a while, the club starts making rules about how the gentlemen's private homes may be run. Not only that, but the club refuses to let anyone resign from it.)

Gallagher notes in a closing lecture that no Confederates were tried for treason after the Civil War, and gives as possibly the main reason that no one wanted to actually argue in a court of law as to whether secession was legal. We had just finished fighting a bloody war which de facto determined it was not, and having a court rule on it at this point was either superfluous or incendiary.

The first Confederate Presidential election was held in 1861 for inauguration in 1862. In my comments on the alternate history film C.S.A., I noted a possible mistake: there would not have been a Presidential election in the CSA in 1880, because the Presidential term specified in the CSA Constitution was six years. This had assumed an election in 1860 (which is wrong in any case--secession was not until 1861). An election in 1861 would theoretically have placed all the elections in odd-numbered years. However, it is not clear whether that cycle was intended to be implemented from the beginning or only after the "War of Northern Aggression" was over. Assuming the latter to be the case, to have an election in 1880 would imply an election in 1868. (Anything later would imply a much, much longer Civil War than anyone expected.) In fact, 1868 would give Davis a full term plus a few months, and might be considered a reasonable time to start.

Gallagher also emphasized that to determine the true causes of the Civil War, one needs to read contemporary accounts, that is, what people said about the causes in 1861, not what they said in their memoirs twenty years later. When the Confederates wrote their memoirs, slavery in the United States was dead and was reviled by all our world allies. It was not, therefore, in the Confederates' best interests to attempt to paint their cause as an attempt to maintain slavery--even though that was what they all said in 1861, and what featured most prominently in the Articles of Secession ratified almost unanimously by the Confederate states.

To order "The American Civil War", click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 09/29/2006]

Another book about exploration and discovery is DRAGON HUNTER: ROY CHAPMAN ANDREWS AND THE CENTRAL ASIATIC EXPEDITIONS by Charles Gallenkamp (ISBN 0-14-200076-0). Andrews carried out several expeditions to Asia to find fossils and other paleontological artifacts, and this book describes those in detail, as well as his background and his career after the expeditions. Ironically, the expeditions came to an end as much due to one mistake on Andrews's part as to the unstable political situation in Asia in the 1920s and 1930s. That mistake was in auctioning off one of the first dinosaur eggs his expedition had found. It was intended as a publicity stunt to raise money for future expeditions, but the governments and people in Asia interpreted it as meaning that 1) Andrews was undertaking a commercial rather than scientific venture, and 2) all the finds Andrews was removing were valuable and should remain in their country of origin. But most of the book is dedicated to Andrews's adventures in the field, which Gallenkamp admits that Andrews was not adverse to embroidering upon. This is a good introduction to Andrews, and may make you want to read some of Andrews's own books. Andrews himself wrote eleven books, none of which had unwieldy subtitles on the covers. (In his time, such subtitles were relegated to the title page only.) In any case, although most of Andrews's books are out of print, many of available for under $10 used.

To order Dragon Hunter from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/10/2014]

In THE NEW AMBIDEXTROUS UNIVERSE: SYMMETRY AND ASYMMETRY FROM MIRROR REFLECTIONS TO SUPERSTRINGS (REVISED [3RD] EDITION) by Martin Gardner (ISBN 978-0-7167-2093-0), Gardner spends an entire chapter discussing the origin of life, including how likely or unlikely it was, and hence how likely or unlikely it is elsewhere in the universe. This is one of the factors in Drake's equation, which attempts to quantify how likely extra-terrestrial intelligences that we could communicate with are.

Gardner, amazingly, also makes mistakes, or at least has sloppy writing. In the second paragraph of chapter 3, Gardner says, "[T]here is a curious class of solid objects that are superposable on their mirror images, and therefore symmetric, yet lack a plane of symmetry." Two paragraphs later, he writes, "To be symmetric a solid object must have at least one plane of symmetry."

And the sentence he claims is not reversed on page 25 does however become different, because it extends over two lines, so flipping the book around and viewing it in the mirror puts the last word at the beginning of the sentence. (That may just be sloppy typesetting.)

And clever as it is, one must recognize that Frederic Brown's "The End" is not truly palindromic (at least not in the sense of being a perfectly normal story when read straight through). Far better literary palindromes have been written since This 1990 edition, for example "Lost Generation" by Jonathan Reed, "Lost" by Heather Stephens, and "The Future of Publishing" (Khaki Films).

To order The New Ambidextrous Universe from, click here.

CELESTIAL MATTERS by Richard Garfinkle (Tor, ISBN 0-312-86348-9, 1996, 348pp, trade paperback):

Most alternate histories are based on some historical event happening differently. For example, it might ask, "What if the South had won at Gettysburg?" A few go back even further, with some change in prehistory, such as "What if the dinosaurs survived and developed intelligence?" But Garfinkle goes even further in Celestial Matters and changes the basic premises of the universe, by asking, "What if Aristotelian science and Ptolemaic cosmology were an accurate description of the universe?" So what we have is a universe where the stars and the planets really are fixed in crystal spheres; everything really is made up of earth, air, fire, and water; and the gods and goddesses really do exist and interact with mortals. Garfinkle also assumes that Alexander did not die young and went on to conquer Asia until he ran up against China, and the story takes place nine hundred years later, with Greece and China still fighting each other. (Well, if Greek medicine actually worked, then Alexander probably would have survived.)

I had two main problems with all this. One is that my knowledge of the details of Aristotelian science and Ptolemaic cosmology is fairly skimpy, since they aren't really taught in great depth these days. So whether the universe Garfinkle constructs is accurate or consistent is not clear to me, nor did I always understand the explanations given. My other problem is that Garfinkle has constructed a universe in which both Aristotelian/Ptolemaic and Chinese science and cosmology are "true," but they also appear (to me, anyway) to be somewhat contradictory. Harry Turtledove did something similar in The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump, which assumed that all religions were true. Even though that premise is just as contradictory, I found it presented more believably than Garfinkle presents his competing cosmologies. (For that matter, one might ask how other cosmologies such as Mayan or Maorian fit into all this.)

In spite of these quibbles, I enjoyed this book. But I am a fan of alternate histories, and the original approach that Garfinkle takes sets it apart from the run-of-the-mill alternate histories that use fairly traditional variations. And in science fiction in general and alternate histories in particular, originality is getting harder and harder to find. (I just hope that Garfinkle's next book is not a sequel to this one, since the ending does seem to imply that there could be sequels.) Also, since I did minor in classics in college (and actually took three years of ancient Greek, of which I remember distressingly little), the classical setting appeals to me on its own. I guess the best question to ask is whether you are interested in the history of science. If so, this book will probably appeal to you.

To order Celestial Matters from, click here.

"The Ray-Gun: A Love Story" by James Alan Garner:

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

"The Ray-Gun: A Love Story" by James Alan Gardner: Gardner takes a classic science-fiction idea--kid finds alien artifact that gives him great power--and brings it up to date. Why aren't more people writing traditional stories like this?


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/06/2016]

PUTIN COUNTRY: A JOURNEY IN THE REAL RUSSIA by Anne Garrels (ISBN 978-0-374-24772-0) is a look at Putin's Russia--or more specifically, Putin's Chelyabinsk. Rather than try to cover all of Russia, Garrels decided to focus on one city. She started this project before Chelyabinsk became famous for having the biggest meteorite to hit the earth since 1908. (That the 1908 meteorite also hit Russia says something about Russia's size, or luck, or something.)

In each chapter, Garrels covers a different aspect of today's Chelyabinsk: families, doctors, education, religion, pollution, free speech, and so on. Almost all of these end up very depressing to Western readers, and also to the Russians Garrels talked to. However, most of the Russians she talked to also feel that while the authoritarianism, bribery, and corruption are bad, there are better than the apparent anarchy that ruled the country in the 1990s. As for the Russian nationalism that Putin and his government are promoting, it translates into anti-minority, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant feeling. (Sound familiar?) Although the Russian Constitution declares separation of church and state, in fact the Orthodox Church (or at least that part controlled by pro-government priests) is given all sorts of preferential treatment, and many (most) Russian Orthodox believe it should go even further. (Sound familiar?) Throughout all this runs a thread of the the rehabilitation of Stalin, downplaying or ignoring Stalin's crimes and genocidal actions and concentrating on all the good aspects of his rule: law and order, winning the Great Patriotic War, and so on.

PUTIN COUNTRY is a good overview of the situation and attitudes in Russia today (or at least in Chelyabinsk), but also a discouraging one.

To order Putin Country from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/09/2010]

CIVIL WAR CURIOSITIES by Webb Garrison (ISBN-13 978-1-55853-315-8) seemed promising. After all, there are lots of Civil War curiosities; here are just three:

  1. General Sedgwick being shot and killed be a sharpshooter the moment after he said, "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance."
  2. Wilmer McLean living at both Bull Run at the start of the war and Appomattox Court House at the end.
  3. John Wesley Powell losing an arm but going on after the war to explore the Colorado River.

I could list many more, but I won't.

But although Garrison devotes an entire chapter to soldiers handicapped by the war, he never mentions Powell. Nor does he relate the Sedgwick incident. He does cover Wilmer McLean but on the other hand he manages consistently to misspell Mary Boykin Chesnut's name. In short, I was disappointed.

To order Civil War Curiosities from, click here.

INTRODUCING MIND & BRAIN by Angus Gellatly and Oscar Zarate:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/02/2005]

In INTRODUCING MIND & BRAIN by Angus Gellatly and Oscar Zarate (ISBN 1-840-46084-9), Gellatly makes the same mistake that so many others do. He talks about experiments in electrotherapy or galvanism, and then says that this research "was given expression by Mary Shelley . . . in her novel FRANKENSTEIN in 1818." More accurately, it was given expression by Kenneth Strickfadden in his set design for the 1931 Universal film FRANKENSTEIN, a still of which serves as the illustration for this page. Shelley barely mentioned electricity, and never connected it with giving the monster life.

To order Introducing Mind & Brain from, click here.

ILARIO by Mary Gentle:

THE LOST PAINTING by Jonathan Harr:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/23/2007]

I recently listened to an unabridged audiobook of THE LOST PAINTING: THE QUEST FOR A CARAVAGGIO MASTERPIECE by Jonathan Harr (read by Campbell Scott) (ISBN-13 978-0-375-50801-1, ISBN-10 0-375-50801-5; book ISBN-13 978-1-415-92502-7, ISBN-10 1-415-92502-X). I also read ILARIO by Mary Gentle, published in two parts: ILARIO: THE LION'S EYE (ISBN-13 978-0-060-82183-8, ISBN-10 0-060-82183-3) and ILARIO: THE STONE GOLEM (ISBN-13 978-0-061-34498-5, ISBN-10 0-061-34498-2). Both THE LOST PAINTING and ILARIO deal with Italian Baroque painting, though the former is a non-fiction work about the search for a lost work by Caravaggio, and the latter is an alternate history in which the narrator-protagonist is a painter traveling to Rome to learn the new style of painting that uses something called "perspective". As Ilario says of his work before his apprenticeship, "The body and face painted as if a man faces them straight on. And the feet are painted as if seen looking down from above. Everyone understands that. How else is it to be done!" And Masaccio tells him, "Perspective! ... You see the world distorted. Every man does! Foreshortened, shrunk, extended, compressed. Every man sees the world from his own perspective. Two ends of a building measure the same, but the one that's far off, you see small. And I, I don't paint what you know must be there, I paint what you see!"

ILARIO: THE LION'S EYE is not served well by its blurb, though: "This action-packed, deeply intelligent novel [is] a focus for intrigue, intellectual and a fair amount of polymorphous hot sexual action." [--"Time Out London"] This is likely to make a lot of people avoid it, but in reality, the (semi-explicit) sex is minimal. And calling the creature in it a "golem" is very misleading. The term "golem" is Hebrew, only became well-known after the 16th century, and has a specific mystical meaning. The creature here is an automaton created in the Carthage of Gentle's alternate history (which takes place in the 15th century), and no one in that world would apply the term "golem" to it, anymore than they would call it a "Frankenstein monster".

I do recommend ILARIO, though more for its study of gender roles than its alternate history; I would not be surprised if it were a nominee for the Tiptree Award. (Gentle has combined the two aspects before, particularly in 1610: A SUNDIAL IN A GRAVE.) Gentle does have the story unfold in various parts of the Mediterranean--Carthage, Rome, Venice, Alexandria-in-Exile, and so on--but much of it has less to do with the altered political and social structure than with the specific characters. (The primary alternate history feel for me came from a naval encounter in the second book rather than the general setting.) However, in any case I have to say that I can see no good reason to have this published as two books instead of one other than to extract more money from the buyer (the two volumes total less than 700 pages), and hope that at some point it is issued as a single volume.

To order Ilario: The Lion's Eye from, click here.

To order Ilario: The Stone Golem from, click here.

To order The Lost Painting from, click here.

1610: A SUNDIAL IN A GRAVE by Mary Gentle (Gollancz, ISBN 0-575-07251-2, 2003, L12.99):

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

I happened to get a copy of Mary Gentle's 1610: A SUNDIAL IN A GRAVE, even though it hasn't been published in the United States yet. Reading it, I've come to two conclusions: 1) It will be on my Hugo lists this year, and 2) I definitely get the impression that British readers are more knowledgeable than readers here.

For example, the very first chapter begins with the date "27 January year of Our Lord 1608 Julian calender (6 February 1609 by the Gregorian that is to come). This is almost definitely going to confuse all but historical scholars, at least in this country, so here's the explanation.

There are two factors here, the aforementioned Julian versus Gregorian calendars mentioned, and another difference which I will call the New Years problem.

The first is easy. The Julian calendar (attributed to Julius Caesar) was getting out of step with the equinoxes. So Pope Gregory XIII came up with a new calendar in 1582 which corrected this. But because everything was already out of sync by ten days, its adoption required the dropping of ten days. Hence October 4, 1582, was followed by October 15, 1582. This took effect in all the countries that paid any attention to Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, which included France but not England. England (or by that point, Great Britain) didn't switch until 1752. (Russia didn't switch until after the Revolution in 1918.) So in 1608, when it was January 27 in England under the old Julian calendar, it was February 6 in France under the new Gregorian calendar.

But Gregory mandated another change which is not usually thought of as part of the Gregorian calendar (though I suppose that technically it is). Until 1582, the calendar year started at the vernal equinox, March 21. For some reason, Gregory also dictated a change in that, from March 21 to January 1. (Well, it does at least make sense that the year change should occur on a month change as well.) So the January 1 preceding the change was January 1, 1581, and the one following it was January 1, 1583. Again, this took effect in France, but not in England, where the January following October 1582 was still called January 1582.

So January 27, 1608, in England was February 6, 1609, in France.

And all this is on page 1.

[When he read this, Mark asked, "So was there a February 29, 1607, but no February 29, 1604, in the Julian calendar?" I'm not sure--does anyone know?]

Actually, the reader may be confused even before then by the "Translator's Foreword." Weyman is real in our history, but the particular book mentioned is not (so far as I can tell), nor are the various film references (though it's clear where they came from).

As you might guess from all this, 1610: A SUNDIAL IN A GRAVE is impeccably researched (just as Gentle's previous BOOK OF ASH: A SECRET HISTORY was). The plot is full of conspiracies, political intrigue, disguises, and enough people using Giordano Bruno's teaching to calculate the future to populate the entire Second Foundation. (Think of this as ancient psychohistory.) And as she also did in THE BOOK OF ASH, Gentle examines gender roles without resorting to stereotypes. The ending is satisfactory without being pat, and the structure indicates that this is a stand-alone novel. (I only mention that because it is becoming increasingly rare these days.) To tell any more would involve giving away some of the twists and turns.

Let me sum up by repeating that it's going to be on my Hugo list this year. 'Nuff said.

To order 1610: A Sundial in a Grave from, click here.

MARX DEMYSTIFIES CALCULUS by Paulus Gerdes (translated by Beatrice Lumpkin) (Marxist Educational Press, Studies in Marxism (Vol. 16), ISBN 0-930656-40-7, 1983 (1985), 129pp, trade paperback):

I have no idea where I first heard of this book, but in my never-ending quest to report on the strange and unusual, I figured I would give this a try.

Gerdes begins by what Marx's mathematical writings comprise and how they were greeted at the time. He says of Marx's attempts to circulate his papers among his friends who had some knowledge of mathematics, "These German Social Democrats were not capable of a good understanding of the role of dialectics in mathematics and nature." [page 11]

Gerdes goes on to explain how calculus arose as an outgrowth of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of Capitalism, noting that "[calculus] rapidly won new successes in astronomy and practical applications (however, still on a scale limited in accord with the interests of the absolutist, feudal state)^...." [page 19]

After a brief description of differentials and infinitesimals, Gerdes says, "But this differential calculus, approached in this way, is very 'mysterious' in the opinion of Marx, giving 'the correct^...^result by means of a positively false mathematical procedure." [page 31] It's nice to have that cleared up so conclusively.

But there's more. For example, you also learn that Father Guido Grandi proved the mathematical and scientific possibility that God created the Universe ab nihilo by looking at the infinite series "1-1<1-1<1-1<1-...." Considered as "(1-1)<(1-1)<(1-1)-...." it yields 0; considered as "1-(1-1)-(1-1)-(1-1)-...." it yields 1. Thus (according to Grandi) 0 equals 1 and God could create the Universe (=1) from nothing (=0).

The basic gist of this book appears to be that calculus is best understood as a dialectic, that is, a negation of a negation. The first negation is the varying of the x-value of a function and it corresponding y-value; the second is the elimination of that variation after the function has been manipulated to calculate the derivative. The argument seems to be that other methods of calculating the derivative are too mysterious to be valid (even though they yield the same result). The conclusion I draw from all this is that there are several ways of considering the derivative of a function, and some are more intuitive to some people, others to others. Marx seems to have decided that what was intuitive to him was the "correct" way of looking at things, and the others incorrect.

Somehow this doesn't surprise me.

To order Marx demystifies calculus from, click here.

FALLAM'S SECRET by Denise Giardina:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/23/2003]

FALLAM'S SECRET by Denise Giardina was described to sound like an alternate history, but is really just a time-travel romance. The trick of making the main character a woman trained in Elizabethan drama, including playing some of the male parts, is awfully convenient when she has to disguise herself and pass as an Elizabethan. (Well, somewhat post-Elizabethan, but closer enough.) The theater business was of some interest, but the story on the whole wasn't anything special.

To order Fallam's Secret from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/07/2003]

I'm currently embarked on one of those projects one can undertake only when retired--I'm reading Edward Gibbon's DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE. I've gotten as far as Severus Alexander, and a sorry lot they are. Which is, of course, Gibbon's point.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/19/2012]

As I have mentioned elsewhere I have been listening to the excellent "History of Rome" podcast (which can be found at ), and it has inspired me to read Edward Gibbon's THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (ISBN 978-0-140-43764-5 for an abridged version, 978-0-307-70076-6 for an unabridged). (It is actually a partial re-read, since I had read the first volume a while ago, and I also read an abridgement of the whole work at one point.) Almost immediately, I read the following: "The vanquished nations, blended into one great people, resigned the hope, nay even the wish, of resuming their independence, and scarcely considered their own existence as distinct from the existence of Rome." I am sure this would have come as a big surprise to Boudica.

Gibbon was a product of his times, and as such, much of what he says seems wildly prejudiced or even bigoted to us. For example, speaking of women he says, "Female courage, however it may be raised by fanaticism, or confirmed by habit, can be only a faint and imperfect imitation of the manly valour that distinguishes the age or country in which it may be found." Well, again, Boudica might disagree.

Or when he disparages the inferiority of the German "barbarians", he writes, "[The Germans] were persuaded that, by some ridiculous arts of divination, they could discover the will of the superior beings, and that human sacrifices were the most precious and acceptable offerings to their altars. ... The same ignorance which renders barbarians incapable of conceiving or embracing the useful restraints of laws exposes them named and unarmed to the blind terrors of superstition." Then a few pages later, he writes of the Romans, "... such was the public consternation, when the barbarians were hourly expected at the gates of Rome, that, by a decree of the Senate, the Sybylline books were consulted. Even the emperor himself, from a motive either of religion or of policy, recommended the salutary measure, chided the tardiness of the senate, and offered to supply whatever expense, whatever animals, whatever captives of any nation, the gods should require. Notwithstanding this liberal offer, it does not appear that any human victims expiated with their blood the sins of the Roman people." The final "excuse"--that there were no human sacrifices in this case--does not change the fact that everyone seemed to be willing to go along with them if the divination called for them. But the Romans are noble and the barbarians are superstitious and ignorant.

And one final example of what I think is a representative sample of Gibbon's writing style in a single sentence:

"If it were possible to rely on the partial testimony of an injudicious writer, we might ascribe the abdication of Diocletian to the menaces of Galerius, and relate the particulars of a private conversation between the two princes, in which the former discovered as much pusillanimity as the latter displayed ingratitude and arrogance."

Were this assigned for high school (or even college) reading today, there would have to be footnotes defining "injudicious", "ascribe", "abdication", "particulars", and "pusillanimity", not to mention giving additional time to parse the meaning of this rather complex sentence (by no means Gibbon's most, however). I doubt anyone is diagramming sentences any more, but samples from Gibbon would be excellent final exam questions!

To order The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire from, click here.

COLD COMFORT FARM by Stella Gibbons:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 09/28/2012]

COLD COMFORT FARM by Stella Gibbons (ISBN 978-0-241-95151-4) is of a sub-genre I might call "You can't believe everything you read--or can you?" It also includes such works as NORTHANGER ABBEY by Jane Austen and MERTON OF THE MOVIES by Harry Leon Wilson. In COLD COMFORT FARM, Flora has formed her opinions of rural English life based on popular novels of the time. So she is convinced that her cousin Judith will have a husband "who is almost certain to be called Amos" and sons named Seth and Reuben, because "highly sexed young men living on farms are always called Seth or Reuben." And in all these ridiculous suppositions she turns out to be correct. There is also an itinerant preacher cousin, a crazy aunt, and a variety of bizarre locals. Flora finds none of this at all odd--in fact, she would find it odd were it otherwise.

In this COLD COMFORT FARM differs somewhat from NORTHANGER ABBEY, in which Catherine Morland keeps expecting something like what she reads in novels (in her case Gothic thrillers). When she discovers an old locked chest, she forces the lock expecting to find an old will or other valuable documents. Instead, she finds a discarded laundry list instead. And in MERTON OF THE MOVIES, the situation is that Merton Gill thinks everything he has read about movie stars is true, and everything he sees on screen is done with no tricks. The difference is that Catherine and Merton are humorous because they are wrong in what they expect, while Flora is spot on.

There is some question as to when COLD COMFORT FARM takes place. At the beginning we hear that Flora's parents died of the "annual epidemic of influenza or Spanish plague," and although they say "annual" we can't help but think that this takes place shortly after the 1918-1919 epidemic, and indeed the technology seems accurate to that or maybe a few years later--cars, private airplanes of the sort flown by King Westley in IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT or in early Agatha Christie novels. But towards the end someone refers to the "Anglo-Nicaraguan wars of '46" and we realize that this is actually a science fiction novel, set twenty years in the future from when Gibbons wrote it (1932). As such, it does a fairly abysmal job of predicting the future--though if you miss predicting World War II, it is a good bet your other predictions will be off base as well.

(There is apparently an abridged version of COLD COMFORT FARM published by BN Publishing floating around--avoid it at all costs!)

To order Cold Comfort Farm from, click here.

THE SEVERED WING by Martin Gidron:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/17/2003]

Well, I started out this week with Martin Gidron's THE SEVERED WING, an alternate history that assumes that we entered World War I earlier and imposed less oppressive terms on Germany at the end, hence preventing the rise of the Nazis and World War II. It is set primarily in New York, which is seen as having a much larger and more vibrant Jewish population and cultural scene (Yiddish is still very widely used). I'm not sure one can extrapolate that this would be the result (most of the Yiddish-speaking immigration had dwindled by 1920 because of immigration restrictions, and one would have to postulate that those would not be in place either), but it's still an interesting view, and the gradual drifting of the main character from that world to this is eeriely done (and reminiscent of a "Twilight Zone" style).

To order The Severed Wing from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/15/2014]

CHINA ROAD: A JOURNEY INTO THE FUTURE OF A RISING POWER by Rob Gifford (ISBN 978-0-8129-7524-6) is a merged travelogue of NPR reporter Gifford's two trips along Route 312, a.k.a. the Silk Road, from its eastern end at Shanghai to its western end (in China, anyway) at Korgaz, on the border with Kyrgyzstan. One trip seems to have been in 2003 or 2004, the other was in 2005. In the acknowledgements section he says, "Although this [merging] offended my journalistic sensibilities, there was no other way to do it." The book was written in 2007; a lot has changed since then, and a lot has not.

For example, he tells someone about his theory that "Xinjiang and Tibet are like Scotland. They could end up like England's northern within the United Kingdom, contained within a country they don't want to be part of but, after a few centuries, unable or unwilling to make the effort to secede." Check back with me after September 18 on that.

He writes of "talks between Beijing and representatives of the aging Dalai Lama ... seem to be going nowhere. And one day, probably quite soon, he will die, and the Chinese will supervise the selection of a new Dalai Lama, and that will be that." Almost a decade later, Tenzin Gyatso is still going strong (though he is the longest reigning Dalai Lama).

He writes about cities twice as big as Dallas that most Americans have never heard of, of cities where officials have sealed up wells that have been famous for centuries in order to force the inhabitants to buy their water from companies the officials own, of cities polluted beyond belief. (Someone once tweeted that he wished all those who believe in unregulated capitalism should be forced to spend a week breathing the air in Harbin. Lanzhou is even worse.)

Throughout China Gifford found innumerable stories of corruption, unchecked by any effort of the legal system. This is due in part to a Confucian system that trusted "rule by example" more than "rule by law", but also of a Party that cannot afford to have any systems of checks and balances, which would ultimately lead to a loss of power.

So while there is less oppression than under Mao, there is still oppression. On the other hand, there is much more opportunity for advancement. Farmers are not trapped on their farms, and if the working conditions in factories are horrible, and the pay abysmal, they are still better than staying on the farms, or there would not be such a mass migration to the cities.

Gifford himself says that his mood swung back and forth between optimism and pessimism as he journeyed along the road. Ultimately, he seems to feel that what will determine China's fate is how it (i.e., the leadership) deal with the decade between 2012 and 2022. In 2012, he writes, Hu Jintao and his associates will step down from leadership and a new generation will take their place. How this new generation deals with the problems, particularly if the economy slows dramatically, or there is a global oil shortage, or some sort of widespread epidemic, will determine China's future. As of this writing, the new leader, Xi Jinping, does not seem to be implementing any substantive political reforms.

To order China Road from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/21/2015]

THE READER'S QUOTATION BOOK: A LITERARY COMPANION edited by Steven Gilbar (ISBN 978-0-14-018539-7) is a small book (4" by 6.5") of quotations about books, reading, libraries, and so on. I am sure all the quotations are available on-line, and the book suffers from the lack of an index of the writers quoted, but is clearly designed for browsing rather than looking things up.

Here's a sample:

"A wonderful thing about a book, in contrast to a computer screen, is that you can take it to bed with you." (Daniel J. Boorstin) [Of course, with eReaders this is no longer true.]

"If you are to have but one book with you upon a journey, let it be a book of science, [for] when you have read through a book of entertainment, you know it, and it can do no more for you; but a book of science is inexhaustible." (Samuel Johnson)

"I'll spend the rest of my life reading, and because I'd rather read than do anything else, I don't look forward to years of hopeless, black despair. Most men who are in for life are filled with bitterness and hatred for the unkind fate that led them to such a horrible end." (Willie Sutton, who is best known for another quotation--when asked why he robbed banks, he said, "Because that's where the money is.")

To order The Reader's Quotation Book from, click here.

"The Ice Owl" by Carolyn Ives Gilman:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/22/2012]

"The Ice Owl" by Carolyn Ives Gilman (F&SF 11-12/11) works at its almost-fantasy-like milieu (albeit with light-speed travel). The description of the city, its inhabitants, its government, and so on, all seem as if they came from fantasy rather than science fiction. All this makes the reference to a "Turkish coffee machine" all the more jarring. Gilman's parallels with our world seem at times obvious (though one might claim that some aspects of the human condition are universal). I am not entirely convinced by the assertion that corrupt governments are less intrusive than honest ones, though it is a provocative claim.

"Touring with the Alien" by Carolyn Ives Gilman:

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

"Touring with the Alien" by Carolyn Ives Gilman (Clarkesworld Magazine, April 2016): This seems to hearken back to classic science fiction without seeming outdated. The discussion about the relationship between intelligence and consciousness is of course part of the larger discussion currently going on in society in general about the relationship between intelligence and self-awareness, or intelligence and a sense of past and future, or intelligence and any number of other concepts that people seem to want to either conflate with intelligence, or say are required for a being to be intelligent. Definitely a thought-provoking story (and in my opinion, an interesting companion piece vis-a-vis alien intelligence with Ted Chiang's "Story of Your Life").

HERLAND by Charlotte Perkins Gilman:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/07/2003]

Charlotte Perkins Gilman's HERLAND is a classic feminist Utopia which is by today's standards fairly boring and obvious. Actually, it's not clear to me that it wasn't boring and obvious by the standards of her own time. I suspect this is assigned reading in a lot of feminism courses, but if you don't have to read it, why bother?

To order Herland from, click here.

OTHERWERE edited by Laura Anne Gilman and Keith R. A. DeCandido (Ace, ISBN 0-441-00363-X, 1996, 260pp, mass market paperback):

What is clever done once becomes tedious with repetition.

In other words, somewhere between the story about the were-salmon and the were-Republican, my eyes glazed over.

There are fifteen stories in this anthology and a few are actually reasonably good. Had I read them in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction or Asimov's, I would have thought them worthy entries there. But here they are diluted by the lesser stories to the point where they all seem mediocre. And it's not even that I tried to read them all in one sitting--I read them over a period of a month, and that's still too close together.

"Stories of transformation" go back a long way (and at least one story here pays homage to that). These early stories, however, emphasized the mythic elements, and these were also carried forward into such (relatively) modern stories as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But most of the stories here don't have that aspect. Either the transformation is done for laughs, or it is a transformation without meaning--a person changes into an X because that's what the plot calls for, not because X has some meaning.

I am becoming increasingly disenchanted with theme anthologies. In addition to the repetitiveness, the requirement of filling a book with stories on a single topic usually means that the quality level suffers. If anthologists feel they must have a theme to their anthologies, how about something less restrictive, like stories whose fifth word is "grass" or authors born in June?

To order Otherwhere from, click here.

HOMER by William E. Gladstone:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/21/2012]

I just read William E. Gladstone's HOMER (no ISBN). This is a "digitally remastered" POD book printed by Forgotten Books, which has reproduced the copy from the University of Toronto Library so faithfully that they even photocopied the page with the Acme Library Card Pocket on it. This could probably be considered the introduction to Gladstone's many more specific books about Homer, such as "Homeric Synchronism: An Enquiry into the Time and Place of Homer" and "Studies On Homer And The Homeric Age V1: Prolegomena Achaeis Or The Ethnology Of The Greek Races". It covers history, cosmology, geography, mythology, ethnography, ethics, politics, and the arts, entirely based on what one finds in Homer (with some passing references to Egyptian mythology, Hebrew religion, and later Greek developments). Reading it, I was reminded of all those stories where the people of the future, or aliens from another planet, attempt to reconstruct our society from a motel room, or a single Disney cartoon, or a shopping list. The classic in this area is probably THE WEANS by Robert Nathan, where the people of the future call us the "We-ans" (apparently derived from the neologism "US-ian" instead of "American"). (I cannot remember if this is the book in which the people from the future think that the names "Washington" and "Churchill" have all sorts of symbolic meaning.) The best-known of these would be THE MOTEL OF THE MYSTERIES by David Macaulay.

Of course, Gladstone did not think of what he was doing in this context. No one had written this sort of thing as science fiction, and there was a great tradition of attempting to reconstruct the past from very little material. In fact, one still sees it today in Biblical literalists.

As I was reading this, it occurred to me that among the many differences between American Presidents and British Prime Ministers, one is that there seem to be more "first-rank" authors among the British Prime Ministers.

There are, of course, two basic ways to rate authors. One is by the generally accepted critical view of their writing. The other is by whether people still read them. (Of course, these days the probability that any non-current author is read for pleasure is very low.)

Of the Prime Ministers, the major authors would include Benjamin Disraeli (novels), Winston Churchill (histories), and William Gladstone (Homeric studies). Of the Presidents, the major authors would be Ulysses S. Grant (memoirs) and Theodore Roosevelt (histories and travel). However, while Roosevelt wrote many books, Grant wrote only one, meaning that the difference between the British and Americans is even more skewed.

I am not counting the obligatory books that every President seems to write (or have ghost-written from his notes), one or two before he is elected telling his life story, etc., and then another couple after leaving office, talking about his time in office. They are all over the place, and generally have little lasting literary merit. I would be astonished if any of these were read in a hundred and fifty years the way Grant's memoirs are now. Nor am I counting the collected speeches of, or the wit and wisdom of, or the any other ad hoc collections of Presidential verbiage.

As another opinion, last year Charli James compiled a list of the "Top 10 Books Written By Our Presidents". And they were, in chronological order:

Madison's and Lincoln's entries are collections of writings, not "intentional" books. Kennedy's book is widely considered to have been written mostly by his research assistants. Whether the others have staying power is hard to say.

To order Homer from, click here.

THE TIPPING POINT by Malcolm Gladwell:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/31/2003]

There's also THE TIPPING POINT by Malcolm Gladwell, read for our library's book discussion group. His premise is that one can achieve large results with small efforts strategically placed (shades of another Greek, Archimedes!) and one of the things he examines is the decline in crime in New York City as (possibly) brought about by a concentrated effort to wipe out graffiti. For the original article from "The New Yorker", go to .

To order The Tipping Point from, click here.

PARTNERS IN COMMAND by Joseph T. Glatthaar:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 09/22/2017]

While Shelby Foote's CIVIL WAR is generally considered a remarkable accomplishment, there seems to be a consensus that it is slanted toward the South. Well, PARTNERS IN COMMAND by Joseph T. Glatthaar (ISBN 978-0-02-911817-4) might be a good analysis of the personalities of the various military leaders of the Civil War, but it also seems to show a remarkable bias towards the South in very odd ways.

For example, Glatthaar writes, "Although leaders on both sides possessed immense resources to accomplish their pronounced goals of secession or reunion and the end of slavery, ..." (page 3) Note that he attributes to the South only the goal of secession, with no mention of the fact that almost every declaration of secession specifically listed the continuation of slavery as one of the major reasons for secession.

Later, he said, "Some nine million people resided in the over 700,000 square miles that comprised the Confederate States of America. Most of the 5.5 million whites supported the defense of the homeland, although their 3.5 million slaves committed themselves halfheartedly at best, and indeed many opposed secessionist success." (page 3) Well, duh! The problem is this is not the sort of book where one writes sentences intended ironically. (And this is not even addressing the mis-use of the word "comprise".)

And again: "Fortunately, a host of Regular Army and Navy officers resigned their commissions to join hands with their Southern brethren, ..." (4) This may be just bad phrasing, but it would be more even-handed to say "fortunately for the South."

Even some factual statements seem questionable. Glatthaar states, "Most Confederates were a propertied class. They had seceded over the right to own, remove, and utilize property, specifically slaves, as they saw fit..." (page 226) If by "propertied" he means holding at least one slave, then he is wrong, because the 1860 census shows about a third of Southern households holding slaves-- not a majority. (And note that here Glatthaar acknowledges that the South seceded over slavery.)

And you know how some people can completely ruin a punch line but not telling the lead-up with the right words? Not only does Glatthaar do this, but I am pretty sure he gets the people involved wrong. As I have always heard the story, after Gettysburg George Meade told Lincoln, "I have driven the rebels from our soil," and Lincoln responded, "When will my generals learn that it is all our soil." Glatthaar says that "McClellan proclaimed he had driven the invaders from the North," triggering Lincoln to say, "The whole country is our soil." (page 86)

(I have also seen Meade's statement as that the army had driven "from our soil every vestige of the presence of the invader." This might indicate some vagueness, but the exchange is always described as with Meade rather than McClellan.)

The book has to rely on the underlying psychologies of the principals, because the basic outline of the book can be simply summed up: Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson got along, Abraham Lincoln and George McClellan didn't, so things went well for the South. But Lincoln fired McClellan in November 1862 and Jackson died in May 1863. Then Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman (and Lincoln) got along, while Jefferson Davis and Joseph E. Johnston did not, so the tide turned in favor of the North.

To order Partners in Command from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/20/2017]

TIME TRAVEL: A HISTORY by James Gleick (ISBN 978-0-307-90879-7) is catalogued as a science book, but it is as much a study of time travel in literature and popular culture as a book about the science of time travel. H. G. Wells has more entries in the index than Albert Einstein, and more about Jorge Luis Borges than Stephen Hawking and Hermann Minkowski combined.

Each chapter covers a different aspect of time travel. There's the notion of needing a machine, the idea of a time loop, the idea of the "arrow of time," the concept of eternity, the strange custom of burying time capsules, trying to figure out what it means to travel backward in time, the various paradoxes, and of course, the basic question of what time actually is. Along with the science, Gleick discusses the major (and also the lesser-known) works that go with each topic.

This is a must-read for the fan of time travel stories.

To order Time Travel: A History from, click here.


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

James Gleick's WHAT JUST HAPPENED: A CHRONICLE FROM THE INFORMATION FRONTIER (ISBN 0-375-71391-3) was published in 2003, but is a collection of articles over the preceding decade. As such, a lot of the articles about the Internet, the Web, electronic funds, and so on, are more nostalgic than cutting-edge. It's a little like the feeling one gets when watching DIE HARD 2 and seeing a woman on the airplane carrying a taser in her purse. (Actually, I suspect even back in 1990 people could not carry such items on board.)

To order What Just Happened from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/03/2012]

McFarland & Company is known for publishing narrowly focused "academic" books for niche markets. Examples are WHAT EVERY ROSE GROWER SHOULD KNOW and WOMEN AT WAR: GENDER ISSUES OF AMERICANS IN COMBAT. In the area of popular culture, and more specifically science fiction and horror film, they have published such books as JAPANESE SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILMS and FANTASTIC FILM SUBJECT GUIDE.

THE FRANKENSTEIN ARCHIVE by Donald F. Glut (ISBN 978-0-7864-1353-0) is yet another example, consisting of fifteen previously published essays on the Frankenstein myth in popular culture. The first one, for example, tries to reconcile all the apparent contradictions in the Universal Frankenstein series, another talks about the various stunt men who have doubled as the Frankenstein monster, and a third analyzes who played the monster in HELLZAPOPPIN'. Glut is a real fan and the essays are certainly of interest to other fans.

However, the negative side of McFarland is that they do not spend a lot of time editing the books they publish, or in particular proofreading them. So this volume is full of errors. Some are ordinary typos: "aka" instead of "a.k.a." (page 18), THE CIRCUS OF DR. LOA instead of THE CIRCUS OF DR. LAO (page 70), "Jekyl" (page 111). Others are incorrect word choices: "Henry Frankenstein's two adult siblings, Wolf and Ludwig" (page 11--they are siblings to each other, but are Henry's children), "Turn of the (18th-19th) Century" (should have been "19th-20th"--page 12), "titled middle-American bigot in JOE" (when "eponymous" is the correct word--page 71). And there is the occasional flat-out error, as when Glut says that the monster is chained up in the police station in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (it was actually chained up in THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN) (page 79).

To order The Frankenstein Archive from, click here.

LIMITLESS by Alan Glynn:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/14/2017]

I read LIMITLESS by Alan Glynn (ISBN 978-0-312-42887-7). The idea--a drug that makes you more focused--is fine, but there was far too much discussion of stocking trading in the novel, at least for my tastes. I did like the description of the first-person narrator's first experience with the drug, in which he is driven to straighten up his apartment. He says one thing that particularly struck home: "Then I found another sack and started going through all of the papers on my desk, and in the drawers of the desk. I was fairly ruthless and threw things out I'd been keeping for no good reason, stuff that if I died my unfortunate executor would have no hesitation in throwing out either, because what was he going to do with it ... what was he going to do with old love letters, pay slips, gas and electric bills, yellowed typescripts of abandoned articles, instruction manuals for consumer durables I no longer possessed, holiday brochures of which I hadn't gone on ... Jesus, it occurred to me--as I stuffed all of this garbage into a bag--the sh*t we leave behind us for other people to sort out.". Given that I am currently in the process of cleaning out old papers (why do we still have dental claim forms from thirty years ago?), it is not surprising that this would resonate with me.

(Synchronistically, Brother Guy Consolmagno mentioned at NASFIC last week just liberating it felt when he became a Jesuit and got rid of all his personal possessions. Or most, since he still seems to have a lot of fannish T-shirts that I am sure are not Vatican-issue. :-) )

To order Limitless from, click here.

"The Cold Equations" by Tom Godwin:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/25/2005]

Our science fiction discussion group discussed several stories from THE SCIENCE FICTION HALL OF FAME, VOLUME I, edited by Robert Silverberg (ISBN 0-765-30537-2). The story that generated the most discussion was, not surprisingly, Tom Godwin's "The Cold Equations". As part of my preparation for the meeting, I read the article on "The Cold Equations" in I also read Andy Duncan's article ("Think Like a Humanist: James Patrick Kelly's 'Think like a Dinosaur' as a Satiric Rebuttal of Tom Godwin's 'The Cold Equations,'") in "The New York Review of Science Fiction," June 1996. And then afterwards I re-read two other stories written in response to Godwin--"The Cool Equations" by Deborah Wessel (UNIVERSE 2, edited by Robert Silverberg and Karen Haber) and "The Cold Solution" by Don Sakers ("Analog", 1991)--and also watched the "New Twilight Zone" episode based on the Godwin story. (There was also a made-for-television movie which I did not see, but my feeling is that the story does not bear extension to a feature-length movie. Even the "Twilight Zone" episode seemed padded.) For those unfamiliar with the story, the premise is this: On an emergency spaceship, a stowaway is found. The rules insist all stowaways be jettisoned, because emergency ships do not carry enough fuel for the additional weight. But this stowaway is a teenage girl trying to visit her brother. I will start by saying that the story is engrossing, and has not lost its effect in the half century (!) since it was written. It clearly affects readers in a way that a badly written story would not. But there are still some major flaws in it. From a literary standpoint, the characters are one-dimensional and the writing uninspired. But even more interesting--considering its popularity among hard science fiction fans--are the technical faults. Richard Harter has done a long analysis of the Godwin story in which he says, "The trouble with this story is this: From the internal evidence of this story the heroine did not die because of the cold equations of nature; she was the victim of criminal bureaucratic stupidity. . . . The flaw in the story is that a failure in government, in administration, is tacitly treated as though it were a law of nature." Specifically, even though stowaways will be killed, no particular precautions are taken to keep stowaways out (other than a fairly standard "Keep Out! Danger!" sign which does not indicate what the penalty is), and in fact the penalties for stowing away are kept secret from society in general. In addition, no one even bothers to check for stowaways before taking off. Another flaw, as Hal Clement said ("Analog", July 1991), is that "it is the height of irresponsible engineering to build an emergency ship with so little, if any, margin of safety. The slightest fault in any subsystem could destroy the ship and the people its mission was to save." And there seems to be a lot of superfluous material in the ship that could be jettisoned instead of a stowaway. In fact, this latter problem is the basis for both the "response" stories. Of the two, Saker's is clearly the more serious of the two, but is spoiled by a "trick", where some fairly critical information is not given to the reader until the very end. Wessel's is more light-hearted, but ironically treats the situation much more rigorously. If you haven't read "The Cold Equations", you really must. It is part of the basic vocabulary of science fiction the way that a story like "The Purloined Letter" is part of the basic vocabulary of the detective story. Even stories that don't respond directly to it have references that readers are expected to recognize. And if you have read it, seek out Saker's and Wessel's stories as well.

To order The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume I from, click here.

DEAD SOULS by Nikolai Gogol:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/24/2003]

I recently read DEAD SOULS. No, this is not a new horror novel, but the Nikolai Gogol classic. I had put it on my list of books to read because Robert Silverberg recommended it in a column in ASIMOV'S about a year ago, and on the basis of this and of his recommendation of H. D. F. Kitto's GREEK TRAGEDY at some point before that, I have concluded that I should definitely pay attention to what he recommends. Warning: If you are reading the Signet/NAL edition of DEAD SOULS, do not read the introduction, which somewhat spoils the revelation of Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov's motivation. Gogol writes (at least in that translation) in a very conversational style, talking directly to the reader, and also manages to have a level beneath that of Gogol implicitly commenting on the narrator's prejudices and biases. And before someone complains about "long Russian novels," I'll note that it is under three hundred pages.

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/31/2003]

I'm in two book groups at our public library, the "original" group (which does all sorts of books), and the science fiction group. So almost every month I have a couple of books chosen for me by other people.

But this month I think I chose both of them. I think I may have chosen Robert J. Sawyer's CALCULATING GOD, and I know I chose Nikolai Gogol's DEAD SOULS, because who else would have suggested it? And why had I read it? Because Robert Silverberg recommended it in a column in ASIMOV'S a few months ago. (Some of this I discussed in an earlier column that ran on 01/24/03.) Given that, you're probably thinking that it must have something to do with horror (since you know that while Gogol didn't write science fiction, he did write horror stories). But you'd be wrong. The title refers to serfs who were dead. In particular, a landowner in 19th century Russia was responsible for taxes on all the serfs he owned as of the last census until the next census, even if they died in the interim. Into town rides Chichikov, who offers to buy these "dead souls" from landowners at very reasonable prices. I won't tell you why, but the reason is not the main point of the novel. Rather, it is what some call a "picaresque" novel, full of episodes and characters to entertain you without necessarily having a strong plot, similar to some of Charles Dickens's works. Most people found it surprisingly amusing, except for one woman who said she sat down all set for a heavy Russian novel and never got out of that mindset. (When I was reading some of what I thought were the funnier descriptions, she asked if I could come over to her house and read the book to her!)

To order Dead Souls from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/28/2003]

Since I had mentioned recently really liking Christopher Priest's THE PRESTIGE, a friend recommended Glen David Gold's CARTER BEATS THE DEVIL. For some reason, I found this more confusing and less interesting--the whole subplot of Philo T. Farnsworth and television seemed one plot too many, and rather drove the President Harding plot into the background at times. I would recommend the Priest over this, but if you are interested in novels about magicians (which seems to be a specific genre), this isn't bad.

To order Carter Beats the Devil from, click here.

"A Matter of Form" by H. L. Gold:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/13/2014]

"A Matter of Form", H. L. Gold (Astounding Science-Fiction, December 1938; Frederik Pohl's ASSIGNMENT IN TOMORROW): This is a fairly good "mind-transference" story which even today could be made into a relatively low-budget family science fiction film. The idea has become more familiar with time, but Gold was probably one of the earlier authors to use it, and writes a quite readable story.


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

SELECTED SHORTS AND OTHER METHODS OF TIME TRAVEL by David Goodberg (ISBN 978-0-9827041-0-3) is a collection of mostly unrelated stories, though the same time travel corporations show up in multiple stories, and there are a couple of stories that connect to others. These are definitely "idea stories," with minimal characterization. As such, they are entertaining, but not exactly cutting-edge literary fiction. They seem reminiscent of Frederic Brown, or possibly some of the "White Hart" tales of Arthur C. Clarke. And between every pair of stories, there are brief quotes ("I wouldn't mind snow if it were warm."), essays, or flash fiction stories, none longer than a single page. It makes for an uncommon structure, to say the least.

To order Selected Shorts and Other Methods of Time Travel from, click here.

THE SEASON by William Goldman:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/13/2004]

In 1967, William Goldman decided to write a book about the Broadway theater by covering everything that was opening in the 1967-1968 season, and he called the book (not surprisingly) THE SEASON. As part of discussing the various plays, he also explains what producers do, how plays are put together, how theaters are selected, how tickets are sold, and so on. Or rather, how these things were done back then, thirty-five years ago. At the time, for example, theaters were just starting to allow credit card purchases of tickets (rather than requiring cash at the box office). Goldman seems to have correctly predicted that the audience demographic was changing, and that the theaters did not seem to want to try to re-capture the people they were losing. The only drawback to the book might be the unfamiliarity of readers with most of the plays discussed (although Goldman's comments on "homosexuals in the theater" seem glaringly dated).

To order The Season from, click here.

WALKING THE LABYRINTH by Lisa Goldstein (Tor, ISBN 0-312-85968-6, 1996, 254pp, trade paperback):

Lisa Goldstein is an author who does not follow the more heavily traveled roads of fantasy, but tends to set off in her own direction, sometimes along a lesser-known path, sometimes blazing her own trail. So the title of this work is perhaps as descriptive of her work as a whole as of this work in particular

Molly Travers is a modern woman with modern concerns until she discovers that her family were had a vaudeville act in the 1930s, doing magic. And not just illusion, it seems, but real magic. Molly travels to England to find out more, where she discovers hidden books, secret relationships, and, in the basement of an English country house, a labyrinth that is more than it first appears.

My main complaint with the book is not even anything Goldstein had control over: the typeface. It's a thinner line than the "standard" typeface, hence lighter appearing and, for me at least, harder to read. It did have a light fantasy feel, probably the idea, but ....

Now, given that is my main objection, you can guess I liked the book. Goldstein's work has often been called "magical realism," and I guess that description is as accurate as any. Walking the Labyrinth is set more in real places--London, Oakland, and so on--than her works set in the mythical land of Ahaz. (That is, unless you agree with Gertrude Stein about Oakland: that "there is no there there.") But it still has that feel of being just slightly askew from reality that one finds not only in her other works, but also in those of Garcia Marquez and Amado. I am not saying she is their equal--that would be like comparing a playwright of today with Shakespeare. But she seems to be their quite worthy literary descendent. and I recommend this highly.

(That Starlog magazine can say, "Goldstein's work does not remind the reader of other books: it is truly original and has a clear, distinct voice of its own," would seem to indicate more the narrowness of the books it knows about than Goldstein's position in literature. That she is part of such a rich literary field as magical realism is not to be considered at all a bad thing. After all, it is not just in science that "standing on the shoulders of giants" is the way new accomplishments are achieved.)

To order Walking the Labyrinth from, click here.

THE FRIAR AND THE CIPHER by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/07/2005]

THE FRIAR AND THE CIPHER: ROGER BACON AND THE UNSOLVED MYSTERY OF THE MOST UNUSUAL MANUSCRIPT IN THE WORLD by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone (ISBN 0-7679-1473-2) is of the same ilk as their earlier OUT OF THE FLAMES--the story of a book (or here, a manuscript) and the people who affected its creation and survival. In this case, it is the Voynich Manuscript, which Mark wrote about in the 03/18/05 issue of the MT VOID. The Goldstone's book centers primarily around the theory that Roger Bacon wrote the manuscript in code, but along the way they discuss the history of universities, the theology of the Catholic Church, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle, the scientific method, Albertus Magnus, Dr. John Dee, Rudolph II, cryptography, and Francis Bacon (no relation). (How they missed including Rabbi Loew is a mystery, to me since he was active in Prague at the same time as Rudolph II and Dee.) As with all the Goldstone's books, this is a book highly recommended for book-lovers.

To order The Friar and the Cipher from, click here.

OUT OF THE FLAMES by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/31/2004]

Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone's previous books have been about books, book-selling, and book-collecting. OUT OF THE FLAMES: THE REMARKABLE STORY OF A FEARLESS SCHOLAR, A FATAL HERESY, AND ONE OF THE RAREST BOOKS IN THE WORLD (ISBN 0-767-90837-6) is a little about a book, but more about an important forbear of the Unitarian movement, Michael Servetus. The book was his "Christianismi Restitutio" ("Christianity Restored"), all copies of which were supposedly burned with him in 1553. However, three copies survived, and they bear witness to the fact that he not only led the way for a religious movement, but also understood the circulation of blood in the human body decades before William Harvey (who always gets credited with this discovery) wrote about it. This is a fascinating history of religion, science, and the interconnections between the two. My only complaint is the really long title. :-)

To order Out of the Flames from, click here.

USED AND RARE by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/18/2003]

USED AND RARE is the first volume by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone (whose WARMLY INSCRIBED I wrote about earlier). This one is the story of how they got started in collecting books. A couple of key moments were discovering that an Arkham House first edition of H. P. Lovecraft could go for $10,000, and a first edition Tarzan novel was similarly valuable. The book covers their education in the terminology (first edition versus first printing, points, condition, etc.), and in the process gives the reader a similar education while providing entertaining stories about booksellers, auctions, and collectors. (There is a bookstore in New York that does not come off very favorably, but from what I've heard elsewhere, the Goldstones are probably fairly accurate.)

To order Used and Rare from, click here.

WARMLY INSCRIBED by Nancy and Lawrence Goldstone:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/21/2003]

Another book in a series was Nancy and Lawrence Goldstone's WARMLY INSCRIBED, the third in their series of books about book collecting and the used book trade. (The first two are USED AND RARE and SLIGHTLY CHIPPED.) This deals with a lot of topics, the centerpiece of which is the "New England forger," who forged authors' signatures in first editions for a long time before he was finally caught. The story of why it took so long is the interesting part: law enforcement officials kept saying it wasn't in their jurisdiction, dealers hesitated to accuse another dealer of such dishonesty without firm proof, and dealers who had been deceived and had resold the books thinking they were authentic were generally not eager to contact their old customers and admit they had been deceived. (And refunding the money to customers was not necessarily easy for dealers who did not have a lot of ready cash.) But the story of the Goldstone family visit (including young daughter) to the Library of Congress and the Folger Library is also enjoyable, particularly for book people. And why would you be reading this article if you weren't a book person?

To order Warmly Inscribed from, click here.

ME & SHAKESPEARE by Herman Gollob:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/11/2005]

Herman Gollob's ME & SHAKESPEARE (ISBN 0-385-49818-7) is accurately titled--it is as much (or more) about Gollob as about Shakespeare. After a while his digressions from Shakespeare into his experiences (such as meeting Frank Sinatra at a party) seem self-indulgent. His comments on the plays are occasionally thought-provoking, though they are extracted from classes that he taught or took and frequently lack enough context. However, his on-going analysis of "King Lear" as a Judaic play is engaging--I wish he would write just that book.

To order Me & Shakespeare from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/08/2019]

THE BULLY PULPIT: THEODORE ROOSEVELT, WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT, AND THE GOLDEN AGE OF JOURNALISM by Doris Kearns Goodwin (ISBN 978-1-4165-4786-0) is about, well, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism. (Duh!) For those who know the period from around 1900 to 1912 only as "McKinley gets shot, Teddy Roosevelt becomes President, then Taft is elected and Teddy goes exploring, then Teddy comes back, is unhappy with Taft, forms a third party, and thus hands the election to the Democrat, Woodrow Wilson," Goodwin provides a lot more context.

For example, in 1904 Roosevelt and Taft were the best of friends. In 1908, when Roosevelt declined to run and Taft was elected, this had cooled a bit--Roosevelt had vowed after winning re-election in 1904 that he would not run in 1908, and he was regretting that promise. However, unlike many of today's politicians, he felt obliged to keep it. By the time 1912 rolled around, Roosevelt and Taft were bitter enemies. This seems to be mostly Roosevelt's doing: he felt that Taft was not pushing policies Roosevelt supported hard enough; basically Taft was not progressive enough for Roosevelt. On Taft's side, Taft felt that *he* was President, and he resented Roosevelt speaking as though he (TR) still ran the show.

My admiration for Roosevelt was somewhat diminished by Goodwin's descriptions, though I had reservations even before reading this book. For example, Roosevelt's positive glee for war has always been troublesome. As Goodwin writes, "Even before assuming his post in the Navy Department, Roosevelt had insisted that he 'would rather welcome a foreign war.' ... While McKinley, who had 'seen the dead piled up at Antietam, prayed for peace, Roosevelt, who had never seen combat, absurdly romanticized war." [page 222]

This is perhaps not unlike Robert A. Heinlein and Joe Haldeman. Heinlein spent World War II behind a desk and wrote STARSHIP TROOPERS, considered by many a glorification of the military in general and the infantry in particular. Haldeman spent his time in the military "in country" in Vietnam, and wrote THE FOREVER WAR, which is less than totally positive towards the military (at least the "upper management" of the military) and war. Heinlein's war is a necessary war to save humanity; Haldeman's war is a useless war based on a misunderstanding.

Roosevelt has some opinions we might want to consider, though. "It would result in 'a dreadful calamity,' Roosevelt told a conservative friend, to see the nation 'divided into two parties, one containing the bulk of the property owners and conservative people, the other the bulk of the wageworkers and the less prosperous people generally; each party insisting upon demanding much that was wrong, and each party sullen and angered by real and fancied grievances.'" [pages 444-445]

Also, "Neither this people nor any other free people will permanently tolerate the use of the vast power conferred by vast wealth, and especially by wealth in its corporate form, without lodging somewhere in the government the still higher power of seeing that this power, in addition to being used in the interest of the individual or individuals possessing it, is also used for and not against the interests of the people as a whole." [page 447]

In an interesting parallel to the present, Taft played a lot of golf, but often as part of a weight-loss regimen; in those days, golfers *walked* the course rather than rode around in a gold cart. Even so, reporters eager for any story during Taft's times away from Washington portrayed him as doing little besides playing golf, which was perceived as "a rich man's game."

This period also marked the rise of what was called then "muckraking" journalism, and is now called "investigative journalism." This was led by McClure's, with the most prominent journalists being Ida M. Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, and Stannard Baker, as well as the novelist Upton Sinclair.

By the way, the term "bully pulpit" should be parsed as a fantastic platform for advocating one's positions, "bully" meaning "great" or "splendid" and being one of Roosevelt's favorite words, often used as an exclamation by itself. It does not (or did not) mean a platform from which to harangue and intimidate one's opponents.

The book itself is thorough, but intimidating. However, its 912 pages include about 150 pages of footnotes, so the average reader does not have quite the challenge it first appears. Still, it's a lot of reading, and not for the "casual" reader.

To order The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/05/2017]

Let me start by saying that LATIN@ RISING: AN ANTHOLOGY OF LATIN@ SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY edited by Matthew David Goodwin (ISBN 978-1-60940-524-3) has (in my opinion) a terrible title. "LATIN@" does not refer to science fiction and fantasy in Latin. Nor does it refer to anything involving email addresses or the Internet. It does not even refer to Latina science fiction and fantasy. As best as I could guess (and googling confirmed this), this is a new trendy way to combine "Latino" and "Latina" into a single word, which however is 1) unknown to most people who would see this book on a shelf, and 2) unpronounceable.

So let me clarify: This book is an anthology of science fiction and fantasy by authors of both sexes, living in the United States, and of Latin American origin.

(And while I am complaining, let me add that I hate the paper, which has some sort of shiny finish that feels funny and reflects the light if held at the wrong angle, making it difficult to read. I also dislike the weird font used for the titles. The publisher is apparently very proud of both of these aspects, announcing on the last page that the book was printed on "60 pound Anthem Plus Matte paper, and that the tiles are set in "Aquiline Two, Bickham Script, and Adobe Caselon type.")

Many of the stories focus on issues of identity, but it would be a mistake to assume that is necessarily the focus of most Latinic science fiction and fantasy. I am sure that it is an important topic, but it could also be the case that Goodwin was looking for that type of story in particular, or that it tended to interest him more. The identity may be the characters' ancestral background, or their more recent family history, or their place in a society not their own, or their transformation by a disease or surgery into something else, or even that they are a different species.

The problem with anthologies such as this is that they may be interpreted as representing the entirety of a group. Goodwin acknowledges this, but writes, "And while there is not one kind of U.S. Latin@ experience, there are historically some overlapping themes, such as migration, colonialism, conflict between Latin@ and Anglo groups, code-switching between Spanish and English, and an indigenous political heritage much different from indigenous groups in the United States." (As an aside, why "Latin@" but not "Angl@"?) He seems to imply that stories not dealing with these subjects are anomalies, and the result is that he ends up leaving the impression that Latinic science fiction and fantasy does not cover the broad spectrum of science fiction and fantasy in general.

Given all that, I still recommend it--the stories are good stories, even if the marketing is not what I would have done.

To order Latin@ Rising from, click here.

RUNAWAY TIME by Deborah Gordon (Avon, ISBN 0-380-77759-2, 1995, 404pp, mass market paperback):

Sara Maravich goes back from our future to 1865 to try to save Lincoln. She arrives late, however, and instead falls in love with Tyson Stone (a.k.a. Thomas Jefferson Reid). This is basically a historical romance; the alternate history aspect is dealt with mainly by people from the future returning to the past and talking about it. (Apparently, anyone who sees a time traveler go back remembers both the "original" future and the changed one.)

There was one glaring anachronism: Reid talks about Maravich sleeping like a vampire in the daytime. While there was some notion of vampires at that time, the concept did not achieve widespread popularity until after Bram Stoker wrote Dracula at the end of the century.

The two alternate history romances I reviewed earlier at least had the virtue of showing the reader a changed world. (One was Maura Seger's Perchance To Dream, in which the Confederacy wins the Civil War; the other was Seger's Fortune's Tide, in which the American Revolution fails.) This one is just a time-travel romance set in the post-Civil War period with a few references to possible changes somewhere down the line, and is not recommended for alternate history fans.

To order Runaway Time from, click here.

FIRST ON MARS by Rex Gordon:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/12/2013]

FIRST ON MARS by Rex Gordon (known in Britain as NO MAN FRIDAY by Stanley Bennett Hough) (1957, no ISBN) might have been a better companion book to the film ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS. However, it has two drawbacks. The first is that it is not easily available (not impossible to find, but fairly pricey for a book that crumbles as you read it). The second is that the John C. Higgins and Ib Melchior almost definitely based their film on Defoe's novel rather than on Gordon's. (For just one example, in both Defoe and the film, the Friday character is brought there as a captive/slave. In the Gordon, there is not even a real Friday character. (Not exactly a surprise, given the British title.)

One characteristic of all these versions is that the Robinson Crusoe character is amazingly capable. In FIRST ON MARS, Gordon Holder is able not only to distill water and oxygen, but also to build a motorized tricycle to carry his equipment around, and so on. It is understandable that Robinson Crusoe could survive on an island, since even when he was at home, much of his activities were no more advanced (for example, making fire with a spark from flint and iron). But by the time we have achieved rocket flight, living at a most basic level is not something with which most people are familiar. Gordon Holder (and Christopher Draper in ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS) just seem a bit too knowledgeable in too many fields: chemistry, physics, botany, mechanics, etc.

To order First on Mars from, click here.

AMPHIGOREY ALSO by Edward Gorey:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/11/2006]

AMPHIGOREY ALSO by Edward Gorey (ISBN 0-15-605672-0) is yet another collection of books by Gorey originally published as small individual volumes. This contains seventeen works, which is an average of fifteen pages each. This is achieved by sometimes having two pages from the original on a single page here, which I assume means that even though the original books were small, they are still shown in a reduced size here. Not surprisingly, the artwork loses in the process. One could, I suppose, use a magnifying glass. The positive side is that you can actually afford to get these works, since seventeen Gorey first editions would run you a pretty penny. (Other omnibus volumes include AMPHIGOREY and AMPHIGOREY TOO.)

To order Amphigorey Too from, click here.

THE FINE ART OF MURDER edited by Ed Gorman, Martin H. Greenberg, and Larry Segriff, with Jon L. Breen:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/19/2005]

THE FINE ART OF MURDER edited by Ed Gorman, Martin H. Greenberg, and Larry Segriff, with Jon L. Breen (ISBN 0-88184-972-3) is a massive collection of over a hundred articles and lists such as "Why Cozies?", "Does Anybody Love a Researcher?", "Humorous Crime, or Dead Funny", and "Some Notable Religious Mysteries". While some are outdated (a 1993 article on mystery bookstores is almost entirely of only historical interest now), and various others not of great interest to some readers (I, for example, have little interest in true crime or serial killer stories), but with so much ground covered, there is bound to be more than enough for readers with some interest in mysteries.

To order The Fine Art of Murder from, click here.

KALPA IMPERIAL by Angelica Gorodischer (translated by Ursula K. LeGuin):

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/11/2008]

KALPA IMPERIAL by Angelica Gorodischer (translated by Ursula K. LeGuin) (ISBN-13 978-1-931-52005-8, ISBN-10 1-931-52005-4) was billed as being in the style of Jorge Luis Borges (as well as that of Italo Calvino and Franz Kafka). While there is some truth to this, it seems far more in the style of LeGuin. That is perhaps partly due to LeGuin's translation, but it is more likely that LeGuin was drawn to the original work because she saw in it something with which she could relate.

One major difference I see is between Gorodischer's writing and Borges's is that Gorodischer's stories have characters--perhaps minimally drawn, but characters nonetheless. Borges's stories frequently have no characters, or only one character. Gorodischer's are mythic at times, but nevertheless interact with each other in at least somewhat realistic ways. On the other hand, Gorodischer's descriptions of places (for example, in "Concerning the Unchecked Growth of Cities") are very Borgesian. Consider the following passage:

"The streets and buildings and balconies and façades are all mixed up together, factories stand next to mansions, shops next to embassies. Very few of its inhabitants know all its streets and ways. I won't go so far as to say it's a labyrinth. [...] The mountains are buried under walls, balconies, terraces, parks; a square slants down, separated from a steep drop by stone arcades; the third floor of his house is the basement of another that fronts on the street above; the west wall of a government building adjoins the ironwork around the courtyard of a school for deaf girls; the cellars of a functionary's grand mansion become the attics of a deserted building, while a cat-flap, crowned with an architrave added two hundred years later, serves as a tunnel into a coalhole, and a shelf has become the transept for a window with golden shields in the panes, and the skylight doesn't open on the sky but on a gallery of waterwheels made of earthenware."

(Sort of a half Borges, half Escher description, don't you think?)

I notice that the blurb on the back cover says that LeGuin has received the PEN/Malamud and World Fantasy Awards, but does not mention her five Hugo Awards or five Nebula Awards. (Those are relegated to the longer biographical paragraph on the final page of the book.)

To order Kalpa Imperial from, click here.

THE ART OF WORLDLY WISDOM by Balthasar Gracian:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/11/2007]

I mentioned THE ART OF WORLDLY WISDOM by Balthasar Gracian (adapted from the translation by Joseph Jacobs, ISBN-10 0-87773-921-8, ISBN-13 978-0-877-73921-0) in the 02/16/07 issue of the MT VOID, and again last week. (The Spanish version I found online calls him Lorenzo Gracian, his brother's name, which he used as a pseudonym.) This book was written in 1637, and consists of three hundred aphorisms and elaborations on them. For example, number 22 is "Knowledge has a purpose" and then goes on to say, "Wise people arm themselves with tasteful and elegant erudition--a practical and expert knowledge of what is going on, not common gossip. They possess a copious store of wise and witty sayings, and of noble deeds, and how to employ them at the right moment. Often, more is taught be a jest than by the most serious teaching. Knowledge gained in conversation can be of more help than the seven arts, however liberal."

One sentence I found particularly apropos to today's publishing industry was, "Estiman algunos los libros por la corpulencia, como si se escriviessen para exercitar antes los brazos que los ingenios." ("Some judge books by their corpulence, as if they were written in order to exercise the arms rather than the brain." [my translation])

This book is of the same genre as Mushashi Miyamoto's THE BOOK OF FIVE RINGS, La Rochefoucauld's MAXIMS, or even Niccolo Machiavelli's THE PRINCE. At one point a few years ago, a business firm (AIG) used Gracian's aphorisms as part of an advertisement, including a selection of one hundred (without explications) as a bound-in pamphlet in the "New Yorker". They called it "Life 101", but it seemed as much a business manual as a general guide for living.

I attempted to practice my Spanish by reading this is parallel, each aphorism first in Spanish, then in English. I ran into more difficulties than I had in reading Jorge Luis Borges's Spanish though, for several reasons. First, there seem to be two versions of the letter "z" where the current alphabet has only one. (It appears that these are really two distinct letters, rather than parallel to how some instances of the letter 's' in 18th century English documents look like 'f', but I could be wrong.) Second, Gracian uses far more word play (alliteration, assonance, etc.) than Borges.

But a third problem was that the Spanish version I had (from the Web) retained Gracian's 17th century spelling. Gracian wrote before Shakespeare and anyone who has seen the original spelling of Shakespeare's texts will understand that spelling changes over time. For example, "there is/there are" in modern Spanish is "hay"; in Gracian, it is "ai".

As an example from Shakespeare, I read some of the "doubtful" Shakespeare plays in a book called THE SHAKESPEARE APOCRYPHA. These were taken directly from the various quartos, etc., and had not had the spelling regularized. So here is a sample speech from "Edward III":

Shee was, my Lord; and onlely Issabel
Was all the daughters that this Phillip had,
Whome afterward your father tooke to wife;
And from the fragrant garden of her wombe
Your gratious selfe, the flower of Europes hope,
Deriued is inheritor to Fraunce.
But note the rancor of rebellious mindes:
When thus the lynage of (le) Bew was out,
The French obscurd your mothers Priuledge,
And, though she were the next of blood, proclaymed
Iohn, of the house of Valoys, now their king:
The reason was, they say, the Realme of Fraunce,
Repleat with Princes of great parentage,
Ought not admit a gouwenor to rule,
Except he be discnded of the male;
And thats the speciall ground of their contempt,
Whereiwth they stufy to exclude your grace;
But they shall finde that forged ground of theirs
To be but dusty heaps of brittile sande.
Perhaps it will be thought a heynous thing,
That I, a French man, shoudl discouer this;
But heauen I call to recorde of my vowes:
It is not hate nor any priuat wronge,
But loue vnto my country and the right,
Prouokes my tongue, thus lauish in report.

Every edition of Shakespeare that I have seen for general use standardizes the spelling so that the last four lines, for example, would read:

But heaven I call to record of my vows:
It is not hate nor any private wrong,
But love unto my country and the right,
Provokes my tongue, thus lavish in report.

Similarly, Gracian's spelling (at least from the site I found) is enough similar to make you think you can read it, but enough different from modern Spanish to cause problems.

To order The Art of Worldly Wisdom from, click here.

A IS FOR ALIBI by Sue Grafton:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/27/2004]

Our mystery discussion group read Sue Grafton's A IS FOR ALIBI, and the only thing worth noting is that one woman found the idea of a woman detective who went around with a gun in sort of Philip Marlowe style totally unrealistic--she didn't know any women who could do that. However, after several people said that they did, and pointed out that there were certainly woman soldiers these days, she conceded that younger readers (meaning younger than forty, I suspect) might not find it so unbelievable.

To order A Is for Alibi from, click here.


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

The GRANTA BOOK OF TRAVEL is a collection of travel writing from Granta magazine (one of those magazines that looks like a trade paperback). Several of the articles were duplicated in the first issue of Granta that had been devoted to travel writing, which I bought at the same time. The stories vary from the humor of Bill Bryson to the more serious articles about coups in Africa, the "Shining Path" terrorists in Peru, and the conditions in Castro's Cuba.

To order The Granta Book of Travel from, click here.

GOOD-BYE TO ALL THAT by Robert Graves:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/25/2016]

GOOD-BYE TO ALL THAT by Robert Graves (ISBN 978-0-385-09330-9) is subtitled "An Autobiography", but given that he wrote it at the age of 33, before most of his career, it seems more like a "semi-autobiography" at best. On the other hand, he covers his years at public school and in the trenches during World War I, which one suspects are more interesting than the years afterwards. (And even in the trenches, his academic side was not completely subsumed; he spent time with Siegfried Sassoon, for example.)

I was a bit disappointed to find that Graves had re-edited this in 1957. Though he says in the epilogue that he merely deleted some uninteresting parts, expanded the section about T. E. Lawrence, and replaced pseudonyms with real names when the need for concealment no longer existed, I probably would prefer a "fresher" (more contemporaneous) version.

On the other hand, he does not seem to have softened his descriptions of trench warfare or other aspects of World War I, and this is the heart of the book, and the reason it is recommended.

To order Good-Bye to All That from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/02/2006]

Our original discussion group read I, CLAUDIUS: FROM THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF TIBERIUS CLAUDIUS, BORN 10 B.C., MURDERED AND DEIFIED A.D. 54 by Robert Graves (ISBN 0-679-72477-X). I had to keep reminding myself that this was a novel. Yes, it was strongly based on Suetonius and other historical sources, but there is a lot of fiction and conjecture in it as well, so it would be a mistake to believe everything in it was true. That Graves manages to write in such a way as to have a work of fiction appear to be a genuine historical memoir of the Roman Era is quite an accomplishment. This (and its companion/sequel, CLAUDIUS THE GOD, were first published in 1934, and probably inspired such later writers as Gore Vidal (*) and others who write novels that appear to be almost factual histories. Considering the enormous popularity of I, CLAUDIUS, it is ironic that (according to Wikipedia), "Graves later professed a dislike for the books and their popularity. He claimed that they were written only from financial need on a strict deadline."

(*) At a continuing education class a couple of years ago, the professor presented as fact a claim made in Vidal's BURR that was actually something that Vidal made up. [-ecl]

To order I, Claudius from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 09/17/2004]

Alasdair Gray recently achieved fame (or notoriety, depending on your point of view) with his introduction to the Canongate edition of the Bible's "Book of Jonah", which many denounced as blasphemous. However, his other works tend to be a bit less controversial--and unusual, in that he also does illustrations and interesting layout designs for his book. I enjoyed 10 TALES TALL & TRUE (ISBN 0-156-00196-9), and also UNLIKELY STORIES, MOSTLY (ISBN 0-862-41737-6), but found his novel POOR THINGS (ISBN 1-564-78307-3) (about a female creation a la Frankenstein) not enough to hold my interest. It may be that Gray is an author who works best in short fiction.

To order Ten Tales Tall & True from, click here.

To order Unlikely Stories, Mostly from, click here.

To order Poor Things from, click here.

  • L. M. Graziano and M. S. A. Graziano's Cretaceous Dawn

    THE SCIENCE OF MICHAEL CRICHTON edited by Kevin R. Grazier, Ph.D.:

    [From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/04/2008]

    THE SCIENCE OF MICHAEL CRICHTON edited by Kevin R. Grazier, Ph.D. (ISBN-13 978-1-933771-32-8, ISBN-10 1-933771-32-1) is a collection of essays about the science in Michael Crichton's novel (not the movies made from them!). Beginning with THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, and ending with NEXT, each book is analyzed from the point of view of the accuracy--or at least plausibility--of its science. And while the comments on the earlier books are favorable, each succeeding book seems to generate more and more criticism. This is unfortunate, because I suspect too many people get their notions of science from the novels of Michael Crichton (and others--he is not the only one at fault, but he is probably the most popular).

    To order The Science of Michael Crichton from, click here.

    VACATION GUIDE TO THE SOLAR SYSTEM by Jana Grcevich and Olivia Koski:

    [From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/28/2017]

    VACATION GUIDE TO THE SOLAR SYSTEM by Jana Grcevich and Olivia Koski (ISBN 978-0-143-12977-6) is part fact, part fiction. The premise, obviously, is fiction--there are no tours to other bodies in the solar system. Most of the physical description of what one will find (temperature, surface features, and so on) are factual. The descriptions of underground hotels, rock-climbing expeditions, and parachuting through the atmospheres are pure fiction. I just attended a panel at NorthAmeriCon '17 on "Off-World Vacation Spots" that may have been inspired by this (I am not sure of the scheduling), and I wish had been more like this. (Brother Guy Consolmagno's part of it was, at least.) My con report should be out soon, so you can compare and contrast.

    To order Vacation Guide to the Solar System from, click here.

    IN RAJASTHAN by Royina Grewal:

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

    Royina Grewal is an Indian woman who decided to travel through Rajasthan and write about her experiences. Since most travel writing about India is done by non-Indians, IN RAJASTHAN gives one a new and different view of that region. Grewal clearly has more access to the everyday life of the region, both in the villages (she ends up at weddings, in temples as a participant in ceremonies, etc.) and with the upper classes (she meets with the rajputs, talks to all sorts of government officials, and discusses the future of handicrafts with various artisans). She also presents what some might consider too balanced a view (for example, explaining why child marriages may not be the total evil everyone outside seems to think they are).

    To order In Rajasthan from, click here.

    THE DIRTY DUCK by Martha Grimes:

    [From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/04/2004]

    Martha Grimes's THE DIRTY DUCK (ISBN 0-440-12050-0) is not exactly a historical mystery. Set in modern Stratford, several of its threads involve knowledge of 16th century poets and playwrights, but Grimes wisely has the detective not be an expert in this, so there are "expository lumps" as the various characters explain what, for example, happened in an inn in Deptford. I find this period interesting, so I enjoyed all this "business", though admittedly if you don't, the rest of this mystery about a serial killer might not be enough. (This is a re-issue of an older book rather than a new one.)

    To order The Dirty Duck from, click here.

    THE ANNOTATED BROTHERS GRIMM by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, with notes by Maria Tater:

    [From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/30/2005]

    THE ANNOTATED BROTHERS GRIMM with notes by Maria Tater (ISBN 0-7394-5173-1) is a much more academic approach to annotations than some of Norton's other works, with more notes about the variations on the tales, the psychology of the tales, and the ways that the tales were modified in various editions. The last is actually perhaps of the most general interest, proving that even back then authors were concerned about catering to the public. If the public wanted tales stressing the importance of obedience to parents, then the Brothers Grimm would oblige. If the public wanted negative stereotypes of Jews, it would get those too, as one of the stories in the appendix of currently "suppressed" tales indicates. What may surprise most people are the tales themselves, which almost all end with some very unpleasant and graphic punishment for the evil-doers (e.g., being sealed in a nail-studded barrel and rolled down the hill). Most collections of fairy tales these days have much milder endings--the good are rewarded, but the bad are not punished except by not being rewarded: Cinderella marries the Prince, and the stepsisters have to stay where they are.

    To order The Annotated Brothers Grimm from, click here.

    REPLAY by Ken Grimwood:

    [From MT VOID, 03/04/1988]

    What if you could live your life over and over again?

    That's the back-cover blurb to this unique alternate worlds/time travel novel. And that's the chance Jeff Winston gets when he wakes up from his fatal heart attack to find himself back in college. He resolves that things will be different this time--and they are, in part because he, like so many other time travelers, can remember the outcomes of all sorts of sporting events to bet on. (Quick, who won the 1963 World Series?) But soon 1988 rolls around again and bang! heart attack and he's back in 1963 again. And round it goes.

    In one cycle he meets Pamela, another replayer. Together they try to make sense of what's happening. It's not easy--forewarned is not necessarily forearmed and, as in so many time travel stories, trying to improve history often backfires. And Winston discovers that often the knowledge that "next time" he could do things differently makes his decisions this time seem meaningless. But he keeps trying to change things. Sometimes he leads a life of dissipation; other times he tries to change the world. Sometimes he tries working behind the scenes; other times he tells everyone he can predict the future. (The latter scenario is particularly chilling.)

    One wonders how a novel such as this could have a satisfying resolution, but Grimwood manages it very well. As a unique approach to alternate history and time travel, REPLAY is highly recommended.

    [From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/12/2010]

    REPLAY by Ken Grimwood (ISBN-13 978-0-688-16112-5) is one of those books from which everyone remembers the plot but not the title or author. From the rec.arts.sf.written FAQ (on frequent book identification requests): "The protagonist of this novel lives through a "time loop" wherein he would die, return to his youth (only a little later each time), live a new life each time, but always die and re-commence a cycle. In the course of one life he encountered a woman who experiences the same phenomenon." I re-read this because it was the companion work to the film GROUNDHOG DAY for the Middletown film-book group (not the science fiction group). (This was probably chosen because the regular meeting date was, in fact, Groundhog Day.)

    In one iteration, Jeff Winston (the protagonist) and another "replayer" place an ad in 1964 or so to try to find more people like them: "Do you remember Watergate? Lady Di? The shuttle disaster? The Ayatollah? ROCKY? FLASHDANCE? If so, you're not alone. Contact P.O. Box 1988, New York, N.Y. 10001"

    I do like the fact that Grimwood gets it right in that there is a ZIP code, but the state is still the old style abbreviation rather than just a two-letter code. The ad itself reminds me of the ad placed in Isaac Asimov's THE END OF ETERNITY in the 1930s in an attempt to find people from the future, using a mushroom cloud which would be meaningless to anyone not from the future.

    One major difference between REPLAY and GROUNDHOG DAY is that in REPLAY, Jeff Winston relives a much longer period of time (twenty-five years the first time, then gradually decreasing) and so can effect much more change. On the other hand, he only gets a dozen or so iterations. In GROUNDHOG DAY, Phil gets thousands of iterations (think about how long it would take him to learn to play the piano that well), but only a day each time.

    The group got into a discussion of 1) why Phil breaks out of the loop, and 2) whether the worlds created by all the different days continue. In REPLAY, the replayers postulate that each of the timelines they create continue after they cycle back. This is conceivable, because they die in one timeline before cycling back, so there is no duplication of consciousness. And it makes it more bearable for them to believe that their loved ones continue on rather than flash into nothingness. But in GROUNDHOG DAY, Phil does not die (at least in most of them) before cycling back. One could accept parallel Phils, of course--all the other characters have parallels. But the problem is tied into the first question: why does Phil break out of the loop? If, as seems to be implied, he breaks out because of some internal emotional change, then he cannot continue in each of the thousands of timelines (and hence have every copy of himself break out of the loop), because then there is no change required of him, the change has no effect, and in fact one could postulate that while we have seen Phil-38,427 (e.g.) break out, there is a Phil-38,428 who wakes up back at 6:00AM February 2 again, and a Phil-36,429, and so on. The film's ending implies that when and only when Phil reforms, then he can break out. To have multiple continuing timelines means that this ending is a cheat.

    Another similar work is "Shadow Play" (an episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE). In it, Dennis Weaver keeps looping through the same dream, but in this version, there are variations each day--the same people, but in different roles. And it is a dream, not a parallel timeline. Similarly, the main character in DEAD OF NIGHT is not really looping around in time, but merely having deja vu.

    To order Replay from, click here.

    CODEX by Lev Grossman:

    [From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 09/23/2005]

    Lev Grossman's CODEX (ISBN 0-15-101066-8) sounded very promising, a book described as similar to THE NAME OF THE ROSE or THE CLUB DUMAS. The story is that of Edward Wozny, an investment banker who somehow gets chosen to catalog a library of old books and search for a volume that may be there--or it may not even exist. And the book (the codex of the title) being sought may be a puzzle with hidden meaning. For the first three-quarters or so, this works very well, but then, at the end, Grossman fails to wrap up the story. I don't mean that he doesn't write an ending--I mean that I can't figure out from what he wrote what happened. (And it's not just me--quite a few reviewers expressed the same confusion.) There's also a parallel plot having to do with a computer game which does not really add very much, but probably makes this book fantasy rather than realism.

    To order Codex from, click here.

    BRASS KNUCKLES by Frank Gruber:

    [From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/19/2004]

    Frank Gruber's BRASS KNUCKLES had a United States publication, but so long ago (1966) that it has no ISBN. Still, lots of copies are available used. You also might run across some of these stories in anthologies. Gruber wrote a lot of pulp fiction; this book collects some of his stories featuring "Oliver Quade, the Human Encyclopedia." Quade knows everything, apparently from having read a set of encyclopedias through--four times. And so he solves murders (or escapes from deathtraps) using all sorts of arcane knowledge, (The escapes usually involve chemistry and being able to construct an explosive from whatever odds and ends happen to be there.)

    To order Brass Knuckles from, click here.

    EX LIBRIS edited by Paula Guran:

    [From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/20/2018]

    EX LIBRIS: STORIES OF LIBRARIANS, LIBRARIES & LORE edited by Paula Guran (ISBN 978-1-60701-489-8) is an anthology of 23 stories about, well, librarians and libraries (obviously). The first surprise is that it does *not* include Jorge Luis Borges's "Library of Babel". Guran does mention it in her preface. Another classic (which she doesn't mention) is Kurd Lasswitz's "Universal Library".

    (Actually, I suppose the first surprise is that this is not an "original anthology" in the sense of having the stories specially written for it. Rather Guran has collected stories dating as far back as 1988, which means that the stories have been "vetted" by other editors as well.)

    The stories are more a mixed bag than one usually finds in a theme anthology. In my experience most theme anthologies focus on a particular type of "fantastika" (e.g., all science fiction stories, or all fantasy stories). But EX LIBRIS has science fiction, fantasy, and horror. It also has some stories in which the library aspect was incidental to the story.

    As with most anthologies, some stories will appeal to a given reader more than others, but I think for those who love books and libraries there is more than enough to make this a must-read.

    To order Ex Libris from, click here.

    THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF CTHULHU edited by Paula Guran:

    [From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 09/23/2016]

    A couple of weeks ago I reported that Ellen Datlow mentioned that there were at least ten original Lovecraft-inspired anthologies in the last year. THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF CTHULHU edited by Paula Guran (ISBN 978-0-7624-5620-8) is one of them. I had read one of its stories, "Those Who Watch" by Ruthanna Emrys, on, and really enjoyed it, so I checked the entire volume out of the library. (Yes, I know authors would prefer I buy the book, but one cannot buy everything.)

    As with most anthologies, some stories are more appealing/rewarding than others. In addition to the Emrys, I enjoyed "The Cthulhu Navy Wife" by Sandra McDonald, which should appeal to anyone from a military family. And John Shirley's "Just Beyond the Trailer Park" is a different perspective on the horrors of Lovecraft's mythos.

    The only problem I have is whether I should recommend this instead of any of the other similar anthologies. The best I can do is to say that if you can get this from the library, it is certainly worth giving it a try.

    To order The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu from, click here.

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