Monday, January 30, 2012

A Fall of Moondust

By Arthur C. Clarke

People are living on the moon and a tourism industry has been established. One of the things the visitors to the moon like to do is take a sightseeing cruise on the Sea of Thirst in a boat specially designed to travel across the surface of this sea of dust. Captain Pat Harris has made this trip many times before without incident. But this time something entirely unexpected occurs: a sinkhole opens in the dust beneath the boat and it is pulled down some fifty feet into the dusty depths.
The boat is a bubble air trapped beneath the cold, airless moon dust and the 22 people on board can do nothing to save themselves. They just have to sit and wait and pray that help arrives before they run out of air.

Written about 1960 and somewhat dated, this was still an OK story. I found myself skipping parts of it, mainly the technical descriptions of the rescue effort which provided a lot more detail than I was interested in reading. Other than the sometimes boring tech stuff, it was pretty interesting, despite the fact that the moon does not have seas of dust deep enough to sink a boat.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Thief of Always

By Clive Barker

Harvey is 10 years old and bored. School is boring, the weather is boring and there is nothing to look forward to in the middle of boring old February. So when a stranger invites Harvey to visit Holiday House, he is suspicious but eventually gives in to his longing for something fun and different.
At first, Holiday House is everything the stranger promised: the weather is beautiful, every day is Christmas and there is food and treats aplenty. Plus, Harvey enjoys the company of two other children at Holiday House, Wendell and Lulu. Of course, Holiday House is not the wonderful paradise it pretends to be. All those presents and toys and treats have to be paid for. And the price is very steep, indeed.

This was an OK story, rather predictable with what I felt was a weak ending. I mean, why would a creature as old and experienced as Mr. Hood, the power behind the house, fall for the very obvious trick that Harvey pulled on him?
The blurbs in the front of the book claim it is intended for teens and adults but I think most adults would find it as predictable as I did. It was not a surprise that Holiday House turns out to be a snare and a trap and that Mr. Hood is feeding on the souls of all the lost children that end up there. Or that Harvey is the hero who will rise to the occasion and rescue not only himself but all the lost children. Or even that each day at Holiday House is a year in the real world. I can't recommend this book for adults but kids would probably enjoy it.

A Gathering of Saints

By Christopher Hyde

London, 1940, the Blitz: German planes swooping in at night to drop their bombs on London and other targets in Britain. In the midst of the chaos and destruction, a sick mind takes advantage and kills, thinking perhaps one more body will not be noticed by the authorities. But the police do notice, and as the killer stikes again, it becomes apparent that he has advance knowledge of when and where the Germans will be striking. Who he is and how he is getting his information is not just a matter for the police: now it is a vital concern of national security!
Detective Morris Black is assigned to the investigation at the beginning. But before long, the British Secret Service has co-opted the investigation and Morris Black too. He will be privy to secrets that very few are allowed to know, including the secret of Ultra, the ingenious decoder that lets the British decipher all of Germany's secret communications. And yet somehow a madman has gained access to Ultra and is using it to plan his murders. And to complicate things further, a German agent has also gotten wind of the killer and is on his own mission to discover how "Queer Jack" knows in advance about Germany's bombing runs.

This was an extremely exciting and interesting murder mystery, set in perilous times with Detective Morris Black trying to conduct his investigation with the bombs literally falling around him. And the story also includes some very interesting history of that time, including how close English sympathizers in the government and with close ties to the government came to making a secret deal with Hitler to pretty much turn the country over to the enemy!
But one thing I did have against the story was its ending, which was more than a little disappointing. Bit of a spoiler here: but I always like a happy ending and this book doesn't really have one. However, despite the ending, overall I really enjoyed reading this taut and engaging mystery.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Beginning Operations

By James White

Beginning Operations is a Sector General Omnibus containing the three early Sector General novels, Hospital Station, Star Surgeon, and Major Operation.

