Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Color Purple


By Alice Walker

Celie is a black girl in rural Georgia in the 1930s and she has a hard life. She was raped by her step-father and had two babies by him. He then gave the babies away, without her approval or knowledge. She was then given in marriage to a widowed man who needed someone to help raise his kids. Celie did not care for this man but she wasn't given any choice in the matter. The man, who she calls in the story Mr. _____, beats Celie, mainly because she is not Shug Avery, the woman Mr loves. Celie's sister Nettie lives with her and Mr briefly, in order to get away from the attentions of the cruel step-father. But Mr starts bothering Nettie too and she leaves, promising Celie that the only thing that can stop her from writing is death. But Celie never receives any letters and assumes Nettie is dead.
Nettie, meanwhile, has found refuge with the minister and his wife who adopted Celie's two lost babies. Nettie and the minister and family head off to Africa to start a mission. She writes to Celie, but never receives a reply because Mr has been hiding her letters. When Celie finds out what he has been doing, she wants to kill him. But Shug, who had been staying with Mr and Celie and who has become very close to Celie, talks her out of it.
Eventually Celie and Shug leave Georgia and move to Tennessee. Shug is a successful singer and, under her sheltering wing, Celie is able to start her own business. She even forgives Mr, who has seemingly changed his evil ways, acquiring some wisdom and grace with age. At about this time, the long lost Nettie and the two babies, who are now grown, come back to Georgia and the two sisters are reunited after decades apart.

This was a pretty good story, especially the part about Celie and the other characters in the Georgia part of the story. The letters from Nettie to Celie about her life in Africa were not quite as captivating as Celie's story, but still added a different and informative perspective. And everything seems to work out for the best despite all the suffering endured, so the book ends on a high note, which is what I prefer. I always like a happy ending and this book provides that. It won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

The Star Treasure


By Keith Laumer

Ban Tarleton was a young Lieutenant on a Navy starship. He accidentally became entangled in a conspiracy to thrown down the ruling forces which resulted in his deserting his post when he thought the starship was being taken over by the conspirators. He fled to Earth where he hid out in extreme hardship, nearly starving to death in the process. He eventually fell into the hands of the authorities and was court-martialed and sent to work the mines on a hot, desert planet.
Life is brutal there and once again, Ban runs afoul of the conspirators, who are convinced that Ban has information vital to their cause, despite his protests to the contrary. He also refuses to join them, maintaining his loyalty to the status quo. His stubbornness results in his being framed for a crime he didn't commit and being cast out of the mines and into the implacable desert of this dry, hot, barren planet. But he doesn't die. Instead he stumbles onto a secret that will not only save his life but will gain him his freedom.

This was a pretty good read. Poor Ban get the stuffing knocked out of him but he keeps on going, even when it looks hopeless. This is a real adventure story, first with Ban trying to escape detection while as a fugitive on Earth and then as he struggles to survive on the prison planet. And the last part of the story is really satisfying, as Ban stumbles on to the secret that will completely turn his life around.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Cats of Our Lives


By Franklin Dohanyos, Editor

A collection of stories and anecdotes about cats. Mainly, it is a short reminiscences about the cats that have shared their lives with people. Some of the stories are interesting, some are amusing, and some are predictable, but all illustrate what amazing creatures cats are. Not exactly a scintillating read, but it was OK.

Devil May Care


By Sheri McInnis

Sally Carpenter is a struggling actor in New York City. While on an audition for small TV role, she falls into casual conversation with a man, a man it later turns out is the head of the network and who, it seems, has taken a bit of a fancy to Sally. Suddenly she finds she is the darling of the network, backed by her powerful new acquaintance. But as she becomes more involved with this man, and as bad things begin to happen, Sally starts to think that this man is the devil. Literally. But that's not the worse part. The worse part is that she loves him.

What to say about this book? First of all, the main character comes off as a nut job. A series of coincidences convince her that her new man is the devil, on the flimsiest of evidence. Second, as a romance novel, the ending just sucked. It was frankly depressing. Third, speaking of depressing, I found the whole book depressing. One of the first things you find out about Sally is that her father killed himself when she was a little girl. And that just sets the tone for the rest of the book. Contrary to the blurbs on the back that proclaimed it to be "genuinely funny" and "clever fun" and to have "dead-on comic timing," this book is most definitely not funny, if anything it is just sad. A real disappointment.

A Choice of Gods


By Clifford D. Simak

Set about 5000 years in the future and humanity is no longer a presence on Earth except for a few isolated bands of people. At the beginning of the 5000 years, most of the people just disappeared, vanished in an instant. Those who were left behind discovered that they suddenly had magical new abilities like telepathy and teleportation. They could now go anywhere in the universe by just thinking it. And so they did. A few homebodies stayed on Earth with all the leftover robots, who now had nothing to do.
One of the universe-travelling people discovered a vast, implacable intelligence at the center of the galaxy. In his wanderings, he also discovered what had happened to all the people who had so mysteriously vanished thousands of years ago. He returns to Earth to tell the few people there what he has discovered and to warn them that they may now be in danger.

This was just a weird book. Suddenly everyone disappears and just as suddenly those left behind are now super-beings with magical abilities who live for thousands of years. Plus there are a bunch of robots who, built to serve humanity, now have no one to serve. So they become robot monks and set about trying to figure if God is real and other robots who are building a super computer which manages to contact the evil intelligence at the center of the galaxy. So much going on in this book, like a wandering boy able to heal everyone, including a "can of worms" who wants to have a soul, and Indians living in the forests of Minnesota and it all doesn't add up to very much at all, as far as a story goes. It is more like someone's wishful thinking. Just a fair read, I think.

The Magic Army


By Leslie Thomas

Before the D-Day invasion of German-controlled Europe during World War II, the Allied planners realized that their troops would require many weeks of rehearsal before they could attempt such an invasion. Apparently beach invasions are almost never successful. Since the beaches of England were very similar to their counterparts across the English Channel, it was decided to practice for the invasion in England. It was also decided that the troops would be training under fire of live ordinance. So the powers that be ordered that all the locals in the training area be removed, for their own safety. Suddenly, productive farm land and little country villages are abandoned and American troops are moved in, setting up camps, security, mines and guns. This is the story of that time, when the United States invaded and took over a large section of the United Kingdom, much to the chagrin and disgust of the locals.

This sounds like it is a combat story, but it really isn't. It is more concerned with the interactions between the locals and the Americans and how the two different populations came to view and to understand each other. It is a very fascinating story, often touching and often funny and I enjoyed it tremendously. It was a very good read.

Tomorrow is Too Far


By James White

Jim Carson is the head of security at a rocket and jet engine manufacturing plant. It's a huge complex with thousands of employees and Jim has his nose into everything, sniffing out anything that may threaten the security at the plant. So when he suspects that there is a super-secret project at the plant that he has not been informed about, his nose gets put out of joint. And he decides he is going to discover exactly what is going on, for the sake of security. Oddly, he finds out that the super-secret project seems to revolve around a mildly-retarded janitor who works at the plant. But as Jim gets closer discovering whats going on, people start to disappear and die. And Jim maybe next in the killer's sights.

Although this is a science fiction story, it was more like reading a mystery story. The only science-fictiony aspect is the secret project, which the reader doesn't find much about until almost the end of the novel. So that was somewhat disappointing. But, taken as a kind of mystery story, it was a pretty good read. Still, I will rate it only fair, as it was rather short on the science fiction.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Sensible Courtship


By Megan Daniel

Lord Richard Devlin and Lady Francesca Waringham had met and kissed before. But he was preparing to leave for an extended trip around the world and she valued her independence too much to let a man into her life. So, although their attraction to each other was undeniable, they were both too stubborn to give in to it and so they went their separate ways, each with a bit of a chip on their shoulder about the other.
Five years later and Lord Devlin is back in England. He has decided it is time for him to settle down and so he is looking for a wife. He figured a good place to start would be the great estate of Hockleigh, where a large assembly of the gentry has gathered to enjoy the hunt.
It just so happens that Lady Francesca is also a guest at Hockleigh. Still unwed, Cesca has also been thinking of marriage. Although she hates to give up her independence, she has realized that she wants to have children and that requires a husband.
When she and Devlin discover that are both after the same thing, they make a little bet as to who can catch a spouse first. Daring, dashing Devlin, who thinks he wants a meek, mousy, biddable woman for his wife, sets his sights on shy, little Priscilla. And fiery, independent Cesca, who thinks she wants an indifferent, pliable husband, aims for Caspar Maltby, a mild-mannered fellow whose main passion is botany.
They say that opposites attract. Then why are Devlin and Cesca secretly disappointed when both their selected mates agree to wed them?

This was a pretty good read. True, the plot was rather predictable. Of course, Cesca and Devlin belong together and of course mousy Priscilla and boring Caspar are made for each other, so that was no surprise. There is a kidnapping and a jealous, conniving widow to liven things up, but they play a pretty minor role in the story. But it all works to make for a surprisingly enjoyable and interesting story.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

An Idiot Girl's Christmas


By Laurie Notaro

Funny Christmas-themed stories about the author and her family including stories about the neighbors like Frank, who electrified his yard to protect his Christmas decorations from vandals and Kyle/Lyle and Annie who refused to return the author's cheerful greetings and the two little neglected neighbor kids who used to bum food when their mother was too drunk to get out of bed. Also included are stories about Nana, author's grandma and also about her mother, who has turned worrying into a competition sport, leading to a showdown over a Christmas tree that the author kept standing clear into March. All the stories are amusing, all are familiar (who hasn't been embarrassed by the overly loud complaints of an elderly parent or grandparent: for me, it was my grandma who had to let the whole airplane know that she thought the service was lousy) and I thoroughly enjoyed reading them.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Ancaster Demons


By Norman Russell

Dean Girdlestone is a man of conscience. And as the head of Ancaster Cathedral, his conscience tells him that the beautiful stained glass window of the cathedral and the four statues of angels on the roof of the cathedral are idols that need to be destroyed. To take care of the window, he plans to build a school that will block the sun from shining through the window. To take care of the statues, he orders them removed. Of course, many people are outraged at his plans. One of those people is Nicholas Arkwright.
Nicholas has known Gridlestone since they were boys at school together and he has always disliked him. He has even had dreams in which he killed the Dean. So when the Dean turns up murdered, Nicholas, who is on powerful medication, thinks he must have done it and confesses to the police.
But there is more going on with the cathedral than Girdlestone's destructive plans. Someone has been embezzling from the cathedral accounts. And the finger points to Girdlestone himself. But then why was he killed? Because of his planned alterations to the cathedral or because he knew who the real embezzler was?

This was a pretty good book. It is set in late-Victorian England and takes the reader into the world church politics and small town rivalry. Nicholas is a dopey, but appealing character and Girdlestone, whom you want to hate because of what he wants to do to the cathedral, turns out to be pretty decent if misguided. The other characters are just as interesting, including Girdlestone's widow who fairly dances for joy when she learns of her husband's demise. It was an interesting mystery and an enjoyable read.

A Gift from Earth


By Larry Niven

A colony has been established on a hostile planet. The only place fit for humans is on a high plateau. Below the plateau, the atmosphere is deadly and it is boiling hot.
After being established, a peculiar social system arose in the colony. The space ship crew became the elites, and the settlers the downtrodden masses. As a result, the punishment for crimes, even fairly mild crimes, such as traffic tickets, was death. The reason for the harsh punishment was to supply the crew with body parts for transplants to extend their lives beyond the normal seventy to eighty years. Needless to say, this created a lot of anger and resentment among the settlers. And of course, rebels.
Matthew Keller, a miner, accidentally fell in among the rebels when he came to a party at rebel headquarters. The police raided and captured most of the rebels but Matthew managed to escape. Problem is, he is now a hunted man. And since he now has nothing to lose and nowhere to run he decides on a bold plan: he will try to rescue the captives before they are executed and cut up for their organs. And why does he decide to risk his life for a bunch of people he barely knows? Because there was this really cute girl at the party and he just has to get to know her better.

The premise of this book doesn't really ring true and neither does Matthew's decision to stage a one-man raid on police headquarters to rescue his lady love who seemed completely indifferent to his charms. But despite that, this is an interesting and exciting story even though set in a rather unlikely location. I mean, why would any one establish a colony on a planet that only has one small location that is livable? However, if you can accept the premise, it makes for a very good read. I liked Matthew and his weird talent and I enjoyed reading his story.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Coyote


