Monday, June 04, 2018

The Dosadi Experiment

By Frank Herbert

Jorj X McKie, from Herbert's novel The Whipping Star, is back to solve a new mystery: Dosadi. Dosadi is a toxic planet where a group of humans and Gowachin were confined within a rift valley.  They are trapped in the valley and along the rim by what they call the God Wall. The God Wall is maintained and powered by a Caleban, celestial beings who appear to be actual stars. No one may exit through the God Wall except via one method, which McKie discovers after he arrives in the valley. 
McKie has a close relationship with one particular Caleban, Fannie Mae. In the past, he rescued Fannie Mae from torture and certain death. Fannie Mae reveals that the only way to leave Dosadi is in a different body: "McKie cannot leave in his own body/node." Eventually McKie figures out that Dosadi is being used as a source of youthful bodies into which older beings have their minds transferred. Using the power of the Calebans, one person's mind can be transferred into the body of another person, no matter their species. This is being used by the rich and powerful as a way to have eternal life. The person whose body is used is transferred into the old person's body and then killed to keep the whole process secret.
The population of Dosadi has to cope with a very hostile and dangerous environment. It has made them the ultimate survivors. They have become a threat to the rest of the civilized universe and they are determined to break free of their prison. The wealthy cabal is now fearful of the result if these people manage to gain their freedom. Their solution is the destruction of the entire planet of Dosadi and its captive population of humans and Gowachin. McKie only figure this out once he is on Dosadi. When he reveals it to the warring factions in the rift valley, it brings the conflict to an end as they come together to face this terrible threat.

This was, frankly, a rather boring read. The characters spend most of their time together trying to read each other's body language. The Dosadi are so adept at reading body language that non-Dosadi are an open book to them. Which makes it easy for them to spot non-Dosadi. So a lot of the story is about various Dosadi reading each other and reading McKie and other non-Dosadi. Kind of boring. 
McKie's love interest in the story is a Dosadi woman, Jedrik, leader of one of the warring factions. She reminded me of the bitch mothers of Dune, those austere and cruel women trying to build a better society.


Unbelievable

By Katy Tur

Katy Tur wasn't even living in the USA when she got offered the job of following Trump while he campaigned for the presidency. It meant she had to give up her place in London, England and move back to the States and then spend over a year on the road traveling. It was brutal. Just the physical demands of the constant travel, the fast food grabbed and gobbled, the lack of sleep and the lack of exercise and the mindless hostility of both Trump and his fanatical followers. I don't know how she did it, how any of the reporters tasked with trailing after Trump managed to do it without losing their composure, not to speak of their sanity (and their health).

A very readable book that illustrates both the hardships of being a reporter on the campaign trail and the basic dishonesty of Trump and his supporters as his many lies are exposed and shrugged off by his loyalists. It left me with a stomachache as everything I thought about Trump and the current Republicans was proven to be true. Sad days for our country when lies trump truth.


There's Treasure Everywhere


By Bill Watterson

A Calvin and Hobbes collection, copyright 1996. Calvin and Hobbes was one of my favorite comics and it is so nice to be able to revisit it through these collections. Frankly,  I don't know of any cartoonist today who compares in the least to Watterson.

Here is one of the strips from the collection that is a timely commentary on the state of the nation, thanks to the morons of the airwaves these days.



Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Hammer of God

By Arthur C. Clarke

Set in the 2100s, the book finds humanity facing doom in the form of a big wayward space rock on a collision course with the planet, with catastrophic consequences.
Captain Singh has the responsibility of hauling a powerful engine out to the location of the rock and placing the engine on the rock and firing it up, in the hopes that it will nudge the rock into a different orbit, one that will not send it crashing into Earth or the moon or Mars, all of which now have human populations. It doesn't have to move it much, just a little nudge would be enough to send it into a safer orbit.
But, not unexpectedly, there are religious zealots who are eager for the end, for God's judgment of wicked humanity. The zealots have managed to throw a monkey wrench into the proceedings: the engine spills its fuel instead of doing what was intended. And the space rock remains on its killer trajectory. Now it is up to Captain Singh and the bright minds of the 22nd Century to try and save Earth and its people, including the nutters who want to see it all go up in smoke.

A pretty interesting tale, but filled with a lot of technical jabber that I just skipped over.

The Power

By Naomi Alderman

It's a world turned upside down when women suddenly develop the power of the electric eel: the power of the electric shock. Now gangs of electrified women roam the streets, looking for wayward males to torture and even murder. A new religion is born, with a new leader, Mother Eve. The scriptures are rewritten, with the women elevated and the Holy Father now the Holy Mother. And the men are running scared, plotting in back rooms and with deposed tyrants to take back their ancient reign over womankind. But the women are not going to bow down again, even if they have to bring the whole world crashing down.

