Wednesday, December 31st, 2008
10:53 pm - All Caught Up, and Just in Time  
The last books of the year.

The Children of Húrin — J. R. R. Tolkien
I picked up The Children of Húrin from the remainders table at Barnes and Noble. It's a nice edition, including several illustration plates by Alan Lee. (There was also a copy of the Lee illustrated edition of The Return of The King for cheap that I considered getting, but since they didn't have the equivalent versions of either FotR or TTT available, I passed.)

Húrin is an expansion of one of the tales found in The Silmarillion, cobbled together by Christopher Tolkein from several versions that his father wrote. I suspect what he wrote was to be used for background material, because it's biblical in style, much like The Silmarillion. Not at all a page turner. Húrin was a human king captured by Morgoth (the original Dark Lord) at the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. Even in captivity, Húrin defied his captor, so Morgoth laid a terrible curse upon Húrin and his family. When it came to curses, Morgoth knew what he was about. This is not a happy book.

The book mostly follows Húrin's son, Túrin Turambar, who wanders around Beleriand going from one bad situation to the next. I have often thought that Shakespeare would have loved the tale of Túrin. Imagine all this blood and bad luck in iambic pentameter. Plus mistaken incest? It would've packed them in. Shakespeare probably would've changed it, though. The big problem with the tale of Túrin is that Tolkein insists that it's not really Túrin's fault, what with the curse and all. I disagree with that. Túrin's a dick, curse or no curse.

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Juggler of Worlds — Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner
The first Niven I read back in college was the Neutron Star collection, which included the early Beowulf Schaeffer stories and "The Soft Weapon," which introduced Nessus. It's hard to describe how much of an impression those stories made on me after years of reading SF written mostly in the forties. It was a whole 'nother universe. Planets were no longer named Trantor or Terminus or similarly lofty sounding names. Bey came from We Made It. It was fun, the aliens were alien, and the science was just neat. Later, the Schaeffer stories were collected with some later episodes in Crashlander. Juggler takes the events in Crashlander and retells them from the points of view of both Nessus and Schaeffer's bureaucratic nemesis, Sigmund Ausfaller, along with some side trips back to the Puppeteer migration from Fleet of Worlds.

Lots of little mysteries are cleared up along the way. One thing I wondered about when reading the Schaeffer stories was why Ausfaller was so set on making Bey's life miserable. Now we find out. We also discover whatever happened to Elephant's planned second voyage to Cueball, and get to visit the Outsiders, although there's still no sign of the Pierin. It's really quite a lot of fun for Known Space fans.

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Trouble in Triplicate — Rex Stout
Three novellas set during and just after the war, between the events of Not Quite Dead Enough and The Silent Speaker. They weren't collected until a couple of years after the war, so the book appears annoyingly out of order on the canonical list of Wolfe books, right in the middle of Wolfe's battle with Arnold Zeck.

Two of the three were adapted for the Nero Wolfe series, so I'd seen them. The third should've been, if only to have the visual of an exploding cigar as the murder weapon.

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Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency — Douglas Adams
I still use Dirk's method of finding my way to where I'm going. Just find someone who looks like they know where they're going, and follow them. But that turns out to be from the second DG book, not this one. No charge for saving the human race from total extinction.

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Odd Girl Out — Timothy Zahn
This is the third book in Zahn's Quadrail series about Frank Compton's efforts to fight the parasitic collective intelligence known as the Modhri. Zahn seems to have found something here, because the second book in the series only came out a few months ago, and a fourth is apparently coming out soon. That's fine by me, because all three have been page turners. This time out Compton meets up with the Modhri analogue to the Tok'ra and hilarity ensues. Or not.

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Hogfather — Sir Terry Pratchett
I watched and bought the adaptation last Christmas, and this season decided the read it to compare and contrast. This tale of an assassin's plan to rub out the Discworld's version of Santa Claus, and Death's attempt at replacing the jolly (and other words ending in "olly") old elf while Death's granddaughter tries to foil the foul plot really ought to be shown every holiday season. It's that good. As for the contrasting, the adaptation is very faithful to the book, and is actually a little clearer at what's going on early in the story. Highly recommended.

Side note: Pratchett was among those on the New Years Honours list, so he is now Sir Terry.

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How the Grinch Stole Christmas — Dr. Seuss
This was one of the first books I ever read, long before the Grinch was turned green by Chuck Jones. (The original art is pen and ink with some red highlighting.) What surprised me after all these years is how much extra material is in the adaptation. As Jones said in an interview I saw this year, it only takes about fifteen minutes to read the entire book aloud, so there was time to fill. Not just with songs, either, but the book ends with the Grinch carving the roast beast, and in the show there's a whole little speech about the joy of Christmas after that. Huh.

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The Stainless Steel Rat — Harry Harrison
I have been enjoying the heck out of Leverage, which I described to my friend Al as Mission Impossible meets It Takes a Thief and The A-Team. The Stainless Steel Rat is a SF version of It Takes a Thief, although since it came out years before ITaT, it should be the other way around. The Rat in question is James Bolivar "Slippery Jim" diGriz, interstellar con man and thief, who is finally captured by and then recruited for the Special Corps, an interstellar police force. There are several books in the series. In this one, the first, diGriz is sent out after a femme fatale, Angelina, whom he falls in love with despite the fact she's a cold blooded killer. In the end she's captured, and, after undergoing psych adjustment for that little killing problem, is also recruited into the Corps.

The book was written in the early sixties, so some of the material is dated. Computers are still very large, and nobody's thought about using them to create databases yet. Jim refers to his radio as a short wave at one point. Still, it's as much fun as I remembered it.

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Speaking of It Takes a Thief,
I gave Al some avi's of Leverage to watch, since he doesn't believe in cable. I'd also found a copy of the pilot movie for It Takes a Thief, titled ", a show we'd both been huge fans of the series back when we were in high school, so we watched it when I visited over the holidays. Boy, some things are best left to the soft focus of memory, because the pilot was bad. Really bad. Something that even spotting pre-The Name of the Game Susan Saint James in a bit part couldn't save. Actually, there were a lot of cameos, both planned (Raymond Burr, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Wally Cox, James Drury and Doug McClure) and unplanned (we finally find out how Leslie Nielsen made a living during the lean years between Forbidden Planet and Police Squad). Plus there was an extended travel segment in the middle of it showing the world what was happening with Montreal's Expo '67 site in 1968.