By Allen Steele

At the time of the story, a livable moon has been discovered orbiting a gas giant planet in a star system about 46 light years away. This moon, named Coyote, is bigger than Mars but not a big as Earth. The United States no longer exist as a political entity, instead a right-wing cabal has taken over the government, calling itself the Liberty Party, it is instead a force for oppression and has pretty much destroyed the Constitution under the guise of security concerns. As a boost to the party and also to insure the survival of their regime, the powers that be have come up with a grand scheme to build a ship to carry about 100 loyal colonists to Coyote.
DI's or Dissident Intellectuals have been targeted by the government for removal to a reeducation camp that is really a death camp. So they have hatched a plot to take over the space ship, the Alabama and smuggle 50 DI's on board. The ship's captain and several key crew members are part of the plot and together they are able to take control of the ship and leave the government back on Earth looking stupid.
Since the voyage will take more than 200 years, everyone on board is put into biostasis, a kind of hibernation, only to be awakened when they reach their destination.
Coyote, when they finally arrive, turns out to be a beautiful place, with a temperate climate and rich soils and plenty of water. The colonists arrive a little late in the year for growing much in the way of food, so the first year is pretty lean. Plus the local fauna are proving to be not just pestiferous but also deadly. But the colonists work hard and manage to make a home for themselves despite the tensions caused by two opposing factions forced to cooperative to survive, the rebels versus the loyalists.

First book in the Coyote series, this was a good read. The story is told through the experiences of several key characters including the Captain, Robert E. Lee, and a couple of teens, Wendy and Carlos, Wendy the daughter of a loyalist who was part of a plot to blow up the ship and Carlos, son of one of the DI's who took over the ship. It's a story about survival and of exploring a new land, of people making a home for themselves in a strange new place and learning to get along despite their differences. I enjoyed it a lot.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Saturn's Children


By Charles Stross

It's the future and humankind is extinct as is life on Earth due to a huge environmental catastrophe when Earth became so hot that the oceans boiled. But fear not, mankind has a successor in the many robots created before our unwept demise.
Most robots were constructed to be obedient and subservient to humans. After humans died out, the robots continued on building, exploring, developing, doing those activities for which they were designed. They created a sort of freedom for themselves, building cities and outposts on distant planets. They created a hierarchy, with a few rich robots running things and the rest in service to the bosses. But that wasn't enough for some so they hatched a plot. If they were able to bring back to life one human, they could use that human to enslave the rest of robotkind and rule the solar system, due to the automatic circuit in most robots that forced them to do what any human wanted. But other robots are not willing to give up their freedom and will do whatever they can to thwart this plan.
Into this mix comes Freya, a sex robot, designed to be a concubine for humans. In a system where humans no longer exist, Freya is obsolete. So she makes her way trying to stay free and not the robot slave of other robots and doing whatever she can to survive. She finds herself ensnared in the struggle between the two factions and facing danger and eminent destruction on all sides. Her adventure will take her all over the solar system and she will find there is almost no one she can trust, not even her own self.

This was a strange story. Freya is just too human. She sweats, she eats and drinks, she falls in love, she feels pain, she has orgasms, she has robot sex. All the robots seemed very human in their desires, especially the desire to rule all the other robots. And everybody is double-dealing and you don't know where they stand or whose side they are on. Although the future society depicted in the story was fascinating, it couldn't make up for how unreal it all felt. I can't really say I liked it but I didn't hate it either.

No! I Don't Want to Join a Book Club


By Virginia Ironside

Marie Sharp is 59 going on 60 and has decided to keep a journal of her sixtieth year. She is divorced and has a grown son Jack who is now married with a babe of his own on the way. Marie is looking forward to being elderly and is determined not to try to hang on to her youth which she feels is rather pathetic. She is also determined not to partake in those activities popular in her age group, such as joining a book club. She wants to live her life on her own terms, facing the future with fearless calm. Of course, she is not quite able to live up that, finding herself with sudden attacks of terror about her new grandson and, naturally, facing the sort of declines that everyone faces if they manage to live long enough: achy joints, failing eyesight, faltering memory and the possibility of degenerative disease. In the meantime, a very dear friend is diagnosed with cancer and only has a few months left.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. Marie often castigates herself but she really is a sweet lady, and sharing a little of her life was pretty enjoyable. In the course of the story it turns out that Marie has been there and done that and is now ready for a more laid back life. She even swears off sex, claiming it just messes everything up. For the most part it was an entertaining story, although I found the last part rather dreary as it chronicles her friend's decline and death. But overall, it was a good read.