Wednesday, November 26th, 2008
1:10 pm - Electric Bookaloo  
Inherit the Stars — James P. Hogan

This book is an old favorite of mine, and it's of a type that doesn't seem to be done much anymore, but was a staple of early SF — the scientific mystery. You know, get a bunch of scientists together to investigate some phenomenon or artifact that seems to be impossible until the solution to the mystery, however improbable is discovered. In this case the artifact is a spacesuited human body discovered on the moon in the early 21st century. The mystery comes from the fact that the body is 50,000 years old. The solution involves some keen detective work, aliens, and the discovery that the asteroid belt was once an inhabited planet called Minerva.

It's a good mystery, and the solution is satisfying. OTOH, the book itself now seems very quaint. I hadn't read it in awhile, and a lot of stuff stands out as really old fashioned, even for a book written in the seventies. For one thing, everyone smokes like a chimney. For another, it suffers from the old SF habit of showing how different mundane actions can be in the future. Like a lot of the scenes on the trip from earth to the moon in 2001. The book is full of them, from in depth details on how to operate a flying car, to how to get from the crew quarters on a deep space shuttle to the restaurant on deck 4. (And who calls the ship's mess a restaurant?) Worse is the treatment of women in the book. There is only one named female character, and she's an administrative assistant whose main duty seems to be to get her friends in the steno pool to show the geeks a good time.

To give it credit, one thing the book manages to hit dead on is a scene where one of the techs fires up a laptop computer while on a flight, connects wirelessly to a world spanning network of computers, and uses it to rent a car. Okay, it was a flying car, but still.

The book is the first in a series that has since expanded to five volumes, and what I remember of the later books is that they get weirder as the characters discover more about the human sojourn on Minerva. I have yet the read the latest, which only came out a few years ago, but I don't know if I want to go through the middle books again.

Sight of Proteus — Charles Sheffield

I'm a fan of weird coincidences. What are the odds that immediately after reading one novel that postulates that there was once an inhabited planet where the asteroid belt now lies, I would pick up another novel that postulates the exact same thing? Mind, I'd read ItS before, so I knew its central premise, but SoP's flyleaf describes a world where humans can change their physical form at will, so the introduction of the asteroid belt planet, Loge, was a surprise.

The book was okay. In its future, humans with enough money can go into a tank and come out looking like Marilyn Monroe or Albert Einstein or many other possibilities. The limits of form changing are strictly controlled, though, to prevent folks from trying out new forms that might be non-viable. The main character is an investigator in the Office of Form Control, and he's called in when it's discovered that one of the leading scientists in the field has been performing off the book experiments. The rest of the book is about the investigator's search for the now missing scientist, but it's not really a mystery, nor is it really a thriller. It just sort of meanders along. That's not necessarily a bad thing. It's just that the book goes to a very different place than one might expect from the description.

The Inimitible Jeeves — P.G. Wodehouse

Presented as a novel, but it's really a bunch of stories strung together while maintaining a thread of continuity. The main thread is the romantic adventures of Bingo Little. All of the tales of Bingo from the TV series can be found here, along with a few others. Good stuff, as usual.

Haven — Don D'Ammassa

D'Ammassa is regular at Boston area cons, and I happened to see this at the library, so what the heck. The plot is Hitchcockian. A man recovering from an illness (one of the symptoms of which is hallucinations) is staying in a small village on a backwater planet. While walking through the woods near his cottage, he stumbles upon a dead body. He summons the authorities, but when they arrive at the scene, the body is no longer there. The authorities don't believe him, but when he starts receiving warnings to mind his business from some of the locals, he takes it as proof that he didn't imagine things.

It's a decent book, and the explanation of the events is suitably morally ambiguous. It does suffer from a couple of things. One is some odd sentence construction by D'Ammassa which took me out of the story a couple of times. Another is that the most suspenseful part of the story, for me anyway, occurs in the first half of the book, when the woman who'd befriended him leaves to go to work on another part of the planet. He is unable to contact her, and for several chapters the reader has no idea as to her fate. By comparison, The climax is less compelling, because since the main character is involved, we're pretty sure he won't die.

The Dark Path — Walter H. Hunt

Hunt is another New England writer whom I've seen at local cons, and he's starting to annoy me, although it's not really his fault. The fault is with a certain critic who disdains military science fiction, but proclaims the Hunt writes military SF with merit, whatever that means. The problem is that Hunt doesn't really write science fiction. He writes fantasy novels in Trek trappings, where the elves are represented by winged aliens, the wizards are those humans and aliens with psi powers, and the big bad is basically the alien version of Satan. To be fair, I don't think it Hunt who is misrepresenting, but rather his publisher and at least one critic. The book is fine in its own right, it's just not what I was looking for. OTOH, Hunt doesn't help my annoyance by ending the book in a fantasy-style cliffhanger. That didn't annoy me so much that I won't read the following book, but I don't feel any hurry to fill out the interlibrary loan request form, either.

The Flying Sorcerers — David Gerrold and Larry Niven

Another old favorite, a very funny book about a human anthropologist stranded on a primitive world who comes into conflict with the local wizard. I spent years (pre-internet) searching used bookstores for a copy to replace one I'd lent out. So many puns, so little time.

Harold and the Purple Crayon — Crockett Johnson

A really, really old favorite, one of the first books I ever read. There were a whole series of Harold books about a boy with a very active imagination and a purple crayon that lets him turn his imaginings into reality. I picked up the fiftieth anniversary edition of the first book, which I will probably give to cutie patootie niece for Christmas.

The book solved an old mystery for me, too. Over the years, whenever I saw images from the old comic strip Barnaby, the style always looked so familiar to me even though I was sure I'd never read the strip. Now I know why. Crockett Johnson wrote and illustrated both Harold and Barnaby.

Still not caught up.