Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2018 Evelyn C. Leeper.


THE PHYSICS OF SUPERHEROES by James Kakalios:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/10/2006]

THE PHYSICS OF SUPERHEROES by James Kakalios (ISBN 1-592-40146-5) is yet another book in the current flood of books trying to teach academic subjects using popular culture. In the introduction, Kakalios says, ". . . over the decades physics teachers have developed an arsenal of overstylized scenarios involving projectile motion, weights on pulleys, or oscillating masses on springs. These situations seem so artificial that students invariably lament, 'When am I ever going to use this stuff in my real life?' One trick I've hit upon in teaching physics involves using examples culled from superhero comic books that correctly illustrate various applications of physics principles. Interestingly enough, whenever I cite examples from superhero comic books in a lecture, my students never wonder when they will use this information in 'real life.' Apparently they all have plans, post-graduation, that involve Spandex and protecting the City from all threats." Be that as it may, Kakalios addresses such questions as "Can we calculate what the gravity on Krypton is, and can we have a planet with that gravity that supports life?" and "Could Atom punch his way out of a vacuum clean bag?" There is a lot of math, and this is more like a physics textbook than a light read about superheroes, but definitely good for all us geeks.

To order The Physics of Superheroes from amazon.com, click here.


THE UNITED STATES OF ARUGULA: HOW WE BECAME A GOURMET NATION by David Kamp:

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

THE UNITED STATES OF ARUGULA: HOW WE BECAME A GOURMET NATION by David Kamp (ISBN 978-0-7679-1579-3) sounded promising, but was disappointing. I had hoped for a book that would cover our transition from a macaroni and cheese nation to a place where salsa outsells ketchup and the question is not whether to have Thai food, but which of the four Thai restaurants with five miles of our house to go to. Instead, Kamp mainly focuses on celebrity chefs and their effect on eating habits. He starts with Julia Child, Craig Claiborne, and James Beard, and continues to the many chefs today. There is a nod to East Asian cuisines and Mexican cuisine, but nothing about Indian cuisine, or Middle Eastern cuisine, or indeed any cuisine outside of Europe or the United States.

Even if I were interested in the actual topic, I would find the writing style a turn-off. I cannot pin down the problem: Are the sentences too ornate? Does Kamp try to jam too many ideas into a single sentence? Consider this sentence, randomly chosen: "In 1976 when she was still only twenty-three, Piper opened up her own place in Madison, L'Etoile, which was, if anything, an even greater triumph than the Ovens of Brittany, its dedication to local foods inspiring the food press to posit Piper as a Midwestern analogue to Alice Waters." Judge for yourself.

To order The United States of Arugula from amazon.com, click here.


HOW TO HEPBURN: LESSONS ON LIVING FROM KATE THE GREAT by Karen Karbo:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/30/2007]

HOW TO HEPBURN: LESSONS ON LIVING FROM KATE THE GREAT by Karen Karbo (ISBN-13 978-1-59691-351-6, ISBN-10 1-59691-351-7) is half Hepburn biography, half self-help book, and not very good at either. If you are a Hepburn fan, you are liable to come away liking her much less. (Ditto for Spencer Tracy.) But there isn't much in the way of self-help either--given the negative portrayal of Hepburn's personality, a list of ways to emulate her would seem to be something to avoid rather than follow. And the editing is way below what I would expect from a publisher such as Bloomsbury. Karbo says that Mary Stuart was Elizabeth I's sister (she was her cousin), spells "Christendom" as "Christiandom", and says that Spencer Tracy's character in BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK is "one-armed". (He actually has two arms, but one is paralyzed. (Karbo seems to know this, in fact, because a few sentences later she says, "[N]otice how he keeps his arms down?")

To order How to Hepburn from amazon.com, click here.


LITERARY HOAXES: AN EYE-OPENING HISTORY OF FAMOUS FRAUDS by Melissa Katsoulis:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/19/2010]

LITERARY HOAXES: AN EYE-OPENING HISTORY OF FAMOUS FRAUDS by Melissa Katsoulis (ISBN-13 978-1-602-39794-1) begins with Brian McHale's categorizations of hoaxes into the genuine hoax, the entrapment hoax, and the mock hoax. Though not specifically stated, this book does not cover journalism hoaxes (other than the "serialized memoir" sorts (such as Stephen Glass's articles).

One thing that struck me was how many of the stories of these hoaxes were made into movies: Grey Owl (GREY OWL), the autobiography of Howard Hughes (HOAX), FORBIDDEN LOVE by Norma Khouri (FORBIDDEN LIE$), Mark Hofmann (not a movie, but the radio play "The Salamander Letter").

Katsoulis divides the genuine hoaxes into a set of categories reminiscent of the Chinese taxonomy in Jorge Luis Borges's story "The Analytical Language of John Wilkins". ("In its remote pages it is written that the animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.") The taxonomy of hoaxes she uses divides it up into such categories as "The Eighteenth Century", "The Nineteenth Century", "Native Americans", "Celebrity Testaments", "Australia", "Religion", etc. While I will admit there is not much overlap between Native American hoaxes and Australian hoaxes, in general the categories are not at all parallel.

The entrapment hoaxes she discusses include the Spectra, Alan Sokal's fake postmodern paper on the linguistic aspects of quantum gravity, and Jean Shepard's promotion of the non-existent book I, LIBERTINE by Frederick Ewing. The latter is known to science fiction fans because there was such demand for the book that eventually it was created, ghost-written by Theodore Sturgeon and with a cover by Kelly Freas.

Oprah Winfrey has been taken in by several of the hoaxes (Forrest Carter, James Frey, Margaret B. Jones, Herman Rosenblat), which should perhaps make one skeptical of her claims about other people, miracle cures, etc.

What I found most interesting, though, was how these hoaxes were exposed. Most were not as obvious as the one that claimed to have letters written by Mary Magdalene in colloquial French (!), but so many seemed to be inept. One was exposed when a letter they produced as authentic had a ZIP code--but predated the ZIP code system. Other hoaxes have fallen apart when they include area codes that are newer than the date when the stationery on which they were printed was produced, non-existent lot numbers for real estate, or (in the case of FORBIDDEN LOVE) having the River Jordan flowing through Amman (it doesn't even come close--sort of like a book describing the Hudson River flowing through Boston). Major flaws in the book include that it has no index, no bibliography, and no footnotes. The writing could also use editing--I found several instances of misplaced modifiers, awkward phrasing, etc.

(Speaking of which, I often notice writers ignoring parallel construction, but what about pseudo-parallel construction, e.g., "He got awakened, ready, and his coat"? Is there a name for this sort of thing?)

To order Literary Hoaxes from amazon.com, click here.


THE STORY OF ONE HUNDRED GREAT COMPOSERS by Helen L. Kaufman:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/11/2011]

I also ran across a small volume titled THE STORY OF ONE HUNDRED GREAT COMPOSERS by Helen L. Kaufmann (no isbn). Published in 1943, possibly under paper rationing restrictions, it is 5.25 inches high, 3.75 inches wide, and a half inch thick. One the dust jacket flap it says, "How convenient to have at hand a little book like this--to supply us with al the interesting facts of the lives and careers of one hundred of the great composers of all time. It is made to fit your pocket or your purse, so the information will be available when you want it most." I'm just trying to envision a world in which people are so enamored of concert music that they would carry around this book the way some people carry around a Bible or New Testament.

To order The Story of One Hundred Great Composers from amazon.com, click here.


RESURRECTED HOLMES edited by Marvin Kaye (St. Martin's Press, ISBN 0-312-14037-1, 1996, 337pp, hardback):

In the introduction to this anthology, it is explained that notes from several unwritten Sherlock Holmes adventures were discovered and that consequently, various famous authors were commissioned to write up the stories from these notes. Given that the authors were supposedly asked to imitate Watson's (Doyle's) style as closely as possible, one wonders why such a variety of famous authors were needed and, in any case, each author's style breaks through. That shouldn't surprise the reader--that's obviously the point.

The first story is "The Adventure of the Amateur Mendicant Society" by John Gregory Betancourt (supposedly H. G. Wells), and does have a very similar style to Doyle's. The story itself has promise, although the resolution leaves one moderately unsatisfied as being a bit contrived in regards to Holmes's position.

But "Victor Lynch the Forger" by Terry McGarry (Theodore Dreiser) is more what one expects: a story with Holmes written in a style different than Doyle's. And here is where the first flicker of doubt begins. While it is possible to do this style shift successfully, it is usually in humorous pieces (Sherlock Holmes as told by Dr. Seuss--that sort of thing). Done as a serious work, it has interest from a literary standpoint perhaps, but the story no longer has much of the appeal the originals did, which is their style. Recounting the plot of a Holmes story in bland prose would not have captivated generations of readers. Without Doyle's style, something is missing.

"The Case of the Notorious Canary Trainer" by Henry Slesar (W. Somerset Maugham), "The Repulsive Story of the Red Leech" by Morgan Llewelyn (Ernest Hemingway), and "Holmes and the Loss of the British Barque Sophy Anderson" by Peter Cannon (C. S. Forester) seem more matched with their purported authors because of subject matter than style, at least that I can detect, which I suppose is the stated plan.

With "Sherlock Holmes, Dragon-Slayer" (The Singular Case of the Grice Pattersons in the Island of Uffa) by Darrell Schweitzer (Lord Dunsany) we return to stories whose style is definitely that of their purported authors. These include "The Adventure of Ricoletti of the Club Foot" (and his abominable wife) by Roberta Rogow (P. G. Wodehouse), "The Giant Rat of Sumatra" by Paula Volsky (H. P. Lovecraft), and "Mrs. Vamberry Takes a Trip (Vamberry the Wine Merchant)" by Mike Resnick (J. Thorne Smith). The Volsky is one of the better stories, with the style working with the Holmesian atmosphere rather than against it. The Resnick, on the other hand, may be Smith's style, but this only shows that Smith should not have written Sherlock Holmes stories. (By the by, the biographical paragraph about Resnick in the back seems to go out of its way to list such obscure books that fans won't even recognize that this is the same man who has twelve Hugo nominations.)

"The Adventure of the Boulevard Assassin" by Richard A. Lupoff (Jack Kerouac) is certainly in the style of Kerouac. However, it is not a style I like and because of this, this was my least favorite story in the book. "The Madness of Colonel Warburton" by Carole Bugg (Dashiell Hammett) is also definitely in the style of its purported author, even without the ending, but only serves to show that Holmes is not a hard-boiled detective--nor is Watson.

"The Manor House Case" by Edward D. Hoch (Ellery Queen) is much more in the Ellery Queen style than Sherlock Holmes, with the usual "obvious" clue. (Doyle didn't always "play fair" with the reader, often having Holmes make his deductions based on information not given to the reader until the very end when Holmes explained everything.)

"The Adventure of the Cripple Parade (The Singular Affair of the Aluminium Crutch)" by William L. DeAndrea (Mickey Spillane) and "Too Many Stains (The Adventure of the Second Stain)" by Marvin Kaye (Rex Stout) are two more hard-boiled stories, again reinforcing my earlier statement about how Holmes and this style do not mix.

Although there are a few good stories here, on the whole I cannot recommend this anthology.

To order Resurrected Holmes from amazon.com, click here.


CRIME & MYSTERY: THE 100 BEST BOOKS by H. R. F. Keating:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/26/2005]

In his introduction, H. R. F. Keating says that his CRIME & MYSTERY: THE 100 BEST BOOKS (ISBN 0-88184-441-1) would be better titled "One Hundred Very Good Crime and Mystery Books, Taking into Account that No Author Should be Represented by More Than Three Titles (So As To Be Fair to Others) and Allowing for a Little Personal Idiosyncracy in Naming One or Two Whom the Majority of Other Commentators Might Not Have Chosen Very Readily". (And as the publisher notes, modesty forbade Keating from including any of his own stories.) At any rate, Keating gives us a two-page essay on each work: why it is included, what its flaws are, which other works by the same author are considered on a par (or perhaps even better), and so on. He rarely gives spoilers, but when he does, he warns the reader first. Keating starts with Edgar Allan Poe in 1845 and ends with a 1986 P. D. James novel. Since this book was published in 1987, that makes it as up-to-date as it could be, but obviously provides no guidance for the last two decades. Still, for those wanting to sample the classic mysteries, this book is the perfect companion.

To order Crime & Mystery: The 100 Best Books from amazon.com, click here.


THE PERFECT MURDER by H. R. Keating:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/04/2005]

H. R. Keating wrote a series of Inspector Ghote mysteries, starting with THE PERFECT MURDER (ISBN 0-897-33078-1). These take place in India, although Keating is English and did not even visit India until after he had written several of the books. Therefore, it isn't surprising that some of the details seem a bit off, but in general the unusual setting gives an otherwise basic mystery some interest. In particular, Ashok K. Banker talks about the "tweaked" almost-Indian names, and I found the Indian English language not completely convincing. The duplication (e.g., "Gate hate. Locking knocking.") is accurate, even though at first it seems like a Yiddish invasion. (The classic work of Indian English is called "Hobson Jobson" for a reason. And thanks to Fred Lerner for telling me that the technical name for this was "reduplication".)

To order The Perfect Murder from amazon.com, click here.


THE BOOK OF THE UNKNOWN by Jonathon Keats:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/13/2009]

THE BOOK OF THE UNKNOWN: TALES OF THE THIRTY-SIX by Jonathon Keats (ISBN-13 978-0-8129-7897-1, ISBN-10 0-8129-7897-8) is a collection of twelve stories about purported "lamed wufniks" (as I described in my review of Leopoldo Lugones's "Metamusic" in the 02/06/09 issue, in Jewish mystical tradition the thirty-six righteous men whose purpose is to justify the world to God). It also has a fictitious author's foreword and editor's afterword, trying to present these as true stories discovered in an ancient genizah. Unlike with some novels, however, it is fairly obvious that the entire book is fiction.

Keats's purpose seems to be to show that saints may be the most unlikely people: a thief, a gambler, a whore, even a murderer. Yet when you finish each story, it makes perfect sense that such a person could be a saint. My one problem is that while most of the stories take place in villages that could be in our world, some stories seem to take place in a fairy-tale land. To me at least, they seem too distant from our world to be portraying the lamed wufniks that protect our world. Although the whole notion of the saints has an element of the fantastical, it seems like it should have more connection with our world if the purpose is to uphold our world.

That said, the stories stand well on their own as fables even without a specific connection to the lamed wufniks. Read them as stories of unlikely saints in whatever world and you'll see what I mean.

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/20/2012]

THE BOOK OF THE UNKNOWN: TALES OF THE THIRTY-SIX by Jonathon Keats (ISBN 978-0-8129-7897-1) is a collection of a dozen stories of the Lamedh-Vov--the thirty-six righteous men on whom the continued existence of the world depends. (Keats has updated it somewhat, and some of the Lamedh-Vov are women.) There is an introduction explaining the tales, but it becomes clear that it, and the editors' afterword are just another fiction. Fantasy based on Celtic legends is very common in the "fantasy" sections of bookstores; fantasy based on Jewish legends is much rarer and usually found only in the literary fiction section. (Even the Jewish section is barren of them, that section being reserved for non-fiction.) There are a few exceptions: THE RED MAGICIAN (Lisa Goldstein), GOLEM IN THE GEARS (Piers Anthony), and FEET OF CLAY (Terry Pratchett).

Keats's "saints" (to use the common term) are very atypical saints: a thief, a murderer, a whore, a gambler, ... not your usual saintly material. Yet they are each unique in their own way, and each has that "essence of sainthood" that is needed. If I had to put it in a category, I would say that it is closest to magical realism and that it has more in common with a book like Laura Esquivel's LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE than with a high fantasy such as THE LORD OF THE RINGS or sword and sorcery such as the "Conan" stories. Some might say this would appeal to Jewish readers, but I think its appeal is broader than that, and would recommend it to those who want a different sort of fantasy.

To order The Book of the Unknown from amazon.com, click here.


THE FIRST WORLD WAR by John Keegan:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/19/2018]

With the centenary of the beginning of World War I four years ago, and the centenary of the United States's entry into that war last year, all the books about World War I that people finally got around to reading are now appearing in the used book stores. So I recently picked up THE FIRST WORLD WAR by John Keegan (ISBN 978-0-375-70045-3) and MR WILSON'S WAR by John Dos Passos. I will get to the latter one of these days, but for now, I will talk about the former.

Early on, Keegan addresses the issue of why World War I was both so unexpectedly deadly and so unexpectedly protracted. As Keegan explains, "The ... belief in the power of the offensive was correct; whoever first brought his available fire power into action with effect would prevail. What had not been perceived is that firepower takes effect only if it can be directed in timely and accurate fashion. That requires communication." More specifically, it requires instantaneous communication, and the armies of World War I did not have this. Radio ("wireless telegraphy") requires heavy, bulky equipment that could not be transported easily in battlefield conditions or on airplanes, airships, or balloons. The telegraph was available, but required wires, which were invariably cut by the enemy. Reduced to line-of-sight signaling, runners, or even carrier pigeons, commanders often ended up having their shells fall too far forward (hence behind the enemy troops), or worse yet, too close, dropping on their own troops. When radio was used, as in the Tannenberg campaign, messages were often sent un-encoded, due to the lack of time and the difficulties of distributing code books. This happened on both sides; all that kept some messages from the enemy was that there was a shortage of operators and equipment preventing constant monitoring for messages.

Keegan does a good job of describing the background and politics of World War I. He is less successful (with me, anyway) in describing battle maneuvers. Some are relatively clear, e.g., the Germans would use tear gas to force the Allied troops to remove their gas masks, then use phosgene against them. But apparently even Keegan is unable to explain troop movements so that I can understand them. (His need to list every corps, division, brigade, and battalion by number did not help.)

Still, Keegan's writing is quite literary and often poetic, and I would certainly recommend this as a manageable-sized coverage of World War I.

To order The First World War from amazon.com, click here.


A HISTORY OF WARFARE by John Keegan:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/26/2013]

A HISTORY OF WARFARE by John Keegan (ISBN 0-679-73082-6) was recommended in the first lesson of the Teaching Company's "War and History (Prof. Jonathan P. Koth). Keegan does not provide a history of the world through its wars, as one might expect, but a history of the philosophy and practice of warfare. The "philosophy of warfare" may sound odd, but that seems to be the best term. Keegan describes various modes of warfare, such as "face-to-face traditional combat", "Aztec flower battles" (for the purpose of taking captives), "phalanx warfare", combat in which there was no dishonor in retreating to fight again another day, and so on. Some of the most costly battles are those in which one side is fighting according to one set of rules, and the other is using a different mode entirely.

Keegan divides warfare into four stages: stone, bronze, iron, and fire. In addition to these main categories, he also has shorter sections on logistics and other orthogonal aspects of warfare.

To order The History of Warfare from amazon.com, click here.


BLUE HEAVEN by Joe Keenan (Penguin, 1988, 0-14-010764-9, trade paperback):

Gilbert is broke. Desperate for money, he goes to a family wedding, hoping to hit up his stepfather for some cash. Having failed at this, he wanders off and accidentally finds the room where the gifts are. As he's looking at them, in wanders Moira, also lost, also broke. They look at the gifts. They look at each other. A plan is born!

Yes, Gilbert and Moira decide to marry--for the gifts. There are a few minor problems. One, they hate each other. Two, Moira can be trusted about as far as you could throw a seven-tiered wedding cake. Three, Gilbert is gay. But as they say, the course of true love did never run smooth, and believe me, for the gifts they have true love.

Set in the trendy world of Manhattan artists (one friend makes sculptures out of trash bags filled with trash), Blue Heaven is the funniest book I can remember reading in years. There is Vulpina, who shows up at one point wearing "immense brown jodhpurs, a sort of black lace mantilla and a skin-tight white silk tube top. The total effect suggested a teabag in mourning." There is Gilbert's stepfather, Freddy "the Pooch" Bombelli, so called because it is rumored that his enemies end up as input to his pet food factory. (That is, those that don't suddenly have a fit of remorse, set themselves on fire, and jump from the top of a ten-story building.) That's right, folks, Gilbert and Moira are trying to cheat the Mafia.

Of course, things don't go as smoothly as this explanation might indicate. (Think about it.) There's Moira's mother, the Duchess, who can be counted on to cause problems. There are all of Gilbert's past lovers and rejected lovers who can be counted on to cause big problems. And then there is the problem of which of Bombelli's nephews will inherit his "business."

In summary, this book is absolutely wonderful. I found myself laughing out loud--a lot. I kept thinking it would make a great movie, somewhat along the lines of After Hours, but more madcap. (The back cover compares it to P. G. Wodehouse and Preston Sturges.) Go read this book.

To order Blue Heaven from amazon.com, click here.


PUTTING ON THE RITZ by Joe Keenan (Penguin, 1992 (1991c), ISBN 0-14-014989-9, trade paperback):

Life in New York will never be the same. First there was Gilbert and Moira's wedding. Not that they actually loved each other, or could even stand the sight of each other, but they did have a lot of rich step-relatives who could be counted on to be generous with the presents and they had one trait in common--greed. But that story was all told in Blue Heaven (which you should run out immediately and read), so I'll stick to Putting on the Ritz here.

Philip Cavanaugh (Gilbert's best man) and Claire Simmons have just had a Broadway flop--through no fault of their own, I should add, though since Philip is the narrator his opinions should perhaps be viewed with some suspicion. But Gilbert, ever helpful, has found them a new job--writing and arranging the music for a rich social matron's singing debut. That it is al a cover for having Philip try to dig up some dirt on the matron's husband for the editor of a rival culture magazine to use in their feud is a minor detail, as is the fact that what the matron makes up in money she lacks in talent. Philip knows he shouldn't get involved--as he says, "I ... said [to Gilbert] that, while I had no desire to hurt his feelings or mar his delight over his new project, I felt nonetheless compelled to remind him that he was born under a malignant star, that everything he touched ended in sorrow and weeping, and that any person so bereft of reason to assist him in one of his ventures should first consult a good dentist, as prolonged and intense gnashing of teeth might be confidently expected." Then Philip meets Gilbert's sponsor for all this, and sanity flies out the window as love (or at least lust) comes through the door. Of course, this makes him Gilbert's rival for this man, so their teamwork in this somewhat dubious plot is made even shakier by each of them attempting to outdo the other and so gain the prize.

I had claimed that Blue Heaven was the funniest book I had read in years, and Putting on the Ritz is every bit as funny as its predecessor. I wholeheartedly recommend both of them.

To order Putting on the Ritz from amazon.com, click here.


THE SECRET OF THE OLD CLOCK by Carolyn Keene:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/28/2004]

Carolyn Keene's THE SECRET OF THE OLD CLOCK was a nostalgia read for the mystery book group, but one of the oddities about it is that people had at least two different versions to choose from. Originally written in 1930, it was re-written in 1959 to remove racial sterotypes (sounds a bit like Agatha Christie's TEN LITTLE INDIANS/AND THEN THERE WERE NONE!), as well as to raise Nancy's age to 18, change her roadster to a convertible, and other "modernizations." One of these modernizations, according to one person who read both editions, was the dumbing-down of the language. This may be why I didn't enjoy the new version as much, and I also missed Beth and George. (We weren't sure if they were written out, or whether they didn't appear until later volumes. And we also didn't think today's teenagers would find much to like in them--there isn't much for them to identify with, but there is no "period feel" left to enjoy either. (This is why the updating of Sherlock Holmes done for the later Universal films doesn't work very well.) And our opinion is supported somewhat by one person, who said her niece had read it and thought that Nancy was just "too good" to be believable.

(Ironically, given the removal of the racial stereotypes, Nancy Drew is now published under Pocket Books's Minstrel imprint.)

There are also new series of Nancy Drew: Nancy Drew on Campus, Nancy Drew Notebooks, Nancy Drew & Hardy Boys Super Mysteries. Frankly, my recommendation both for those looking for nostalgia and for those reading them for the first time would be to read the 1930 editions if you can find them, and skip the newer ones.

Details about many of the differences and change can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/06/opinion/06BENF.html (probably expired, but there seems to be a copy at http://www.bayviews.org/baynews/news0403.htm). There was also an essay on http://www.epinions.com, but it seems to be gone.

To order The Secret of the Old Clock from amazon.com, click here.


"The Best Christmas Ever" by James Patrick Kelly:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/17/2005]

"The Best Christmas Ever" by James Patrick Kelly (scifi.com 5/26/04) is about a man surrounded entirely by robots ("biops") who take on the forms of family, friends, pets, and whatever else is needed to keep him happy. But he isn't. This is another story for which I can't understand its nomination. It's not that I don't like Christmas stories. I do like "A Christmas Carol" (the Alistair Sim version), "It Happened One Night" and "Miracle on 34th Street", and also Thomas Hardy's poem "The Oxen". But on the whole, the mere invocation of the holiday is not going to boost a story in my estimation.


BURN by James Patrick Kelly:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/12/2006]

"Burn" by James Patrick Kelly (ISBN 1-892-39127-9) was yet another Hugo nominee that I gave up on. There was just something about the writing style that I found impenetrable.

To order Burn from amazon.com, click here.


"Plus or Minus" by James Patrick Kelly:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/15/2011]

"Plus or Minus" by James Patrick Kelly (in ASIMOV'S 12/10) is yet another entry in the "let's-respond-to-Tom-Godwin's-'Cold-Equations'" sweepstakes. (Has anyone compiled a list of these?) Kelly has a bit more characterization, but it serves more to obscure the story than develop it.


THINK LIKE A DINOSAUR by James Patrick Kelly (Golden Gryphon, ISBN 0-9655901-9-4, 1997, 275pp):

This volume contains fourteen of Kelly's best stories, including two Hugo nominees and four Nebula nominees (a fifth, "Saint Theresa of the Aliens," is missing). The title story is the best known, and the most discussed, of all of them. Some see it as a response or follow-up to Tom Godwin's "Cold Equations." It can be seen that way, but the "equation" in Godwin's story is a function of the physical universe, while that of "Think Like a Dinosaur" is more artificially created. And in fact it's not a new idea, but has been part and parcel of teleportation discussions for a long time now. Kelly combines it well with an alien sub-plot, though, and makes it interesting from that perspective.

The other stories represent the best of Kelley's work, and make it available in a permanent form.

This is the first volume from a new publisher, Golden Gryphon, and is a very well-produced volume. The single-author short story collection is not as dead as some claim. It isn't even relegated to the small press, as some would have--just this month sees the publication of a single-author collection by Ace, for example. But these collections do have an extra hurdle (as do reprint anthologies, for that matter): readers may decide they already have some or most of the stories and pass them up. In the case of THINK LIKE A DINOSAUR, what will work against its success is the fact that all but one of the stories in it were first published in ASIMOV'S, and most readers who know of Kelly are probably subscribers to that magazine. On the other hand, libraries should definitely acquire this book. In fact, I hope someone is bringing the single-author collections being produced these days to the attention of libraries, since they provide the only way for most libraries to get some of the best work of today's leading authors.

To order Think Like a Dinosaur from amazon.com, click here.


FEELING VERY STRANGE: THE SLIPSTREAM ANTHOLOGY edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/03/2006]

FEELING VERY STRANGE: THE SLIPSTREAM ANTHOLOGY edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel (ISBN 1-892391-35-X) appears to be for slipstream what MIRRORSHADES edited by Bruce Sterling was for cyberpunk or BLACK WATER edited by Alberto Manguel was for magical realism: the foundational anthology. And you know an anthology is good when you find yourself looking forward to reading even the pieces you have read before. In this case, these are such classics as Ted Chiang's "Hell Is the Absence of God", Benjamin Rosenbaum's "Biographical Notes to 'A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-Planes'", and Michael Chabon's "The God of Dark Laughter". The earliest story is from 1972, though most date between 1987 and the present. (The term "slipstream" was coined by Bruce Sterling in 1989.)

In the introduction, Kelly and Kessel attempt to define "slipstream", and in the process list some "precursors" of slipstream (my comments in parentheses):

They then say, "The ideal version of this anthology would include such precursors." Well, you can always create a virtual by seeking these out as well. (Judith Merril must have had a slipstream sensibility--she anthologized four of these in her various "best-of" anthologies.)

To order Feeling Very Strange from amazon.com, click here.


THE SECRET HISTORY OF SCIENCE FICTION edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/04/2010]

And speaking of alternate histories, THE SECRET HISTORY OF SCIENCE FICTION edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel (ISBN-13 978-1-892391-93-3) is described on the back cover as "exploring an alternate history of science fiction." Secret history, alternate history--it sounded promising, maybe an anthology of science fiction stories that might have been written if Thomas Pynchon's GRAVITY'S RAINBOW had won the Nebula instead of Arthur C. Clarke's RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA. (This is not a random choice--it was the premise of an article by Jonathan Lethem in 1998, "Close Encounters: The Squandered Promise of Science Fiction".) Alas, it was not to be. Instead, this is simply an anthology of "literary" science fiction stories, written and published in our timeline, that Kelly and Kessel think would have been successful in that other timeline (and would have been published in "mainstream" magazines). The stories are good, but I feel that the marketing is a bit deceptive.

(Actually, what I thought on discovering this was, "It's a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham"--but perhaps that's a bit extreme.)

To order The Secret History of Science Fiction from amazon.com, click here.


FRIDAY THE RABBI SLEPT LATE by Harry Kemelman:

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

The library mystery discussion group covered Harry Kemelman's FRIDAY THE RABBI SLEPT LATE, the first of his long series. I thought the "expository lumps" about Judaism where a bit un-subtle, but most of the people (particularly the non-Jews) thought them well done. At first I thought the portrayal of a conservative rabbi who cooks, drives, and turns on lights on Saturday was questionable, but thinking about it, I suspect one found this more then, with the move back to a more observant position being a relatively recent phenomenon. I found the book interesting for its portrayal of a different world: an upper-class community with maids where people don't even lock their cars. (It reminded me of the setting of FAR FROM HEAVEN, the recent film set in the 1950s with Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid.) In any case, everyone agreed it was an easy-to-read and enjoyable book.

To order Friday the Rabbi Slept Late from amazon.com, click here.


ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/09/2007]

Our discussion group chose ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac (ISBN-10 0-140-04259-8, ISBN-13 978-0-140-04259-7) for our January book. most of us found it close to unreadable, and certainly not enjoyable. But at least two of us were stuck by this passage in Part 2, Chapter 2: "When daybreak came we were zooming through New Jersey wit the great cloud of Metropolitan New York rising before us in the snowy distance. Dean had a sweater wrapped around his ears to keep warm. He said we were a band of Arabs coming in to blow up New York." And this was written a half century before 9/11.

To order On the Road from amazon.com, click here.


WEIRD TALES FROM SHAKESPEARE edited by Katharine Kerr and Martin H. Greenberg (DAW, ISBN 0-88677-605-8, July 1994, 318pp, paperback).

The idea of "theme" anthologies is certainly nothing new. But they are usually on more mundane or predictable themes--first contact, alternate Presidents, even cats and horses. And it used to be that anthologies were of older stories culled from magazines, stories that were written because the authors wanted to write them. Now they're commissioned--twenty-three authors are told, "I'm looking for stories on a Shakespearean theme." (Actually, it's more than twenty-three--I forget the multiplier someone once said was needed to get the right number of usable stories.) The result of this newer mode of operation is often a collection of stories that would not have sold in the open, undirected market. Not that the stories are necessarily bad, mind you, but they are getting points for being on-topic that get them accepted in anthologies but wouldn't help otherwise. Resnick seems to do the best job of keeping the story quality up in his anthologies (maybe that's why he is nominated for the Best Editor Hugo this year).

Now, I would have expected thirty-eight stories in this anthology, but I guess Kerr couldn't get anyone to agree to write a science fiction or fantasy story based on Coriolanus. Nor is this "the alternate Shakespeare," though both Kerr's introduction and the back cover blurb make that claim. The first section could have gone that way, with its stories with the Bard as a character, but none of them are alternate histories. These are among the best stories in the book with Diana L. Paxon's "Augmentation of Dust" especially worthy of note. (Nitpick to the editors: pick one version of the author's name and stick to it. Is it "Diana Paxon" or "Diana L. Paxon"?)

Section two deals with the tragedies: Henry IV, Part II from the Welsh point of view, Hamlet from Gertrude's point of view, King Lear from the Fool's point of view, King Lear in a computer, King Lear on an alien planet. After a while the pattern (either retell the story from another point of view, do Lear, or both) begins to wear.

The introduction to the next section implies that the comedies are being covered, but instead it's a selection of humorous stories about non-comedies: Hamlet from the point of view of the skull, another story about William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus done for an alien audience, a vampiric Romeo and Juliet, and Shakespeare in general from the point of view of Hollywood. Of these only the last--Mike Resnick's "The Summer of My Discontent"--tickled my funny bone.

Section four has unusual workings of Shakespeare's themes: The Tempest from Caliban's point of view, two re-workings of the Rosalind/Orlando theme, a genuine alternate Romeo and Juliet, and a look at A Midsummer Night's Dream. Section five is a look at the future (but several stories in other sections did that already): another Shakespeare performed for aliens and two very good pieces--Gregory Benford's "Not of an Age" and Adrienne Martine-Barnes's "The Elements So Mixed."

You may have noticed that the only stories I thought worthy of note were those with Shakespeare as a character (either on- or off-stage)--stories about how he got started as a writer, his universal appeal, etc. Whenever authors try to re-tell Shakespeare's plays ... well, let's just say they're no Shakespeares. Authors such as Barry Malzberg and Brian Aldiss don't turn in clunkers, of course, but even their talent suffers by comparison to Shakespeare. Some ideas sound better in the conception than they turn out to be in their execution and Weird Tales from Shakespeare may be one of them. (If you are a specialist on Shakespeare your mileage will almost certainly vary, though in which direction I cannot tell.)

To order Weird Tales from amazon.com, click here.


CORRUPTING DR. NICE by John Kessel (Tor, ISBN 0-312-86116-8, 1997, 317pp, hardback):

If this doesn't make my Hugo nomination ballot for 1997, there must be some really amazing books showing up later. Kessel manages to write a humorous, witty (no, they're not the same thing), thoughtful, time travel, alternate history, religious dinosaur story, which I think is the first. (Gore Vidal's Live from Golgotha. came close, but lacked the dinosaur.) Having said this much, I now have to try to review this book without telling you too much more, because part of the enjoyment is watching it all unfold. (Or perhaps a better analogy is watching it all come together, like those puzzles with pieces of all different shapes than fit together into a neat cube.)

How does he do this? Well, the underlying premise seems to be one of branching universes, at least in the sense that you can go from now to then, make all sorts of changes, and come back to this now rather than that now. So the entrepreneurs of Dr. Owen Vannice's "now" can go back to the Jerusalem of two thousand years ago, build a Holiday Inn, bring several major religious figures back to his present, and still not change one iota of the Crusades, the Inquisition, or the Salem witch trials.

Vannice (Dr. Nice) is returning from the Cretaceous with an apatosaurus when he finds himself in that Jerusalem, and soon becomes embroiled in a plot by zealots to purge their world of the "invaders." (I guess I forgot to say this was also about cultural imperialism.)

Kessel also fills his bizarre story with references to other science fiction stories, current journalistic tendencies, and a wide range of prehistoric, historic and quasi-historic figures. Yet within all this madcap whirl are insights and truths about us and our world. In this regard Kessel is part of a long literary tradition in speculative fiction, including Jonathan Swift, Mark Twain, Gore Vidal, James Morrow, and Connie Willis.

This is a wonderful book, both entertaining and thought-provoking. So in the words of Kim Stanley Robinson on the back cover, "Go buy this book yesterday."

To order Corrupting Dr. Nice from amazon.com, click here.


"Pride and Prometheus" by John Kessel:

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

"Pride and Prometheus" by John Kessel: It seems like everyone is doing a riff on Jane Austen this year--Benjamin Rosenbaum and Cory Doctorow in a small way in "True Names" and John Kessel here. But where Rosenbaum and Doctorow just throw in a passing reference, Kessel manages to capture the feeling of Austen (and Shelley) for the duration. This was a story I nominated, so it is not surprising that I like it.


THE QUOTE VERIFIER by Ralph Keyes:

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

I got THE QUOTE VERIFIER by Ralph Keyes (ISBN-13 978-0-312-34004-9, ISBN-10 0-312-34004-4) as a holiday gift, and it is more than just the usual collection of quotations. This is more like the "Snopes" of quotations, tracing the origin of hundreds of famous quotations, and trying to determine whether they were said by (any of) the people credited with them. For example, Harry Truman did not originate either "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen (Buck Purcell did), or "The buck stops here" (no, not Buck Purcell, but an anonymous originator). And "It's like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall" is an update of the original "like trying to nail currant jelly to the wall," coined by none other than Theodore Roosevelt (describing negotiations with Colombia in 1903). Not surprisingly, Keyes concentrates on quotes that are usually mis-credited, rather than those that really belong to the person most often cited. Those that are correctly attributed are often revisions or alterations of what was actually said. For example, Ivan Boesky said, "Greed is all right.... Greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself." This was condensed in the movie WALL STREET to "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good." All in all, a fun book, and worth having if you are the sort of person who likes to nit-pick other people's .sig files.

To order The Quote Verifier from amazon.com, click here.


FEAR AND TREMBLING by Søren Kierkegaard:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/04/2011]

I am doing the reading for a University of California at Berkeley called "Existentialism in Literature and Film" (taught on podcasts by Professor Hubert Dreyfus). One problem is that so far as I can remember, he never defines existentialism--nor does anyone else. Even Wikipedia is not very useful.

[Can anyone out there take a stab at it? -mrl]

The first book in the syllabus was FEAR AND TREMBLING by Soren Kierkegaard (ISBN 978-0-140-44449-0). Originally written in Danish, it apparently has no good translation, probably because even in Danish it is difficult to follow. (Example: according to Dreyfus, there is only one word in Danish for "particular" and "individual", which have different meanings in English. Translators have apparently been choosing one or the other English word at random.) So I spent a lot of time slogging through what--without benefit of clear definition--he calls "knights of resignation" and "knights of faith" and it wasn't until lecture eight that things started to make sense. Kierkegaard talks about Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac, and this somehow connects with existentialism. Dreyfus finally got around to explaining this in plain(er) English as that Abraham is driven to do something that he knows is wrong, but knows he must do it anyway. It is inexplicable, and we are not to attribute this to insanity on Abraham's part, nor to some higher ethic.

For example, Dreyfus contrasts Abraham's decision with Agamemnon's decision to sacrifice Iphigenia. The latter is explicable--the higher ethic of Agamemnon doing what he must as a king overrides the ethic of doing what he wishes as a father. Another example Dreyfus gave (suggested by a listener to earlier podcasts) is that of Huck in THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN when he decides not to turn Jim in. Huck is not claiming a higher ethic; indeed, he says:

So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn't know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I'll go and write the letter--and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:
Miss Watson, your runaway n****r Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. Huck Finn.

I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn't do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking--thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn't seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I'd see him standing my watch on top of his'n, 'stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and suchlike times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he's got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

"All right, then, I'll go to hell"--and tore it up.

Unfortunately, most of Dreyfus's examples in the course (other than Abraham, who was Kierkegaard's original example) were people whose motivations we would now see as of a higher ethic than what they turned their back on. We see Huck's decision as the more ethical of his choices (turn Jim in or not) because we have come to believe that slavery is bad, slaves are people, etc. But Kierkegaard is attempting to justify the decision even if there is no higher ethic. He does not give God's will as a higher ethic for Abraham--he just says that Abraham knew he had to sacrifice Isaac, and as a result, he got to keep Isaac. (This decision is called "suspending the ethical" based on some sort of "unconditional commitment.")

If existentialism leads to claims like this, I'm not surprised that no one can explain it.

To order Fear and Trembling from amazon.com, click here.


THE NEW CTHULHU: THE RECENT WEIRD by Caitlin R. Kiernan:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/22/2013]

THE NEW CTHULHU: THE RECENT WEIRD edited by Caitlin R. Kiernan (ISBN 978-1-607-01289-4) was a book I started it a while ago, but because it was on the Kindle, it was perfect for finishing on my recent trip to Arizona. And an excellent book it is, too. There are a couple of stories that I thought not quite in the tone of Lovecraft, but only a couple, and the rest exhibited a wide range even with the Lovecraftian genre.

To order The New Cthulhu from amazon.com, click here.


I'LL HAVE WHAT SHE'S HAVING: BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE GREAT ROMANTIC COMEDIES by Daniel M. Kimmel:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 09/05/2014]

I'LL HAVE WHAT SHE'S HAVING: BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE GREAT ROMANTIC COMEDIES by Daniel M. Kimmel (ISBN 978-1-56663-737-4) led me to ask, "Exactly what is a romantic comedy?" Somehow, this never really got answered, although Kimmel comments that certain films are not romantic comedies because, for example, the romance element is secondary to another plot element. So one can sketch in the outlines, though like Damon Knight's definition of science fiction, it may well be "what we point to it when we say it." (Or Justice Potter Stewart's comment--twelve years after Knight's definition--on what constituted pornography: "I know it when I see it.")

When I looked at the list of films included in the book (indisputably all classics), I did notice something: they all had a white male and a white female as the romantic couple. Now this could be that for the vast majority of time that romantic comedies have been made, this was the only acceptable pairing for a Hollywood movie, and the inclusion of SOME LIKE IT HOT does include a film that skirts as close to the boundaries as one could at the time (if you'll pardon the pun). (Oddly, Hollywood seemed to have no problem with Tom Hanks falling in love with a female of a different species in SPLASH, another possibility for the list.)

And this brings out a requirement that does not seem to be explicitly stated: these are almost all Hollywood romantic comedies. (LOVE ACTUALLY is British actually.) You won't find LA CAGE AUX FOLLES; or YESTERDAY, TODAY, TOMORROW; or DILWALE DULHANIA LE JAYENGE or MONSOON WEDDING; or CHASING AMY or KISSING JESSICA STEIN; or THE WEDDING BANQUET. This is a pity, since my personal opinion is that the last two or three of Kimmel's choices are not ones I would have labeled as "great." But I suppose that just means I should write my own book. (If I did, DESIGNING WOMAN (1957) and OSCAR (1991) would definitely be in it. Back when we used to have friends over for "film festival" double features, we showed SOME LIKE IT HOT and OSCAR as a double feature. All eight friends voted OSCAR the funnier of the two.)

(And if the author's name sounds familiar to MT VOID readers, there's a good reason for that.)

To order I'll Have What She's Having from amazon.com, click here.


JAR JAR BINKS MUST DIE ... AND OTHER OBSERVATIONS ABOUT SCIENCE FICTION MOVIES by Daniel M. Kimmel:

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

JAR JAR BINKS MUST DIE ... AND OTHER OBSERVATIONS ABOUT SCIENCE FICTION MOVIES by Daniel M. Kimmel (ISBN 978-1-617-20350-3) is actually related to science fiction, and maybe because I am particularly interested in science fiction movies, I liked it a lot. (Full disclosure: Mark is mentioned in it.)

To order Jar Jar Binks Must Die from amazon.com, click here.


ECHOES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/23/2016]

ECHOES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger (ISBN 978-1-68177-225-7) is not part of the Titan series, but there seems to be a minor Holmes revival going on. (Clearly, Benedict Cumberbatch has something to do with this.) This volume is a sort of compendium of a variety of Sherlockian stories. Some are about modern detectives who copy Holmes's methods, or share Holmes's name, or have some other connection. Some are about actors who play Holmes, or authors who write about Holmes, or readers or read about Holmes. In some Holmes actually appears, in others, not. Given this, it is likely you will like some stories and not others, but on the whole I would recommend this book.

To order Echoes of Sherlock Holmes from amazon.com, click here.


11/22/63 by Stephen King:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/16/2012]

11/22/63 by Stephen King (ISBN (978-1-4516-2728-2) is an 842-page time-travel alternate history novel. It is not the first book of a trilogy. I only mention that because so many alternate histories are these days. And if you are looking for this outside the United States, it is still called "11/22/63", even though by rights it should be "22/11/63".

King spends the first hundred pages setting up the premise and giving you all the rules. Basically, there is a time portal in Al's Fatburger Diner that goes back to 11:58 AM, September 9, 1958. Every time you go through it everything resets ("Every trip is the first trip"), and when you return it is always two minutes after you left, no matter how long you spent in the past. You can bring items forward with you into the present. And this is where there is at least one big plot hole.

How does Al manage to sell his burgers as cheap as he does? Well, he goes back every few days or so and buys ten pounds of ground chuck from Mr. Warren the butcher at fifty-four cents a pound. He agrees that this sounds a little like the loaves and fishes, since he is always buying the same ten pounds of meat, but waves that off with a sort of "it's a mystery, my son" attitude.

But here's the problem. Before Al ever goes back, the newspapers from 1959 that he looks at in the present show that Carolyn Poulin is shot and paralyzed in a hunting accident. On day N, Al goes back and saves Carolyn, so the newspapers from 1959 that he looks at when he returns to the present have no record of the accident. On day N<1, he goes back again--thereby resetting everything ("Every trip is the first trip")--and does not save her, and voila! the newspapers from 1959 that he looks at in the present again show that Carolyn is shot in a hunting accident.

So assume that on January 2, 2005, he goes back, buys ten pounds of meat, brings it forward, and serves it from January 2 through January 5. Then on January 6, he goes back again to buy more meat, but ... bingo! everything resets and the meat that was served in his diner from January 2 through January 6 was never there. In fact, everything he has brought forward (cash, identification, etc.,) should vanish each time he makes the next trip. (As presumably should his memories, but one can argue that they are of a different substance than material objects.)

King does eventually attempt to explain his way out of this. But the problem is two-fold: First, why doesn't the paradox occur to Al in all the time he has had to think about it? As I noted, he does mention it, but then basically ignores it as trivial. It is not--it is crucial. And second, the explanation eventually given seems as though it had been designed for the novel, rather than the way things might actually work in the real world--albeit a "real world" with time travel.

From a structural point of view, it appears that King presumes a "base time line", called Timeline A, which is what would happen if no time travelers interfere with events. The arrival point in 1958 is a universe with a certain state, call it X. Left alone, it will develop in a manner determined by state X. When a traveler goes back to 1958 and does something, he changes the state and creates a branch, Timeline B, at that point, and when he "returns" to the present, he goes to the present on that branch. But if he returns to 1958 again, it is the point at which the universe is in state X and Timeline B has disappeared (or rather not formed yet). He can create a new branch, Timeline C, but he cannot go down Timeline B again.

The reset feature here seems very similar to that of GROUNDHOG DAY, except that King has decided to allow his "time looper" to carry back items from previous trips. (Even in GROUNDHOG DAY, though, Bill Murray can bring back his memories.)

I have said that 11/22/63 is an 842-page time-travel alternate history novel. But more precisely, it is a 700-page time travel novel, and 142-page alternate history novel (and a not very good one), so if you're looking for alternate history per se, this may not be what you want.

To order 11/22/63 from amazon.com, click here.


"Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" by Stephen King:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/24/2006]

"Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" by Stephen King (in DIFFERENT SEASONS, ISBN 0-451-16753-8) is another story eclipsed by its film adaptation (THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION). The film is very good, but it did make a lot of changes from the story. SPOILERS AHEAD: For example, the film tightened up a plot hole about one of the characters, added a revenge plot, and put Morgan Freeman in the role of the Irish narrator. (Before someone asks, yes, I've heard of the "Black Irish" but this is not what is meant.) Interestingly, another novella in this collection, "The Body" was also made into a respected film (STAND BY ME).

To order Different Seasons from amazon.com, click here.


PSYCHOHISTORICAL CRISIS by Donald Kingsbury:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/01/2008]

When asked in what order people should read the "Foundation" series (since some later novels were prequels), the response is often, "Read the Trilogy. Then stop." I would modify that to, "Read the Trilogy. Then read PSYCHOHISTORICAL CRISIS by Donald Kingsbury." [ISBN-13 978-0-765-34195-2, ISBN-10 0-765-34195-6] Kingsbury takes the whole premise of the "Foundation" series--psychohistory--and shows it as a stultifying tyranny. (He was not the first; Patrouch saw psychohistory, or at least Seldon's implementation of it, as leading to just this end.)

In writing a pastiche, Kingsbury has picked up on a lot of different Asimovian touches. His character names all sound like those used by Asimov in the "Foundation" series (Eron Osa, Jars Hanis, Hahukum Konn). And his historical timeline has obvious references (the Nacreome Revolt is the Anacreon Revolt, Faraway is Terminus, Lakgan is Kalgan, and Cloun-the-Stubborn is Magnifico the Mule). He has a humorous take-off on the Three Laws of Robotics ("Robot's Ritual Rundown"), and the Heart's Well Antiquarian Bookstore (Kingsbury's editor at Tor was David Hartwell).

And these are only some of the obvious ones. How about "Ojaisun-the-Adroit, ... prior to his execution for depraved malthanatostomy"? (If I tell you that "malthan" is Russian (derogatory) slang for a black man, does that help?) This is a book that cries out for annotations.

There do seem to be some inconsistencies. On the one hand, people know about Homo erectus from Java, and Catholics and the Bible, and the caves of Lascaux; on the other, there are references to "Alfred the White Head of the North" and to "Neel Halmstrun" as the first man to walk on another planet. (The explanation that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, and the first man to walk on Mars may be named Neel Halmstrun is too far-fetched to accept.)

And while Asimov uses words like "ci-divant", Kingsbury occasionally throws in a word like "cockamamie" or "kvetch".

And there is far too much about the history of measurement. This is ironic, because on page 403, one character tells another, "The brilliance of the Founder was his ability to strip away irrelevant detail. ... Here's one that you are reluctant to edit because it is very insightful; it will tell you how trading organizations form and evolve but at the same time will tell you more than you need to know to follow the evolution of length-and-weight standards. I love it, but you have to take it out. Nothing bloats a psychohistorical prediction to unmanageable size more than the cute variable that has a minor role to play." 'Nuff said.

(Another response to Asimov's "Foundation" series was Michael Flynn's IN THE COUNTRY OF THE BLIND, which I reviewed in 01/03/92 issue of the MT VOID). Both PSYCHOHISTORICAL CRISIS and IN THE COUNTRY OF THE BLIND won the Libertarian "Prometheus Award" for science fiction.)

To order Psychohistorical Crisis from amazon.com, click here.


THE JUNGLE BOOK by Rudyard Kipling:

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

I recently watched the 1942 version of THE JUNGLE BOOK (with Sabu) and noticed a couple of details. In the book by Rudyard Kipling (ISBN 978-1-420-93279-9), Buldeo the village hunter is negative on Mowgli, calling him "the Jungle brat" and in general being dismissive of him. But in the film, he is a fanatic about Mowgli, proclaiming of him: "This is a thing of the jungle. This boy has been reared in the jungle. He has the evil eye. I warn you all--he had the evil eye. He is a wolf; let one in and all will follow. He will bring down the jungle upon us." This is far more than Buldeo says in the book--and very similar to what the Nazis were saying about the Jews, the Roma, and others in 1942. It is possible I am reading too much into the film, but it is also true that war-time films often had a war-related message even when they were about something else entirely.

The film also relies a lot on nature and travel footage, which are often clearly of a different film stock than the footage filmed specifically for the movie. Alas, the Technicolor (on the DVD version I saw) has not aged well. At the beginning the storyteller is identified as the one wearing "the yellow turban," but when you see him, the turban looks white. Also, some reels are darker than others, meaning that people change skin tone when the reels change. (Mark came in while I was watching it and said he had seen some of it on TCM recently and it had excellent color there, so someone must have restored it recently. The DVD version I saw was on one of those "15 Films for $5" DVDs.)

The film is a bit inconsistent. Sometimes when Mowgli talks to the animals, it is in animal language that we (and the humans other than Mowgli) do not understand (wolf howls, monkey chattering, etc.), but when he talks to the cobra, they both speak English and Mahala also understands them.

For that matter, the girl and the whole sub-plot of the treasure trove at lost city were added for the film. I guess the animal stories alone--including a tiger attack on the village--were not considered exciting enough.

To order The Jungle Book from amazon.com, click here.


KIM by Rudyard Kipling:
IS HEATHCLIFF A MURDERER by John Sutherland:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/23/2007]

KIM by Rudyard Kipling (ISBN-10 0-140-18352-3, ISBN-13 978-0-140-18352-8) was this month's discussion book. It seems to be catalogued at the library as a juvenile book, but I think that it would be a rare juvenile today who could read Kipling's elaborate prose interlaced with Hindi, Arabic, and other languages. (amazon.com says "age 9-12".)

John Sutherland is a professor of literature who writes short pieces on "puzzlements" in literature. For example, can Jane Eyre be happy? Henry V, war criminal? Is Heathcliff a murderer? Where was Rebecca shot? Who betrays Elizabeth Bennett? (Indeed, these are the titles of the various collections of his essays.) And one of his essays in IS HEATHCLIFF A MURDERER? (ISBN-10 0-192-83468-1, ISBN-13 978-0-192-83468-3) is "How Old Is Kim?" The only problem is that it is pretty clear how old Kim is, and even Sutherland basically admits this. At the beginning, Kim is thirteen; at the end, seventeen. The confusion Sutherland addresses is more that Kipling has Kim a specific age, and then ignores that whenever he feels like it. In specific, Kim's behavior at the start of the novel is too childish for a thirteen-year-old, particularly one who has been living on his own in India for years.

And in one of those instances of synchronicity that are becoming more and more common ("Year of the Jackpot", anyone?), the day before the meeting, Fred Lerner's fanzine LOFGEORNOST arrived in the mail. (This was actually doubly synchronicitous, because we had just watched BEOWULF & GRENDEL two days ago.) And the lead article was "The Tragedy of Rudyard Kipling", which Lerner sums up as "Rudyard Kipling came to discard the liberal sentiments that informed his youthful vision of empire. He became a reactionary and a racist an a vicious antisemite...." Lerner notes that the Kipling who wrote KIM was someone who appreciated the diversity of India, and respects the many cultures. But at some point, Kipling became a misanthrope, hating just about every group. Luckily, we are able to read his earlier work in all its glory without his later personality intruding.

However, while I enjoyed KIM, the rest of the group gave it a "thumbs-down": language too convoluted, too much use of words in the vernacular, and so on. People were unhappy with the use of non-English words which were not translated, but also with non-English words which were used (and translated) once, then never used again.

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/23/2012]

I recently re-read KIM by Rudyard Kipling (no ISBN) based on reading someone's description of it as "comfort reading" that they return to regularly. I am not giving a current ISBN for this because my comments are more about the physical book than the text. I bought this book in the bookshop Uffa's Dike in Ludlow, Shropshire, England in 2000 while I was there on a business trip. It was published by Macmillan and Co., Ltd., in 1927, and is bound in blue leather, with onion-skin pages, interior illustrations by J. Lockwood Kipling, and gold trimming on the spine and cover incorporating an elephant and several Indian swastikas. It is a joy to hold and read, and cost only two and a half pounds. Take that, Kindle!

(We had another copy of KIM--an Airmont Classic whose glue was giving out, so the cover was starting to detach, and the pages were not that firmly attached either. That edition was not a joy to hold.)

To order Kim from amazon.com, click here.

To order Is Heathcliff a Murderer? from amazon.com, click here.


KIPLING'S POCKET HISTORY OF ENGLAND by C. R. L. Fletcher & Rudyard Kipling:

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

C. R. L. Fletcher & Rudyard Kipling's KIPLING'S POCKET HISTORY OF ENGLAND is an odd duck. The preface by the authors says, "This book is written for all boys and girls who are interested in Great Britain and her Empire," and it is clearly intended for a young audience. The writing is straightforward, the vocabulary relatively limited (compared to most histories), and facts are somewhat cleaned up. All gruesome details are omitted and anything that England or Britain did that might have been considered negative was either toned down or left out entirely. (For example, Edward I's expulsion of the Jews is omitted, and the only mention of Jews is how they were finally given the vote in 1853.)

And the prose is interspersed by poems about the various events, undoubtedly Kipling's contribution. One verse from "The Reeds of Runnymede" goes:

     At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
        Oh hear the reeds at Runnymede:
     "You mustn't sell, delay, deny,
        A freedman's right or liberty,
     It wakes the stubborn Englishry,
        We saw 'em roused at Runnymede!

But if the whole is somewhat sanitized, the last chapter's discussion of the Empire can only be called at best raging jingoism, and at worst outright racism. For example, they say, "In Canada we had really little difficulty in making good friends with our new French subjects, for they hated and feared the pushing Americans.... In Australia, we had nothing but a few miserable blacks, who could hardly use bows and arrows in fight." Referring to Africa, they say, "The natives everywhere welcome the mercy and justice of our rule...." And most egregious is their description of the Caribbean: "The population is mainly black, descended from slaves imported in previous centuries, of mixed black and white race; lazy, vicious and incapable of any serious improvement, or of work except under compulsion. In such a climate a few bananas will sustain the life of a negro quite sufficiently; why should he work to get more that this? He is quite happy and quite useless, and spends any extra wages which he may earn upon finery."

Well, what can I say? Clearly this history isn't suitable for children these days, and not useful as a history for anyone else. But as an example of cultural attitudes of its time (1911), it perhaps has something to say to us.

To order Kipling's Pocket History of England from amazon.com, click here.


LIVERPOOL FANTASY by Larry Kirwan:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/19/2004]

A standard alternate history is Larry Kirwan's LIVERPOOL FANTASY, in which the Beatles broke up in 1962 and went their separate ways and the National Front is now in control of Britain. If I cared more about the Beatles, I might have enjoyed it more. (I think part of it depended on recognizing the names of the Beatles' various girlfriends, offspring, and so on.) It has been well received by others more knowledgeable about the whole "Fab Four" scene than I am.

To order Liverpool Fantasy from amazon.com, click here.


WICKED WONDERS by Ellen Klages:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/09/2017]

Joe Karpierz reviewed WICKED WONDERS by Ellen Klages (ISBN 978-1-6169-6261-6) in the 05/19/17 issue of the MT VOID, so I will not write a complete review. Rather I will second Joe's recommendation and now make some specific comments.

Generation ships have been in science fiction for decades, but it is only recently that the moral aspects of them have been addressed. That is, by what right do people decide to commit not just themselves, but their descendents for several generations to life "in a tin can." In "Amicae Aeternum", Klages addresses this by considering what life would be like for the younger generation, born on Earth and committed to spend the rest of their lives on a spaceship, not by their choice, but by their parents'. You might say it is no different than parents deciding to move the family to another town, or country, or continent, but the latter is a similar environment and situation. But the ship is different. (As one character notes, "There will never be a new kid in my class.")

Science fiction has considered this question in other contexts: should parents be allowed to genetically engineer their potential offspring? should parents be allowed to have AIs implanted in their children? and so on. In a sense, it is strange that it took this long for it to get around to the ethics of generation ships.

Most of Klages's stories have women as protagonists. More specifically, most have young girls as protagonists. One might think this would make the stories "young adult" fiction. The problem is that I have no idea what is meant by "young adult" fiction. Probably this is because when I was a young adult reading science fiction pretty much all science fiction was suitable for young adults. Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, (early) Heinlein--there was nothing that young adults could not read. In that sense, Klages's stories are written for older adults, but there is no reason that young adults could not read that as well.

To order Wicked Wonders from amazon.com, click here.


THE APES OF WRATH by Richard Klaw:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/07/2014]

THE APES OF WRATH edited by Richard Klaw (ISBN 978-1-61696-085-8) is an anthology of fiction and non-fiction about apes. Unlike a lot of theme anthologies, this is not a collection of new stories specifically written for it (which leads to variable quality), or just fiction. Rather, it includes stories from as early as the 19th century (Gustave Flaubert and Edgar Allan Poe), through early 20th century (Franz Kafka, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Clark Ashton Smith), up until the present (with the Scott Cupp story being the only written specifically for the anthology). Along the way are some well-known and not-so-well-known stories, including a couple of Nebula-award-nominated stories. Also included as essays about apes in literature and apes in the cinema, with a special essay on actors who acted in gorilla suits.

One rarely sees this sort of anthology any more. Whether themed or unthemed, most anthologies these days seem to consist of all-new stories, or of stories from just the previous year. There are a few that cover a long period of time, but they tend to be of the "Significant Sense of Wonder Stories", or something similarly vague. I do not know why one does not see more like this--maybe because by this point most topics have too many stories to pick from. I mean, it would be hard to put out an anthology of time travel stories, because ironically there are too many to choose from, and hence too many that are worthy. But with a narrower focus, Klaw has come up with a reasonable assortment.

To order The Apes of Wrath from amazon.com, click here.


"Five Guys Named Moe" by Sam Klein:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/12/2005]

Sean Klein, "Five Guys Named Moe" (scifi.com, Feb 23): A band consisting of five guys each named Moe is sent on a secret mission to Cuba by President Joseph McCarthy. I started it several times and eventually managed to finish it, but it never "worked" for me. (Obviously others disagreed, or it would not have made the short list.)


THE NEW ANNOTATED SHERLOCK HOLMES by Arthur Conan Doyle with annotations by Leslie S. Klinger:

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

Mark got for me the three-volume THE NEW ANNOTATED SHERLOCK HOLMES by Arthur Conan Doyle with annotations by Leslie S. Klinger (ISBNs 0-393-05916-2 and 0-393-05800-X), so I'll be tied up reading that for quite a while (interspersed with other books, of course). It is published by the same publisher as THE ANNOTATED HUCKLEBERRY FINN, which I reviewed in the 09/23/05 issue, but has avoided what I considered the major problem with that: the placement of the annotations. In THE ANNOTATED HUCKLEBERRY FINN, when the text itself gets ahead of the annotations, the annotations do not "catch up" until the end of the chapter. In THE NEW ANNOTATED SHERLOCK HOLMES, when the text gets ahead of the annotations, there will be a page (or two) where both columns are annotations, just so they can get into sync again. Klinger's notes are very informative, certainly more interesting than those of the Oxford annotated version, but not as quirky or charming as William Baring-Gould's. Still, if you have re-read Baring-Gould's a half dozen times, this is certainly worth switching to for a different view. It is, however pricey: list price for the three volumes is $145. (Luckily, it is often discounted.)

To order The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Short Stories from amazon.com, click here.

To order The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Novels from amazon.com, click here.


SIMPLEXITY: WHY SIMPLE THINGS BECOME COMPLEX AND HOW COMPLEX THINGS CAN BE MADE SIMPLE by Jeffrey Kluger:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/18/2008]

SIMPLEXITY: WHY SIMPLE THINGS BECOME COMPLEX AND HOW COMPLEX THINGS CAN BE MADE SIMPLE by Jeffrey Kluger (ISBN-13 978-1-4013-0301-3, ISBN-10 1-4013-0301-3) has such chapters as "Why is it so hard to leave a burning building or an endangered city?", "How does a single bullet start a world war?", "Why is a baby the best linguist in the room?", and "Why are your cell phones and cameras so absurdly complicated?" But while Kluger generally covers these topics, he often leaves out key information, while at the same time adding digressions. For example, in the chapter on leaving burning buildings, he talks about how difficult to was to evacuate the World Trade Center towers, not just because of psychological reasons, but because the four of the stairways were 44 inches wide, and two were 56 inches wide, designed in 1970 for two people to walk abreast. The problem is that people in 2001 were much wider than those in 1970, and this disrupted the flow. Interesting and important, certainly, but not a question of simplicity versus complexity. And in his chapter on "How does a single bullet start a world war?", he never actually says what he is referring to. (I assume it is the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand by Gavrilo Princip that started World War I.) Even with these flaws, the book is thought-provoking. And perhaps complexity can best be summed up by this paragraph of Kluger's:

"The act of buying nearly any electronic product has gone from the straightforward plug-and-play experience it used to be to a laborious, joy-killing exercise in unpacking, reading, puzzling out, configuring out, testing, cursing, reconfiguring, stopping altogether to call the customer support line, then calling again an hour or two later, until you finally get whatever it is you've bought operating in some tentative configuration that more or less does all the things you want it to do--at least until some error message causes the whole precarious assembly to crash and you have to start all over again. You accept, as you always do, that there are some functions that sounded vaguely interesting when you were in the store that you'll never learn to use, not to mention dozens of buttons on the front panel or remote control that you'll never touch--and you'll feel some vague sense of technophobic shame over this."

To order Simplexity from amazon.com, click here.


SEVEN DAYS IN MAY by x:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/19/2016]

SEVEN DAYS IN MAY by Fletcher Knebel and Charles Bailey III (ISBN 978-0-553-131697) was chosen for our film-and-book discussion group. Well, it is marginally science fiction, supposedly taking place about a dozen years after it was written. In fact, it might be considered a proto-techno-thriller, though the "techo" level is pretty low. The film hews fairly closely to the book, although it drops a few characters: in the book Jiggs Casey is married with a family, and the person involved with Scott is a friend of Eleanor Holbrook, not Eleanor herself. The entire Yakutsk subplot has also been dropped.

A couple of items jumped out. It is mentioned in passing that someone had $1500 in deductions disallowed, so owed $1000 more in income tax. We forget that there used to be 67% (and higher) tax brackets. Also, when Lyman is presented with some incriminating documents about Scott, he says, "You don't really think I'd use a thing like that, a man's relations with a woman, to defend my oath of office, do you?"

At the beginning of the film, we see two groups of demonstrators. The anti-Lyman "hawks" are almost entirely white men in shirts and ties with only a few white women. The pro-Lyman "doves" are a much more diverse group, with African-Americans, Hispanics, more women, and more obviously working class people.

But I think in an attempt to make Senator Ray Clark a good guy Serling slipped in a bit of an anachronism. I just don't think that a older Senator from Georgia in the early 1960s (which seems to be the milieu of the film) would address an African-American woman in the airport as "Ma'am".

Watching the rally at which General Scott was speaking, his speech and the crowd reactions to it reminded me strongly of a Donald Trump rally.

The scenes in the desert around Site Y (and some of the scenes at Site Y) had the feeling of a "Twilight Zone" episode. I don't think it because Rod Serling did the script, because it was more a visual thing than based on dialogue. It may just have been that so many "Twilight Zone" episodes were set in deserts. In fact, it would not surprise me to find out that they were filmed in the same desert as SEVEN DAYS IN MAY.

To order Seven Days in May from amazon.com, click here.


WHAT ROUGH BEAST by H. R. Knight:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/07/2006]

WHAT ROUGH BEAST by H. R. Knight (ISBN 0-8439-5456-6) is a mystery-cum-horror novel featuring Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle as characters. There have been other such novels already, including THE ARCANUM by Thomas Wheeler (reviewed in the 10/07/05 issue) and NEVERMORE by William Hjortsberg. This is not too surprising, since Conan Doyle and Houdini were at one time friends--before they fell out over spiritualism. The character of Houdini seems drawn a little too broadly, and for that matter that of Conan Doyle may be as well. If you don't mind some supernatural elements mixed in with your mystery, you might enjoy this, but I suspect that there are better Victorian supernatural horror novels that do not have to work Houdini and Conan Doyle into them.

To order What Rough Beast from amazon.com, click here.


REALITYLAND: TRUE-LIFE ADVENTURES AT WALT DISNEY WORLD by David Koenig:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/14/2008]

REALITYLAND: TRUE-LIFE ADVENTURES AT WALT DISNEY WORLD by David Koenig (ISBN-13 978-0-964060-52-4, ISBN-10 0-964060-52-3) is what appears to be a reasonably honest look at the rise (and to some extent fall) of Walt Disney World, the Florida mega-complex. Koenig does a good job conveying the obsessive nature of everything at Walt Disney World. For example, at the beginning employees at the hotels could not accept tips (this soon changed), security was handled by Disney staff, who decided whether or not to call local law enforcement (this also soon changed), calling every dissatisfied guest to try to placate them (ditto), and so on. In fact, the book can be summed up as a long recitation of Disney decisions that seemed like good ideas at the time, but turned out to be mistakes. So far as I can tell, the management of Walt Disney World (post-Walt) always thought that they knew better than the entire industry what should be done--and were usually wrong. One more example: when Space Mountain opened, no one was allowed to refer to it as a roller coaster. The result was that people expected a placid ride past space vistas and were often not happy with the results, which included bumps, bruises, wrenched backs, lost items, etc.

Of course, the public had its flaws as well. While real injuries were sometimes sustained, there were also attempts at scams. "Sometimes, the accusations were pure fiction, just someone trying to make a quick buck off the big corporation. One guest claimed she was injured by a brick that fell from Cinderella Castle. Impossible, Disney easily illustrated, since the castle has no bricks; it's a fiberglass façade. Another woman claimed the Hydrolator chambers at EPCOT Center's Living Seas pavilion descended so fast, they damaged her eardrums. Disney merely demonstrated that the pseudo-elevators only give the illusion of descending and actually let the guests off at the same elevation as when they entered." [page 142]

REALITYLAND is definitely worth reading if you are interested in the whole tourist mega-industry in the Orlando area. However, fans of Walt Disney World may find themselves somewhat disillusioned by all the backstage information.

REALITYLAND is definitely worth reading if you are interested in the whole tourist mega-industry in the Orlando area. However, fans of Walt Disney World may find themselves somewhat disillusioned by all the backstage information.

To order Realityland from amazon.com, click here.


WHY IS THERE SOMETHING RATHER THAN NOTHING?: 23 QUESTIONS FROM THE GREAT PHILOSOPHERS by Leszek Kolakowski (translated by Agnieszka Kolakowska):

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/08/2008]

WHY IS THERE SOMETHING RATHER THAN NOTHING?: 23 QUESTIONS FROM THE GREAT PHILOSOPHERS by Leszek Kolakowski (translated by Agnieszka Kolakowska) (ISBN-13 978-0-465-00499-7, ISBN-10 0-465-00499-7) has a very long title for such a small book (223 pages, 4.25 inches by 6.25 inches, and 1 inch thick). The original Polish had seven additional essays, which would made it ideal for reading one a day for a month. The essays are Kolakowski's own interpretations of and thoughts on the great philosophers, such as "Truth and Good: Why do we do evil? [Socrates]" or "What There Is: Do ideas exist? [William of Ockham]"

One essay is "The Nature of God: Do we have free will? [Spinoza]" In this essay, Kolakowski asked, "But can we then (someone might ask), punish people for their misdeeds, if everything is entirely determined and no one freely chooses what he does, but is governed by implacable necessity? Kolakowski answers, "Spinoza says: yes, we can. Just as we kill venomous snakes without asking if they have free will, so, in the name of the common good, we must punish offenders." But it seems to me that either Spinoza or Kolakowski is missing the point: if there is no free will, then asking how we can punish people for their misdeeds (or, phrased another way, whether we should punish people for their misdeeds) misses the point: our punishing them is as much a product of "implacable necessity" as their misdeeds and asking "whether we should do it" is meaningless. It is like asking whether the apple should fall when you let go of it.

Another essay, "God's Necessity: Could God not exist? [St. Anselm]", asks why, "If God is just, how can He save some sinners while condemning other, the former by His mercy, the latter according to justice, if the evil done by both is similar?" And for that matter, if God is immutable, He has no emotions, so what does "mercy" mean in this context?

To order Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing? from amazon.com, click here.


THE BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE AND NATURE WRITING 2009 edited by Elizabeth Kolbert:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/01/2011]

Our general book discussion group (which has pretty much mutated into a science book discussion group) read ten articles from THE BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE AND NATURE WRITING 2009 (edited by Elizabeth Kolbert) (ISBN 978-0-547-00259-0). This series is popular with our group because one does not have to try to find a copy of the book; almost all the articles in it are available free on-line. (In my comments I will include the tinyurl for all of them.)

As I did with the Stephen Jay Gould book of essays I commented on a while ago, I will give just a sentence or two on each.

"Faustian Economics" by Wendell Berry (Harper's Magazine) : The key phrase in this seems to be "the fantasy of limitlessness." We operate under the (often explicitly expressed) assumption that "science will find a way." It won't.

"The Ethics of Climate Change" by John Broome (Scientific American) : This suggests we should use cost-benefit analyses and the discount rate for future goods to make decisions about climate change.

"Is Google Making Us Stupid?" by Nicholas Carr (The Atlantic Monthly) : Is the Internet making permanent changes to our cognition, such as decreasing our ability for deep reading? Friedrich Nietzsche found that a typewriter changed his writing style, and we know word processors have had a big impact as well. Lewis Mumford said that the invention of the mechanical clock "disassociated time from human events and helped create the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurably sequences."

"High-Tech Trash" by Chris Carroll (National Geographic) : Our electronic waste, full of dangerous and deadly materials, is exported to Third World countries where it is disassembled, burned, and otherwise processed for whatever can be re-sold, but with no attempt to protect either the people who are working with it, or the environment.

(By this point in the book, one is tempted to just put it down and shoot oneself.)

"Intel Inside" (a.k.a. "Piecing Together the Dark Legacy of East Germany's Secret Police") by Andrew Curry (Wired) : Computers are being used to piece together millions of documents shredded by the East German Stasi. This reminds me the scene in SNOWCRASH of Hiro Protagonist having the computer produce a picture of the intact ancient tablet from the fragments created when the tablet was smashed on the carrier deck.

"Blown Apart" by Keay Davidson (California) : More about dark energy.

"Did Life Begin in Ice?" by Douglas Fox (Discover) : Fox proposes the idea that life is more likely to develop in a super-cold environment rather than a hot one.

"The Day Before Genesis" by Adam Frank (Discover) : This proposes three different ideas. "The Incredible Bulk" says our universe is a 3D brane moving through a 4D bulk. "Time's Arrow" says there is no reason time has to run the way it does, and also that new universes may still be popping out. "The Nows Have It" says that time does not exist; what does exist is a set of instants that we piece together as a timestream.

"The Itch" by Atul Gawande (The New Yorker) : I skipped this one because Mark said it was somewhat gross and disgusting.

"Last of the Neanderthals" by Stephen S. Hall (National Geographic) : Who were the Neanderthals and what happened to them?

THE BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE AND NATURE WRITING 2009 edited by Elizabeth Kolbert:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 09/09/2011]

Our book discussion for August was the next third or so of THE BEST SCIENCE AND NATURE WRITING 2009 edited by Elizabeth Kolbert (ISBN 978-0-547-00259-0), the first part of which we did earlier.

"Virtual Iraq: Using Simulation to Treat a New Generation of Traumatized Veterans" by Sue Halpern (May 19, 2008, New Yorker) : The biggest problem is that Halpern doesn't know when to stop--a sentence, that is. There is one paragraph of just three sentences that has 217 words. This is not quite as long as Josª€ Saramago's sentence of 91 words with fifteen commas, but it's getting there. This is fine in literary writing, but the profusion of extended sentences makes it difficult at times to follow what Halpern is saying. Halpern's description of a new treatment for P.T.S.D. is fine as far as it goes, but I would have liked more information about how likely it is to become more common, whether its funding is in danger, and a lot of other things that Halperin was not writing about.

"Chain Reaction: From Einstein to the Atomic Bomb" by Walter Isaacson (March 2008, Discover) : This is a brief summary of the story behind Albert Einstein's famous letter to President Roosevelt about the possibility of an atomic bomb. There is not much new here, though a lot of it is not well known

"Wasteland: A Journey through the American Cloaca" by Frederick Kaufman (February 2008, Harper's) : The problem discussed here can be be summed up by the Steve Askew quote: "People wake up in the morning, they brush their teeth, flush the toilet. They think it goes to the center of the earth." But of course it doesn't, and Kaufman follows it, so to speak, on its journey.

"Minds of Their Own: Animals Are Smarter than You Think" by Virginia Morell (March 2008, Animal Minds, National Geographic) : This is definitely the best of the batch, all about animal cognition. My take on their observations is that either animals are a lot smarter than we think, or we're not as smart as we think we are, because animals seem to have a lot of the abilities that we have--and attribute to our special intelligence.

"Back to the Future" by J. Madeleine Nash (High Country News) : This is about the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum and how it relates to global warming.

"Taking Wildness in Hand: Rescuing Species" by Michelle Nijhuis (May/June 2008, Orion) : This is also about global warming, as well as habitat loss and other problems species are having. One solution that has been proposed is transplanting species from their current habitats to more amenable ones: further north, into a protected area, or just somewhere under less attack by "civilization". Not surprisingly, while some see this as a way to save species, others see it as a way to destroy species in the destination area by introducing predators and competitors.

"How We Evolve" by Benjamin Phelan (October 7, 2008, Seedmagazine.com) : Phelan proposes that human evolution is not something that happened just millions or even thousands of years ago, but something that is still going on.

"Pop Psychology: Why Asset Bubbles Are a Part of the Human Condition That Regulation Can't Cure" by Virginia Postrel (December 2008, The Atlantic Home) : Postrel covers an economic experiment I had previously read about. Subjects are given complete information about an asset: how much it will pay out over a set number of cycles. (At the end the asset becomes worthless.) Then they start buying and selling them. You would think they would never pay more than the expected return, but in fact, they will. The reason seems to be that people do not want to make sure they don't lose money; they want to make sure that no one is making more than they are. So because they expect a bubble, they hope that even if they buy about expectation, they can sell it off to someone else at an even higher price before the bubble collapses. How depressing!

"Contagious Cancer: The Evolution of a Killer", David Quammen (Harper's Magazine) : A long time ago people used to think that cancer was contagious, and they were afraid to come near anyone who had it. Then they learned better. Now, Quammen explains that they may have been right after all--at least a little bit.

To order The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2009 from amazon.com, click here.


REEL TERROR by David Konow:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/12/2017]

REEL TERROR by David Konow (ISBN 978-0-312-66883-9) is a history of horror films, but an episodic one. Konow covers the many trends in horror films (German Expressionism, Universal horror, Hammer films, religious horror, the mad slasher film, and so on) by concentrating primarily on the first film of each cycle, with a lot of detail as to its origin, productions, and reception, and then will have a few paragraphs about what followed the trail-blazer. This makes it easy to skip the films you are less interested in since each is a self-contained section. (For me, these were films such as THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE or THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT.)

In many ways, this approach is more satisfying than a quick skim over the hundreds of horror films that could be covered, as a lot of books do, or picking only a dozen or so films, and covering only those. Konow seems to have found a lot of background on the films, BUT according to multiple reviews this is because he copied a lot of material from other sources without ever checking it, so errors that other authors made get repeated here.

And the proofreading is bad (e.g., "wfie" instead of "wife" at one point, and "Edgar Allen Poe" at least once, though the name is usually spelled correctly as "Allan"). There are also repetitions, awkward phrasings, and grammatical errors throughout. Konow gives the title of THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD as THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD.

More annoying, Konow makes substantive errors that appear to reflect his misunderstanding (or lack of knowledge). He insists several times that CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON is focused on pollution and atomic radiation. It's not. And he credits the special effects person for John Carpenter's THE THING with coming up with the idea of having the creature be completely protean. No, that was in John W. Campbell's "Who Goes There?", on which both the Hawks and Carpenter versions were based. He says that stop-motion photography goes back to the 1933 KING KONG. Well, yes, but it goes back even further, to THE LOST WORLD (1925) and even before that to "The Dinosaur and the Missing Link" (1915).

REEL TERROR is from St. Martin's, an established, respected publisher. But the copy-editing and proofreading are more on the level one would expect from a self-published work, and a sad commentary on the state of publishing today.

The irony is that Konow talks about how such zines as CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN and FANGORIA raised the level of writing in the field to something that was higher than a ten-year-old's (as he described FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND), yet the sloppiness here keeps it at a fanboy level. There's nothing wrong with fanboy writing, and I enjoyed the book, but I was disappointed to discover that I needed to take everything in it with a grain of salt

To order Reel Terror from amazon.com, click here.


ROAR! A CHRISTIAN FAMILY GUIDE TO THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA by Heather Kopp with David Kopp:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 09/21/2012]

ROAR! A CHRISTIAN FAMILY GUIDE TO THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA by Heather Kopp with David Kopp (ISBN 978-1-59052-536-4) is not labeled as being for home schooling, but the inclusion of quizzes makes me think it is more than just a Christian guide to Narnia.

For each chapter of each Narnia book, the Kopps give a plot summary, "Grown-Up Thoughts", "Let's Talk about It", and "Wisdom for Narniacs". The first has things like:

"When Puddleglum drinks too much, his rationalizing is humorous--'better make sure,' 'but is it the same all the way down?' 'This'll be a test.' But it's sad, too, and a recognizable pattern for most of us. We face different giants, but we all tend to sip our way, one excuse at a time, from little test into big trouble."

The second asks children, "Have you ever been as cold as Jill and Eustace were? So cold your face turned blue? What happened?" or "How would you feel if you had to knock on a giant's door?" And the third part has the quizzes I mentioned earlier.

There are also supplementary chapters for parents which cover questions like, "Why would a Christ-follower like [C. S. Lewis] assemble such a supernatural cast of sorcerers and spell-casters to spin his stories for our children?" particularly when the Bible is so emphatic that witchcraft and sorcery are the tools of the Devil. Apparently Moses' magic and Jesus's miracles do not count as witchcraft, which makes one think that witchcraft is the tool of the Devil because if it is not the Devil, it is not witchcraft, although this is not the argument the Kopps make.

And the titles of two more chapters say it all:

"Mercy! How the Wine Doth Flow in Narnia! What was our beloved Children's author thinking? And how should Christian parents respond?"
and
"Color & Culture in Narnia: When it's a story about fair-skinned good guys versus dark-skinned bad guys (and the author is white), do we have a problem?"

The Narnians also smoke more than most people would like, though this is apparently less problematic than alcohol.

This might be a good book for a Sunday School or Bible camp reading of the Narnia books, but trying to take children's non-school reading and turn it into lessons seems like a bad idea. Mark claims there are two Kiplings: the good Kipling, and the Kipling they had you read in school, and I found it took years for me to actually enjoy MOBY DICK or A TALE OF TWO CITIES after having to read them in school. (However, I have always had a fond spot in my heart for JULIUS CAESAR after reading it in eighth grade.)

To order Roar! from amazon.com, click here.



THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB by Lily Koppel:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/18/2013]

THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB by Lily Koppel (ISBN 978-1-4555-0325-4) tells the stories of the early astronauts' wives. While enlightening at times, it suffers from the difficulty of trying to cover 48 wives in less than three hundred pages. Koppel does concentrate more on the "Original Seven" and the "New Nine"--not surprising, since they were around for the longest time. Some of the material overlaps that of THE RIGHT STUFF (at least the movie), but occasionally points out things the movie elided. For example, Johnson wanted Annie Glenn to meet with him in front of network news cameras when John Glenn's flight was postponed. But her contract with LIFE magazine (indeed, all their contracts) gave LIFE exclusive press rights except for a very brief post-flight press conference, so there was actually a contract to back up her refusal to meet Johnson. And perhaps as recompense for their backing him up in his support of Annie's refusal, John Glenn insisted that all of the astronauts and their wives be included in any parades in his honor.

Koppel also chooses to refer to everyone by first names most of the time (the first reference to them in various section is by full names, but frequently that reference is several pages earlier and you find yourself wondering who is who. And then you realize that this book reinforces the perception of these women as adjuncts of their astronaut husbands, rather than as individuals. Clearly the interest in these women is because of their husbands, and no matter how much Koppel refers to Betty Friedan and feminism as being "in the air" at the time, these wives are indeed shown as wives. (This is not helped by the occasional reference to them as "gals" or "girls".)

If referring to them only by first names is supposed to ameliorate this, it runs into the problem of two Pats; two Marilyns; three Barbaras; three Joans; a Betty and a Beth; a Jan, a Janet, and a Jane; and a Sue, a Susan, and a Suzanne (plus the colloquial use of "Susie" for the various other women in the astronauts' lives).

On the other hand, this gives a picture of life on the other side: trying to look glamorous on their husbands' military pay because all the extra money from LIFE magazine has gone for college funds, coping with NASA's rules--explicit and implicit--about what they could do and how they should act, and so on. There are some obvious gaps--apparently Koppel was unable to interview Janet Armstrong (who divorced Neil in 1994 but is still alive), because all the stories about Apollo 11 are from the perspectives of Joan Aldrin and Jane Conrad. Presumably there were others about whom Koppel heard only second-hand, whether because of death, divorce, age, or just plain reticence. (Of the first thirty "space couples," twenty-three ended in divorces.)

Clearly the space programs are very different now. Maybe someone will write a book titled THE ASTRONAUT HUSBANDS CLUB (though somehow I doubt it). Koppel reminds us, though, that while NASA was saying women couldn't go into space, Valentina Tereshkova orbited the earth forty-eight times. However, Koppel also claims that Tereshkova was pregnant at the time, which so far as I can tell is totally false.

To order The Astronaut Wives Club from amazon.com, click here.


"The Marching Morons" by Cyril M. Kornbluth:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/13/2015]

"The Marching Morons" by C. M. Kornbluth is somewhat similar to "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell" by Cordwainer Smith.. There is a class of people with sub-normal intelligence (based on current standards), and another with those of normal (or higher) intelligence. The latter feel that they are the slaves in this society, though, because they have to do all the thinking to keep the society going. When John Barlow gets revived after hundreds of years in suspended animation, he tells them he can solve all their problems. His solution? [SPOILER WARNING] Kill off all the "sub-normals". Convince them you are going to relocate them to wonderful lives on Venus, and launch them into space to die. Send back postcards supposedly written by them to convince everyone else that things are fine. Eventually all that will be left on Earth are the smart people.

Okay, this is clearly patterned on what the Nazis did with the Jews (after they started with the "mentally defective"). Barlow even explicitly states this is where he got some of the ideas from (such as the postcards). And you are supposed to think that Barlow is an amoral opportunist. But the elite go along with it and kill off the billions of "morons" without too much compunction. Are we supposed to find this admirable? (Never mind that it is unclear whether one could actually dispose of billions of people in the manner described, or if a society could function with only self-styled elites, none of whom are likely to want to take out the trash, or harvest the crops.) And Kornbluth does not make it a "cold equations" situation the way Tom Godwin did, nor are the "morons" cannablistic beasts like H. G. Wells's Morlocks.

So what is Kornbluth saying? Is he agreeing with the elite that killing off the underclass is the solution? Is he saying that there is no solution? Or what? (Note: Wikipedia points out that the story predates hormonal contraception, which would be the solution proposed now.) The fact is that the story does seem on one level to be endorsing mass murder as the solution, trying to make it more palatable by having it all occur off-screen (as it were).

To order The Science Fiction Hall of Fam II B from amazon.com, click here.


PROPHET OF BONES by Ted Kosmatka:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/23/2013]

PROPHET OF BONES by Ted Kosmatka (ISBN 978-0-8050-9617-0) is an alternate history with the premise that the Earth really is only six thousand years old and this has been proved with carbon dating. But some bones found in a cave in Indonesia apparently are evidence of something that people in power want covered up. The best part of this is that (so far as I can tell) the fact that Darwin was completely discredited meant that genetic research and testing have proceeded much faster than in our world. Why? Well, because everyone knew that any "evolution" happened in the last six thousand years, there was nothing dangerous about it. It was perfectly reasonable to decide that the San (previously known as the Bushmen) split off from the rest of humanity first, because it is still within the six-thousand-year period.

At least I think that is the reasoning, but it is never explicitly stated. This is good, because otherwise it is an expository lump to explain it, but it also means I could be completely off-base. In any case, the plot seems to bifurcate at the end, with two different secrets rather than just one, and not very satisfying ones at that.

To order Prophet of Bones from amazon.com, click here.


THE HISTORIAN by Elizabeth Kostova:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/10/2006]

THE HISTORIAN by Elizabeth Kostova (ISBN 0-316-01177-0) has gotten a lot of good reviews, but I gave up after a hundred pages. It seems to have been written to be of the same genre as THE DA VINCI CODE, with people tracking a mystery across Europe through old books and documents, but it reads very flatly. In the part I read there are three viewpoint characters (narrators) --a young girl, her father, and his mentor. Three different types, three different generations, yet they all sound alike. In addition, it was so slow-moving that it began to feel very padded.

To order The Historian from amazon.com, click here.


FROM TOKYO TO JERUSALEM by Abraham Kotsuji:

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

FROM TOKYO TO JERUSALEM by Abraham Kotsuji (no ISBN, amazon.com ASIN B000J0SFXU) is the autobiography of a descendent of generations of Shinto priests who eventually converted to Judaism (with an intermediate period as a Presbyterian minister!). Written in 1964, it is a fairly simple book, covering the basics of Kotsuji's childhood (much of which he tells in the third person before switching to the more standard first person when he progresses past primary school). His discovery of Judaism came when he found a Bible in an old bookstore. Although he found the Old Testament much more "attractive", his options in Japan were pretty much restricted by the fact that in the 1920s there were many more Christians (and Christian missionaries) than Jews. So in spite of his reservations, he converted to Christianity, went to a Christian college, and eventually became a minister. But he always felt more connected to the Old Testament, and as he had more and more contact with Jewish refugees during the war, he came to the conclusion that these were his people, and eventually converted.

And while the book is good as Kotsuji's own record of his life, he did not check all the statements about things he has only heard second-hand. For example, he talks about Jews getting visas in Kovna (Kaunas), Lithuania, from the Japanese consul, Chiune Sugihara, and then says that Sugihara had been killed by the Nazis. Actually, Sugihara returned to Japan in disgrace for having violated his orders, ended up as a light bulb salesman, and was still alive when Kotsuji was writing this book. (In fact, he was invited to Israel in 1965 and lived until 1986.) Ironically, a few pages later Kotsuji says that one of the refugees who wrote an autobiography said that Kotsuji had been killed during the war by the Japanese secret service!

To order From Tokyo to Jerusalem from amazon.com, click here.


"Evil Robot Monkey" by Mary Robinette Kowal:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/19/2009]

"Evil Robot Monkey" by Mary Robinette Kowal (THE SOLARIS BOOK OF NEW SCIENCE FICTION, VOLUME TWO) is what used to be called a short-short (and maybe still is). As such, it really needs more of a punch (or something) than it has to be in Hugo contention.


"For Want of a Nail" by Mary Robinette Kowal:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/15/2011]

"For Want of a Nail" by Mary Robinette Kowal (in ASIMOV'S 12/10) seems almost more like an ANALOG-type story, with its focus on the technology aspects of the puzzle-like problem. It was okay, but nothing special.


"Kiss Me Twice" by Mary Robinette Kowal:

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

"Kiss Me Twice" by Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov's 06/11) is a police procedural with an AI as part of the police team. Much as I like movies, I thought the film references and quotations were a bit overdone and became tedious after a while. Still, this is the sort of classic science fiction story that goes back at least to Isaac Asimov's CAVES OF STEEL and THE NAKED SUN, and is always a joy to read when well done. And if you care, it even probably meets the requirements for "Mundane Science Fiction", since it does not have any fantastical science.


THE COMPANY OF THE DEAD by David Kowalski:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/09/2007]

THE COMPANY OF THE DEAD by David Kowalski (ISBN-13 978-1-405-03804-1, ISBN-10 1-405-03804-7) starts out very promising, with a time traveler going back to the Titanic to try to save it. What happens, and what happens because of that, occupies the first hundred pages or so. By that point, we know what the protagonists are trying to do, but then the book goes in circles for the next several hundred pages, only really resuming the plot at the very end of the book. This middle section does not advance the plot, or give us more interesting background. Instead, it is standard espionage/stealth operations stuff. This book would have been much better at half its 750-page length.

