Friday, August 30, 2013

Tuesday's Gone

By Nicci French

A social worker stops by a client's home to check up on her only to find the woman taking care of a dead man. The woman, who has some kind of brain disease, is incoherent and can't tell authorities who the man was or how he came to be in her apartment.
Detective Chief Inspector Karlson, who has previously worked with Frieda Klein, a psychotherapist, asks her to speak to the woman, who is now in the psychiatric hospital.
With Frieda's help, the man is identified as one Robert Poole and further investigation reveals that he was a con man with a whole list of victims, anyone of which may have murdered him.

This was an OK story. The main character, Frieda, comes off as a bit of a cold fish. She also seems to have some baggage, some to do with a previous case and some to do with her own past. I didn't really care for Frieda, I had more sympathy for the confused and tragic young woman living in the boat who I hoped very much would be rescued. All in all, not caring for the main character nor for how the story concludes, I will say it was only a fair read.

The Nitrogen Fix

By Hal Clement

Something terrible happened in the past. Somehow, Earth's atmosphere has lost most of its oxygen and life on Earth has been devastated. Now the only animal life left are a few struggling settlements of humans. There is plant life, of a sort, and people are able to survive by maintaining greenhouses full of crops and plants that provide food and oxygen. But life is very harsh and life spans greatly shortened.
Kahvi and Earrin are nomadic traders, traveling by raft to and from seaside communities. They have a young daughter and Kahvi is pregnant. They have a small greenhouse in which they sleep and recharge their oxygen equipment. They also have a traveling companion, Bones.
Although Kahvi and Earrin are sure they are the aliens and Bones is the native, the reverse is the actual truth. Bones is an observer from another star system, on Earth to study its native life and atmosphere.
A group of young scientists from the former city of Boston has developed the hypothesis that Bones and his fellow aliens on Earth are the ones responsible for the destruction of the oxygen as part of a plot to seize the world for themselves. To that end, they have captured a small alien and are now attempting to capture Bones. They don't know that the aliens are mere observers and are on Earth just to gather information. But Kahvi and Earrin have known Bones for years and trust the alien, even leaving it to watch over their young daughter.
It all comes to a head when the radicals take not only Bones but Earrin too and Kahvi has to try to save both her husband and Bones from the well-meaning but mistaken young scientists.

I liked this book. It paints a picture of a very different world in which people are barely managing to hang on, a real survivor tale, with the added interest of strange, peculiar aliens. The humans have made science a forbidden subject, blaming it for the collapse of the atmosphere. The young scientists in the story are revolutionaries, going against the established wisdom in order to attempt to save their damaged world. And even though they are the "bad guys," at least they are trying to do something, unlike their elders. Very interesting and exciting story.

The Uninvited

By Heather Graham

Allison Leigh is a guide at an historic home in Philadelphia. Landon Mansion was commandeered by the British and used by Lord Bedford during the Revolutionary War. Legend has it that young Lucy Tarleton, resident in the home with her family, was a spy for the Americans and cozied up to Lord Bedford to glean information. When he found out, he was said to have stabbed her to death, earning him the nickname Butcher Bedford. Ever since, Landon Mansion has had a rather iffy reputation. Of course, any really old house has had people die in it. Most people died at home, not in a hospital in the past. But in more modern times, there have been at least three unexpected deaths associated with the house. One person died in a fall on the stairs, one died at the desk in the study of a heart attack and a student died while trying to break into the house. All this Allison dismisses as just unfortunate occurrences. But now one of her fellow guides has been found with a bayonet shoved through his throat in the study of the old house. And, as his ghost assures Allison, it was no accident. Allison, who was a staunch denier of all things paranormal, now has to grapple with this ghost haunting her and wanting her to find his unknown killer. That is where the Krewe of Hunters can help. An elite group of FBI agents, the Krewe are all psychics and are used to dealing with the supernatural. Together with Allison they will unearth the truth behind the legend of Butcher Bedford, a truth for which someone is willing to commit murder to keep buried in history.

This was a pretty good story. I had never before read one of the Krewe of Hunters stories and I don't know if it is typical that the ghosts are as interactive as that of the murdered guide in this story. This ghost was pretty much the same as when the young man was alive, rackety, undependable, and even prone to taking naps. He just didn't seem very ghostly. I didn't much care for that. Also, the motive of the killer seemed very weak to me, killing people just to keep anyone from finding out the truth about what happened 250 years in the past. I just didn't find that believable. But other than that, I liked it.


By Frederik Pohl

Bob Broadhead grew up in the food mines, in a world starved for resources. His was a brutal, dead-end existence, so when he won a small fortune in the lottery, he bought a one-way ticket to Gateway.
Gateway was a base established by the Heechee, now long abandoned and recently discovered by humans. Almost nothing is known about the vanished Heechee, except that they had a penchant for building space bases and leaving their ships at the bases, destinations already set and ready to launch. Humans do not understand the technology that drives the ships, nor have they figured out how the settings work. But unable to resist the opportunity, brave souls set forth on these ships, with their pre-programmed destinations and returns, hoping to find treasure, namely Heechee artifacts and technology and also hoping to come back alive and well. But climbing into a space ship without knowing where it will end up and when it will return is, at the very least, a risky business. Lots of trips lead nowhere and lots lead to death, something Bob failed to grasp before he came to Gateway.
His first flight out leads to nothing, as does the second. But the third flight hits paydirt, but out of the ten people who went, he is the only survivor. And although he is now set for life, wealthy beyond his wildest expectations, the guilt and sorrow he feels has blighted his life and he wrestles everyday with depression and sadness.

This was an OK story. It is told in a series of flashbacks, as the now-wealthy main character tries to deal with his guilt and feelings of loss. The character's psychological state is an important (and, to me, boring) part of the story. We get to follow the young man as he learns the truth about the Gateway missions and as he struggles to face his fears and leap off into the unknown and possible death or possible success. Gateway thrives on people's willingness to risk it all for a chance to become wealthy, or if not wealthy, then at least able to afford the finer things in life like food, water, clean air and a better life for their kids.
I liked the parts about Gateway and its people. The parts about Bob's struggles with his survivor guilt just didn't appeal to me at all.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Code Blue -- Emergency

By James White

Cha Thrat was a warrior-surgeon. As her people had been at peace for a very long time, the warrior part of her title was mainly an indication of status only. But Cha Thrat came from a very stratified society, with just three classes of people, serviles, warriors and rulers. As a surgeon, Cha Thrat was very traditional, which made her unpopular with her peers. But she was one of the best surgeons. So when an injured human was found in a wrecked craft, and Cha Thrat was on vacation in the area, it only made sense that she should attempt to put back together a gravely injured being, even though she was totally unfamiliar with human anatomy. But she did such a good job that the man's life and limbs were saved and his superiors were so impressed with her skills as a surgeon that she was invited to join the staff of Sector General, the huge multi-species space-hospital that served as a treatment facility for fifty-plus different species of beings.
Due to pressures at work, Cha Thrat felt obliged to accept the offer and shortly found herself in a completely alien environment, surrounded by strange and often fearsome-appearing creatures, gabbling in a bewildering variety of languages, and all part of the massive conglomeration that was Sector General. How she would ever find a place within this complex and confusing hospital remained to be seen, and even more disheartening was that she had to become a student again, required to take classes and attend lectures and start her professional life over. Further, it seemed everything she did upset her superiors and she found herself the talk of the hospital and banned from every ward, finally ending up working as a maintenance technician. She didn't give though because even maintenance techs are a vital and important part of the smooth running of the giant institution that is Sector General.

This was a good book, with Cha Thrat trying to adapt to a strange new environment and her fellows trying to adapt to her in return. White's aliens are always strange and interesting and following Cha Thrat struggles was quite engrossing and entertaining.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Fat White Vampire Blues

By Andrew Fox

Born and raised in New Orleans, Jules Duchon can't imagine being anywhere else. Fat and happy, Jules loves dining on the rich, cholesterol-laden blood of his hometown neighbors. It's why he has gotten so fat. Apparently even vampires can have weight issues. But something has to change because now Jules is starting to feel the effects of his fatty diet: shortness of breath and aching joints. Plus the love of his life, the woman vampire who made him, Maureen, wants nothing to do with him. He is just too fat to love.
But soon his weight isn't the only problem Jules has to deal with. There is a new, aggressive young vampire in town and he is muscling in on Jules' territory. In fact, he is trying to run Jules out of town, even going to far as to burn down Jules' house. Jules is forced to leave town, leading to an unfortunate incident with a real bitch, but comes back ready to face down Malice X, the mean new vampire and his gang of bullies. But to do so he'll need a little help from his friends, namely his plus-size ex-girlfriend and stripper, Maureen, and his sidekick from the good old days, a crossing-dressing homosexual vampire called Doodlebug. Together, they will stand and in the process maybe Jules will finally grow up.

I really enjoyed this book. It was funny and I liked that the vampires are the traditional, old-fashioned vampires. In fact, these vampires are so old-fashioned that they can't even talk to a priest without starting to roast a little:
"Uh, forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It's been . . . let's see . . . eighty years since my last confession; maybe eighty-five years. Lemme think here . . . uh, I have purchased pornography..." "Excuse me, my son. Surely you realize that smoking is not permitted in the confessional booth." Jules was slightly stunned at having been interrupted midconfession by the priest. "But I'm not smoking, Father."
"I smell smoke."
Jules waved his arms around, trying to disperse the smoke, but his exertions only made his skin burn faster.
I also liked the way the author logically extended the traditional vampire power of transmogrification. Plus the book is just plain funny. And creepy. But most of all, a good, enjoyable read.
For another review see

Isle of Palms

By Dorothea Benton Frank

Anna didn't have a happy childhood. Her mom was a tad indifferent, her father conservative and busy, her grandmother harsh and judgmental. But the one thing Anna really cared about was the place where she lived, Isle of Palms. Close to Charleston, South Carolina, Isle of Palms was where Anna wanted to be. But after her mom died and her grandmother moved in, her father moved them away from the island. It left a hole in Anna's life and a yearning that took her years to gratify.
After being drugged and raped on a date in high school, Anna became pregnant. Her best friend Jim stepped up and married her. But Jim was a homosexual and the marriage soon floundered. Anna moved back in with her dad and began a career as a hair stylist, just plugging away at life, taking care of her dad and her daughter, coping but not really enjoying life. But after her daughter went off to college, Anna decided she wanted to move back to the Isle of Palms. She bought herself a little house, opened her own salon and met an exciting new man. And with the help of her best friend, some new friends, some old friends and even with the help of her stodgy old father, Anna is finally feeling like she has come home.

I enjoyed reading about Anna and her interesting and often funny life, like the night she and her new boyfriend got naked on the dock, then climbed into a boat because Anna felt too exposed on the dock. They both fell asleep and the boat drifted away from the dock and out to sea. Fortunately and unfortunately, they were discovered by the coast guard and had to resort to wearing garbage bags to cover their nakedness. It was a good story and I liked Anna and all her fun and annoying friends and family.

Nennonite in a Little Black Dress

By Rhoda Janzen

The author reminisces about her life after her husband left her and she was injured in an auto accident. Feeling somewhat at loose ends and slowly recovering from her injuries, Janzen went to stay with her parents. Her folks were traditional Mennonites, not to be confused with the Amish and their rejection of modern conveniences. Mennonites use electricity, drive vehicles, have telephones, computers, dishwashers, etc. But they are conservative and early in her life, Janzen decided it was not for her. She chose a different path, a more worldly path, one that included marrying a homosexual, abusive man who eventually left her high and dry and in financial difficulties.

This book just kind of meanders along, revealing snippets of the Mennonite way of life. It is mostly entertaining and often amusing. The only real drawback is the author's extensive vocabulary that too often went over my head. For example: "Sure, from a ratiocinative point of view, the invention of angels on the wall seems an unlikely way to achieve virtue in praxis." I have no idea what this means and my spell checker didn't know either ratiocinative or praxis. Another example: " brothers don't follow events in the belletristic world..."  Belletristic? Really? I looked it up ... which didn't help because I didn't understand the definition either.
So other than the annoying difficult vocabulary, I pretty much enjoyed her story.
For a better review see: