The Blog's Mission

Wikipedia defines a book review as: “a form of literary criticism in which a book is analyzed based on content, style, and merit. A book review can be a primary source opinion piece, summary review or scholarly review”. My mission is to provide the reader with my thoughts on the author’s work whether it’s good, bad, or ugly. I read all genres of books, so some of the reviews may be on hard to find books, or currently out of print. All of my reviews will also be available on I will write a comment section at the end of each review to provide the reader with some little known facts about the author, or the subject of the book. Every now and then, I’ve had an author email me concerning the reading and reviewing of their work. If an author wants to contact me, you can email me at I would be glad to read, review and comment on any nascent, or experienced writer’s books. If warranted, I like to add a little comedy to accent my reviews, so enjoy!
Thanks, Rick O.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Horace Greeley's "Go west, young man" takes on a new meaning in James Bradley's eye-opening book. The history, narrated by the author, occurs between the years 1850 and 1908. According to Mr. Bradley, it's a time dominated by White Christian Aryans, who looked west to follow the sun and civilize any race or country in their path. How much of this book is gospel and how much is conjecture is unknown to me. I do know that at times I thought I was reading America's version of William L. Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. I do remember the history related in this book, but not with Mr. Bradley's white supremacy slant.

The book is about a large diplomatic mission sent across the Pacific Ocean in 1905 with the secret mission of an unconstitutional pact with Japan. The American delegation was led by future president and current Secretary of War, William Howard Taft. Among the many dignitaries aboard the ship Manchuria was Alice Roosevelt, the daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt. She was known as America's Princess, and in today's world, she would be what you would call a "rock star". This ship also stopped in Hawaii, the Philippines, China and Korea, supposedly to check on the progress of the "barbaric" territories and countries.

The book is primarily about the prevailing attitude of President Roosevelt, most of the politicians, and Ivy League Professors, who thought that only white men were capable of civilizing the world. A lot of the book is about the brutal and unfair take over of Hawaii and the Philippines by a very aggressive White Christian Aryan America. Remember, this is all according to James Bradley. Also very interesting is how America and England got China hooked on opium. The famous Queen Victoria of England actually became the largest drug dealer in history! The book also highlights America's horrendous treatment of Chinese immigrants on the west coast of America, which ultimately caused a boycott of America in China.

As a sidebar to the story, I thought the way Mr. Bradley portrayed Teddy Roosevelt was unique. Everybody visualizes President Roosevelt as a very manly "Rough Rider". The author characterizes the President as somewhat sickly, slightly effeminate and conniving. He goes into detail about how the President staged all his manly pictures. He also portrays the President as a treaty breaker, giving Korea to Japan, our "honorary" Aryan country, to civilize Asia. Most history books leave a lot of this book's theories out, so it's up to the reader to decide on who is right or wrong.

A lot of reviewers gave this book a poor rating. I believe it's because they don't agree with Bradley's seemingly Un-American slant on this subject. To some extent I agree, but I also think it was an enjoyable and well researched literary work supported by 51 pages of notes. I highly recommend this book to all those history buffs out there.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: James Bradley is the son of John Bradley, one of the men who raised the American flag on Mount Suribachi , Iwo Jima during World War II. James's book Flags of Our Fathers was made into a great movie directed by Clint Eastwood. I think that in all of his writings, James Bradley tells it the way he sees it, whether its popular or not.

Monday, December 12, 2011


This is not a classic story like the The Elephant's Journey by Jose Saramago, but it's not Walt Disney's Dumbo either. This is a interesting novel about two elephants and their keeper journeying through England during the late seventeen hundreds. It's written by Christopher Nicholson, an award winning documentary producer for the BBC in England. You can feel his love for animals throughout the novel. The story is well formulated and uses the language and spelling of the times.

The novel starts out with a ship arriving in Bristol, England from the East Indies with various cargo, including exotic animals. Two of the crates contain two very sick elephants. They are purchased by a sugar merchant, John Harrington, for his estate, and are turned over to a young horse groomer, Tom Page, for the elephant's care and training. This turns out to be the start of decades of love between the trainer and the animals. Eventually the male elephant, Timothy, gets sold to another estate because of aggressive behavior. In the ensuing years Tom tries to find out what happened to Timothy, and when he finds out, it's not pretty.

The bulk of the book is spent on the life and trials of the keeper and his female elephant, Jenny. The communication between the two in the book is quoted conversation, but it's implied to be mental telepathy. It's really well done and has the reader believing that Tom and Jenny are really talking to each other. How much could we learn if this was possible? Jenny is bought and sold many times, including time spent at a menagerie, which is a humbling experience for both the keeper and animal. The book's ending is a little vague, but satisfying versus what I thought it would be.

This is a quality novel, and I highly recommend it to all the animal lovers out there. The book makes the reader wonder why man treats a magnificent animal like a elephant so dreadfully. Every so often you have to read a story like this to make you once again aware of animal conservation.   

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: Christopher Nicholson has been involved with natural history all his life and has produced many BBC programs relating to the relationship between humans and animals. His previous novel was The Fattest Man In America, which is about a 1,000 pound man in Texas who decides to market himself as a tourist attraction.What??

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


This novel is either part of John Varley's Eight Worlds stories or the second book of another wonderful trilogy. Varley is always unclear as to whether his novels fit into similar or slightly different universes. He continues to come up with characters that are familiar to movie goers. This time he submits a supposedly invisible character named Elwood P. Dowd, which happens to be the name of the delusional character that James Stewart portrays in the 1950 movie Harvey.

This novel tells the story of Sparky (Kenneth) Valentine, who is on the lam from the authorities in Luna for the murder of his father. He is also pursued by Isambard Comfort, a member of the mafia on Pluto's moon, Charon. This tale takes 70 years before it culminates in a trial on Luna by the recently mentally challenged Central Computer. Remember what happened to this computer at the end of Steel Beach? Also do you remember Hildy Johnson? Well, she's Back!

Since Sparky and his father are Shakespeare actors, the novel has the flavor of Dan Simmons's novels Ilium and Olympos, which relied heavily on Shakespeare's and Homer's works. I think this kind of writing is very difficult to research and to intertwine into a novel. Well done, John Varley. This novel is different in that there isn't a female narrator or heroine. Instead we have a male narrator, although I wouldn't consider him a hero. In the early parts of the book, Sparky is supplementing his acting monies by running "cons". This gets him into trouble with the Charonese mafia, and a chase ensues from Pluto to the Moon, while Sparky seeks the lead role of King Lear in a play by a old friend Polly. They starred together when Sparky had a children's hit T.V. show called "Sparky and His Gang".

The characters in this book are delightful and refreshing, including Sparky's ultra smart dog Toby. I love the way Varley brings back old characters in his books. This is easy since medical accomplishments have cured all physical problems except heavy brain damage. It's not uncommon to live 200-300 years in the Eight Worlds books. Since I'm a fan of Varley books, I give this book my highest recommendation.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: John Varley's next novel comes out in October 2012. The title will be either Slow Apocalypse or One Minute To Midnight. It's a story about a invented bacterium used to turn crude oil spills into a gooey mess. The problem is that it gets loose and destroys the World's oil supply! Sounds exciting; I can't wait.

Monday, November 21, 2011


The premise of this book is exciting! Then you read it and realize it's barely worth remembering. The story begins with a volcano in Yellowstone National Park blowing up, then the scene switches to Pompeii for the two-thousand year celebration of Mt. Vesuvius's 79 A.D. eruption. What a start! What's going to happen next? The answer is pretty much nothing. I know Frederik Pohl is a science fiction grand master, but he drops the ball with this novel, because he fails to run with the idea and create a classic novel.

The empathy I felt for the characters was nil. There wasn't any character development for any of the book's participants. Basically, the book is another terrorist  motif inspired novel set in the year 2079. The story's main characters, Brad Sheridan, Brian Bossert, a.k.a. Gerda Fleming, go through some interesting times working for the Pompeii theme park, but fail to excite the reader. The security people of the park and elsewhere seem to be omniscient-like without any validation of their powers. The theme park itself becomes less desirous when you learn that most of the park is actually virtual reality.

What happened in America after the Yellowstone eruption is left to the imagination. Mr. Pohl lets the reader know that America is no longer a super-power and the dollar is almost worthless, but that's it! We know people like Brad Sheridan indentured themselves to countries in Europe, but not why. It seems to me that more time should have been spent on the events after the U.S.A. eruption to set the seed for the exodus of Americans to Europe. Why would they sell themselves with a bond to pay off?

Then we have the issue of the Pompeii Flu. The pernicious virus seems to have originated from the "Stans" of Russia. These are the new countries that separated from Russia and became criminal safe havens. I'm surprised that James Bond didn't make an appearance! Nothing involving the terrorist and their activities is original or unpredictable. Paraphrasing Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, "This book coulda been a contenda"!

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Frederik Pohl is also a Lecturer and teacher in Future Studies, concentrating on environmental issues. He has written many trilogies and his famous Heechee novels have won him many honors during his brilliant career.

Friday, November 11, 2011


It took almost ten years for Laura Hillenbrand to write her second book, and it's a doozy! Wow! I thought Seabiscuit was a great maiden book, but this second effort destroys the sophomore jinx. It tells the story of Louis Zamperini, a Lieutenant in the Army Air Force during World War II. It's so realistically written that I felt that I was right there in the prison camps with the Lieutenant. This is a story of extreme mental fortitude and courageous actions in the face of hopelessness.

Louis goes from a juvenile delinquent, a high school track star, a Olympic runner, a bombardier, a prisoner of war, a post-war alcoholic to a Billy Graham inspired speaker in 406 delightful pages. The side characters are real and play important roles in Louis's life. They include his brother Pete, Marine officer William Harris, and B-24 Liberator bomber pilot Allen Phillips, who shared most of Louis's horrors. Laura Hillenbrand draws you into one calamity to the next at a furious pace. This book is hard to put down. It reads like a fiction novel, but it's all true. This is non-fiction at it's best.

While on the Green Hornet, a B-24 Liberator, in a bombing raid, Louis's plane gets shot down over the Pacific. He, along with his pal Phil and tail gunner Mac, float on a raft for 47 days while drifting west towards Japanese held islands. They are constantly surrounded by sharks; they are strafed by Japanese aircraft; and they are starving. Mac dies, while Louis and Phil are picked up by the enemy on the island of Kwajalein (known as the execution island). This starts two and a half years of misery from Kwajalein to Ofuna to Omori to Naoetsu, all prison camps from hell. Geneva Convention rules don't work in Japan. Here they meet the monster, Mutsuhiro Watanabe, the most hateful disciplinary officer in Japan, known as The Bird. This part of the book is troubling - how can anybody beat another human senseless day after day? This is what Louis experienced. The Bird hated him!

The good news is that Louis Zamperini is alive and well at 94 years old. He may well be the indestructible man. He still has all his wits and a zest for life. He did 75 interviews with Laura, presented her with a 65 pound scrap book, and provided most of the photos for this book. This was the most awe inspiring book that I've read in a long time. If anything, this book should be read for the sake of American history.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars.

Comment: As a young Marine in the early sixties, I sat with veterans of these island campaigns at a camp fire in Camp Lejeune during a training exercise. They told me stories that sent a cold chill down my back. I still can't think of Kwajalein, Tarawa, or Iwo Jima without thinking of these brave Marines I met.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


John Varley's Millennium is a distinctly different type of time-travel book, and I enjoyed it. It's not as good as The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, but what can compare to that all-time classic. The only comparison is that both novels were made into movies (I only saw the 1960 movie that starred Rod Taylor). This novel has an unusual plot. People from the future go into the past via a gate and exchange doomed crash victims with replacements called wimps. Since the Earth of the future is a dying planet due to thousands of years of wars and pollution, the people from the future built a spaceship to carry the healthy humans from the past to another planet or to a future Earth millions of years from now. The people from the future couldn't go because they didn't live long due to the poisoned air that they evolved to breath. So Earth's future was really its past.

The biggest concern during these "snatch" operations was to avoid paradoxes. One little mistake could change the future and eliminate mankind forever. For example, if you went into the past and killed your father, you wouldn't have been born and therefore unable to kill your father. Changing anything in the past could cause the catastrophic erasing of man. So when the future time travel team lost two stunner guns, one in 1955 and one in 1980, the panic was on, or you know what hit the fan!

The guns were lost on two separate plane crashes during the removal of the crash victims before the accidents occurred. The guns are used to stun the passengers so that they can be transferred through the gate and into a holding pen while the wimps take their place. The head of the future snatch team is Louise Baltimore, and the head of the past crash investigation team is Bill Smith. The two other meaningful characters in the book are the Big Computer and Louise's robot, Sherman (like the tank). Can Louise go back into the past and find these stun guns before Bill Smith?

The story seemed to flow easily enough, although certain things didn't make much sense or add anything of value to the book. For instance, when Bill Smith's group discovers that the crash victims all ate chicken during the flight - so what? And when Smith discovers that some of victim's watches ran 45 minutes fast and some ran backwards, I didn't understand what that meant. Anyway both matters were quickly dropped and never came up again. Other than that, the book was well written and thought out. I especially like the way most chapters were titled the Testimony of Bill Smith or Testimony of Louise Baltimore, as if the story was a trial in front of God...maybe it was. John Varley continues to make me happy with his ability to make all his scientific theories comprehensible.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: The theory of time travel has always been a puzzlement to mankind. Would the laws of physics even allow travel to the future or the past? Causing paradoxes would be very feasible, thus creating potentially perilous situations. Great authors have dealt with this subject in some respects, such as Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, and Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle.

Friday, October 28, 2011


The reviewers have been way too harsh on this novel by the great Arthur C. Clarke. Readers must remember that Clarke was 90 years old when he started this book, became ill, and turned over his unfinished manuscript to 89 year old Frederik Pohl. I liked the book. Okay, there were some reoccurring themes, such as the skyhook elevator, the solar Yacht race, and the concept of an older controlling species as in the Space Odyssey novels.So what! For some readers, this is the first Clarke novel they've read. Days before Clarke died, he saw the final product and approved it. That's good enough for this reader.

The story centers on Sri Lanka in the near future. The main character is Ranjit Subramanian, a young math addict. His ambition is to solve Pierre de Fermat's Last Theorem in the short form, using only what was known to math in the year 1637, unlike the 150 page modern proof by Andrew Wiles. He enters college as a young man concerned about world violence. Unfortunately for Earth, so are the Grand Galactics, located thousands of light years away. Ranjit, visiting friends aboard a cruise ship, is kidnapped by pirates and when rescued by an unknown country, is mistaken for a pirate. While he spends two years in prison, he solves the Last Theorem. He is rescued by his childhood friend Gamini Bandara, now a member of the United Nation's 'Pax Per Fidem' (Peace Through Transparency). Ranjit becomes a famous professor, marries his childhood sweetheart Myra and has two children. All is well.

All is not well! The Grand Galctics have seen the nuclear explosions on Earth and decide that the humans must be liquidated. They dispatch the aliens known as the One Point Fives in a massive armada navigated by another A.I., the Machine-Stored. Earth is being spied upon by a third alien race, the Nine Limbeds. It will take the time equal to a full human generation to travel to Earth from their planet.

The last two-thirds of the book deal with the rest of Ranjit's life, Earth's effort for world peace, and the long voyage of the Grand Galactics closing in on their target. What will happen? Can Earth get a pardon or is it doomed? The ending is unexpected and thrilling. Unlike 2001: A Space Odyssey, the ending is very understandable. I'm sure there would have been a sequel had Clarke not died. The pipeline of Clarke novels is closed, but now is the time to catch up on all his wonderful previous novels.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: Both Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl are Science Fiction Grand Masters. Clarke was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998. Some of Clarke's famous novels include the four 2001: A Space Odyssey books and Rendezvous with Rama. Clarke was a confirmed atheist, and as per his will, he wanted no religious rites or icons at his funeral.

Friday, October 21, 2011


John Varley states that this book is not a part of his novels and short stories known as the Eight Worlds future history. I say it is, and one day he will tie all these tales together in some kind of chronological order with a final book in this series. Having read Varley's Gaea and Red Thunder trilogies, I expected more of the same. No way! This book explodes with new thoughts and innovations unlike any of the previous seven Varley books I've read and enjoyed.

If you saw the play The Front Page or the movie His Girl Friday, you will remember the heroine was a lead reporter named Hildy Johnson. Well, he (or she) is back along with the crusty Editor who doesn't want him to quit. Varley has also added a reporter named Brenda Starr. Remember her from the eponymously titled comic strip? Only the time period is 199 years after the aliens kicked us off the Earth! The aliens evicted the humans to the Moon and other planets so they could give the Earth to the non-polluting whales and dolphins. No one can describe the aliens since anyone who has seen one has been killed.

On the Moon, the editor of The Nipple wants to do a Bicentennial Commemoration of the invasion of Earth. He puts the suicidal Hildy Johnson in charge of the project, who does his best to avoid this assignment and spends most of his time trying to commit suicide, scooping the competition on other lunar stories, and building his period house in a Disneyland known as Texas of the 1800s. The infrastructure of the Moon and the health of the humans are controlled by a central computer known as The CC. Halfway through the story, Hildy changes to a female, a routine operation on the Moon, while some of the other characters in the book also change their sex from time to time. Wouldn't you get bored with your body if your life span was at 200 to 300 years? Only a splattered brain was incurable, although The CC was working on a remedy for that.

This is not your normal world. How about: dinosaur farms, microscopic nanobots in your body, slash-boxing as a sport, or children born in jars? Then, enter the mysterious Merlin, a.k.a. Mister Smith and his Heinleiners, their starship and nullfields. What's a nullfield? Don't ask. When Hildy, Mister Smith, and The CC collide, the result is what was known as The Big Glitch! This clash with the Lunarians and The CC is monumental and tragic resulting in a unexpected ending.

This is a typically well written book by John Varley. His character development has always been second to none. He also continues his trend of having prominent female characters. Varley has the ability to make his innovative technology easily understandable. This novel has his usual sexual situations, but they don't get in the way of the story. My final conclusion? Great book!

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: John Varley has won 10 Locus, 3 Hugo and 2 Nebula Awards. Many of his novels are of the trilogy genre or related themes. If you want to read one of his stand-alones, grab a copy of Mammoth. It's fabulous.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


This is the latest delightful tale from Gene Wolfe published in 2010. Although only 300 pages, it seems to be a larger tale than it is. Maybe Gene Wolfe is really a sorcerer or a warlock. Every time I read a Wolfe book, I'm surprised by his style and ingenuity. There are a few parts that remind me of Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which is a good thing.

The entire book is composed of letters written mostly by our lead narrator, an ex-con named Baxter Dunn, to his twin brother George. Baxter was recently released from prison and is asking his brother for some much needed money. His luck changes when he discovers an abandoned house. He decides to hire a real estate agent to find the house's owner. He'd like to live there rent-free in exchange for much needed repairs to the house. Realtors Doris Griffin and Martha Murrey inform him that the previous owner, Zwart Black, has left the house to him in his will. He later finds out that a certain Mr. Skotos has left him valuable real estate and a large bank account. Who are these people, and what did they want in return?

This peculiar house has many rooms, some without entrances, some without exits. The strangest of people and animals arrive and disappear. As he tries to unravel this mystery, he meets a werewolf, a changeling pet fox, a pair of strange butlers, a dwarf and a host of eccentric people. Some of the supernatural creatures in this novel are somewhat unique and original. The ending is unpredictable and is climaxed by some unanswered questions. Does this mean a sequel?

Although Gene Wolfe is 80 years old, his mind remains forever young and imaginative. This novel displays Wolfe's great storytelling abilities, and even though this is not quite a five star novel, it is highly recommended reading for any  fantasy fan.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: Writers Neil Gaiman and Patrick O'Leary admit that they have been inspired by Wolfe and consider him to be the best writer alive. Early in his career, Gene Wolfe was able to communicate with the great J.R.R.Tolkien; I wonder if he got some helpful guidance.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Last Night in Twisted River

All the prerequisites are here for another vintage novel from John Irving. Guess where the novel begins. New Hampshire, of course. Is a bear involved? Yes. Are there deadly mishaps and lost loved ones? Yes and yes! These are the staples of a John Irving book; The man stays with what works for him. It works for the reader too for the most part, though there are a few items that are a little fuzzy. John Irving is known to write with a seemingly bizarre fear of losing a child that tends to confuse the details of a loved one's death and the aftermath.

The story begins in Twisted River, New Hampshire with a young man drowning, an American Indian woman killed when mistaken for a bear, and the murder suspects, a logging camp cook and his son, taking it on the lam from the law. The journey takes us to New England, Iowa, Colorado, and Toronto, Canada over a period of nearly fifty years. Their sojourn seems to have been avoidable if only the cook and his young son, Dominic and Daniel Baciagalupo, hadn't run, but then there wouldn't have be a story. The cook's best friend is a crusty, tough logger named Ketchum, who will be the Baciagalupo's eyes, ears and adviser in New Hampshire for the next 47 years.

As time passes, Daniel becomes a famous writer using the pen name Danny Angel. Dominic and Daniel change their name's many times as they move from place to place to elude the constable from Twisted River. The fact that Daniel is a writer who happens to be writing a story within this story is a clever technique common to an Irving story. There are many delightful characters in this novel, such as Six-Pack Pam, Carmella and Lady Sky. The final conflict between the Baciagalupos and the retired, homicidal constable is somewhat predictable but still exciting.

The hero of this novel, Danny Angel, nee Daniel Baciagalupo, attended Phillips Exeter Academy and The University of Iowa Writers Workshop with Author Kurt Vonnegut as his teacher. Guess who else went to these schools and had the same teacher? You guessed it...John Irving! The reader will wonder if John Irving might really be the person who hit Injun Jane with the eight-inch cast-iron skillet. Anyway, I highly recommend this novel.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: Some of John Irving's bestsellers include: The World According to GarpThe Cider House Rules, and The Hotel New Hampshire. He won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1999 for The Cider House Rules. Simon and Schuster will publish Irving's next book, In One Person, in the summer of 2012.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


This is Gene Wolfe's third installment of our favorite amnestic Roman mercenary known as Latro, Lewqys or Lucius depending on whether you are Egyptian, Phoenician, or Persian. Latro's tale is based on the author's translation of a papyrus scroll found in a 2,500 year old sealed vase in a land once known as Nubia.

