Thursday, February 28, 2019

How to American

By Jimmy O. Yang

When Jimmy was about 13, his parents migrated from China to the United States, wanting their two sons to have the advantages that they hoped America could give them.
Jimmy figured out how to be American by watching a lot of TV, mainly BET where he fell in love with rap and hip hop and stand-up comedy. But, being a good son, he continued on with his education and graduated from college with a degree in Economics and the promise of a good job with an investment firm. Imagine his parents' shock when he suddenly announced he didn't want the job. And that he wanted to do stand-up comedy.
So this is his story, from his first days in America to his first ventures as a performer and the struggle just to survive on his own and then getting a part in a TV show which led to roles in cinema. He focuses on his professional life and reveals nearly nothing about his personal life. He does not mention any girl friends or lovers.

This was a pretty good read, if only for a foreigner's take on life in America. It is at times mildly amusing but not hilarious. Jimmy may be a comedian but this is not a funny story. This is the story of his life as an immigrant and as a performer.

Rogue Star

By Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson

The stars are intelligent and mankind has joined the universe as equal citizens, living in peace and harmony with all the beings of the galaxies. Except for two weirdos who have decided that they want to create an intelligent star for themselves. Who knows why?
They set up their lab on Earth and create a tiny, intelligent star being. But things go wrong from the moment of the stars creation, when they are attacked by the Sun. The young star is not hurt but the two men are along with the girl friend of one of them.
The baby star arises and finds the humans and tries to help the most gravely injured of the three, the man with the girl friend. But the man dies and the star absorbs his knowledge and comes to the mistaken conclusion that it loves the girl just like the man did.
The star tries to woo the girl but she is freaked out and things go seriously wrong with the young star jumping to wrong conclusions and the poor girl becoming the object of its obsession.

This was a weird and stupid story. I wonder if the authors were on drugs when they wrote it. Maybe it would make more sense if the reader were on drugs too.

Monday, February 25, 2019


By Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson

 Book Two of The Starchild Trilogy

Who is the Starchild?
The super computer behind The Plan of Man has received an ultimatum: release humanity from the rule of The Plan or the Starchild will turn off the stars and the Sun.
The Plan of Man was devised to help humankind exist in peace and safety. But it has resulted in a highly regimented society where personal freedom is sacrificed to the needs of the state. It worked fairly well until the Reef was discovered.
The Reef is a vastly huge space reef built by the tiny fusorians. It teems with life and air and warmth, strange plants and animals and has room for everyone who might want to go there. But The Plan won't allow that. And that is what the Starchild will change, despite the best laid plans of The Plan as is shown when the Starchild follows through with his threat and briefly extinguishes the stars and the Sun.
And so we have Boysie Gann, sent by The Plan to a space station near the Reef. He is meant to discover who the Starchild is and where he dwells. His mission is covert because The Plan thinks some of the men stationed there are no longer loyal. Too late, Boysie discovers that The Plan's suspicions are correct and Boysie gets shanghaied and wakes up to find himself on the Reef, being cared for by a kindly stranger and his baby dragon-like creature called a pyropod. His mission has come to a sorry end and before much longer The Plan has captured him and now he is accused of disloyalty and the dreaded iron collar is fastened around his neck.  He is even
accused of being the Starchild himself.
In order to get at the secrets The Plan thinks are concealed in Boysie's brain, he is placed into training for direct mind-to-mind communication with the super computer behind the The Plan of Man. In the first book in the series, The Plan communicated by means of paper tape. But in this story, communication has advanced to a tonal kind of communication, a kind of singing to the computer that requires extensive training. Boysie is forced through a  crash course so he can be plugged directly into the computer by means of a socket inserted surgically in his forehead. But just as his training is coming to its conclusion, the Starchild launches an attack on the facility and unleashes pyropods, spreading death and chaos.
After the attack is defeated, once again poor Boysie, who fought valiantly against the pyropods, is accused of being the Starchild. But despite the suspicions against him, Boysie is once more sent out on a mission, a mission to find the lost spaceship, the Togethership, which is supposed to contain a super computer that is the twin of The Plan computer. Using that ship and its computer, The Plan will go after the Starchild.

This was an OK story. A bit chaotic. The whole thing about the tonal communication with the computer was another miss and as jarring as the use of paper tapes in the first story, The Reefs of Space.  I also didn't really understand the how the being dead yet not being dead mechanic worked. Boysie is tended to by a kind man when he find himself injured and abandoned on the Reef. But he then finds out that man has been dead for years. He also encounters a man who he knows was executed in the past. There is also some indication that Boysie somehow is in two places at once. It not really explained, or if it is, I didn't get it.

The Reefs of Space

By Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson

Book One of The Starchild Trilogy
Thirteen billion people and a world on the brink of collapse. Desperate for a solution, a super computer was created and put in charge of controlling humankind's worse impulses. Called The Plan of Man, people are indoctrinated to follow the absolute authority of The Plan unquestioningly.
Humankind has expanded out into the solar system and has discovered a remarkable and strange thing, a mighty reef, out beyond the last planets of the solar system. The Reef was built by fusorians, minute things who convert the loose hydrogen of the universe into reefs full of life, strange plants and amazing and even dangerous animals. The Reefs are vast and inhabitable by humans, with plenty of room for everyone. But The Plan is against the idea of people living there. The Plan claims humans cannot handle freedom and for their own good must remain under control of The Plan.
Steve Ryeland is a scientist who is ordered to create a jetless drive. For it has come to The Plan's attention some of the creatures of the Reef move effortlessly and quickly through space in a way that does not require propulsion. The Plan wants this jetless drive and it wants to use it to conquer the Reef and bring the escaped humans who live there back under The Plan's control.
But Steve has some problems. His memory is impaired. He has been declared an enemy of The Plan and is forced to wear an explosive collar around his neck that can be detonated at any time if his superiors decide it is necessary. Steve's memory loss is related to a man who escaped to the Reef and to the jetless creatures that dwell there. This is why The Plan sees him as a "Risk" and had the collar placed around his neck. Steve knows more than he is saying but he can't say what that more is because he simply doesn't remember. Somewhere in his brain is the answer to the jetless drive, the whereabouts of the escapee and the key to getting the horrible explosive collar off his neck.

This was an OK story. Written back in the 1950s and 60s, it has a super computer that communicates by way of teletype and paper tape. So that was a bit jarring and kind of ruined the story for me.
But putting that aside, the most interesting thing about the story is the Reef and its creatures. But most of the story takes place on Earth and not enough on the Reef.
Part of the story takes place at the Body Farm, a prison for people deemed too dangerous or useless to remain in society. The inmates dwell in peace and not much is expected of them beyond staying fit and healthy and not causing the guards any problems. Their ultimate destiny is to prove spare parts for citizens in need: arms, legs, lungs, hearts, even nerves and spinal columns.
At first Steve is amazed by the food they are served. Steaks and rich mashed potatoes and gravy, plenty of cream and butter, the sort of food consumed by the privileged and not by the average man. He finally figures out that the food is chock full of tranquilizers to keep the "cattle" calm and placid. Steve is supposed to be this brilliant scientist, the only one capable of figuring out the jetless drive and yet he fails to immediately realize that the placid inmates of the Body Farm are all drugged to the gills and that the drugs are in the delicious food they are gobbling.
So, like I said, it was an OK story. Kind of disappointing and not very perceptive and very much a product of its time.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Sky Is Yours

By Chandler Klang Smith

It's a city under siege, mostly deserted by those who used to live there. City services are failing or gone. But still there are those who refuse to leave and who continue to fight against the forces trying to destroy everything.
Three young people come together to change the fate of the city, completely unknowing of their destiny. Swan, a baroness, trained by her ambitious mother to be the perfect daughter and perfect wife to some rich young man. But Swan has a secret and it may bring about her early death. Duncan, the spoiled wastrel indulged by his mother and a disappointment to his father, and the sole heir to a fabulous fortune and Swan's intended. Abby, a foundling raised by a crazy woman in a garbage dump. She is the key to the salvation of the city although no one knows this, not even Abby.
The three young people come together for Duncan's and Swan's wedding. Duncan, who has never actually met his bride, brings little orphan Abby to his wedding. He and Abby met when he crashed his flying machine on her garbage island. Abby saved him and bandaged his wounds and promptly fell headlong in love with the first man she had ever seen.
Swan does not handle having her fiancé's girl friend at their wedding too well, but since the contracts are all signed and under her mother's control, she goes ahead with it. But home invaders break into the mansion and Duncan's parents and Swan's mother are killed and the three young adults escape the chaos and come together briefly but end up going their separate ways. Lost in a dying city, completely unprepared to stand on their own two feet, and with anger and resentment and misunderstandings poisoning their relationships, they will be forced to face their individual destinies and truths.

This was an OK read. The premise, of a city under siege by two dragons, was kind of stupid. Oddly, the city stands alone against this assault, with no help from a national government or from any allies at all. Also oddly, the wealthy choose to stay there even though there is no logical reason for them to do so.
Really, this book doesn't make a lot of sense. The only really sympathetic character ends up dead. It's a strange story and it just didn't appeal to me very much, I think mainly for two reasons. First, it was supposed to be funny. But it mostly wasn't. Unless you find the grotesque and disgusting funny, which I don't. Second, the main characters are just not appealing people, except for one. And she comes off as dumb as dirt. I didn't like them and so I didn't care what happened to them.

Bring on the Empty Horses

By David Niven

Niven looks back on his Hollywood days, focusing mainly on the actors and others in the movie business rather than on himself. He details his friendships with famous actors like Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable.
He talks about the writers, the bigwigs, the women. He exposes their affairs, their excesses, their addictions, their disappointments, their unhappy relationships and the efforts to hide it all from the judgmental press of that time.
It's a look back at time when movies were just starting to become a huge international business and the beautiful faces were capturing the audience imagination. It's an enjoyable excursion into a land and people most of us can only dream about.