Hospital Station is a collection of short stories starting with Medic in which Sector General hospital is under construction. O'Mara, a worker on the project, is suspected of negligently causing the death of two alien workers. Pending an investigation he is restricted to quarters and given the aliens' child to care for. His competence in caring for the alien baby is the first step on the road that leads him to the position of Chief Psychologist of Sector General.
The second story, Sector General, introduces the main character in the series, Dr. Conway. Conway, a bright young physician, has arrived to take his place among the throngs of beings working at the hospital. He finds himself dealing with all kinds of medical mysteries and strange aliens but manages to do his job not only competently but often brilliantly.
The other three stories also center around Dr. Conway: The Trouble with Emily in which Conway has to treat a very large dinosaur-like animal; Visitor at Large in which a frightened young shapeshifter runs amok in the hospital and which introduces the giant insect being and empath, Dr. Prilicla; and Out-Patient in which Conway's apparently callous and cold-hearted treatment of a patient turns his compatriots against him.

Next in the omnibus is Star Surgeon. Having proven himself, Dr. Conway is now a Senior Physician at Sector General. Called to aid the ailing population of a planet, Conway and the Monitor Corps run afoul of a corrupt regime. The evil empire sets its sights on Sector General, making the hospital ground zero in a war. The hospital is evacuated but Conway and others stay behind to take care of the casualties from the battle for the hospital itself.

The third novel is Major Operation. It starts with a sudden rise in inexplicable errors on the part of the surgeons and staff of Sector General. The errors are traced to the presence of an amazing malleable tool that can shape itself into whatever tool is needed at the moment. The tool is traced back to a planet with an intelligent population, but they are not the ones who created the tool and it turns out the one who created the tool is gravely ill and may die and take with it the secret of its magical tools.

I enjoyed these stories very much. I especially enjoy White's many interesting aliens and the medical puzzles that Conway and company deal with at Sector General and beyond. One of the things that I have always liked about the Sector General stories is the basic decency and good intentions of the characters. Even in cases where it seems the characters have ill intentions, it usually turns out they were misinformed or misunderstood. Plus, Sector General is teeming with strange and interesting beings and it is always fascinating and entertaining.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Drowned Hopes (A Dortmunder Novel)

By Donald E. Westlake

Back when he was a young man, Dortmunder shared a prison cell with Tom Jimson. Jimson was in for various crimes and should have spent the rest of his life behind bars. But some twenty years or so later, Jimson was released, due to overcrowding. All those years behind bars didn't do a thing to improve his disposition either. He went in a bad guy and came out a bad guy.
One of the crimes Jimson committed (but for which he was not convicted) was the robbery of an armored car that resulted in a take of $700,000. It was buried in a casket behind the library in a small rural town in New York. But in the many years that Jimson was locked up, a lot changed in that small town. Mainly it is covered by a whole lot of water. A dam was built downstream of the town and now the town is at the bottom of a resevoir.
After all those years in prison and given his penchant for killing off his co-conspirators and now an old man, Jimson is going to need help getting his money. Otherwise, as he tells Dortmunder, he will simply blow up the dam and drain the lake and get his money that way and too bad for all the people living downstream of the resevoir. Dortmunder, who knows perfectly well what kind of person Jimson is, feels pressured to come up with a plan that will rescue the money and keep Jimson from creating his devastating flood. But this is way out of Dortmunder's comfort zone and he and his usual gang will find themselves doing things for which they are ill prepared.

This was a very funny story. Dortmunder tries to learn to scuba dive with indifferent success. He brings the usual gang along to help: Andy, who also learns to scuba dive, and Stan the driver, and Tiny the muscle. They also need the help of a couple of new characters: Wally, a computer nerd and Doug, a diver. But even with the help of these two experts, the challenge of digging up a buried casket under fifty feet of water in a dark and murky lake is going to test the gang to the very limits. Even Dortmunder's girlfriend May and Stan's Mom get entangled in the plot, playing key roles. This was just great fun to read and I really enjoyed it.


By Theodore Sturgeon

A naked man who calls himself Godbody appears on the rural outskirts of a small town. He comes into contact with a small number of people, offering them his unconditional love and healing their wounds, both mental and physical, winning their love and devotion. But it all ends tragically when the little group runs afoul of a straight-laced, angry spinster who sees it as her mission to keep the little town on the straight and narrow.

Sturgeon's version of a hippiefied, modern Jesus Christ. A sweet and captivating story, even with its sad ending. I was disappointed but only because I was expecting a science fiction story, which this really wasn't. It is a story about God's love.