Sunday, December 29, 2013

Echoes of an Alien Sky

By James P. Hogan

People of Venus have arrived on Earth and are studying the remains of a vanished civilization, a civilization that spread over the face of the planet and then just disappeared. The Venusians want to understand what happened to these people, who, it appears, were very similar to the Venusians themselves.
Kyal Reen and Lorili Hilivar are scientists who have traveled to Earth as part of the on-going effort to understand the fate of the planet's denizens. It's a puzzle thousands of years old, with crumbling ruins showing signs of massive destruction. But the most puzzling thing about it all is the similarity between the lost people of Earth and the Venusians themselves.

This was a fairly good story, as Kyal and Lorili and their associates manage to piece together the last days of humanity. As for their being, as they believe, Venusians, it turns out, no surprise, that they are the descendants of the people of Earth, who, in the last days, managed to establish a refuge out in space and that later ended up settling on Venus when its climate became more livable. All this due to Hogan's idea that evolution and cosmology don't require the massive amounts of time that is the current accepted view.
I will say that I thought the book was too long, too slow, and too mean in its view of the people of Earth. Democracy is pretty much dismissed as being under the control of corrupt government and the media as hand-in-glove with the government to keep the population deluded. Also I didn't really understand or buy into Hogan's versions of evolution and cosmology.

The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion

By Fannie Flag

Sookie, 59, has just married off the last of her daughters and is looking forward to relaxing and maybe travelling with her husband, Earle. Her life has run pretty smoothly, with no major problems except for her mother. Lenore, the mother, considers herself Southern aristocracy and wants her only daughter, Sookie, to carry on the family traditions.
Next to her flamboyant mother, Sookie has always felt dowdy and subdued. She has also always felt like she was a disappointment to her mother, who constantly tried to mold Sookie in her own image. But Sookie's failure to please her mother made sense once Sookie found out that she was adopted and no blood kin of Lenore's at all. In fact, Sookie wasn't even a Southerner, her birth mother was a woman of Polish descent from Wisconsin and a Catholic to boot!
So Sookie sets out to find out more about the woman whose name appears on Sookie's birth certificate, Fritzie Jurdabralinski, and who, it turns out, is alive and living in California.

I quite enjoyed this story. Fritzie was one of a group of women who took on jobs originally performed by men during World War II. She and her sisters ran their family gas station when their brother joined the military and when they had to close the gas station, the sisters, all of whom were pilots, became WASPs: Women Airforce Service Pilots. These women flew planes from the air plane factories to the military bases, freeing up male pilots for combat duty. It was hard and even dangerous work, with long hours and grueling schedules.
So not only is this just a good and entertaining read, it also tells the not-so-well-known story of the WASPs, the women pilots who showed that women can fly airplanes too.

For another review, see:


By Kim Stanley Robinson

Set in ice age, this is the story of Loon, a young apprentice shaman. It opens with Loon, naked and weaponless, on his "wander," a trial to see if he has what it takes to survive. If, at the end of a few weeks, Loon manages to take care of himself, he can come back to his tribe a man.
Loon does manage to survive but in the process he injures his ankle and the injury doesn't heal properly and this injury will continue to hamper Loon's activities. But the injury isn't only thing that is plaguing Loon. The shaman of the tribe, Thorn, wants Loon to settle down to his studies, but Loon just doesn't really care that much about being a shaman. Then, to anger Thorn even more, Loon falls for a foreign woman, Elga and marries her, becoming even more distracted from his apprenticeship. Then it turns out that Elga's people want her back and, at a large multi-tribal gathering, they steal Elga away. Loon sets out in pursuit only to find himself captured by her people and forced into slavery.
When Thorn gets word of Loon's capture, he sets off north to rescue both Loon and Elga, with the help of a Neanderthal friend, Click. He succeeds and the four of them set off for home hotly pursued by Elga's tribe. Their trek home is a terrible ordeal, with Loon's bad ankle, winter blizzards, and eminent starvation. But they do make it back and Loon finds new meaning in his shaman studies and settles down to become the tribe's new shaman in the course of time.

This was a very absorbing and, at times, intense read. A window on the past, as the author sees it, a time of struggle and life constantly on the edge. Loon's story is fascinating, frightening, enlightening and a terrific tale of our early ancestors. A very enjoyable read, one of those stories that I will remember long after reading.

For another review see

This Body

By Laurel Doud

A fantasy story about a middle-aged woman, Katherine, who dies of a heart attack only to wake up and find herself living in the body of a young drug addict who has overdosed and also died, Thisby.
Katherine had a pretty ordinary middle class life living with her husband and her two teen age kids. True, she had some problems, namely a growing distance between herself and her husband and her kids with the usual teen rebellion. But all together she didn't have much adversity to deal with.
The same could be said of young Thisby, a talented but troubled young photographer. Born into a upper middle class family, Thisby never wanted for anything. But something wasn't right because Thisby seemed destined for trouble. Her parents and brother were constantly disappointed in her as she failed time and again to straighten out her life. Seemingly chronically depressed, Thisby sought refuge in drugs and alcohol, resulting in her untimely death and the possession of her body by Katherine.
So Katherine wakes up to find herself on Thisby's bathroom floor, covered in vomit, were Thisby passed away from too much booze and drugs. Amazed and confused, Katherine tries to make sense of what has happened. Fortunately she has the good sense to keep the truth from everyone because revealing her situation  would only land her in the loony bin, a place where Thisby was pretty much headed any way. Katherine takes up the reins of Thisby's disordered life and tries to live as Thisby, only without her addictions. But it is very difficult as Thisby was a mess and had managed to alienate almost everyone who cared about her. Plus Katherine finds herself having to deal with the same destructive cravings that drove Thisby. Plus Katherine is longing to be reunited with her own family, to be loved again by her husband and to hold and cherish her two teen children. She even hires a private investigator to gather information about them.
She finds herself trying to juggle two families, Thisby's and her own, without either knowing the truth about herself and continuing to struggle with Thisby's addictions.

This was a pretty interesting story. Katherine does a good job of passing herself off as Thisby until almost the end of the story when she nearly ruins everything. Eventually she realizes that she is neither Thisby nor Katherine anymore and she has to stop living as if she were and make a life for the new person she has become.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

The Good Lord Bird

By James McBride

The story of abolitionist John Brown as told by a young slave boy he rescued. The story starts in the Kansas territory when the boy Henry's father is shot during a confrontation between Brown and some pro-slavery advocates. Brown carried the boy off, making the mistaken assumption that Henry was actually a Henrietta, a charade that Henry goes along with. At first Henry tries to return several times to his owner but the attempts fail for various reasons. Later on he realizes returning would be a mistake and he remains with Brown and continues to masquerade as a girl.
Brown, Henry and others spend some time rushing around Kansas, getting into various battles. Henry gets to meet Harriet Tubman when Brown goes to Canada to raise money and volunteers. He also spends quite some time living with Frederick Douglass, another of Brown's supporters.
Henry is in the thick of the planning for the raid on Harper's Ferry and its sorry aftermath.

Henry/Henrietta dismisses most of what Brown intends as craziness. He doesn't have much respect for Brown's religious convictions or his zeal for ending slavery. Mainly he sticks by Brown because he really has nowhere else to go. And through Henry's rather skeptical eyes the reader gets to live a bit of American history in an interesting and absorbing story.