To order The Company of the Dead from amazon.com, click here.


BEYOND STAR TREK: PHYSICS FROM ALIEN INVASION TO THE END OF TIME by Laurence M. Krauss:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 09/05/2008]

BEYOND STAR TREK: PHYSICS FROM ALIEN INVASION TO THE END OF TIME by Lawrence M. Krauss (ISBN-13 978-0-7522-2464-0, ISBN-10 0-7522-2464-6) is not entirely beyond "Star Trek", as Krauss uses several examples from that series. But he also discusses "The X-Files", 12 MONKEYS, INDEPENDENCE DAY, and so on. For example, the first chapter is Krauss's analysis of why the invaders in INDEPENDENCE DAY really did not need to fire anything at us to defeat us.

On the whole, the book is yet another attempt to write a science book for the layperson, though the use of "Star Trek" and other popular television shows and movies to initiate ideas and illustrate examples will probably do a lot to make this rise above the rest of the genre. While some may object to this approach, I figure that anything that gets people (especially teenagers) interested in reading about science) is all for the best.

Krauss does make the occasional error. For example, on page 92 he talks about Joseph Banks Rhine and telepathic communication and says, "[Rhine's] popularizations, combined with the interest of the publisher of the pulp magazine 'Astounding Science Fiction', helped fuel public interest...." It was the editor of the magazine--John W. Campbell, Jr.--not the publisher, who latched on to telepathy. And when, in talking about time travel and changing events, he says, "[If] you go back in time to try to kill Hitler before he became Fuhrer--when he fact he survived until shortly before the end of the Second World War--you will trip at the crucial moment, or the gun will misfire," I'd like to think that the "aside" regarding real history is stylistic rather than added because Krauss thought his readers wouldn't know what happened to the real Hitler.

To order Beyond Star Trek from amazon.com, click here.


THE PHYSICS OF STAR TREK by Lawrence M. Krauss:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 09/22/2006]

There seem to be a lot of books out these days titled "The [some branch of science] of [some popular TV show or film]": "The Biology of The X-Files", "The Paleontology of King Kong", "The Algebraic Topology of Buffy", that sort of thing. Most seem fairly undistinguished, but THE PHYSICS OF STAR TREK by Lawrence M. Krauss (ISBN 0-465-00559-4) is a notch above the others. Krauss looks at the various inventions and assumptions of "Star Trek", from transporters and wormholes, to the holodeck to parallel universes, and analyzes them in the light of current knowledge of physics. Krauss has a very thorough knowledge of the episodes of the many "Star Trek" series, and will cite them by name as the one in which the lack of Federation cloaking devices was explained, or what the various mechanisms were in each time travel episode. In addition, even if you are particularly knowledgeable about "Star Trek", Krauss's explanation of modern physics does not depend on it, and all his references give enough description to make it comprehensible to all. Recommended for fans, and even for dabblers. (Krauss was featured in the 1998 documentary "The Sci-Fi Files".)

To order The Physics of Star Trek from amazon.com, click here.


NAMING AND NECESSITY by Saul A. Kripke:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/15/2011]

As part of the reading list that included Searle's MIND, I also read NAMING AND NECESSITY by Saul A. Kripke (ISBN 0-674-59846-6), transcripts of three lectures given at Princeton in 1970 and a classic in the field of philosophy of language. But it also turns out to have strong connections to alternate history.

In analyzing language, philosophers use the idea of "possible worlds" or of counterfactuals to test various theories. For example, if on some duplicate Earth there is a substance that looks like water, serves all the purposes of water, and is called water, but has a different molecular structure, does someone there mean the same thing when he says "water" as we do?

But even more directly connected to alternate history is the question of proper names, which is called "transworld identification." First of all, to whom are we referring when we say "Richard Nixon"? We can try to answer that with a list of properties: he was born in Yorba Linda, he was Vice-President under Eisenhower, he was President from 1969 to 1974, and so on. But we might talk about an alternate world in which Nixon was not President. Is he no longer Nixon? I cannot speak for philosophers, but alternate history fans would probably say he is still Nixon. What about if e wasn't Vice-President either? What if he did not do anything the same except be born on the same date to the same parents? What if they gave him a different name as well. Is that John Nixon the same as our Richard Nixon?

To writers (and readers) of alternate history this is important. For example, it is pretty much impossible to have a world in which the United States loses World War II, and Nixon still becomes Vice-President under Eisenhower. But what if instead something different happens to Nixon early in his life--is he still Nixon? If he gets a slightly different set of genes, but is still born on the same day with the same name to the same parents, is it still Nixon? And when we read an alternate history where the South won the Civil War and in 1960 there is a character in California named Richard Nixon, are we supposed to believe that is the same Nixon?

To order Naming and Necessity from amazon.com, click here.


MY SHERLOCK HOLMES edited by Michael Kurland:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/26/2004]

As I noted a few weeks ago, trying to come up with ways to distinguish new Sherlock Holmes anthologies from all those that have come before is getting harder, and new twists are getting more convoluted. Michael Kurland's MY SHERLOCK HOLMES takes the approach of having the stories told by different viewpoint characters: Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft Holmes, Moriarty, Billy the Page Boy, .... My problem with this is that it is not just the plot of the Holmes stories that I like, it is the characters, the atmosphere, and the style. When you have a different narrator, all of these change. (There are whole web sites devoted to retelling "The Lord of the Rings", for example, in different author's styles. The Raymond Chandler version is very different from the Dr. Seuss version. See http://www.teemings.com/extras/lotr/ for lots more.) So Billy the Page Boy writes in a different style from Watson, sees the characters differently, and certainly see Victorian London differently than a retired Army surgeon, and very little Holmsian is left.

To order My Sherlock Holmes from amazon.com, click here.


SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE HIDDEN YEARS edited by Michael Kurland:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/23/2007]

SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE HIDDEN YEARS edited by Michael Kurland (ISBN-10 0-312-31513-9, ISBN-13 978-0-312-31513-9) is a collection of eleven stories set during the years when Sherlock Holmes was presumed dead, that is, between the events at Reichenbach Falls ("The Final Problem", 1891) and those of "The Adventure of the Empty House" (1894). In the latter, Holmes gives a brief account of his travels during that time, and several of the authors here have used that as a basis for their stories. For example, Michael Mallory's "The Beast of Guangming Peak" is rooted in the notion of Sigerson, the Norwegian explorer in the Himalayas. Carolyn Wheat's "Water from the Moon" has him in Siam, and while Peter Beagle's "Mr. Sigerson" puts him in Europe and Linda Robertson's "The Mystery of Dr. Thorvald Sigerson" in Alaska, Holmes is still Sigerson. (No one can seem to agree on his alter ego's first name, of course.) Other authors move him to locations not mentioned in the Canon: Bill Pronzini's "The Bughouse Caper" puts him is San Francisco and Carole Bugge's "The Strange Case of the Voodoo Priestess" in New Orleans. A couple of them (Wheat's story and Rhys Bowen's "The Case of the Lugubrious Manservant") use the trick of Holmes having (temporarily) lost his memory. Michael Collins's "Cross of Gold" delves into politics. But all of these have a similar problem--the basic appeal of the original stories is that of Watson chronicling Holmes's cases. (The two stories not narrated by Watson--"The Adventure of the Lion's Mane" and "His Last Bow") are generally considered among the weakest of the Canon.) But since these stories occur during the period that Watson presumes Holmes to be dead, they are of necessity narrated either by an omniscient third-person voice, or by another character in the case, who usually focuses on his own role rather than that of Holmes.

A few avoid this snare. Michael Kurland's "Reichenbach" manages to use the constraints in an ingenious way into the basis of the plot. Gary Lovisi's "The Adventure of the Missing Detective" is an alternate history. Richard Lupoff's "God of the Naked Unicorn" is so far out I cannot begin to categorize it.

To order Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Years from amazon.com, click here.


RAN by Akira Kurosawa:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/17/2006]

I recently watched Akira Kurosawa's RAN again. There is a book connection--it is based on Shakespeare's "King Lear" (just as Kurosawa's THRONE OF BLOOD is based on "Macbeth"). For that matter, there is a fair amount of Lady Macbeth in one of the characters in RAN as well. But my comment is that whoever did the subtitles did an excellent job of capturing a Shakespearean feel; for example, near the beginning of the film, Hidetora (the Lear character) says: "I hoisted my colours over the main castle. I spent more years fighting lance to lance with these two gentlemen. Now the moment has come to stable the steeds of war and give free rein to peace. But old Hidetora is seventy years old."

To order Ran from amazon.com, click here.


SHADOW DIVERS by Robert Kurson:

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

SHADOW DIVERS by Robert Kurson (ISBN 0-375-50858-9) is the story of the discovery and exploration of a previously unsuspected U-boat off the shores of New Jersey. It is understandably popular here in New Jersey, but is also popular across the country. The "Nova" episode about this discovery was reportedly the highest-rated ever in that series. Kurson covers all aspects of the discovery--not just how it was discovered and explored, but also the biology, physics, and chemistry of the ocean and of diving, the history of U-boats in general and this one in particular, and the psychology and sociology of divers. Kurson loves a catchy phrase ("Shipwrecks are where the food chain poses for a snapshot"), but also makes the science of diving understandable to everyone. And of course a lot of the exploration parts will appeal to science fiction fans, because it is just like exploring an alien planet.

To order Shadow Divers from amazon.com, click here.


"Dr, Cyclops" by Henry Kuttner:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 09/15/2006]

Henry Kuttner's novelette "Dr, Cyclops" was made into a film of the same name, which sticks fairly closely to the story. However, Kuttner is a bit sloppy with his arithmetic. First, the people see Thorkel as being thirty feet high, indicating they are about one-fifth size, or a little over a foot tall. The cellar door is described as being as big as a two-story house--assuming an attic, etc., that is probably consistent. Later, though, he says, "Human beings--scarcely more than half a foot tall!"

"Hollywood on the Moon" by Henry Kuttner:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/20/2014]

"Hollywood on the Moon", Henry Kuttner (Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1938; PDF at varietysf.org): This is available, but apparently only as a hard-to-read PDF of the original, and one that cannot even be downloaded to a Kindle. This is also apparently part of a series, though of short stories, not of novels. It is pretty lightweight stuff, the sort of thing that one saw in many "madcap" comedy films in the 1930s, with wise-cracking film producers, a stowaway actress, a telepathic kangaroo, and so on. I suspect it is the Kuttner name and the sparseness of the novelette field in general for 1938 that put this on the ballot.



"The Time Trap" by Henry Kuttner:

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

"The Time Trap", Henry Kuttner (Marvel Science Stories, November 1938: Brian Aldiss's EVIL EARTHS): As with THE LEGION OF TIME, this is more a pulp adventure story with barbarian princesses et al than a scientific time travel story. And not just barbarian princesses, but nude barbarian princesses. The heroine gets her clothes ripped off and ends up nude six times, including one time with a reference to her "utter nudity" and another to her being "utterly nude." (And this is only a novella!) One thinks of a modification of THE WIZARD OF OZ lyric, "She's not only merely nude, she's really most sincerely nude." The villainess also takes off all her clothes at two different times.

The hero speaks the ancient root Semite tongue, a pre-Columbian South American dialect, and Chinese. And just to emphasize all this, Kuttner uses traditional pulp punctuation: lots of sentences ending in dashes, and lots of exclamation marks.

What was it in 1938 with sleepers in suspended animation in glass tubes? Two of the five novellas have them.


HISTORY'S TRICKIEST QUESTIONS: 450 QUESTIONS THAT WILL STUMP, AMUSE AND SURPRISE by Paul Kuttner:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/04/2012]

HISTORY'S TRICKIEST QUESTIONS: 450 QUESTIONS THAT WILL STUMP, AMUSE AND SURPRISE (ISBN 978-0-8050-2127-1) is a very mixed bag. Many of the questions are "trick questions", e.g.,

Q: "Nixon helped to organize a labor union and in 1955 was instrumental in bailing a woman out of jail after a history-making racial incident. True or false?"

A: True. E. D. Nixon helped to organize the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, founded by A. Philip Randolph in the 1920s. In 1955, he bailed Rosa Parks out of jail after she was arrested for refusing to yield her seat in the from of a Montgomery, Alabama, bus."

Some are merely obscure:

Q: What honorary title did the Nazis confer on "Der Rosenkavalier"'s composer, Richard Strauss?

A: Heinrich personally bestowed the rank of honorary general of the SS on Richard Strauss.

And occasionally, they are just wrong:

Q: In the history of the United States, when did three Presidents serve in the White House in the same year, and who were they?

A: The year was 1881, and the three American presidents were Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-93), who was serving out his term in 1881; James A. Garfield (1831-81), who was elected and served for only six months when he died of gunshot wounds inflicted by an assassin; and Chester Alan Arthur (1980-86) who succeeded Garfield and served out his term in 1885, the year before he died.

The only problem is that this is only half correct. In 1841, Martin Van Buren was serving out his term, William Henry Harrison was inaugurated but caught pneumonia at his inauguration and served only about a month, and John Tyler served out the rest of his term.

To order History's Trickiest Questions from amazon.com, click here.


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