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The Edge of the Knife (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 30 September 2018 00:00

n a recommendation by a friend after I’d reviewed The Keeper, I had a run at The Edge of the Knife, again, by H. Beam Piper. And, not to be anticlimactical, it was a good solid read.

It involves one Professor Chalmers, a teacher of Modern History IV class at at modest Blanley College. With a slip of the tongue, he notes the assassination of an important Arab diplomat in Basra. The reason this was a slip was that it hadn’t happened, not quite yet.

For you see, Professor Chalmers is a bit of a prophet.

For some time now, he’s been seeing the future, some of it involving our temporal-distant far-flung space empire, some of it next-week stuff. And he’s well aware this these aren’t delusions, these are history-peeks, coming attractions style. In the privacy of his home, he records them, filing each away in its envelope. And in the course of his day, while he talks, these facts come out.

Now faced with a mocking classroom of students and a furious faculty, Chalmers attempts to maintain his position. In fact, he’s forced to see his lawyer and cling to his tenure lest his dean throw him out for all the headaches he causes.

And then it gets worse. The Arab, Khalid ib’n Hussein, is shot. Precisely as Chalmers told his class. To every detail. Statistically impossible, unless you assume that he is a prophet.

Thus the story heats up, with angry meetings of the student body, the board, the professors and the dean. There are psychiatric examinations and glimpses into an increasingly bleak future. And it all comes to a head with a neat little resolution. So, like I said, a great little read – which you can get for free HERE.

I will say one thing – after reading the conclusion, I had a little bit of a milk-carton moment with his solution. Yes, it was a clever little use of situation to create an avenue of safety. But it was, in the calm of another day, a little unnecessary. The main character could have achieved the same result with a safer path. But that’s a minor critique. Otherwise, it was a lot of fun.


The Shack (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 23 September 2018 00:00

y readers and friends know that I am sometimes (on a whimsy) spiritual. But I am not religious. And last year, when I lost my dear Mookie, I really had an issue with God. After all, if He’s willing to snuff a cat at her halfway point, to erase all her lives, then he’s not much of a God, is He?

Well, that’s the idea behind The Shack, a metaphysical/religious debate masked as a story. And here it is – Mack, our hero, is a loving father. While on a camping trip with his kids, a serial killer kidnaps his daughter, drives her up into a high country shack, does sick things to her and then kills her. And Mack, he’s understandably never forgiven God for this. He also feels himself being torn apart by grief and failure afterwards.

His wife has a private little nickname for God, that of “Papa”. So it comes as a shock to Mack when, one day while alone at home, he finds a note in his mailbox inviting him to come up to the shack and discuss things. And it’s signed Papa.

And so he goes.

I don’t want to give much of this away. Yes, the Trinity is there, that much I’ll reveal, God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And each of them talk to Mack, discuss things, and essentially propose to the reader a way of looking at the universe (and our religion) in it. So I read it, waiting for some sort of crappy logic I’ve read (and heard) from holy-rollers. Didn’t find that. What I did find was a way of rethinking one’s place in this thing we call reality, something that absolves us of the blame and pain we carry around, of explaining God’s will over everything. Yes, so this changed me. I’m not church-going, no (and the book notes that you don’t have to be, not really). For me, it was a very good way of reviewing self and soul in this crazy, angry, chaotic, uncaring world.

And holding that thought, I think I’ll make it through things a little easier.

So, yes, if you are willing to read at a pace to permit pondering, I urge you to order this down and have a look. Very inspirational.


p.s. And I’ll spare you the back-door out that simplistic audiences crave. His daughter was really murdered. There is no surprise solution to this, no out.

p.s.s Thanks to Michelle on the bus link who bought this book for me as a gift. First A Man Called Oveand now this. It’s good to be an amoral crank, eh?

Last Updated on Sunday, 23 September 2018 07:34
Raising Steam (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 16 September 2018 00:00

kay, I’m going to admit to a number of relationships that should have me thrown off the jury of review; I love trains, especially steam trains. And I love Diskworld (Terry Prtchett’s wonderful fantasy world). So what’s not to love? And that, I will get to.

Over the thirty years of Diskworld books, we’ve seen themes rise in his stories. Cleverly he takes things that changed our world (Hollywood, Central Banking, Newspapers, etc) and extended them into his swords-and-sorcery-and-satire world. And now we’re got an engineer with his sliding rule who has figured out how to harness steam, and how to make it totally useful (i.e. steam engines). Having read the book The World the Railroads Made, and knowing how they did change things (from travel to goods to industries and even to time), it is certainly a big deal. If anything will change Diskworld, this would.

But Pratchett is not merely content to play with short lines that bring coal to mom-and-pop industries – he jumps the process thirty years and mirrors the American transcontinental effort, in this case because of the Patrician’s desire to see Ankh-Morpork joined to Schmaltzberg (in far-off Uberwald). And Moist Von Lipwig is just the scoundrel to pull it off.

Add to this a possible double storyline, that of the Dwarves resistance to change – a faction of them is bound and determined to move their race backwards in time, to Make Bonk Great Again, as it were. Acting as a combination of non-religious Islamists and Luddites, they are determined from keeping the Low King from returning to his kingdom and reclaiming his rightful scone (not a typo, I can assure you). And this results in the first train becoming a race-against-time, with ambushes and fighting and all sorts of excitement.

And yes, it was good, a very wonderful story overall. But it didn’t quite cross the line for me. Possibly it wasn’t as funny as I’ve remembered some of his others as being, or maybe I was in a rush to finish and start a friend’s gift, I’m not sure. It just didn’t quite pull it off for me. And that’s not to say it was bad – I just wasn’t in a place, I suppose, where I fully enjoyed it. But if you don’t know Diskworld (or you do, and are looking for more along its crazy storyline), I would give it a nod. Have a look.


Last Updated on Sunday, 16 September 2018 05:50
The Keeper (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 09 September 2018 00:00

t was one of those stupid days in the twilight of my career. The internet connection was down and there was nothing I could do. I didn’t think reading my book was a good idea (even through, quite frankly, that’s exactly the sort of thing we did at the beginning of my career when work computers went down daily). But I really didn’t have anything, nothing outside of my local drives. And then I remembered a downloading of short scifi stories and started listening. At least it would pass the time in this tedious afternoon.

Listened to one interesting one, then another that nearly put me to sleep. And then, paydirt! The Keeper. This was a perfect example of what scifi can be, a story of a man called the keeper who lives on a planet (later, we realize, Terra itself) which is now locked in a terrible ice age with ruined cities, glaciers, and a population that hardly understands the greater galactic empire that surrounds it. Living here is the Keeper, the fellow in a small village that maintains an artifact from the world that was.

Of course, offworlders are interested in it, but the true trouble comes from a local thug who steals it and heads off across the ice with three others. And it’s up to Keeper to recover the item. Of course, in the back of his mind, he’s facing a greater dilemma – who will be the Keeper once he’s gone? And how is he going to get close enough to kill all four men when they are carrying high tech weapons from beyond the stars.

A great story that had me at the edge of my earbuds the whole way through. And you can download it HERE, along with a number of other stories.


Last Updated on Sunday, 09 September 2018 08:23

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