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The Great Time Machine Hoax (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 25 March 2018 08:18

The Great Time Machine Hoax represents one of the reasons I love going to used book stores. It also represents the danger of going to used book stores.

It was an early work of famed SF author Keith Laumer (1963). It came from a shorter work and was expanded into a longer novel (I think I know where the expansion was – pretty much a strange Kung-fu training section in the entire second half of the book). But I’m ahead of myself.

So Chester W. Chester IV inherits a rundown mansion, the sole heir and sole responsible party for millions in back taxes. With him is his friend, who managers a hobby circus of his (also failing). In the basement of said mansion, they find a massive computer (the Generalized Nonlinear Extrapolator, better known as "Genie"). And Genie, it can make images based on mathematical and statistical inferences, images so real you can touch them. It even produces a surrogate, an impish young woman, totally naked, to interact with them (keep your comments down in the back).

With this, they hatch a scheme – they can create a hoax and tell people they actually have a working time machine. Experimenting with this, they go back to dinosaurs – oh, so real. They got so close. Then they go back and see cavemen. And that’s when they realize that the machine found it easier to create an actual time machine rather than go through the bother of prediction. And of course, it’s too late to get back.

It was an interesting book but the tack-on end section felt very “different” from the first part. In the negative, I found it very cobbled together. On the positive, I did like it (and the solution was interesting, in a Rick and Morty “Cronenberg” ending). So yes, fun to travel in my own time machine, to hold a book from the sixties and read what was cutting-edge then. Worth it if you can find it… cheap.


Last Updated on Sunday, 25 March 2018 08:23
Tricky Business (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 18 March 2018 10:35

live in Central Florida, which means we’re always watching, in justified nervousness, the craziness of the Southern Coast (Miami and such places). Back in the eighties when I worked in a lumber yard down there, it was nothing to hear machine gun fire cutting the night (and not too far off).A house down the street from my apartment was dynamited by the mob. Miami Vice looked pretty tame to some of the things I saw. And now, that place isn’t just lurking criminal evilness – the entire city seems crazy.

Carl Hiaasen was one of the first to take these tales of nutty people instigating their own sordid adventures and make them lovable, laughable, and interesting. His dancers had hearts of gold. His criminals were either frightening or pathetically laughable (I still remember one guy who would use his daughter’s visitation to take her to the children’s hospital and steal wheelchairs). So he was the gold standard.

Dave Barry, a wonderful and popular humorist in his own rights, seems to have entered this realm of nutty-city stories with his own line in Miami. Tricky Business is about a cruise ship that must sail (to rendezvous with a cigarette boat for a discreet cash-for-cargo handoff), a hurricane, old guys in a home who want to go gambling, a cigarette girl who isn’t just that, and several other nutball characters.

I think I can sum up the differences in audiences with this: Barry warns his audience that there will be strong language. Hiaasen just flings it out there. I suppose Barry (who is more mainstream and enjoys a certain readership) has to keep them from flustering over it. With Hiaasen, he just let’s loose (and everyone knows it’s coming). I’ve picked up some of my best expletives from him.

So there is a hurricane and this ship must sail because of “previous business commitments”. Of course, its circling for gamblers three miles out is complicated by the storm that is rushing over it. Funny, but I would assume someone would say something about a gambling junket pushing into a massive hurricane. And actually, the hurricane didn’t seem the affect the ship at all (having been through Irma last year, I find this totally unbelievable). The deck didn’t rock. The crew didn’t fuss with the controls. Even the boat coming over to meet them, while the crew was seasick, but not inexplicably dead). It seemed that for all this hurricane talk, Barry lost sight of just how nutbutter crazy this actually was.

And then the climax went through the usual thing in some books where it was drawn out, where characters shot other characters, held them at gunpoint, ran after each other, fell into the water together, fell in love, died, on and on. Climaxes are supposed to be a short action of resolution, not a third of the book.

So yes, overall it was a fun casual read. But it didn’t cut it for me. I just feel like Hiaasen does gritty/funny crime better. My opinion only.


p.s. And this just came to mind – why doesn’t Berry (with his readership that he currently has) branch out into a new field like the suburban/tourism mecca of Orlando, where middle-class meets pixie dust and nothing is what it seems? Seems better for him than crowded literary-Miami.


