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The Ragged Astronauts (review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 03 April 2011 21:07

My Florida room looks out across green native foliage. Beneath its wide widows is the grande shelf, three decks straining with books, the "I might want to read this again" books. Many of them I've read in college or before. Many of them are yellowing. But they are (or were, to that younger self I was) great books.

The Ragged Astronauts comes from a time before many Avatar / Potter fans were born, 1986. Back then, youth still cared about the environment (to the point they didn't throw their plastic bottles all over it). We were still jazzed about the moon landings and the shuttles were coming on line. It was the final burst of eco-interest and the wain of the great age of science fiction.

In other words, you young kids don't know shit.

But the review; yes, the book deals with a strange planet, "Land", whirling around another planet, "Overland" in such a close orbit that the two share atmospheres. The problem facing Land is that their run-away destruction of the environment (namely, the brakka trees, which they over-harvest to get at their power crystals), an act which has turned nature against them. Suddenly plagues and worse are sweeping humankind (well, Landkind) and they must escape their doomed planet. And they have nowhere to go but... up.

Airships are constructed for the high, high assent, and Toller Maraquine, our hot-headed but working on it hero, pilots the first ship to test the feasibility. The writing for this is... agoraphobic. Imagine being in a balloon miles and miles and miles in the sky, slowly turning over at midpoint. And imaging what would happen if, just one side of the zero gee zone, someone tumbled out (ugh - the image stayed with me for 25 years, and was freshly and horrifyingly replayed this time around). And even though the test flight is not fully successful, it becomes moot. The plague is spreading, civilization is falling apart, and the evacuation fleet lifts in a panic.

I'll say this - the end of our own world is generally grimly entertaining, the end of someone elses not so much. But here, we really can smell the smoke as civilization burns, as the ships launch in blind panic, as there are accidents (and worse) as they climb into the heavens.

Great stuff. And first of a set.

Sadly, the old cover fell off in midread. But it was worth it.

Find it in the library and have a look.

Last Updated on Sunday, 03 April 2011 21:32
The Egyptologist (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 26 March 2011 22:24

The act of observing an event changes an event.

And sometimes, the act of reviewing a book ruins it for the readers.

This is true for Arthur Phillip's novel, The Egyptologist - how can one review a book for curious readers yet put up spoiler alerts? Rest assured - I'll do my best not to give away any of the succulent moments or the gripping ending. So here goes...

The novel takes place directly in 1922, and indirectly in 1954. told entirely through correspondence. The primary writings are from the Egyptologist himself through his combination of his working journal and diary, seemingly fearful for his life following the discovery of a lifetime. The other thread comes from a depressingly retired detective in an Australian home, answering a written query (and desperately pitching a book deal on the subject). Other items, notes, cables, and bills, fill out the story.

So it's a mystery (of sorts) without a central detective (discounting the case-overbilling Ferrell), inwhich the reader must follow the thread, without explanation nor exposition, piecing together the clues themselves, cutting through the lies and staying with it to its grim conclusion.

First off; don't worry, it does become clear.

And secondly, it's marvelous.

The story is a wonderful mix of deceptions, perceptions, deceits, prejudices, boasts, and dreams. And in it, a double murder, mobster involvement, pornography, Egyptology, slums and mansions, Australia and Boston and Oxford and Egypt, even twin acrobats who share corrupt pleasures on the fly.

As I said, I can't tell you why you should read it.

Just read it.

Cats. Post. Bank. (if you read it, you'll get the joke).

Last Updated on Sunday, 27 March 2011 19:52
Keen Prose 1 PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 13 March 2011 12:13

I've started the "Keen Prose" thread, where I'll post phrases from authors whose pen's I'm not fit to lick. It's the word choices and phrases that bring smiles, and convey buckets of meaning in the tightest structure.


"On the following morning, whilst Major Sands was sulking, like Achilles, in his tent..."

The Black Swan

Rafael Sabatini

Footnote: I've always loved Sabatini - next to Wells, he is the author who's work comes across as poetry to me. And Major Sands in The Black Swan is the smoldering dufus who is being outwitted and outdone by the flashing hero, Charles de Bernis. Comparing the resentful Sands to Achilles is pretty sharp, since anyone who has read the Iliad remembers Achilles and his sit-down strike, and while he was the hero amongst heroes, this clever wording is Sabatini's little shared joke with his more well-read readers.

Last Updated on Sunday, 13 March 2011 12:26
Metagame (review) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 10 March 2011 20:36

A friend of mine sent this to me with guarded praise. “It’s not great, but it’s interesting”. Quite a rave.

And let’s just be clear that when I read, my editing light is lit. I love well-crafted prose, and the horn goes off when something jostles the story flow. For example, in Metagame, we have “R-shaped streetlights” (an issue of case, I think). A smiler: “Lily let go of D_Light’s hand, no longer needing him to guide her; he, however, did not let go of hers.” And this jolly description: “Even so, D_Light thought he could make out a large humanoid head like that of a large man.” (a rose like a rose, perhaps?)

Overwriting aside, Metagame is the story of a future utopia where everyone plays games termed as “spankers” (fun games) or “grinders” (work games). It’s an interesting concept, as success in either will bring points (I liked the guy directing cleaning bots in his grinder game, trying to keep them as efficient as possible). In this, the world does approach utopia levels, because finally most people can find work suitable for their passions. Even the pursuing investigators are playing their game with an eye to their score.

D_Light, the main character, is quite interesting in his flaws, that of being successful in his games yet immature in his worldview (so recognizable as the office Everquest champion who babbles about elves in elevators). He becomes infatuated with Lily, a girl with a mysterious (and, as he find out, horrifying) past. In this, D_Light represents the accomplishment of maturity. When the time comes and the last page nears, he steps admirably into the only heroic mold he can.

Really, Metagame is like a movie shot on a tight budget with second-rate actors, yet in the final few minutes of screen time suddenly makes a worthy point, one you think about on the way home. You might not buy the DVD, but it was fun to watch. Once.

Last Updated on Thursday, 10 March 2011 20:41

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