Thursday, June 29, 2017

Dancing at the Harvest Moon

By K.C. McKinnon

Maggie's married life ends when her husband and the father of their two grown daughters announces he has found a new love, his pretty, young twenty-something assistant.
Maggie has money of her own, she is an accomplished professional woman. In the aftermath of divorce, she begins to think longingly of her first love, a boy she met while working as a waitress in a resort town in Canada, Robert Flaubert.
At the time, Maggie decided she wanted more out of life and went back to America to continue her education, meeting the man who became her husband and earning a doctorate.
She has some guilt about the break-up with Robert and is fantasizing about returning to Canada and getting in contact with Robert again, maybe to put to rest the guilt and her feelings about him. But she hasn't been in touch with him or with any of her old friends from Canada for over twenty years. How will they respond?
She heads back to the restaurant/dance hall were it all started, the Harvest Moon. When she gets there, she finds the place closed and for sale. So she buys it, intending to fix it up and reopen the dance hall.
Getting back in touch with old friends, she is grieved to find out that Robert died years ago. But he didn't spend his life yearning for his lost lover. He was happily married and had a son, a son who is the very image of his late father, as Maggie is shocked to discover. The son, a man in his mid-twenties, is very definitely interested in getting to know his father's old flame a whole lot better. A whole lot better!

What a book! Frankly, I just skipped vast amounts of the text. Too many lyrical descriptions, too many old love letters from Robert, too much poetry. Yeah, it was that kind of book. And Maggie is a bit of a dope. You learn at the beginning of the book that she has earned a doctorate. Yet as she is getting the Harvest Moon ready for reopening, she feels, "a kind of self-satisfaction that Maggie had never felt before" as if doctorates grow on trees. So silly, she spends a few weeks cleaning up an old house and never mind the years she spent getting her doctorate. And, at one point in the story she sneers at another woman for her feminist leanings: "'Are you a feminist?' Maggie asked mockingly."
Anyways, I think Maggie is dopey and I think this story is dopey too.

For another review, see

Turn Left at Thursday

By Frederik Pohl

Seven science fiction stories:

  • Mars by Moonlight — Are they criminals? The small group of colonists on Mars have no memory beyond a set point of their past lives. They have been told they are in a penal colony and have had their memories erased as part of their rehab and punishment. But when a stranger turns up dead, the whole lie begins to unravel.
  • The Richest Man in Levittown — Harlan finds himself suddenly wealthy due to the death of his rich Uncle Otto. Now the whole world is beating a path to his door with a variety of investment opportunities. But Harlan is not interested and turns them all down, including an old friend, McGhee. McGhee has created a pill that lets a person remember everything.  He just needs a backer. As they are talking, the pills fall on the ground and Harlan's baby eats a handful. Nothing good will come from this.
  • The Seven Deadly Virtues — Life on Venus is hard. It's way too hot, way too muggy and power is concentrated in the hands of the elites. Step out of line and the consequences are terrible.
  • The Martian in the Attic — A  man figures out the secret of a man's great success: all his fabulous inventions are really the product of a Martian the man holds captive. The  man tries to use the information as blackmail only to have it all blow up in his face.
  • Third Offense — Using time travel, a criminal is sentenced to various terrible locations in the past in an attempt to rehabilitate him.
  • The Hated — Astronauts returning from a trip to Mars have so much animosity for their fellow crew members that they are required to live in restricted areas to protect each other from their murderous wrath.
  • I Plinglot, Who You? — Plinglot, posing as a human, is meeting with various factions on Earth with the goal of setting off world war and destroying humanity. But maybe we humans are not quite as easily manipulated as he thinks.
These stories were pretty good, even for someone who generally tries to avoid short stories.

A common theme in the stories is people sweating or shivering.

  • From Mars by Moonlight: "...he shivered and his breath made a white mist in the thin air." "...he was sweating like a hog..." And more.
  • From The Richest Man in Levittown:  "He was sweating—you could see the black patches on his blue shirt."
  • From The Seven Deadly Virtues: "I felt her shiver in spite of the fact that the temperature was one hundred and ten." "...even inside the thermosuit I was wringing wet."
  • From Third Offense:  "They marched off in the shivering cold." "...a cold place that stank...of sweat and sickness."
  • From The Hated: "I began to sweat, although this place was air-conditioned too." "And I was drenched with sweat."
  • From I Plinglot, Who You?: "...sweating, his forehead glistening..."
Only one story doesn't have its characters sweating or shivering, The Martian in the Attic. 

Masters of Time

By A.E. Van Vogt

Norma stood on the bank and contemplated throwing herself into the water. But her courage failed and she turned away only to find herself confronted by a strange man, Dr. Lell. Amazingly, he seemed to know a lot about Norma and he even offered her a job and a place to live.
Dr. Lell claimed to be recruiting men to fight in a war and he needed someone one to handle the front desk. And she could live in the apartment above the office.  Hungry and broke, Norma agreed to the deal. Only to find out that it was all a lie.
Dr. Lell is recruiting men to fight in a war, that part was true. But the war being fought far in the future and the recruits would never be coming home. Not only that, but he had control of Norma's mind and even of her body. Every time she tried to break away, he punished her by taking away her youth and turning her into a withered crone.
In desperation, Norma turned to a lost love from her past,  Jack Garson. He came to the recruiting station and, unable to do anything to help her despite his best efforts, he found himself kidnapped to the very far future and forced to fight in a war that he didn't understand or care about. But he was determined to escape and to find some way back to Norma.

This was an OK read. I did find a bit difficult to follow, something I have experienced in the past when reading a Van Vogt story. And, once again, it takes a man from a more primitive time to straighten things out for the poor, misguided future folks, just like in the other novel I recently read, The Long Way Home.

The Long Way Home

By Poul Anderson

Captain Edward Langley and his crew of two men and one alien creature, Saris, are traveling in an experimental space craft. This craft can travel incredible distances in mere seconds. But what the four didn't understand was that it was also traveling through vast amounts of time in mere seconds too. So when they come home to Earth it is the Earth of 5000 years in the future. And they have no way to ever return to their own time.
Earth is on the brink of interstellar war. Humans have widely colonized other planets and one group, the Centaurans, is getting a bit big for their britches and is pushing against Earth government, the Technon (a super computer). A third party is also involved, a confederation of planetless traders known as the Company. And, unknown to the major players in the developing conflict, a shadowy fourth party is pulling strings behind the scenes.
Into the midst of this lands Langley and his crew and  Saris, the alien, who has telepathic power to control electronics. All the interested parties want to gain control of Saris in order to study his power and develop it into a weapon.
Langley and company become pawns in the hands of the competing factions, as they are also trying to grapple with the knowledge that everything they loved and knew is long dead and buried.

This book didn't do it for me. It's basically a political story, as four different interests try to gain an advantage over each other. I am not a fan of  political stories, a subject I find boring. Also, the idea that it takes a man from 5000 years in the past to unmask the hidden fourth party was really not believable.

For another review, see

Holidays in Hell

By P.J. O'Rourke

O'Rourke sets off the discover life in some of the trouble spots and places of interest around the world:

  • A Ramble Through Lebanon
  • Seoul Brothers
  • Panama Banal
  • Third World Driving Hints and Tips
  • What Do They Do for Fun in Warsaw?
  • Weekend Getaway: Heritage USA
  • The Post-Marcos Philippines
  • Christmas in El Salvador
  • At Sea with the America's Cup
  • Intellectual Wilderness, Ho
  • In Whitest Africa
  • Through Darkest America: Epcot Center
  • Among the Euro-Weenies
  • Thirty-six Hours in Managua
  • Through Darkest America, Part II
  • Mexican Border Idyll
  • The Holyland—God's Monkey House
Even though written in the 1980s, O'Rourke's tour still has a lot of interesting points to make about these modern times. I admit, at times I found it a bit boring. But even though dated, it is still an important look at the trouble spots and troublesome spots around the world.

Written during the era of President Reagan, O'Rourke's disdain for the Republican Idol comes through loud and clear:
"The last time an old, sick, addled American president (Roosevelt) sat down with a Soviet leader who'd had great press ("Uncle" Joe Stalin), half of Europe was given away."
Now the USA has another "old, sick, addled" president, Donald Trump, who is also no match for a dangerous, tyrannical Russian leader, Vlad Putin.
O'Rourke is a conservative Republican. I wonder what he thinks of the latest addition  to the senile president lineup?

For another review, see

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Bachelor Home Companion

By P.J. O'Rourke

O'Rourke gives "advice" on the bachelor lifestyle, addressing such items as:

  • House Cleaning
  • Home Ownership
  • Cooking
  • Entertaining
  • Home Decorating
  • Home Repair
  • Lawn and Yard Care
  • Children
Much of this book reminded me of something you would find in MAD Magazine. This is not to say it is bad, quite the opposite. It is very funny and enjoyable. To quote just a few of the jokes:

"Bill Clinton was only a microscopic polyp in the colon of national politics, and Hillary was still in flight school, hadn't even soloed on her broom."

"Plus a home gives you something to do around the house. Furthermore, there is no real satisfaction in pissing out of somebody else's window."

"Don't cook steaks in the toaster, even little ones. I've tried this and the fire department comes."

"Stay away from goofier kinds of lettuce. Any lettuce that comes from the store in a form that can't be thrown from third base to home is too exotic."

"The next best vegetable is the jalapeno pepper. It has the virtue of turning salads into practical jokes."

"But yogurt does make good shaving cream."

"Eggs: When something starts pecking its way out of the shell, the egg is probably past its prime."

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Fields and Pastures New

By Dr. John McCormack

The setting is the early 1960s and John McCormack and his wife and children have moved to rural Alabama for John to start his career as a private practice veterinarian.  This would be a first for the locals too because there had never been a veterinarian in their area before.
Since it was a rural location, a lot of his work would be with farm animals and farmers. Folklore was quite important to these people and folk remedies were the order of the day, with the vet often being called in only when all else had failed. People also relied upon an untrained local man, Carney Sam, who, just like them, subscribed to strange and mostly worthless folk remedies to treat their ailing animals. Like rubbing turpentine on a horse's belly to treat kidney problems. The thinking was that the turpentine would be absorbed through the skin and travel to the kidneys. Total rubbish, but those sorts of treatments were very popular.
But Dr. John is a modern veterinarian and his methods relied upon proven, scientific knowledge. They weren't foolproof, of course, but they were certainly much more effective than the strange and useless cures inflicted upon the poor, suffering critters they were meant to treat.
So rural, backward Alabama got itself a fancy new vet and before long, it was  clear that the community was very lucky to have Dr. John in their midst. And it was clear to Dr. John and his family that they had found themselves a warm and welcoming new home.

This was an interesting read, the memoir of  a young vet establishing himself in his new location, coping with the backwards farmers and the less-trying doctoring of the local dogs, cats and other pets in addition to the work with livestock. The author has real feelings of affection for his neighbors and clients and he and his wife and kids become a greatly appreciated part of the community.

For another review, see