Sounds like an exciting premise, but overall it was a pretty dull read. It heats up toward the end but mostly it just drags along, repeating over and over that, once the women have the power, they become just like their overbearing and cruel former masters, the men.
The author is probably right about how the women become abusers just like their former abusers, since enormous power does corrupt all except the most centered and strong-willed. And that the men would not take their new status lightly. But somehow, the story just never grabbed me.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Eternals

By Neil Gaiman

Graphic novel based on the Marvel comic book series by Jack Kirby. A bit hard to follow if you are totally unfamiliar with that series, which I was. So my summary may be a bit off.
As I understand it, back at the beginning of life on Earth, there were these giant robots/gods/ aliens called Celestials who came here and created two sets of beings, the Eternals and the Deviants/Changing People. The Eternals were perfect and immortal. Even if totally destroyed, they would be reassembled. The Deviants were mortal and able to change their appearance, but mostly they look monstrous. When apes evolved into humans, the humans were enslaved by the Deviants until freed by the Eternals or by the Celestials, I'm not sure which. And the Deviants retreated underground. The Eternals role on Earth is to protect, preserve and repair. What exactly they are supposed to protect, preserve and repair, I'm not sure. The Earth? Humanity? All life on Earth? Does that include the Deviants? Beats me.
Anyway, and this is where I got really confused, there's is this kid, Sprite. He has a TV show and he is really famous and popular. And he is immortal. I think he is one of the Eternals. Anyway, he was created a kid and he remained a kid and has been an eleven-year-old boy for a million years and he is sick of it. He wants to be a man in a man's body with all that the entails, mainly sex. So, somehow (if it was explained how, I missed it) Sprite causes all the Eternals to forget who they are and now they all believe they are mere humans living ordinary human lives. The effect of this is that Sprite is the only one who knows the truth and that he is now human (why & how did he become human?) and mortal and will finally achieve his dream of becoming a real man. Except it doesn't quite work out that way.
One of the Eternals has retained snippets of memory and knows that he is not a mere man. Dismissed by others as some kind of nut, Ike Harris (Ikaris) has managed to locate Mark Curry (Makkari). Now he has to convince Makkari that he is an Eternal, which turns out to be pretty easy when Ikaris ends up in the hospital under Makkari's care and Makkari can see for himself how quickly and unnaturally Ikaris heals, totally unlike a normal person would.
Ikaris gives Makkari a few leads on the whereabouts of some other unaware Eternals and Makkari sets out to rouse them. Ikaris is kidnapped from the hospital by a couple of Deviants. The Deviants, who can look human, are trying to figure out how to kill an Eternal and they are using every method they can think of, finally blasting Ikaris to atoms. They think they have succeeded, but they don't know that he is being reassembled by machinery at the Eternals' deserted base in Antarctica.
The two Deviants travel to San Francisco where they dig up a Celestial who was buried there a long time ago as some kind of punishment. They are thinking or hoping the Celestial will be on their side against humanity and the Eternals, once they get it reactivated. It will reactivate when exposed to sunlight, apparently. Does this have something to do with the Sprite plot? I'm not sure. I know he shows up at the San Francisco location and gets captured by the two Deviants.
Meanwhile Makkari and the reassembled Ikaris don't want the Celestial reanimated. So they also show up at the SF location and Makkari has some kind of melt down and the robot alien god Celestial thing stands up. But that is all it does. It just stands up.
Then a horde of Deviants show up at the base in Antarctica, to challenge the few Eternals who have regained their memories and their powers. Makkari stands up to them and earns their respect, I didn't really get that part. And the head Eternal tracks down Sprite and kills him for causing a lot of the troubles.

This was a really disjointed story, too much going on, and if you are not familiar with the back story, pretty confusing.

Vicious

By V.E. Schwab

Two college boys, Eli and Victor have a secret project. They want to become EOs: people with Extra-Ordinary powers. Their research led them to try a dangerous experiment and Eli ended up dead, but only briefly. When he was revived, he revived with the an extra-ordinary ability: he automatically healed from any injury. As time passed, it became apparent that he was ageless too. But despite his apparent resurrection, Eli felt he not the same person, that something basic was missing. He became convinced that people brought back from death were unnatural and wrong and he set out on a new mission in life. He would hunt down and kill all those revived from a near death experience who came out of it with an extraordinary ability.
But before Eli left college to go hunting and murdering, there was Victor. Victor had been the first to undergo the experiment, but in his case it didn't work. So he tried again, against Eli's wishes. He enlisted the help of his ex-girlfriend (and now Eli's girlfriend) but the procedure didn't go as planned. The girlfriend ended up dead and Victor, framed by Eli, in prison for her murder. But Victor did get a super-power out of it, namely the ability to inflict or remove pain. Which meant his time in prison went fairly well for him, since everyone was terrified of him. Except for his cellmate, Mitch, who became his follower. Once the two of them were out of prison, Victor got another follower, Sydney, a young teen girl on the run from Eli and Eli's partner in murder, Sydney's older sister, Serena.
Both Serena and Sydney were EOs. They had both drowned together and been brought back. Serena's power was her voice. Whatever she told anyone to do, they would do it. Even to killing themselves, if she told them to. Sydney's power was the gift of life. She could bring the dead back to life. Serena met Eli when he tracked them down, planning to kill both the girls. But Serena simply told him not to kill her and he couldn't. Eli explained to Serena what he was doing and she agreed with him. The next victim was to be her little sister, Sydney. But Sydney escaped with a bullet wound to her arm.
That is when Victor found her, on the roadside, bleeding and running away from Eli and Sydney. And when Victor understood the possibilities of Sydney's gift, he knew she would be a powerful ally against Eli and Serena. Because she hated Eli almost as much as Victor did. Together, with the faithful Mitch, they would attempt to bring down two ruthless killers who believed themselves to be on a mission from God to rid the world of those like themselves and Victor and Syndey.

This was a pretty good story. I enjoyed it, although it is kind of hard to tell who really are the bad guys. Eli and Serena are totally certain that the EOs are an affront to nature, based on what they perceive to be lacking in themselves. And, towards the end of the story, Victor admits to himself  that he has no real feelings, he just pretends to have them:
Victor didn't feel guilt, or fear, or even a sense of consequence, not like normal people. All those things had been dead—or at least dulled to the point of uselessness—for years. But he'd trained his mind to reconstruct those feelings from memory as best he could, and assemble them into a kind of code. 
So it kind of boils down to a battle between monsters. But Victor has Mitch on his side and Mitch is clearly a good guy. Sydney brings a dying dog back to life and adopts it, which makes her a good guy too. But Victor is most definitely in much the same league as the deadly Eli and Serena.
I am looking forward very much to the next book in the series, Vengeful.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

A Separate Development

By Christopher Hope

Harry Moto is of an age to graduate from school and go on to college. He has a group of friends but isn't really that close to any of them. On the night of what would be here in the United States senior prom, Harry and a girl are caught making out by one of the teachers. This teacher, a man who has taken a dislike to Harry, runs to Harry's parents and rats him out. So Harry comes home to yelling and incriminations and ranting and raving ( the novel is set in the late 1950s and early 1960s) and his parents acting like hysterical fools. So he runs away.
Harry has a problem, though. Living in South Africa during apartheid, Harry has kinky black hair and an swarthy complexion. His parents are both white but his grandmother was swarthy like Harry. And Harry's parents never got around to registering him as the son of white parents. So he is often accused of or mistaken for being of mixed blood.
At this time in South Africa, it was in fact illegal for non-whites and whites to have sexual relations. People could go to jail for breaking the so-called Immorality Act. Since Harry looked mixed, without papers, there was very little he could do to earn a living. Just to get by, Harry accepted his mixed looks and passed himself off as mixed to be eligible to do the jobs considered suitable for non-whites: delivery boy, cab driver, bus boy. He lived this way for years but eventually crossed paths with the police and ended up rotting in jail just for not looking white enough, basically.

What a disappointment this novel was, and all because of the lying blurbs: On the front of the book, "A wildly funny novel." From the back: "Make the reader ... hoot with laughter." "bitterly funny."
I didn't find anything about this story to be funny, not even 'bitterly funny." Rape, murder, child abuse, mutilation, unfairness, hatefulness, discrimination, it is anything but funny.
I wanted to read a funny story, something to take my mind off things. This was not that story. In fact, about half way through, I stopped reading it for several weeks. Then when I picked it up to finish it, I started to get the feeling the story wasn't going to end happily and that made me impatient to finish with it. I pretty much just skipped through the last two chapters. Reading about poor, innocent, unlucky Harry being beaten and tortured by his jailers for the crime of being a white man with darker skin was not what I wanted to be reading. This is not a funny story, this is a tragedy. Don't read this book thinking you will be amused unless you are the kind of heartless creep that laughs at the suffering of others.
If  I had gone into this book knowing it was a tragedy not a comedy, I might have liked it better. Instead I was hugely disappointed, thanks to the lying blurbs and reviews.