In book one, our hero became an amnesiac due to a head injury in a Grecian battle. Latro has to write down his daily activities every night lest he forgets them. He has a habit of duplicating information while defining previous unclear events. His head injury also gave him the amazing ability to see and talk to various Egyptian Gods and mythical monstrosities. This is a historical fantasy of the highest degree.

The story follows Latro and his hired wife, Mytsereu, along with their many companions as they sail south to Nubia and beyond under the orders of the Persian Satrap,  the occupying Governor of Egypt. They are to gather information from their expedition, especially about the gold mines, and report back to the Satrap. During this trip we meet many wonderful characters, Gods and Goddesses, mythical monsters, and furious warriors. Latro gets in and out of many sticky situations that he will soon forget unless he writes them down or is reminded of them by his friends. The book's ending implies that there is a book four in the future, although Mr. Wolfe is 80 years old and writes other series. I'm only bringing this up because there was 20 years in between this book and Soldier of the Mist.

This is a very pleasant book that is so good that it could stand alone. I thought this was a unique way to write an original historical fantasy. Now I know why the great Neil Gaiman said, "Gene Wolfe is the smartest, subtlest, most dangerous writer alive today"! If you haven't read a Wolfe book yet, I suggest you start with this one.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Gene Wolfe is a multiple winner of the Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Awards. Even though he had polio as a child, he later served in the Korean War. As a engineer, he helped design the machine that makes Pringle's Potato Chips. He now lives in Barrington, Illinois.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Lucifer's Hammer

This is a remarkable post-apocalyptic novel written in 1977 by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. It certainly challenges the 1957 novel On the Beach by Nevil Shute. The only difference is that Earth is destroyed by a comet, not by a nuclear war as in Shute's book. Although, Niven does have Russia and China exchanging warheads after the comet hits Earth. The other disparity is that mankind attempts a rebound of civilization versus the suicidal ending of On the Beach. Anyhow, this was a very enjoyable novel that precedes all the current "end of the world" disaster books and movies. Which novel is better is a matter of conjecture.

Once again Niven has a dramatis personae in his book, which means..."Hello to numerous characters"! Wow, how about at least ten main characters and dozens of side characters, all fully developed. It means you, as the reader, will really care what happens to these people whether good or bad. That is a talent of Niven's that I've noticed in his other novels. The only flaw is with his Dr. Charles Sharps character, the Science and Project Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratories. After the comet impacts, he disappears from the story and never returns. I wonder if that was done on purpose or an oversight.

The story begins with Tim Hamner, a amateur astronomer, along with a similar sighting from a youngster named Brown, discovers a comet heading towards Earth. The odds of this Hamner-Brown Comet hitting Earth are millions to one. Harvey Randall, a Documentary Producer for NBS television, decides to do a TV series on this event. The comet's name gets changed to Lucifer's Hammer by Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show. The U.S. and Russia send four astronauts in orbit to study the comet. The U.S. Senator Arthur Jellison, the man behind the space program, retreats to his California ranch. As the comet rounds the Sun and approaches Earth, the unthinkable calves, changes course, and strikes Earth in many places!

The rest of the novel deals with the catastrophic events that happen after the strike, man's reaction, and ultimately man's survival. There is so much happening that you really have to read this great book yourself. All of the human elements pertaining to survival are completely believable. And kudos to Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle for keeping the technical stuff out of the book and just tell the story. I don't remember what man's attitude was when the Kohoutek Comet passed Earth in 1973, but if another stray comet approaches Earth, one would hope it will not be as cavalier as Lucifer's Hammer was.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Halley's Comet passes every 75 or 76 years, but the Kohoutek (or Kouhoutek) Comet has a course so far from Earth that we will only see it every 75,000 years! The next time it passes, man may not be living on Earth.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


I struggled with this book for about 75 pages, then I got it, then I lost it again, then I didn't understand what all the commotion was about at the end. I thought all the flip-flopping between centuries and all the technical jargon made this novel taxing. It's not a bad novel. It's just not what I expected from the great sci-fi writer Poul Anderson. The idea that the human race could be controlled by a Cybercosm (a network of artificial intelligences) is not new, but it's motives are. The idea that a A.I. system would care if we explored the heavens or got along with each other is doubtful.

The novel switches back and forth between the early days of the moon occupation and the drama of moon/earth tensions centuries later. It seems that Lunarians want absolute sovereignty from the World Federation and Peace Authority, the chief honchos on earth. The Lunarians are genetically altered humans that were bred for survival in low gravity.

The early part of the story mainly concerns Dagny Beynac, her children, Anson Guthrie and his company Fireball Enterprises. They control the moon's activities and provide earth with many minerals and innovations. Dagny's children find a new planet, but keep it a family and Fireball secret. Why a secret? What's to be learned from it? The Beynac family die off as the centuries go by with their secret intact. Later Anson Guthrie, now a downloaded robot, and some Lunarians depart for Alpha Centauri for eternity.

The other part of the story is about a powerful Lunarian, Lilisaire and her agents, Ian and Aleka, chasing down the centuries old secret of the Beynac family. They believe the secret will hold off earth's invasion of people and give the moon its independence. They are pursued by the Cybercosm and its agent, Venator. Will the mystery of the Beynacs be solved? Will the information gain the moon its freedom? Is the secret about the unknown planet or something completely different?

I thought the novel was well written with good character development, but was filled with too much nonsensical technical language. Since it's a Poul Anderson book, I still recommend this work.

RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

Comment: Poul Anderson was the winner of seven Hugo and three Nebula Awards! He died of cancer on 7/31/2001 at the age of 74.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Warlord Chronicles

This is a guest review from my eldest son, Deron:

The Warlord Chronicles is Bernard Cornwell's interpretation of the story of King Arthur. The trilogy is comprised of The Winter King, Enemy of God, and Excalibur and is told from the perspective of Derfel Cardan, a man that Britain's greatest druid Merlin plucked as a child from a death pit to become Arthur's most trusted warrior.

Cornwell's is not the romanticized version of Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur or T.H. White's The Once and Future King. The historical Arthur is thought to have lived around the year 500, just after the Romans had abandoned Britain and the beginning of the Dark Ages. Cornwell stays true to that time. There are no knights in shining armour, but warlords in old Roman armour. There is no magic, only superstition and coincidence. There are no stone castles, but forts made of wood and earth. Decay is in the air. The Roman cities crumble, and knowledge of their construction and repair fades.

The story begins with Uther Pendragon, King of Dumnonia and the High King of Britain, nearing death. His grandson, Mordred, is his heir; however, Mordred is only a baby. Arthur, a bastard of Uther, takes an oath of loyalty to Mordred and is chosen as Mordred's guardian. Until Mordred is old enough to rule Dumnonia himself, Arthur is effectively the king.

Arthur dreams to unite the various kingdoms of Britain and push out the invading land-hungry Saxons. This is the story of Arthur. Over and over again, just when you think that Arthur's dream is to become a reality, the dream is shattered due to his own weaknesses, his sense of justice, the machinations of kings and those closest to him, the conflict between Christians and pagans, or most often his oath of loyalty to Mordred. Certainly, for a moment there is Camelot, but even then dark clouds are on the horizon.

I highly recommend these books. As usual, Cornwell excels at describing the battles and the single combats. His take on characters is refreshing. For example, Lancelot is considered the greatest warrior in the land, not because of any actual accomplishments, but because of his ability to control his image, manipulate others, and pay the bards to sing his high praises; in truth, he is a coward. I've read many versions of the Arthur story. While it is difficult to rate one version against another as they are often so different, this is one of the best.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Cornwell considers the Warlord Chronicles to be his favorite.

Friday, August 26, 2011


Since I didn't read any of Bernard Cornwell's previous Saxon Tales, I was intrigued to find out if I could read this fifth book as a stand alone novel. The answer is yes! It is so fluent that there is no need to look up the four previous Saxon Tales for missing information. Well done, Mr. Cornwell. I've often wondered how the author could juggle this series, the Sharpe novels, the Grail Quest series, three other series, and seven stand alone novels without getting confused! All of these novels occur during different periods in the birth of England. Bernard Cornwell remains the historical fiction genius throughout the literary world.

This tale occurs around the year 892 with the continuing story of Uhtred of Bebbanburg, a pagan warlord under oath to the Christian King of Wessex named Alfred. How many of these facts are true is conjecture. We learn that Uhtred is a brilliant leader during the battle for Fearnhamme against the invading Danes (Vikings) led by the furious Harald Bloodhair. The description of the hand to hand combat is done in pure vintage Cornwell clarity.

After the battle, Uhtred is goaded into killing a priest in front of King Alfred and his many clergy cohorts. He breaks his oath to the King and flees north towards Northumbria with some of his loyal followers. There, he meets up with his foster brother Ragnar, Lord of Durham. Wanting to dispose of his uncle at his rightful castle in Bebbanburg, Uhtred is instead cajoled into joing forces with the Danes to end the Christian rule in Wessex once and for all. The rest of the story is classic Saxon versus Dane or Christian versus Pagan. You will have to read this magnificent story yourself to find out what happens in the exciting climax with many twist and turns in the final battles.

The novel is deep and rich in wonderful characters, such as: Aethelflaed, the daughter of Alfred; Haesten, the Dane pirate; and Skade, the most vicious sorceress ever known. This is the fourth book that I've read by Cornwell, and it doesn't disappoint. Like I've said before - can this man describe medieval combat or what?

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: According to Cornwell, there are at least three more Saxon Tale novels to come. The first five focus on Alfred the Great's reign during the ninth century. Uhtred was an English orphan living in Northumbria and adopted by a Dane. This is why Uhtred was brought up as a follower of Thor instead of Christ. The remains of participants involved in the book's final battle were found underground when a railway line was being built in the middle of the nineteenth century.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


A better title for this 1989 Brian Aldiss book would be "Forgotten Novel". Why is this novel written by the great science fiction author so unappreciated? I have done a lot of searching on the internet and can't find a single review of this book. Did the Hugo Award winner lose his touch by writing a realistic novel in lieu of science fiction? I don't know the answer, but I plunged into it anyway. I have to admit that while well written, the plot seemed thin and boring, and nearly every character was a writer or a wannabe writer.

The main character is Clement Winter, a Analytical Psychologist, who is considering writing a book about his recently deceased brother Joseph, a writer of Far East books. Clement is married to Sheila, a.k.a. Green Mouth, the famed fantasy writer of the planet Kerinth. (I think it is a planet, anyway.) See what I mean about the writers? The bulk of the information Clement collects about his brother Joseph is from, you guessed it, letters and journals written by Joseph.

As Clement delves into his brother's life, he finds psychological problems with Joseph that stem from his relationships with his mater and pater (the names he uses for his parents). He also discovers the interesting life Joseph led during the World War II campaign in Burma as a member of the famed English Forgotten Army. One of the best parts of the book is the wartime romance Joseph had in Sumatra with Mandy, a married Chinese woman. Later in life, he meets Lucy, his last love and nuclear disarmament protester.

There are many subplots mainly focusing on Clement and Sheila's on and off again relationship and the mysterious housekeeper Michelin from France. Clement brings up a interesting theory that a person can have an anima vision and reverse his thoughts about the life he led. Is that what Joseph had at the books ending? I struggled with this novel; sometimes I thought I knew what the plot was and other times didn't. This book is forgotten for unknown reasons, but at least it will have one American review. If you can find the book, I recommend reading it for the sake of the 86 year old English master.

RATING: 3 of 5 stars

Comment: Since Aldiss was in Burma during World War II with the Royal Signals Regiment, the segment about Burma was well documented. Did you know that Brian is also a successful abstract artist? He is a two-time Hugo Award and one time Nebula Award winner. His most famous works are the Helliconia Trilogy and the novel Life In the West.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Millennium People

Like Henry David Thoreau and Civil Disobedience in 1849, authors around the world have penned books about social and political change. Did Thoreau want a better government or individuals doing what they thought was right? J.G. Ballard has confused me in this novel, because I don't fully understand what he wants. He writes a tale of middle class rebellion, but offer no solution to their problem. Instead, he just gives up. I think the book would have been more enjoyable if there was a resolution to ease the burden of the middle class in today's society.

Psychologist David Markham learns that Laura, his ex-wife, was killed by a bomb in Heathrow Airport. He also discovers that it wasn't a terrorist group that killed her, but a Bourgeois cell living in London. Who are these people? What do they want? Markham tracks down clues that leads him to a group of people living in a complex called The Estate of Chelsea Marina. He infiltrates the group and meets its cell leader, a female bomber, a priest, and his girlfriend. These people are tired of being the backbone of society. They revolt by giving up their Volvos, smoke bomb travel agencies, and museums; they refuse to pay their mortgages and leave their responsible jobs.

Eventually, Markham meets the leader of the revolt, Dr. Richard Gould, who persuades Markham to join the group. This part I found hard to believe, since the change from protagonist to antagonist is accomplished in a matter of a few pages. Here is a man looking for his ex-wife's killer, now willing to participate in wanton mayhem! The ensuing disturbances are sometimes lightweight, other times jumbled. The conclusion of this book is somewhat muddled and leaves a taste of incongruity in your mouth.

I know that J.G. Ballard is a well respected author, but I don't think this was one of his better efforts. While I enjoyed reading this novel, it is not the brilliant political satire some reviewers are calling it. Is it worth reading? Of course it is. Any Ballard book is mandatory reading.

RATING: 3.5 stars out of 5

Comments: J.G. Ballard died in London in 2009 at the age of 78. His most famous novels are Crash and Empire of the Sun. He is credited with starting the New Wave genre in science fiction. Ballard also had a influence in music, mostly for British post-punk groups.

Monday, August 1, 2011


Here is the latest cliffhanger du jour from George R.R. Martin, the fifth book of the Song Of Ice and Fire series. Hopefully, I won't have to wait six years till the sixth book, The Winds of Winter; although, I have to say that the wait was worth it for this novel. Many questions and mysteries from previous books are resolved, but a host of new ones crop up. When I read this series, I feel like I'm a kid again watching the Flash Gordon serials at the Saturday matinee.

This book runs parallel with A Feast for Crows in part. It follows the characters from the north and across the narrow sea until about page 593, where the timeframe unites both books. Readers are brought up-to-date with Tyrion, Daenerys, King Stannis, Jon Snow, Bran Stark, Davos Seaworth, and Theon Greyjoy, now called Reek. Arya Stark reenters the novel on page 593, Jaime Lannister on 632, Brienne of Tarth on 646, Cersei on 717, and Victarion Greyjoy on page 741. Surprisingly Sansa Stark and Littlefinger are not in the novel at all, even though they are living in the north.

Since it has been so long between novels, I found myself constantly going to the internet to refresh my memory on certain characters. In retrospect, I think it's a good idea to review the four previous books before attempting to read this one. This book is also filled with new characters, especially from The Free Cities, Valyria, and Beyond the Wall. How Martin can keep up with all the strange names from all the Sellsword companies and the people in Meereen and Yunkai is beyond me. It is a bit annoying trying to remember whoYurkhaz Zo Yunzak is, or Reznak Mo Reznak for example. There are many heroes in this novel and numerous scrofulous villains, new and old.

One thing to remember about Martin is that he plays no favorites when it comes time for a hero or villain to die. My one caveat is that this happens multiple times or does it? The innuendos are astonishing through out the book.

The last thing to mention is that you can tell by the book's title, the dragons are finally involved! I will not tell you what part Drogon, Viserion, and Rhaegal play in this book, but it is a big one. This was a pleasure to read, my only regret is that I have finished it. What do you read after this?

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: When reading this series, the reader's best friend is Wikipedia, which does a great job explaining all the characters. I knew J.R.R. Tolkien was an influence on Martin, but didn't know the medieval writings of Bernard Cornwell are also important to Martin. The first novel in this series was published in 1996, currently Martin plans on seven books, but who knows if this series will ever end.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Leaving Van Gogh

Are spoilers needed when the first line in the novel says, "I held Vincent's skull in my hands yesterday"? I don't think so. This historical fiction novel by Carol Wallace depicts the last three months or so of the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh's life. The novel is narrated by Dr. Paul Gachet, who is a real life subject of one of Van Gogh's most famous paintings. The French physician was supposedly Van Gogh's doctor during the last stages of the painter's mental illness. He was also an amateur artist and friend of  famous painters, Cezanne and Pisarro. When Dr. Gachet died, he owned 26 Van Goghs, 24 Cezannes, 12 Pissaros, and many other paintings done by artists such as Monet and Renoir. What are those worth now?

The book is written in the style of the late 1890s. I really felt like I was back in those times. The writers of the late nineteenth century had a style of their own, and Carol Wallace mimics that style to a tee, including the use of Caslon typeface. I have a vexation with a book if it's written without the proper type.

In 1890, Dr. Gachet is approached by Theo Van Gogh and is asked if he can help his brother's mental condition. The doctor agrees, and Vincent moves to the country, near the doctors house in Auvers-Sur-Oise, France. Early on, the heavy smoking and drinking Vincent seems to get better and strikes up a friendship with Gachet's family. But then the doctor notices mood swings that can be dangerous for Vincent and Gachet's family. Vincent becomes somber and argumentative when he finds that his brother Theo is dying of syphilis. If his brother dies, it means Vincent's monthly stipend and art supplies stop. Vincent feels that if he can't paint, then his life is worthless. He is only 37 years old.

The time Vincent spent with Doctor Gachet is pure conjecture, but that period produced some of Van Gogh's most prodigious works. This was his bright vivid color period, having done away with his earlier earth tone and browns style, which produced his famous The Potato Eaters. Did Dr. Gachet really spend this time with Vincent and assist in his suicide? It is unknown, but possible. Carol Wallace presents a plausible story of the last three months of the great painter's life. A well written and brilliantly conceived novel.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: Much of what we know about Vincent's thoughts come from the over 600 letters written to his brother Theo, the art dealer. Even though 1890 was his last year, many of his famous cypress trees, wheat fields, and portraits were painted that year, some of of which were produced in a single day. He was ahead of his time, and his work was not valued in his era, leaving him broke, disconsolate and suicidal.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


This historical fiction novel tells the story of a Danish shipping town between the years 1848 and 1945. Carsten Jensen's 678 page novel is a very enjoyable read, but not the classic that some reviewers are calling it. I know I've used the words "classic" or "classical" in my reviews before, but I never compared it to an actual classic book. A UK reviewer compared this work to Moby Dick and The Old Man and The Sea. Wow.

Let's analyze this. In this book there are many able seaman, but no Ishmael. There are many captains in We, the Drowned, but no Ahab. The language and style of Herman Melville is unsurpassed by any modern day author. Ernest Hemingway's book uses the Cuban fisherman Santiago's struggle with the giant marlin as a lesson in man's tenacity and belief in God's will. One book demonstrates man's stubborn desire for revenge, the other man's obstinate perseverance. Don't get me wrong - I liked the book; it's just not a classic. Okay, enough of that.

An unusual trait of this book is that each chapter seems to have a new narrator. Sometimes I knew who was telling the story; but most of the times, I didn't. It was distracting enough for me to pause and try to figure out who was the chapter's narrator. I thought it was interesting when the author, in his acknowledgment, said he used the whole town of Marstal to help him with information and motivation.

The book itself traces the life of Lars Madsen through the 1848 war with Germany, continues with his son, Albert Madsen and his friends to World War I, and finishes with Albert's "adopted" family of Klara Friis and Knud Erik to the end of World War II. There are many interesting stories concerning these characters, although I could only feel empathy for Albert Madsen and Knud Erik out of the hundreds of characters the reader meets through the book's 97 years.

I'm assuming the author wanted to give the world a taste of what it was like to be a seaman in Marstal, Denmark. Sailing the open seas in masted ships, facing constant storms, living like a prisoner, being beaten by murderous first mates, and then eventually for most: death by drowning! If so, I got the flavor of it. The harsh conditions and the many ports of call are extraordinarily descriptive and worthy of notice. Overall, nice job Mr. Jensen. I highly recommend reading this tale of the seas.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: This book was published in Denmark in 2006, but wasn't translated into English until 2010. It's quite amazing that so few books are written about seafaring. The few classics I mentioned above plus Melville's unfinished Billy Budd, Sailor are true sea tales. Probably the most famous is Homer's The Odyssey, which proved that Odysseus was an inept captain to say the least. He left Troy with twelve ships heading for his home in Ithaca and arrived twenty years later as the soul survivor.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


If I'm going to read a vampire novel, I prefer it to involve Vlad the Impaler, rather than your modern day Count Dracula type vampire. Dan Simmons has created a historical fiction novel that occurs around the time of the 1989 Romania Revolution that deposed the communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. The story moves back and forth from Colorado to Romania and Hungary. It is so well written that you'll say to yourself: Wow! If this were a movie, the Colorado parts would be in color, and the Eastern European parts would be in black and white. That is how depressing Simmons makes you feel when the action shifts to Budapest, Hungary or Transylvania, Romania.

The idea that a blood serum could be used in lieu of a satisfying neck bite is not new, but to find a physical reason vampires need fresh blood probably is. The hero, Dr. Kate Neuman, is an hematologist bent on finding out that answer after her adopted baby from Romania, Joshua, turns out to be a vampire. As the good doctor zeroes in on the answer to cure her baby and possibly the AID's virus and cancer, chaos strikes her household in Colorado. The dark advisers, the feared Strigoi, appear and kidnap her baby back to Romania. With her friend, the priest Mike O'Rourke (a recurring Simmons character), Dr. Neuman returns to Romania to find her baby and determine the real reason for the kidnapping.

While on their quest, Dan Simmons is at his best. The super-heroic efforts of Neuman and O'Rourke are death defying to say the least. The people in Romania are supposedly helping them, but are constantly under suspicion of being traitors. Who is a human, and who is a vampire? There are many chapters in this book where all the words are written in italic. This is the scary part because that means that the five hundred year old Vlad the Impaler is speaking. The infamous Prince of Wallachia, Vlad Tepes is alive and here for his final act. The last chapters are spellbinding with a very late and unexpected twist.

The use of italicized chapters in a novel is not new, but when used correctly it can make a book enchanting and attention grabbing. I had that same feeling in 2005 when reading Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian. In that book, the italicized chapters are letters written to a daughter from her father involving Vlad the Impaler. I have read many Dan Simmons books, and as usual, I loved it.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Dan Simmons is a Hugo and Locus Awards winner for Hyperion in 1989. I plan on reading the four Hyperion books this fall. You should also read his classic two book set: Ilium and Olympos. They are truly amazing. Don't forget his recent hits: Black Hills and Drood. Do I sound like a fan of Simmons? Yes I am.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


What if in 1942 Eleanor Roosevelt could flap her arms and fly like a bird? Could she lead American bomber raids into Germany? Welcome to the alternate history or what I call the "what if" genre. I actually saw this skit on SNL many years ago. I believe Harry Turtledove is still number one in this genre, but the distinguished Philip Roth did a yeoman's job on this novel.

Sometimes I start a alternate history novel, and then I wonder why I started it! I'm not a reader that starts a novel and then stops. I must finish a book, even if its torturous. Thank God, this was not the case with this plausible story. Mr. Roth not only made this scenario seem possible, but I bought it lock, stock and barrel.

The book examines the politics and pressures of American life if Charles A. Lindbergh defeated Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the Presidency in 1940. To make matters worse, Lindbergh picks Henry Ford for a major role in his cabinet. For people that are unaware, Lindbergh and Ford were friends of Germany and foes of the Jewish people. Later in the book, Walter Winchell, the gossip columnist for the New York Daily Mirror, runs against Mr. Lindbergh with catastrophic consequences. The setting for this novel is Newark, NJ with Mr. Roth posing as the Narrator for his Jewish family.

What makes this book believable is the fact that Philip Roth would have been the same age, seven to nine years old, as the Philip Roth in the story during this struggle. As a Newark resident, Mr.Roth personally experienced the strain of being persecuted with antisemitic hostilities in the Weequahic section of Newark in the early 1940's.

The frightening thought that I had after finishing the book was : It could have happened! Based on my research, Mr. Lindbergh was actually considered as a Presidential candidate. He definitely wanted America neutral during World War II, and who knows what would have happened if Henry Ford had been elected to political office, or chosen for a Cabinet position. Before you read this classic novel, do yourself a favor and read the bio's of Charles A. Lindbergh and Henry Ford in advance.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: Philip Roth is a many time award winner, including the Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral. Four of his books have been made into movies, including Goodbye, Columbus and Portnoy's Complaint. If you are a student of classic writers, you must read at least one Roth novel.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Susanna Clarke's first novel is an instant classic in the prodigious historical fantasy genre. While reading this novel, I thought I had missed my history lesson on early 19th century England. I didn't know that the British Army used magicians to defeat Napoleon at Waterloo. Did you? This wonderful book documents the return of British magic from 1806 through 1817. Like magic, the book at over 782 pages actually seemed much shorter than it was.

I was reminded of Dickens while reading this book. The first reason is the use of archaic spelling, such as "surprize" for "surprise", "shew" for "show," and "chuse" for "choose". The second reason is the evocative character names, such as Mr. Honeyfoot, Lord Sidmouth, Mr. Segundus, and Miss Wintertowne. The third reason is the constant return of theoretical magician Vinculus to the story when I thought the author was finished with him. That reminded me of Orlick from Dickens's Great Expectations.

I enjoyed Clarke's use of 100s of footnotes which gave the story the air of a real history. The pell-mell manner that some authors use footnotes is avoided using crisp and verified direction. The only downside was that their small type often made my eyes strain and water.

The story itself begins with Mr. Norrel, England's self-proclaimed and only practical magician, deciding to bring magic back to England. This makes the theoretical magicians, who believe that actual magic died out years ago, resign, except for Mr. Segundus and the rogue Vinculus. Mr. Norrell moves to London with his servant, John Childermass (see what I mean about the names). From there, Mr. Norrell becomes popular with the Lords and Gentlemen of London. The wife of one of his benefactors, Sir Walter Pole, dies unexpectedly, and Sir Walter asks Mr. Norrell to resurrect her. To assist him, Mr. Norrell conjures up a fairy - the pernicious gentleman with thistle-down hair in the bright green jacket. They succeed; but, the evil fairy refuses to go back to Faerie land and puts an enchantment on Mrs. Pole and Sir Walter's servant, Stephen Black.

Eventually, Mr. Norrell takes on a pupil, Jonathan Strange, but he holds back information from his vast library, not wanting his pupil to better him. Mr. Strange becomes very successful and helps the war effort against France with his powerful magic. He comes back from the war a hero, which leads to a nasty break-up with Mr. Norrell. The gentleman with the thistle-down hair then enchants Mrs. Strange, and Jonathan Strange now thinks she is dead.

Not wanting to divulge the ending, I'll stop here. The last two hundred or so pages are full of magical conflicts between Mr. Norrell, Strange, the enchantees (I made that word up), and the odious gentleman with thistle-down hair. Wow, what a book. This is the best novel that I have read this year! There is no follow up yet, but one is in the works.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: This is Susanna Clarke's first novel, and it won the 2005 Hugo Award for best novel. The wonderful illustrations (and there are many ) were done by Portia Rosenberg. My son bought this novel at a used book store for $6.99, and when I looked at it, I realized that not only was it a first edition, but it was also signed by Susanna Clarke!

Sunday, June 5, 2011


This is a guest review from my eldest son, Deron:

In this techno-thriller by Daniel Suarez, game programmer par exellance Matthew Sobol reaches back from the grave to change the world. This is the first book of two in a series. The second is Freedom.

The story begins with a news item announcing the death of Sobol from brain cancer. Sobol was the billionarie CTO and co-founder of the computer game company CyberStorm Entertainment. Soon after Sobol's death, a programmer with the company is murdered. Then, another. Detective Peter Sebeck is called to investigate. Their murderer isn't a mystery for long, because Det. Sebeck receives an email from the killer - Matthew Sobol.

Before dying, Sobol created a daemon, "A computer program that runs continuously in the background and performs specified operations at predefined times or in response to certain events." This daemon was distributed throughout the world, like a computer virus; it was designed to search the internet for news of Sobol's death and, once found, initiate Sobol's plan. The programmers were murdered because they knew too much about the inner workings of the daemon that they had assisted Sobol in writing.

The daemon then recruits people and businesses worldwide, both legitimate and criminal, through wile and blackmail to carry out Sobol's plan. In response, Det. Sebeck and every conceivable government authority begin their battle against a computer program threatening to change the world order. What is the daemon's ultimate goal? How can one stop a program that is both nowhere and everywhere?

I have a mixed feelings about this book. Its a page turner, has a great hook, and is very enjoyable. However, the writing is uneven and could have be tighter. This is Suarez's first book. Perhaps if this had been his tenth, the writing would have been better. He could have used a better editor.

This book's plot is very dependent on technology and so is packed with technical jargon. That in itself is not bad. Jon Ross, a computer programmer with a shady past, explains many of these terms to Det. Sebeck for the reader. But sometimes, the terms go undefined, and I often feel that the author is technical word name dropping to impress the reader. This is a case where a better writer, like Michael Crichton, would have eliminated the terms to keep the plot flowing.

