Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Zoo Story

By Thomas French

The true story of Lowry Park Zoo of Tampa, Florida.
After some serious problems, with shabby exhibits and poor maintenance, Lowry Park Zoo reinvented itself, with new and better exhibits, key of which was the new elephant area, featuring five elephants, four of which are young elephants, straight from a reserve in Africa. These four elephants were removed from the local herd, which had grown to numerous for the limited resources of the reserve. The reserve managers didn't want to kill them and figured they would be better off in a zoo. And so they were shipped by plane from Africa to Florida to their new home at Lowry Park Zoo.
At the time of the elephants' arrival, Lowery Park Zoo was run by Lex Salisbury, a dynamic and tyrannical leader with a grand vision for the future of the zoo. His story ends rather sadly, when his ambitions extend too far and end up biting him in the ass, accused of dubious dealings and fired from his job and threatened with criminal charges.
But for the caretakers, it is all about the animals. Underpaid and overworked, these people love animals and put up with the minuses just because they want to be with the animals. It is really hard, demanding and draining work, especially when things don't go the way one would want. Things go bad, animals get sick and die and in one sad case, a tiger escaped and had to be killed.

This was quite an interesting and enlightening book, an intriguing look at what goes on behind the scenes at a zoo.
For another review, see

Unseen Academicals

By Terry Pratchett

The Unseen University, a school for and of wizards located in Ankh-Morpork of Discworld, has an unassuming gray fellow working as a candle dribbler. His job is to make all the candles look well and properly dribbled, as befits an antique institution like the Unseen University.
Mr. Nutt doesn't like draw attention to himself, preferring to go about his job efficiently dribbling candles. But Mr. Nutt has begun to make friends with some of the other employees of the University, mainly Trevor Likely, his boss, and Glenda Sugarbean, who runs the Night Kitchen with the help of her best friend, the beautiful Juliet Stollop, and makes the University's pies and other after-hours treats. There is some question about exactly what Mr. Nutt is, and it is commonly accepted that he is a goblin. Or maybe not.
Ankh-Morpork is football-mad and competition between rival teams has become quite fierce and uncontrolled. So the ruler of Ankh-Morpork, Lord Vetinari, has decided to step in. He orders the wizards of the Unseen University to set up a team of their own and formalize the rules and move the games from the city streets to a proper arena. And, amazingly, Trevor Likely, Glenda Sugarbean, Juliet Stollop and shy Mr. Nutt are going to be the key figures who will make this plan a reality.

This was an amusing and well-laid out story, even if the subject, football, is one that doesn't interest me. Mr. Nutt is another of Pratchett's memorable and unusual characters, another strange being in Ankh-Morpork's melting pot of strange beings. And like the others, Mr. Nutt manages to find a place for himself and the respect of a reluctant community.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Pritcher Mass

By Gordon R. Dickson

Chaz Sant wants just one thing: he wants to work on the Pritcher Mass. But only people who can pass the entrance exam are allowed  to work there and Chaz keeps failing the test.
Chaz lives on an Earth that has become poisonous to its human dwellers. A fatal fungus has infested the world and people are reduced to living in sealed environments to protect them from it. The Pritcher Mass is an attempt to locate, psychically, a new planet for humans to occupy. Anyone who can pass the test is sent to space to live in the environment constructed for this purpose, despite their past failures or even criminal background. Chaz is not a criminal at the beginning of the story, but his desire to be one of the Pritcher Mass workers drives him to commit crimes that would result in exile to the fungus-infected outside and certain death if he is caught.
Then  he meets Eileen. Unknown to Chaz, Eileen's meeting up with him is not an accident. She was hired by the Citadel, a powerful criminal organization, to get information about Chaz which she does by drugging him. The Citadel doesn't want Chaz working on the Pritcher Mass because their projections indicate that his doing so is a threat to their very existence. Eileen is just one of many roadblocks they place in his way to keep him from it. But Eileen, who is a powerful witch, has fallen in love with Chaz and has decided to help him, even though it may result in her exile and death.

This was an interesting story with an unexpected (for me) conclusion. There is plenty of action and adventure, as one man takes on the big boys in an attempt to save himself and the whole world. I enjoyed it a lot.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Witch Doctor

By Christopher Stasheff

Saul Bremener's good friend has gone missing so Saul goes to the missing man's apartment only to find it infested with spiders. One of the spiders bites Saul and Saul awakens to find himself translated to a different world, a world where each must choose to be either good or evil and where magic is real.
Saul refuses to commit himself despite pressures to do so. He also finds out he is a natural wizard, with the power to alter reality with the mere saying of a few words of verse.
Although Saul maintains his neutrality, still he is mainly a good-hearted person and can't seem to stop working to make things better for those he comes across who are suffering or in trouble. This includes those who have given themselves to evil and the devil but who Saul heals of their illnesses if they only repent of their sins and turn to God and righteousness, making amends for the bad deeds with good deeds. A lot of those he helps are witches, working in alliance with the evil queen who rules the land.
As Saul progresses through this land, he gains followers, a godly squire, a troll, a beautiful ghost girl, a poet, and a priest. Together, they will stand against the evil queen and free this land of her cruel tyranny.

Throughout the story, Saul refuses to believe that he has magical powers and continues to insist that he is undergoing some kind of drug-induced hallucination. He also insists he will not align himself with either side, but he continuously puts himself in peril by assisting those in trouble and turning many evil witches from the road to hell and into God's grace. I had a hard time figuring out just what it was that Saul felt he was doing that was sinful and finally decided it was that he was attracted to the ghost girl. For some weird reason, the author considers sexual attraction to be a sin, I don't know why. Might be a Catholic thing.

The two-thirds of the story were pretty entertaining, but the last third was rather boring and too concerned with religious and philosophic matters. Also, final battle with the witch didn't make a lot of sense to me, given what we are told earlier in the story about how the witch protected herself from harm.

This story is a vehicle for the author to put forth his views on religion. People who enjoy religious fiction would probably quite like this story. I don't like religious fiction and if I had known that is what this book is, I never would have read it. Now that I do know the author writes religious fiction, I will be sure to avoid his books in the future.
For another review see: