Thursday, July 28, 2011


By Mike McQuay

David Wolf finds his life invaded by a traveler from the future, a distant relative on a quest for an escaped murderer. The relative, Silv, is looking to stop Hersh, the killer, from changing the course of history as he has taken up residence in the mind of Napoleon Bonaparte of France. These travelers from the future do not travel in their physical bodies, but through the blood lines of their ancestors, taking over the minds and bodies and controlling them.
Wolf, whose descendant is Silv, is enlisted by her to travel back in time to France and attempt to reason with Hersch to return to his own time and stop meddling with the past. Wolf is a skilled psychiatrist who Silv hopes has the expertise to convince Hersh to go back to where he came from. While on his quest, Wolf will travel the blood lines of his distant ancestors, and in trying to persuade and understand Hersh, will come to an understanding of his own basic unhappiness and failures as a person.

Parts of this novel were really interesting and parts were like reading a history of Bonaparte. The parts about Wolf and his problems and about his relationship with Silv were very interesting and engrossing. But most of the story is about Wolf's and Silv's interactions with Bonaparte which I didn't enjoy. In fact, as I read further in the story, I found myself just skipping over those pages concerning Bonaparte. So I found the story half good and half boring.

Rally Round the Flag, Boys!

By Max Shulman

Is it a good thing or a bad thing that the U.S. Army wants to install a missile base on the outskirts of Putnam's Landing, Connecticut, a commuter community near New York City? Of course, there are those for and against. But young Lieut. Guido DiMaggio manages to sweet talk the locals, and, in short order, Putnam's Landing has a missile base. But that doesn't mean everything is all peachy-keen, especially when the soldiers start making time with the local maidens, putting their teenage rivals collective noses completely out of joint. Trouble is brewing and tempers are flaring and the Fourth of July is shaping up to be even more "explosive" than usual.

Although it is nominally about the conflict between the locals and the military, much of the story is taken up with Harry Bannerman and his wife, Grace. Grace is an enthusiastic participant in all things civic, while Harry is yearning for the good old days back in NYC before the arrival of the kids and the house and all the responsibilities he so much resents. His resentment and immaturity lead him into and ill-advised affair with a man-hungry local housewife who is looking for a new hubby to replace the current one.
Also featured are the aforementioned DiMaggio, who is enamored of a local girl, Maggie, a young school teacher who has recently been fired for teaching her second graders about sex, with helpful illustrations.
Parts of the story were mildly amusing and the big Fourth of July debacle at the of the story was really funny, but overall it really didn't appeal to me much.

The Year of Living Biblically

By A. J. Jacobs

A. J. Jacobs was raised as a secular Jew and, as an adult, described himself as an agnostic, not sure that God exists but also not sure God doesn't exist. So he went on a quest to follow the rules and advice given in the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments. In this way, maybe he would find God and, as an added bonus, he would write about his experience and hopefully make some money too.
No stranger to the Bible, he had an idea of what following all the laws of the Old Testament would entail. Still following the laws was quite a challenge, especially trying to follow all the advice given in books like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. He let his beard grow, attached tassels to the "corners" of his clothes, bathed after ejaculating, wouldn't sit an any seat that had been occupied by a woman because of possibility of it being "unclean", smeared lamb's blood (actually lamb's juice because he couldn't find any where to buy the blood) on the door of his apartment, and so on, trying to follow the plethora of rules and admonishments in the Bible. Needless to say, it was not easy, not only for him but for his wife and young son, who, while not partaking of the experiment, were still affected by it. His wife found the rule about not sitting where a woman has sat who is menstruating so perturbing that she made sure to sit on every chair in the house so that they were all "unclean" and A. J. had to so out and buy himself a small, portable stool for his sole use.

This was quite a journey for the author and for the reader. Makes you wonder how anyone could ever fool themselves into thinking that it is truly possible to follow every law, rule and proverb in the bible. As the author found out, it is a hopeless task, as he repeatedly failed to meet his goals, especially in regard to controlling his thoughts, emotions and speech and remaining pure in mind, deed and body. Still it was fun and enlightening to read about his valiant attempt to live a pure and Biblically correct, godly life. Even though in the end, he went back to his regular life, the experience did affect him in profound and spiritual ways.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Life in a Medieval Castle

By Joseph and Frances Gies

A brief history of the medieval castle, with the main focus on castles in England. Explains their role as outposts, forts, military installations and as centers of government in their communities. Looks at the roles of the lord of the castle and at how the castle supported and also fed off the local populace. Goes into the knighthood and the relationship of the lords of the castles to the kingdom and how the castles functioned during times of war and rebellion. Concludes with a look at the decline of the castle system.

This was a pretty good book, especially in explaining how the castle functioned as a part of the community and in its role as a military installation, not only as a method of defense but often as a center of rebellion. The explanation of the relationship between the lord of the castle and the local people was very informative.
It was an interesting book, not at all difficult to read and with two handy glossaries in the back.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


By Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen

Second-Best Sailor lives on the planet of No Moon. As his name implies, he is a sailor. He is not a human, he is a squid-like creature, the male, free-swimming mate of the coral reef that lives in No Moon's ocean. His ancestors fled to No Moon to escape a deadly and implacable enemy. And now that enemy is once again after the denizens of No Moon and Second-Best Sailor is sent forth to discover a refuge his people can flee to before it is too late. For the enemy is nigh and they will demand complete submission to their will or they will destroy everyone.