Last Updated on Sunday, 18 March 2018 12:34
In the Orbit of Saturn (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 11 March 2018 08:44

he problem with reading books off Project Gutenberg, and I’m talking really old books here, is that a lot of what you read was fresh and new and imaginative back then but now they’re old and stale.

Okay, so our hero is aboard a liner off Saturn that gets jumped by pirates. He finds himself herded into a large cargo hold, trapped with the rest of the snivelers for ransom. But a sniveler he is not because he’s actually an undercover agent for some sort of galactic authority (forgive me – it’s been a while). And so he’s got to play it cool until he finds out more about the pirates, like how do they stay invisible (I know this one, and while it’s cute, it doesn’t look like it would mask radar. But telescopes, yes).

The funny thing is – there is a brutish monster of a pirate who is a bully and beats (even kills) his captives. He literally beats on fellow do death and our hero can’t move a muscle to save him. “For to act would be to give away his identity and mission” and all that. Fine. But then when the girl he fancies is hand-clamped and dragged off to a “fate unspeakable”, that’s when the hero is all in, secret mission be damned.

In the end, it’s a fun read if you like finding out more about the origins of Science Fiction. Fun for a rainy afternoon, or possibly a station platform, where I read it.

And you can find it HERE, for free!


Me reading this very book on the Sunrail platform (photo: M. Anderson)

Last Updated on Sunday, 11 March 2018 08:50
Homeward Bound (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 04 March 2018 09:50

uthor Harry Turtledove started his Game of Thrones-ish mega-series years back, the sprawling Worldwar/ Colonization series. In it, a hapless lizard race which takes everything in stride (including technological advancement) probes our world in the middle ages and decides that it will take humans thousands and thousands of years to get any sort of comparable technology. Taking their time (roughly twelve hundred years), they gradually assemble an invasion fleet (followed by a colonization fleet). And imagine their surprise when they arrive but instead of knights with white satin they find themselves in the screaming confusions of World War Two.

The first few books of the series really held my attention (a couple of the scenes are still with me). It was all good fun. And then it began to grind down and I lost interest. Well, several books later, I intercepted one of the later books (Homeward Bound) at a used bookstore. So, sure, why not? Couple of bucks. What would be the harm?

So now, human technology is improving (through native ingenuity and outright theft). Suddenly the Race (these lizards) realize that they can’t keep up, that humans are outstripping them. And then, to their utter chagrin, an American space ship shows up over Home (the lizard home planet) with nuclear weapons, demanding to speak as diplomatic equals. Tastelessly, they even name their ship the Admiral Peary. Get it?

And that’s when the books’ progress stopped.

Sure, it’s an interesting premise, the idea that The Race has opened a Pandora’s Box of headaches. What will keep the humans from over-expanding or even simply wiping The Race out? In this, I am reminded of the Moties and the danger they represented. But where the story was advancing with interesting concepts, it’s as if Turtledove (and possibly his ghostwriters) had a note – Americans wait at Embassy, go on tours of Home – 300 pages.

Really, nothing happened. The tour groups added very little to the novel – the Americans were boorish and judgmental. And yes, the world was desert and the air hot. I got it. Over and over. As far as the diplomacy, neither side had any concept of tact – the slightest accidental insult would result in pages and pages of bluster and closure. Add to this the tepid romance between a Race-raised Chinese girl (and her wallowing in not-fitting-in) and a black character (with his sulking about race relations) and the lizard characters endlessly confronting the tiger-by-the-tail truth the humans represented and you had a very slow book indeed. One could actually imagine being on a real tour with these people, complaining about how there was no ice, how alien The Race’s concepts were (belittlingly) and how crummy the hotel was, and you pretty much had an all-expenses-paid trip to Borneo.

The plot needed to move. And it didn’t.

As far as reading some of the bridging books, I’ve got no need. The characters talked those prior events to death, along with everything else.

Turtledove has really impressed me in the past, particularly with Days of Infamy. But this one, I really found myself cooling to, even on an exotic world where the temperature hovers at the upper end of comfort.


Last Updated on Sunday, 04 March 2018 09:52

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