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The Sirens of Titan (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 19 March 2017 00:00

o let's not start by talking about this book as a story or a metaphor or anything. Let's talk about it as a book. Been carrying this little paperback with me for 40 years or so. It was on my shelf in Drapers Meadows West in Blacksburg, it lingered in my huge shelves in my vault I lived in at York. And in the time between all these places, it sat in a book box waiting to be reread.

I can't even say why I'd have bought it. I did read some Vonnegut at University for classes and found him funny. Maybe that's why. Funny to look at a seventies art sci-fi cover, read the strange blurb on the back and wonder what drew me to it. Because, dammit, I still haven't gotten around to reading the Lensmen yet, and I promised!

But as I read it again (and didn't remember a thing) all these years later, I realized that time does take a toll on books. With a crack, the back split. Then big chunks began coming unglued. I actually held, not a book, but a collection of papers in my hand. I was just desperate to get to the end before the entire thing fell apart in a cloud of mummy dust (hey, the waitress at Juniors thought that was a funny comment - she laughed).

So, yes, Sirens.

Look, have you ever read Vonnegut? Have you ever read one of his stories that casually involk scifi just to make a point? It's not about technology, or logic, or even belivability - its about a social statement.

So that's this story. We start with Winston Niles Rumfoord, a rather domineering fellow who, with his dog, flew a spaceship into some sort of gravity crazy-thing between Earth and Mars and now exists in a strange state. He can see the future as easy as you can flip to the final page of a book (I didn't dare, here. It was falling apart in my hands!). The trouble is, he exists in an energy state strung between Earth and Betelgeuse, appearing every eighty-odd days at his own mansion to frown at the crowds and be ignored by his wife.

See? Kinda weird but interesting, right?

So into this comes Malachi Constant, a playboy riding on his daddy's estate, invited to meet the ghostly Rumfoord. And here he is delivered an odd prophesy, that he will birth a child with Rumfoord's wife on Mars, journey to Mercury, then finally (after a short stop on Earth) fly all the way out to Saturn's moon Titan where he will meet the three Sirens.

Yeah, so see?

That there is an army currently marshalling on Mars (under Rumfoord's orders) to invade Earth, that there is an alien trapped on Titan with a message from another galaxy and a busted ship, that there are creatures who eat music, a game called German batball, that Mars is made of iron, Mercury crystals and Titan heated to balmy summer by its interior; well, that's par for this book.

So yes, if you like your stories neat and tidy with heroic heroes and solid deeds and your basic Waldenbooks bullshit, this book will make you crazy. But if you like a story that hints at meanings, that moves sideways and doesn’t really come to a conclusion you would expect, try Sirens. I really loved it.

Even as it broke up in my hands.


Last Updated on Sunday, 12 March 2017 20:43
The Wanderer (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 12 March 2017 19:42

ooks are time machines and we read them in our context at our peril (or rather, our down-our-nose smarminess).

The Wanderer copped a Hugo Award back in 1964, which was seven years after On The Beach (a story about a gentle yet depressing apocalypse) came out. Yet gone are the gentle civilians living out their last days in quiet contemplation of the doom that was settling over them. In The Wanderer, we're back to people meeting their end with violence antagonism. Mobs. Guns. Killing. Drunkenness. All the things we Americans do well*.

So the story opens with a half-dozen openers - an American on a moon base. His girlfriend going for a drive (with her cat, which turns out to be remarkably lucky) with their close friend. And drunks in Wales. And revolutionaries in South America. And smugglers in the South China Sea. But several traces of something skipping through hyperspace are noticed, little wobbles of starlight coming right for us. And when it arrives, oh the humanity!

It turns out Wanderer (the name everyone agrees on) is a planet-sized spaceship which plops down close to Earth with remarkable precision. Its sudden mass captures our moon (goodnight, moon!) and begins to flex our own fault lines and stir up massive tides. And suddenly it's calamity to everyone as volcanos erupt, lowlands flood and everyone goes circus-berserkus. End of days.

There are some very neat scenes: As the moon breaks up (the aliens will be crunching it up and sucking it down for fuel) the lone surviving astronaut launches in desperation but goes unconscious and loses his escape window. Plummeting moon-ward, he flies his tiny craft through the chasms breaking all through the moon, passing through its core in a CGI scene I'd love to see. Back on Earth, our primary victims (the astronaut's girlfriend) settle in with some "saucer students" (UFO cranks) and have to deal with a vastly changed California. Some of the other characters we've been introduced to actually live to see the conclusion. A lot of them die in quick paragraph ends.

So, yes, a good book.

What made it even better is when we find out just why the Wanderer is here, what it's fleeing from, and what is taking place offstage across the stars. When I read that, I actually found myself stunned. It was a truly terrifying and justified fear the Wanderers felt, one that left me with one of those echoing story thoughts, book-moments that stay with us. Yeah, thoughtfully grim.

So anyway, I pulled this one out an old book box. Been meaning to read it for a year (even carried it to India and back) and finally got it up into the stack. If you can find a copy, it's worth your time. Death, disaster, and dismay - what's not to like?


* = though I will admit that H.G. Wells wrote a pretty grim end-of-the-world in WOTH, with panicking trains fleeing London while plowing through crowds desperate to be taken aboard. That's another nightmare I occasionally re-savor.

Last Updated on Sunday, 12 March 2017 20:10
First Love (Review) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 05 March 2017 08:47

.......nd Other Fascinating Stories of Spanish Life (full title)

Okay, I'll admit I was behind the eight ball here. Was reading The Wanderer (a Hugo Award winner from the 60s) and got pulled into Go for Beginners. Sometimes you need a fast filler to make a deadline.

Hello, Project Gutenberg.

Howdy "Short Stories" section.

This one is a translation from an old book; the stories take place in the mid-1850s but perhaps it's been Rafatinied from the mid-1900s - no information. (late breaking news - just searched around and yes, 1927. So it was written roughly the same time Captain Blood was becoming popular. It appears as if the 20s-30s had a bit of a throwback period where a lot of in-the-old-style stores came out).

So, five really short stories, all for free. I was drawn to An Andalusian Duel, where two dear friends, Pulpete and Baldeja, well-dressed (and well-described) gentlemen enter a bar, drink in each other's company, then out hiss the knives and they face off for a duel. After Pulpete requests that he not be hit in the gut (for the disfigurement) and the gut (for the agony), the two go at it in earnest. In the middle of this crashing, stomping, close quarters duel, Dona Gorja enters, the woman this is all about. Nonplussed, she watches for a bit and then coolly explains how she prefers neither of them. Wa-wa-wa. And out she goes. And, pretty much, that's it for the duel. Arm in arm, the two friends leave. Actually quite funny.

I also enjoyed Captain Veneno's Proposal of Marriage. In this one, the aforementioned Captain, brave and commanding as a lion, requests the hand of Augustias, a beautiful woman as head-strong as he. And yet he has a fear of children. Because children get sick and die and cause all manner of grief. And so, as part of his proposal, he asks that they live in seclusion where nobody knows them, love passionately and completely, and turn over any children that result to a orphanage. So gasp you may, but the conclusion is a laugh. Given my shared feelings with the good Captain and what I've seen happen to my friends, this one rang very true?

But what happened? Hey, you can find out yourself, for free, right HERE. Download it and have a nice short read.

Short stories are wonderful - you can run through them in quick order, a nice break from the longer tales (and series they seem to spool these days).


Last Updated on Sunday, 05 March 2017 09:21
Go for Beginners (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 26 February 2017 00:00

ow. 1972, I hadn't even gotten into D&D yet.

But while I was playing Speed Circuit and Jutland, there were people playing Go. And this book was published.

Go! And don't look back...!If you've read any of my other blogs on this, Go is the Oriental game of strategy, simplistic in its rules but mind-breakingly complex in its execution. There are people out there who actually spend their lifetime mastering this game, and making a livelihood at playing professionally. Me? I'm still a beginner. I beat two people in the Go tourney at work and then suffered a set of losses that knocked me out. Currently I'm playing a game where I suspect I've really screwed up. I can't believe I walking into that mistake, with all the finesse and pain of someone walking into a half-open door. I mean, goddammit - it's a simple game!

Still, go teaches us a number of things - efficiency and planning and the like. And I've read a number of books about Go (from the beginner’s point of view). But Kauru Iwamoto (the one I'm reviewing here) has written one of the best.

If you've never played, this might not be the best book - most books painfully explain what eyes are and why you need two, what Ko is, all that stuff. Mr. Iwamoto just breezes through all that (explaining it later, or not at all), just focusing on the essence of beginner's Go.

And what I learned. Wow.

I learned how to project power. And how to defend when lured into a ladder. And how to break a life-and-death situation. I even followed the games played out in the end. Great book but a very slow read. It's not a page-turner. No. It's more a problem poser. And that slows you down.

Who can I recommend this book to? Well, if you've read at least one other beginner's book (or been taught how to play and have finished a 9x9 game) then you should read this book. It's very insightful. It will give you another set of things to think about and improve your game in a dozen small ways. I know if helped me play just a little better.

But it didn't keep me from walking into that stupid capture. Man, what was I thinking?

Anyway, for you up and comer-stoners, have a look. This one is a cut above!


Last Updated on Sunday, 26 February 2017 18:25

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