This is a story of religion run amok. Similar to the Catholic Inquisition, the leaders of this religion believe that it is better for unbelievers to be tortured, even to death, if it means their souls are saved, although it hides its implacability from its adherents. And it has a huge carrot to offer to potential converts: a Heaven you don't have to die to enter. Converts' bodies are maintained for centuries by machines while their minds roam free in whatever fantasy they can imagine. It is a living bliss but it is based on a religion as cruel and intolerant as a religion can be, as one of their most fervent acolytes is shocked to discover as he rises higher in the church hierarchy.

I liked this story quite a bit, for the most part. I like reading about aliens, and this story abounds with aliens. What I didn't find very entertaining was the acolytes indoctrination into the Church's philosophy, that was pretty dull stuff. But other than that, it was a good read, full of aliens and adventures and lots of weird stuff and ideas, just what I enjoy most in a science fiction story.

Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons

By Lorna Landvik

Thirty years in the lives of several women living in the same Minnesota neighborhood who share a love of books and who get together monthly for their book club, Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons, a name they got from one of their husband, who said it rather snidely.

I enjoyed this book a lot. The characters are interesting, even if their problems are the usual: abuse, infidelity, homosexuality. Nothing very new or shocking in what the women are dealing with. But their stories are nevertheless very engaging and make for a good read.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Light-Years Beneath My Feet

By Alan Dean Foster

A continuation of the story begun in Lost and Found, we find Marcus Walker and his companions stuck on the planet of the beings who rescued them from their imprisonment on the slave ship that stole them from their homes. Marcus has become a master chef and, when a representative from another planet desires to hire him, he and his friends figure why not? It just might be a step closer to getting home.
But it soon becomes apparent that his new employers have no desire to lose their unusual new chef and his strange and intriguing companions. So Marcus hatches a plot designed to spur his hosts into helping them on their way and he will soon be neck-deep in alien politics.

Gosh, this was such a boring story. All that political intrigue and warfare strategy was just a pain to read through. So disappointing after all the strangeness and fun of the first book. Also, Walker falls for an alien girl with a mouth like a sucker fish, three tails, arms like snakes and whose voice sounds like nails on a blackboard. Just unbelievable he could find that combination attractive. He might as well fall for his squid-like compatriot, Sque. All in all, just not a good read.

The Klone and I

By Danielle Steel

Stephanie's marriage ended suddenly when her husband of thirteen years declared one morning that he didn't love her, that he had never loved her. Of course, she asked him if there was someone else, which he denied. But of course there was.
All that didn't matter when Stephanie met Peter. Peter seemed like the ideal guy and it wasn't too long before it got serious. Then one day, Peter had to go on a business trip for a couple of weeks and he told Stephanie that he had a surprise for her to make up for his absence. The surprise turned out to be Paul.
Paul looked exactly like Peter and at first Stephanie assumed he was Peter pretending to be the wild, outrageous and just a bit crazy Paul. He wasn't. In fact, Paul wasn't even human, he was a bionic version of Peter, but with a few personality kinks that Peter didn't have. However, he was a lot of fun to be with and good with the kids and generous to a fault and Stephanie found herself falling hard for him. Then Peter returned from his trip and Stephanie loved being with him too. Now she has two lovers, one of which isn't really human, and can't make up her mind which one she wants.

This was an OK story. I don't know anything about bionics and in the story Paul has his head removed when he returns to the lab and his wiring replaced and yet, when reassembled, he is able to eat and drink and have sex and even catch cold. I mean, is he alive or is he a machine? It is never very clear in the story. I found that rather off-putting. Plus I just never believed any of it, not the bionic man, not Stephanie's dilemma, not Paul's ridiculous sexual acrobatics. It never really engaged me, I guess. It's an interesting idea but just not very well developed.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

The Legacy of Heorot

By Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Steven Barnes

Beowulf came to Heorot Hall to fight Grendel, the monster plaguing the people there. He was a professional monster killer and he soon took care of the terrible Grendel.
Like Beowulf, Cadmann Weyland is also a professional, a security expert with a military background. He alone of the 200 people settling on an island of the planet Tau Ceti Four sees a need for caution and defensive measures. But most of the settlers believe they have landed in a near paradise with a benign climate and no predators beyond a pterodactyl-like flying animal. They sneer at Cadmann's warnings and precautions and claim he is creating problems to justify his position.
But after months of calm, Cadmann is proven correct when a monster makes its presence known and many settlers die before it can be overcome.
Once this fierce predator is revealed, the settlers proceed to hunt down and destroy them all. What they don't know is that they have disturbed their island's ecosystem and that, as far as monsters go, they ain't seen nothing yet...

This was an OK story, typical science fiction horror story. It's not a genre I usually read or enjoy. It's a lot like the movie Alien, brave humans struggling to outwit and survive a terrible and strange beast bent on killing them all.