I recommend this book and will be sure to read the second. However, if you don't think you'd be into a tech-heavy book, you might become confused and bored.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comments: The film rights for this book have been purchased. Unless they are able to reduce the technical jargon to only the essentials, I don't see the movie having a wide appeal beyond the technical crowd.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

LEAR'S Daughters

This is the 2009 update to two books Marjorie B. Kellogg wrote in 1986. Those books,The Wave and the Flame and Reign of Fire, are now combined into a 739 page thriller that includes the latest theories on climate change and pollution.

The year is 2073. Oil supplies are depleted, food is scarce, coal pollutes the air, and big cities house Earth's remaining, dwindling population.Food and energy are imported from colony worlds, raped by Earth's exploitation. The search is on for a new clean energy source called Lithium, and the huge energy company ConPlex finds evidence of Lithium on planet Fiix.

Commander Weng Tsi Hue lands a ConPlex exploratory ship on Fiix with Dr. Taylor Danforth and his science team, and Dr. Emil Clausen, ConPlex's lead prospector. The planet is inhabited by beings with our DNA called the Sawls. They live in caves on high cliffs to shield themselves from the capricious weather conditions. The Terrans had expected to find desert conditions, but instead find ice and snow. Soon thereafter, a thaw causes a massive deluge. During the flood, Drs. Danforth and Clausen are lost flying a Sled plane while searching for Lithium.

Meanwhile, we find that the Sawls believe that the weather conditions are caused by an ongoing war between the Goddess sisters, one controlling heat and fire and the other controlling moisture and water. This theory is enforced by the Priest Guild, led by the arcane Lore Master, Kav Daven. The Terran ship's Linguistics officer, Stavros Ibia, not only agrees with the Sawls, but becomes privy to their many secrets. Stavros does everything possible to stop the mission and save the Sawls from being evicted from their planet.

The lost Sled team of Drs. Danforth and Clausen suddenly reappear. Danforth is badly hurt and Clausen claims to have found a major vein of Lithium. An argument ensues between Clausen and Stavros. Stavos wants the mission canceled. Clausen wounds Stavros, who escapes to the protection of the caves. The weather worsens; the Sawls decide to trek to their other cave development in Ogo Dul; Clausen hunts for Stavros; and, the Terran science team searches for the Goddess sisters. Then, the weather worsens again. Can the Goddesses be found and stopped? Can Clausen be stopped from ravaging the planet and evicting the Sawls? What secrets do the Sawls hold from the Terrans? What becomes of Stavros?

The science in this novel is very believable and well defined. For those concerned about our environment, this is a must read.The characterizations are top drawer. I don't know what changed between the versions as I didn't read the original two novels. This is a first-rate thriller from the first to the last page, the climax was amazing and unpredictable. My recommendation is simple - read it!

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: Marjorie B. Kellogg, a.k.a. M. Bradley Kellogg is the author of the fantasy series: The Dragon Quartet. She also finds time to teach at Colgate University. William B. Rossow is her Science Advisor and Collaborator. Mr. Rossow's credentials include a past post at the Goddard Institute For Space Studies.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


This novel by Alan Brennert is a wonderful read in between heavier works. I found the story very interesting with a lot of historical fiction. This novel informs the reader about: how "Pidgin English" came about, how the term being "a local" started, and how these locals became third-class citizens.

The story begins in Japanese controlled Korea in the early 1900s. A daughter to the Pak family is born with the name Regret, because she wasn't a boy. A female born in Korea was not afforded a last name, education, or respect. As a matter of fact, she was really a slave to her father and the entire male household. Regret spent her childhood rebelling to the Korean ways. Disobeying her father, she secretly learned to read. Women were confined to the inner rooms to sew and cook, and allowed to enter the outer rooms only to serve meals to male family members. The father arranged his daughters marriage, where she would become a slave to a new family, including all of the clan's female in-laws. I could imagine that this is still that way in North Korea considering how backwards that country is.

Regret gets out of Korea by becoming a "Picture Bride" to a Korean living in Hawaii. She is joined in this venture by four other Korean brides to be. They were told that these gentleman were handsome, young, and rich. Well, as you can imagine, when they arrived in Hawaii, the men were ugly, old, and poor. This starts their stormy adventure in Hawaii.

The story then follows the lives of Regret, now Jin, and her four other picture bride friends: Sunny, Beauty, Jade Moon, and Wise Pearl. They go through many trials and tribulations from about 1900 to 1957. What a life it must have been living on sugar plantations, working in pineapple factories, then living amongst the prostitutes of Hotel Street. We also meet the real Charlie Chan and Sadie Thompson! Even the legendary Duke Kahanamoku makes a appearance in this wonderful story. My suggestion is grab a copy of this book and enjoy! I plan on reading Brennert's Moloka'i in the very near future.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: Mr. Brennert is more widely known as a television writer and producer, winning a Emmy Award for L.A. Law in 1991. He also writes a lot of science fiction and fantasy short stories. Alan lives in Southern California, but is a frequent visitor to the Hawaiian Islands. Everybody should be a frequent visitor. I know I am!

Friday, April 22, 2011


It's 1939. England has just declared war on Germany! And, the luxurious Pan Am Clipper, a gigantic seaplane, is set to make its final flight from Southampton, England to New York. That is the setting of this exciting, nostalgic thriller written by Ken Follett, the famed author of Eye of the Needle and The Pillars of the Earth. Being a fan of World War II movies and novels, I loved this book! My only disappointment was that Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet were not on the passenger list. But, this $675 round-trip luxury flight does have nineteen interesting guests that rival any Bogart movie cast.

The guests include a fascist marquis and his family, a grumpy Russian princess, a talkative movie actress, a Jewish nuclear physicist fleeing Germany, a baron, undercover British and American police, four American industrialists, a British millionaire chasing his wife, and a jewel thief. Add to them, terrified flight engineer Eddie Deakin, who is under orders from his wife's kidnappers to await further instructions from passenger Tom Luther. Believe it or not, Ken Follett manages to develop all of these characters, making the reader either root for or against every person in the novel...Great job!

Tom Luther informs Eddie Deakin that his mysterious boss expects Eddie to cause the thirty hour flight to land short of their destination, so that they can remove a passenger. But who, why, and how? The guessing game begins here and ends at the Bay of Fundy, Newfoundland. This is the main plot, but there are many delightful subplots.

The subplots include: the shoemaker owner, Nancy Lenehan, trying to maintain control of her company from her treacherous brother, Peter Black; Mervyn Lovesey trying to win his wife back from American, Mark Alder; the Oxenford daughters trying to escape the control of their fascist father; the jewel thief, Harry Marks, a.k.a. Harry Vandenpost, wooing Margaret Oxenford, while pondering the theft of famous jewels owned by her mother, the Marchioness; the fates of the fleeing German Jew Carl Hartmann and gangster Frank Gordon. And finally we have the wishy-washy Diana Lovesey flip-flopping between her husband Mervyn and Mark Alder. There are more, but these are the most noteworthy. Somehow the author ties all of these events together into an amazing climax!

This novel reminded me of an airplane version of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, but without Hercule Poirot. This is a must read for historical fiction and Ken Follett fans alike.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Pan Am was in business from the 1920's till 1991. As a young Marine, I flew Pan Am to Hawaii several times between 1964-1966. I remember those flights as being special with superior food and service. One of the legs of the North Atlantic Clipper service was a stop over at Foynes, Ireland. In 1942, passengers were served a drink in Foynes, now known as Irish Coffee.