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Classic Book Review

11 Jun

I do not read “classics” as a rule; I don’t even read popular books. My literary tastes are more or less lowbrow, mostly Science Fiction and old pulps.

But Heinlein gives it a mildly left-handed recommendation* and, finding myself a bit stale on what I’d been reading, I looked for, found and have now read Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing Of The Dog).

It’s a remarkable little book; a bit uneven but charmingly so, a comically mishap-laden vacation trip up the Thames leavened with the author’s musings on history of the passing towns and islands. (It was supposed to be the other way ’round, but that’s how things often go). Published in 1889, the style and tone are remarkably modern and if you admire P. J. O’Rourke’s smooth snark, you’ll find Jerome’s a familiar voice. The setting is just about the peak of civilization in Britain (IMO), which may be food for thought.

As Wikipedia points out, all the pubs and inns are still around, and I believe most of the weirs and locks as well (to say nothing of the islands). With only a little ingenuity, one can recreate the entire river voyage on the ‘net.

I should not have the least doubt the book can be had from Amazon, via the link at Tam’s.
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* In Have Space Suit — Will Travel. No, the young hero’s first name is not “Wire.”

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>Another Writer Gone

7 Jun

>Someone who could hardly have been less like me in background and politics and yet, I’ve read and enjoyed many of her books and short fiction– Joanna Russ was a brilliant writer. She passed away at the end of April, aged 74, either too early (74 is not that old!) or, given that she suffered serious, chronic back problems and had a Do Not Resuscitate order on file for nearly as long, too lingeringly.

The boys used to describe her as “strident;” I read it more as annoyed impatience, sometimes even with the less-clear thinkers on her own side.* (Though she would have poked fun at simplifying things down to merely two “sides”). Russ, a self-described “lesbian socialist,” saw all of humanity very clearly, their individual strengths and their flaws, and was fair boggled that others did not. Her characters were generally competent, sometimes introspective, and perhaps more aware of civilization’s ridiculousness than is comfortable. (At one point, the abbess of a convent besieged by Viking raiders, the leader of whom demands the gates be thrown open, complaining they have have been “long at sea without release” acidly comments how sad it must be that an entire crew should have lost the use of their hands…).

As an essayist, at least from what I have read, Russ was incisive, clear; if you disagreed with her (and many did), you had not the least doubt over the points of disagreement.

Perhaps that’s why I enjoy her work. In a world of muddled thinkers, she saw to the heart of things. Not unemotional but always rational.

(On reflection, in her afterwords and forwards, Russ has more than a little of what I enjoy about Vidal and Buckley: she treats the language as the precise tool it can be and ought to be, and uses the right word, assuming if you don’t know it, you’ll have the mother-wit to look it up. –And if you can’t keep up? Tsk, any of them would say, and move on.)
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* “Every role in life has its advantages and disadvantages, of course; a fiery feminist student here at Cornell recently told an audience that a man who acquires a wife acquires a “lifelong slave” (fierce look) while the audience justifiably giggled and I wondered how I’d ever been inveigled into speaking on a program with such a lackwit.” From the Afterword to When It Changed.

>Hello? Is The Caller There?

17 May

>Ever have one of those mornings? Can’t pull any of the threads together?

This one’s mine. So, hey, life gives you lint, make dust bunnies, right?

“Dust bunnies” is the word of the day: Turk Turon is rumored to be arriving tonight and Roseholme Cottage is in its usual state, looking something like a post-apocalyptic library. I’m tellin’ ya, if Civilization does go “Thud” all of a sudden? Tam and I will have plenty to read between fighting off the hordes and/or trying to contact other survivors via radio. And we’ll be able to knit warm, comfy sweaters from dust bunnies for the winter. Simulating any degree of organization is…a struggle.

Steven Hawking’s latest pronouncement on The Afterlife has riled some folks. I’m not sure why — it’s right up there with the Pope’s opinions about particle physics: interesting but not Expert Opinion. (This is Fame Syndrome: just ‘cos someone is well-known for something, even if it is major cleverness, they’re still only qualified to make sweeping statements in a few areas — if even that many; anything else they comment on, it’s just another unwashed opinion. But their public tends to forget. In many cases, so does the Famous Person).

Scooter repair parts have begun to arrive. Two of the best sources have proven to be Pride of Cleveland and Javacycles; with Bajaj out of the motor scooter business, these (and other) former dealers, along with the former importer, still provide parts support. (Java is still selling Bajaj Scooters, even!) Highly recommended. I doubt I’ll have time to fix my scooter this week — planning on it for next week.

Y’know that “image enhancement” trick in crime shows, where grainy, low-rez security footage is “enhanced” into readability via Cheap Storytelling Shortcut Tricks? It’s mostly nonsense; video doesn’t work that way. You can only read things a little past the smallest-original-pixel level and doing that takes the human eye and human guesswork. –Except astronomers now have a version of this kind of enhancement that really works! “Lucky imaging” lets them back out atmospheric scattering and “stack the deck” to extract information buried below the noise. There are still pixel-size limits but it’s an interesting technique and has probably already come home to roost in ways we won’t soon be hearing about (other than in heavily-redacted responses to FOIA requests).

Those are only the loose ends I had time for. Y’all be good, now. No pogroms against the infidel without you followin’ WWE rules, okay? And no foreign objects; if it’s not U.S.-made, you can’t hit one another with it.

>Book Reviews

9 May

>I have a big stack of books-recently-read, of which a few stand out:

Jeanette Walls, Half Broke Horses, a somewhat-fictionalized account of the life of the author’s grandmother (“A True-Life Novel”) written in the first person. It’s a ground-level, front-row seat in the American West as the 20th Century blooms and blossoms. Highly recommended!

Larry Corriea’s Hard Magic, splendid storytelling in the writer’s trademark nonstop style. Film Noir by H.P. Lovecraft and Lester Dent might come close, maybe. This could have run as a serial in Unknown and would have been a reader’s favorite if it had. Instead, we get it shiny-new — use the Amazon link at Tam’s for your copy. Set in a 1930s with just one small difference. (Some first-rate worldbuilding in this one, too).

Sherlock Holmes’s War Of The Worlds, by Manley W. and Wade Wellman: the visions of H. G. Wells and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle intersect to remarkably good effect. I much prefer the eminent detective’s approach to the Martian invaders, too.

Terry Pratchett’s “Tiffany Aching/Wee Free Men” novels: The Wee Free Men, Hat Full Of Sky, Wintersmith and I Shall Wear Midnight. If you have been avoiding these because of the “young adult” tag, don’t! Wonderful Discworld stories all, with cameos from Esme Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg — and wait until you meet the Pictsies, a right bunch of tiny ruffians. I knew the Wee Folk were like that; I just didn’t know that I knew until Pratchett pointed it out.

There are many more but alas, I’m out of time.

>Science Fiction News You Can Use

1 May

>SF writer Michael Z. Williamson offers up a fine list of works-in-progress/works to be released.

>Another Blogger Blooms

27 Apr

>SF writer, libertarian anarchist, freelance curmudgeon and all around individualist Carl Bussjaeger has a real blog now!

His website was always a bit bloggish but it was hand-carved and not quite so easy to update — so I’m hoping this means we’ll be hearing more from him.

Plus, he now has control of his books, available at Amazon, and has cut the prices!

>Return Of The Pulps — Again!

20 Apr

>Fans of Doc Savage,* The Shadow and The Avenger (not The Avengers, this dude’s singular. Very) will want to check out Sanctum Books, busily reprinting all three, including original covers, illustrations and blurbs.

Back in the real world, J-GRIT is busy indexing and biographing, in their words, “the world’s toughest, bravest, and most adventurous Jews.” From Emma Goldman to WW II Major General Maurice Rose, some pretty outstanding personalities. Even pirates!

And both links from a Wiki-wander into South American wars of the 19th and 20th Centuries.
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* Clark Savage, Jr., the Man of Bronze, perhaps the greatest crimefighter of all time. Ever. They don’t make ’em like that any more.