Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ambulance Ship

By James White

A collection of short stories about Dr. Conway's adventures aboard the new ambulance ship attached to Sector General, the mammoth space hospital. Along with Dr. Conway are the lovely Murchison, formerly a nurse but now working as a pathologist; the sensitive and delicate insectile being and empath Dr. Prilicla and Nurse Naydrad, a furry, caterpillar-like being who always says exactly what she is thinking. Their mission is to perform rescues of spaceships in distress, to get the crews of those ships to safety and give them whatever medical attention needed and then transport to Sector General.

This was a pretty good read. As always, Conway and company have to cope with unknown beasties. Sometimes it is hard for them to tell if the creatures they are trying to help are intelligent beings or just animals. And knowing the kinds of exotic beings Sector General routinely deals with, sometimes it really is hard to tell, as in one of the stories where it seems the blind crew of a distressed ship have been routinely torturing two creatures they held in captivity. But, as is often the case in the Sector General universe, first impressions are usually wrong. But what is usual is that Conway and company manage to overcome the challenges and to preserve life and help the suffering and introduce the reader to all sorts of strange and amazing aliens. The author certainly had a knack for coming up with odd and wacky beings.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Best Friends, Occasional Enemies: The Lighter Side of Life as a Mother and Daughter

By Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella

Lisa Scottoline is a successful author and, along with a few contributions from her twenty-something daughter, has put together a collection of columns or essays about their relationship, including that of Lisa's mother, Mary. The essays are often amusing, often touching, and very much reflective of the best of mother/daughter relations.
I'm not sure, but I think most of the essays first appeared in Scottoline's column for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

I enjoyed the book very much. It's nice to get a glimpse into the lives of famous people and to know they have many of the same concerns and problems we do. Plus, these essays are mostly in a lighthearted vein and are just fun and pleasant to read. It's a nice book to pick up to spend a few minutes outside yourself, visiting with a sweet and entertaining group of women. (And I love the kitties on the cover of the book.)

Crampton Hodnet

By Barbara Pym

Set in the years just before World War II, Crampton Hodnet is the story of a small group of people living in Oxford and centering mainly on two houses, that of Miss Doggett and her companion Miss Morrow, and that of Francis Cleveland, an Oxford don.
Miss Doggett welcomes a lodger into her home, an unmarried curate, Mr. Latimer, who soon begins to fancy Miss Morrow as a prospective wife. Meanwhile, in the Cleveland home, Francis has become enamored of one of his female students, while his daughter is falling for a member of the titled class, the son of Sir Lyall Beddoes, and as such a most eligible suitor for the lovely Anthea.

This was an enjoyable novel, a light and amusing look at life in a different time not that long ago. Although the story didn't turn out the way I would have liked, still it was entertaining and fun and well worth reading.

The Teahouse of the August Moon

By Vern Sneider

It's the end of World War II, and the US military is occupying the island of Okinawa, part of the Japanese empire. Most of the people of the island live in small villages and their lives have been nearly completely disrupted by the war and the subsequent occupation. For the occupying military, their job is to maintain order and get the locals back to work and self-supporting. With a view to this, the commanding officer, Colonel Purdy, has drawn up an extensive plan designed to get the villages back into production and brought up to date with modern methods. He expects his officers to follow his plan to the letter.
But Captain Fisby was not so successful at following the plan. In fact, in a moment of weakness and ignorance, he allowed two Geishas to set up shop in his area of command, Tobiki Village. And things will never be the same, as the whole village falls under the spell of these two intelligent, skillful and beautiful women. And when the Colonel finds out what has been going on, Fisby may be in the worse trouble of his career. Or maybe not...

I loved this story. For one thing, although it seems at first to treat the natives as ignorant savages, as it goes along it becomes very apparent that the writer does not think like that at all, in fact, the story has tremendous respect for the Japanese way of doing things and includes many interesting and charming details about their way of life, as the Americans are introduced more fully to Japanese culture. Spoiler here, but in the end the Japanese way not only triumphs but also sweeps the Americans along with it. It seems like a true glimpse into the can-do spirit that has made Japan one of the most successful nations there is, despite their recent troubles and economic problems. This was a funny and sweet story which I enjoyed greatly.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

You Had Me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness

By Julie Klam

Although she was raised with dogs, author Julie Klam didn't rush into getting a dog of her own. In fact, at thirty, she was still single and rather lonely. Then one night she dreamed about a dog, a little Boston terrier and she decided it was an omen: she needed a Boston terrier of her own.
So, looking for her dog, she found out about Boston terrier rescue. And that is how she found Otto, the dog of her dreams and the first in a long line of Boston terriers and Boston terrier-ish dogs, as she became more involved in dog rescue. Many of the rescue dogs were untrained, unhousebroken, neurotic and destructive. Plus, she and her family lived in an apartment, which meant walking the dogs several times a day. She took on a lot of responsibility but she (and her husband and child) helped a lot of unwanted dogs, mostly Boston terriers.

This was an Okay read. Some of the things she tolerated with the rescue dogs would make me think twice -- especially the hyper dog who took a chunk out of her young daughter's arm. She got lucky it was only her arm -- it could have been the girl's face! That would have the end of it for me. The author is definitely a bit of a nut when it comes to rescue dogs.


By Greg Bear

Traveling through space in a hollowed out asteroid on voyage lasting lifetimes, a scientist creates a tunnel, the Way, through time and space. Disgruntled with the voyage, a large group of people uses the Way to escape the asteroid to a new world, against the express wishes of the authorities.
Olmy, a soldier at somewhat loose ends is sent after the escapees. His mission is merely to observe and report back.
Time between the asteroid and the colonists is not the same, a few years have passed on the asteroid but decades have passed on the planet. So when Olmy arrives, the people have established several towns and appear to be surviving despite the challenges of coping with an alien planet. But all is not well with the colonists, factions have arisen and war is in the offing.
The planet has a strange biology, with whole continents dominated by one organism that expresses itself in a variety of different forms. The question is, are these giant creatures self-aware? And if so, what do they think to find their planet invaded by humans?

This was an OK, if a very long story. Olmy falls in with a group of researchers trying to understand the ecology of the planet. They, in turn, become involved in the conflict between the political factions. And one of the factions has done something very stupid that may make life on the planet impossible for humankind.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Clutch of Constables

By Ngaio Marsh

Book number 25 in the Roderick Alleyn series, this one stars Mrs. Alleyn, who has just finished an art show featuring her work and, on impulse, takes a several day river cruise. But what starts out as an innocent cruise turns deadly when one of the passengers is killed and tossed in the river.

This was an OK story. It switches between the cruise, Mrs. Alleyn's letters to her policeman husband and her husband's after-the-fact lecture to his fellow police. That was one of the things I didn't care for in the story, where Alleyn reveals important details of the case to his fellow cops but the reader is only told it is an important detail, but not what the actual detail is. Of course, the author doesn't want to give away too much too soon, but I found it kind of annoying.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Fortress on the Sun

By Paul Cook

Ra is a factory that sits close to the Sun, designed to harvest metals from the Sun's plasma. It is protected by powerful shields. It is also an escape-proof prison for the over 100 men and women incarcerated within. Before being sent to Ra, their memories were wiped clean, some back to their early twenties, some back to early childhood. All of the prisoners with some adult memory also have technical training and skills and they are in charge of overseeing the rest of the prisoners and of the running of the prison, because Ra has no guards, no supervisors, no one except prisoners. They are on their own.
Ian Hutchings, a brilliant scientist who has been sentenced to Ra for the death of billions, something he doesn't remember, has sort of taken the leadership position in the prison. He is eaten up with guilt over the deaths he is accused of causing, so much so that he wears self-imposed shackles on his wrists and ankles as a reminder and a punishment.
But overseeing so many people, many of whom have the mental processes of little children, is a terrible burden. A burden that only becomes worse when a strange, new illness starts to affect the prisoners. And the powers-that-be are ignoring Hutchings' pleas for aid, declaring that it is just a plot to escape from Ra. So Hutchings and the few other "adult" prisoners will have to cope with this dire emergency completely on their own.

This was a really interesting story. The prisoners have to cope with their memory gaps and with the childish members of the population. And when the disease strikes and no help is forthcoming from the authorities, it is the prisoners who have to come up with a cure on their own. And in the process discover the truth about what is really happening at Ra.
But I did think the ending was weak. I can't go into detail without revealing important information about the story, but it did sort of seem as if the author got tired of the story and decided to wrap it up very quickly. But other than what I felt was an unlikely ending, I did enjoy this story a lot. It was interesting and engaging and I liked the mystery behind the prisoners' incarceration.

The Princes of the Golden Cage

By Nathalie Mallet

When a guy has hundreds of wives and concubines, he is bound to have a lot of sons. And when the guy is the ruler of a wealthy kingdom which does not have the tradition of the first born son being the next to rule but instead whichever son the guy deems fittest...well, a real mess can be created as sons vie for the throne. So in order to avoid said mess, the guy locked all his sons older than ten in a prison. Sure, it's a fancy prison, with all the choice viands a prince could wish for, and luxurious clothes and furnishings, servants to tend to all one's needs, and even a harem of lovely young women to satisfy the princes' urges. But it is still a prison. And there they will remain until Daddy makes his choice...
Of course, in a situation like that, you have to have some rules, otherwise it would just be open season on princes. So the princes can't just slaughter each other, willy-nilly. No, there has to be a just cause, usually an insult or a slight of some kind, really only an excuse to fight. And the fights are strictly regulated, with rules of behavior and combat. All in all, the Golden Cage is not a happy place in which to live.
So Prince Amir, a bookish lad, tries to keep his head down and avoid contact with his hundreds of brothers as much as possible. Which has been working pretty well for Amir until one of the brothers is killed in mysterious circumstances. Rumor circulates through the Cage that Amir, standoffish and bookish as he is and thus suspect, is a powerful sorcerer and that he killed his brother through magical means. Of course, Amir knows this is nonsense, especially since he doesn't even believe in magic. Then two more brothers die in the same mysterious manner. And Amir will have to leave his apartment in order to figure out who is behind the magical murders of his brothers and to clear his own name. And hopefully not die trying.

This was a pretty good story, with palace intrigues, secret passages, evil spirits, duels and masquerades. It is also the first book in the Prince Amir Mystery Series. Overall, I liked the book, although there were parts I thought rather weak, like all these hidden passages that go throughout the Cage. The building was specifically built to be a prison for the princes, why add hidden passages? Also, I thought the ending was rather cruel and that all those deaths were too much. Especially that of one of the characters that Prince Amir was just starting to get to know and respect. I was sorry to see him killed off.
But, despite these quibbles, I did enjoy the book. It was exciting and interesting, with lots of intriguing mysteries.