Hundred Miles to Nowhere

By Elisa Korenne

Living in New York City, musician/singer Elisa Korenne was a typical New Yorker, working, enjoying her friends and her activities and relishing life in the big city. But then she was invited to be a visiting artist for a month in a small western town in Minnesota with the odd name of New York Mills. The offer came with free housing and a nice stipend.
Doing a little research about Minnesota (which she had initially confused with Missouri, good grief), Elisa decided she wanted to experience the outdoors. Her contact in Minnesota gave her the name of a man who might be willing to take her canoeing and camping. And that is how she met the man she would eventually marry, Chris Klein.
Elisa and Chris hit it off and started dating and soon the subject of living together came up. Chris visited Elisa in NYC after the month in Minnesota was over. They talked about Chris moving there, but that would mean leaving the family business. Plus Chris doubted that any NY firm would be interested in hiring him. Since a lot of Elisa's work involved traveling to various gigs around the country, it made more sense for her to move to Minnesota.
But could a big city girl find happiness in the isolation and lack of amenities living, as the title says, a hundred miles to nowhere? Could she learn to cope with the quiet? With the peculiar neighbors? With the long, cold winters? Or would she discover that Minnesota has its own vibrancy and charm and a place for a Jewish singer/songwriter from the Big Apple?

This was a pretty good memoir. Elisa finds her place in the country, surviving vicious dogs, wacky neighbors, brutal weather and a sloppy, sometimes selfish boyfriend who eventually becomes her husband.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Pearls Before Swine : The Ratvolution Will Not Be Televised


By Stephan Pastis

A collection of daily and Sunday comic strips dating from April 2004 to January 2005. It includes the first mention of the crocodile fraternity ZZE, the infamous Zeba Zeba Eata, whose single goal in life is tricking Zebra, their next door neighbor, into becoming dinner.

Here is a typical Sunday strip from the collection.






Thursday, April 26, 2018

Hyperbole and a Half

By Allie Brosh

The author is a blogger and cartoonist and the book contains some of her online work and some new stories. She writes about her life and her childhood and her dogs with accompanying illustrations. Her drawings of herself are crude and simplistic. But her drawings of her dogs are very evocative and true.
Most of her essays are very funny. But she does address her struggle with depression and poor self image. She beats up on herself a lot.

I wasn't familiar with her blog when I got this book. I had read that the book was very funny and so I wanted it. When I saw her drawing of herself, I couldn't figure out what I was looking at. First I thought it was some kind of shark/human hybrid with a yellow shark fin sticking out of its head. Then, as I got a little further in the book, I thought maybe she drew herself with a yellow dunce hat. It took quite a while before I realized that it was her hair in a pony tail and that the fuchsia part was a dress.  Her drawings of herself and her sister are grotesque but funny. But I loved the drawings of her dogs. So charming and funny. And I really liked her funny stories. The ones about depression and identity not so much.


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Pen Pals

By Olivia Goldsmith

Jennifer worked on Wall Street. But now she works in prison because she let herself be talked into taking the fall for her boss, Don and her fiancé, Tom. They had assured her that she would probably never do any jail time and that she would be well compensated when it was all over. Don told her, "These charges are going to be dropped. And even if you do go to trial, you aren't going to be found guilty of anything. Trust me." And Jennifer never questioned it. Tom reinforced what Don said, promising her that, "Nothing is really at risk. It never is in cases like this. Even if you are convicted — which is virtually impossible — we'll have an appeal before the judge can pound his gavel." She believed him, after all, because "Tom was not only a Harvard undergrad and Law Review at Yale, he was also much more than her brilliant attorney. He was her beloved fiancé." And she bought it all, joking, "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my firm."
So instead of all the promises made her, Jennifer finds herself doing three to five years for insider trading and to make matters worse, there will be no appeals. Tom has also informed her that they are no longer engaged to marry because, "...under the circumstances . . .You know my family — it would be very bad publicity for them if I was involved with . . . a convict. . ."
So Jennifer is stuck in circumstances she never envisioned when she agreed to the two men's scheme. Their promises were all empty and now she is on her own in a strange and dangerous new world. How will the pampered Wall Street princess cope with life in the dirty, depressing and degrading women's prison?

This was a pretty good read, although the opening premise of the book is more than a little hard to swallow. Jennifer is portrayed as some kind of hot Wall Street wheeler-dealer. How could she be that savvy and not know that her boss and her fiancé were giving her a sucker's deal?
But never mind that. The real story is Jennifer's timely arrival at the prison just in time to help protect the inmates from the effects of the prison management being transferred from the public to the private sector, with plans by the new management to turn the prisoners into virtual slaves, working to generate revenue for their new bosses, while being paid nearly nothing for their labor.