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richardderus

Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud

Not bad, not great

The Other Teddy Roosevelts - Mike Resnick

Not bad. If you've read any SFnal anthology since the middle 1980s (earlier, actually, but I'm too lazy to go look up his first appearance in print) you've read some Resnick. I'm no big fan of his pedestrian writing, but I'm a BIG fan of TR.

 

Red Whitechapel puts TR at the centre (cause it's in Lunnon I misspelled center, see?) of the Jack the Ripper hunt. Resnick even says he wrote this to get some attention for a theory he proposed in a non-fiction article published in the 1970s regarding his (quite plausible and eminently sensible) idea of who and what the real Ripper was. Wasn't much impressed by the fictionalization. 3 stars

 

Two Hunters in Manhattan was a real eye-roller, TR making the acquaintance of an ancient Greek vampire who, inexplicably, pays no slightest attention to TR's request for assistance in specific ways but instead whimsically decides to do it his own way. Who knows, maybe that comes with having blues eyes, black hair. 2 stars

 

The Roosevelt Dispatches puts Teddy in Cuba and has has him meet the Martians from Wells' The War of the Worlds. Okay. 3 stars

 

Bully! got the otherwhen versions of TR rolling in Resnick's creative world. Nominated for the big awards. I enjoyed this one. 3.5 stars

 

The Bull Moose at Bay is the most intriguing story to me...how TR got to where he is at the beginning of the tale is deeply satisfying, the place where the tale takes off is spot-on, and the ending is also satisfying. My quibble is why be coy about the identities of the birthday party guests? Still, hands-down my favorite. 4 stars

 

Over There was depressing and unlikely. TR was too full fledged a politician to fall for what happened to him; the ending was inevitable and seen clearly from the beginning. 2 stars

 

The Light that Blinds, the Claws that Catch is unmemorable and uninteresting. 3 stars because it's competently written.

Evergreen plot with a few nifty add-ons

The Wrong Stars (Axiom) - Tim Pratt

I enjoyed it. Lesbian sex scene averted, blessedly, so I had no need to flee screaming. I never heard of a "demisexual" before, so my education continues. 

One instance of the dreadful pollutant w-verb on p244. I damn near unswallowed on the page. But to be fair to the writer, both characters (sender and recipient) were in imminent danger of death when the heinous abuse of my eyestalks took place, so I don't doubt but what he was under some significant existential stress.

The characters, Captain Callie and Xenobiologist Elena anyway, are all as well made as one could wish. Lantern the Liar, of an alien race called "the Liars", was less three-dimensional but that's not really surprising or remediable for a character whose backstory is related late in the game via infodump. Lantern is positioned now to be a regular in future books, and she and her race and her religious order are fascinating to me, so patience is a must in reading this first volume.

The master aliens are creepy and xenocidal, and their tech is to die for (haw). The slave-alien Liars have been making hay off selling the said tech to humans for a good while. They've sold more than trinkets and trash to humanity, though it's all come on one Bill of Goods. The Liars have told their customers, who despite knowing the species' tendency to prevaricate whenever they feel like it, that the amazing permanent wormholes the Liars let them use to get to twenty-nine different star systems that humanity is allowed to colonize and the big dumb schmucks bought it!

The truth is, needless to say, a lot more nuanced. And a lot scarier: The tech the Liars are selling turns out to have been developed by a race that's so evil that the Liars are terrified of them returning one day. After all, the Liars are their genetically engineered slaves.

Okay, yeah, it's all very Flash Gordon versus Ming the Merciless, but it's fun and it's got humor and heart, so I'm in for one more read before I decide its fate at my readerly hands. Far from the worst I've read, not the best either, and the author's willingness to take the slow road out to a higher vantage point is in his favor. Can't *quite* get to another half-star, but it's not because the story is bad but because it's been good for the past hundred years.

How NOT to write a mystery

The Ornamental Hermit - Olivier Bosman

DNF @ 45%

 

Don't care to know if my conjecture as to the crime's resolution is correct. Tedious, lumpen prose and dreary characters make me sneeze and itch. I don't like you, book. I can't get invested in you because you don't do anything to entice me in, or beguile me into supine acceptance of your heaviness.

 

It's not me, it's you. I do like your premise so I won't give you a single star.

Harrowing, cathartic, satisfying

A Second Harvest - Eli Easton

Only two instances of the loathsome w-verb. Both gratuitous and unnecessary, of course.

 

An enormously resonant story for my elderly self. I knew and tricked with these men most of my life. Had one terrible relationship with one of them, a horrible, painful experience of being the agony and the release from it at the same time. He died of liver cancer after over two decades of alcohol abuse, and a few months later I moved to New York City.

 

So David's story, his wretchedness, moved me deeply. Christie's part I lived in reverse...after getting to Paradise I was a busy, busy boy for a few years. Over a decade, in fact, and I adored all but the last 18 months. When my life unravels, it does the job with verve and gusto. Anyway, Christie deciding to move to Auntie's place made perfect sense to me...I ran back to Austin...and his ultimate fate there mirrored my own, if mine was less painful.

 

I left Austin because, after one night of gay-barring, I was followed home by two tradies (google it) who'd been somewhat unsettlingly focused on me. The truck they drove had a gun rack.

 

It wasn't empty.

 

Nothing happened.

 

I don't care. I am never, ever again in all my life going to live in a place where guns are anything other than tightly regulated. I'm also deeply averse to going west of the Hudson or north of the Bronx. When home doesn't want you, it's not home, so here I stay.

 

This book made all the same feelings as I felt then come roaring back, strong as ever, nauseating as ever. The highest function of storytelling is catharsis, it's why myths are evergreen and stage/screen drama has such a tenacious hold on human psyches. Author Easton has, in each of her stories I've read, given me a safe catharsis, a world built to experience and survive the strong negative emotions parts of her tale evokes. It takes skill to do this well. It requires convincing your readers that this *is* a world, this space is in fact telling truths to your emotional core. That takes talent and courage, which Author Easton has and uses for our benefit.

 

And here I was looking for a light, fun read. Haw. Instead I got a deep and thorough dose of spiritual salts. And, mirabile dictu, was made to enjoy it.

 

Congratulations, Eli Easton, and to you readers not squicked out by gay men making love to each other, this is a fine and satisfying read.

When the database can't find a book...

...I just give up and go away,

More Golden Age goodness with a piquant modern edge

Lonesome Road - Patricia Wentworth

Much more modern in that Miss Silver is quite the force in moving the story. Much more Golden Age in that The Ladies are Ever So Ladylike and one silly chit of a slip of a girl gets all twisted up and confused by A Big Bad Man. Also irritating is the fact that it takes a man to sort out Miss Rachel Treherne, a quite redoubtable party until it comes to her ghastly family and their disgusting behavior.

 

Well, autres temps autres moeurs, don't you know, and in the end the right couples are coupled with the Big Baddie most satisfactorily served a comeuppance. If Miss Silver is ever silver screened, this entry in the series will be loaded with a lesbian subplot that is absolutely accurate...right there for anyone with ~2 eyes to see. Dunno that it'll make diddly squat difference. You either like this book or you don't, but forevermore don't read on because the final formula is fixed with this book and the next 25-plus don't vary it.

 

I also liked a lot that Miss Silver came to Miss Rachel Treherne's attention via Hilary Cunningham, née Carew. I don't recall if this little easter egg is repeated, but I hope so.

New soapy goodness in a series?!

The 13th Hex: A Hexworld Short Story - Jordan L. Hawk

A perfectly fine story. I like Rook a lot, but am less enamored of Dominic Kopecky. I just wanted a toe-dip into the world of the series before committing myself to it. This short tale was enough to allow me to get the sense of what Author Hawk was planning...a New York City imbued with magical energy that expresses itself via pseudoscientific means...to see if this could keep my soap-opera lovin' story-slurpin' soul from parching into dust. I mean, Whyborne & Griffin is only one more novel from being complete on my reader radar! I need sudsy sweet seriesness! Now!!

 

Three winks in under 40pp means one entire star off.

Blast off from the past

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet - Eleanor Cameron

It's just not possible to recapture a read from 1969. I was not old enough to know or care about some of the science parts being really, really improbable...nay, impossible...as we had just been to the Moon and had recently landed a probe on Mars that put paid to even the dream of a Universe like the one Author Cameron created.

 

I loved revisiting Dave Topman and Chuck Masterson's flight to the impossible, tiny planet Basidium, all of 50,000 miles away. Their home-made rocket that traveled 25,000 miles an hour. Their bags od groceries to eat on the way there and back...two hours each way...two hours on Basidium, where they somehow spoke the language of the Mushroom People and solved a mystery that confounded the adult Mushroom People...the chicken that saved the day....

 

Nope, too old to get back there, but it was some good fun peeking back at the boyhood adventure that didn't have to make sense because what the hell actually does when you're eight or nine? It's starting to, but not quite yet does, blessedly.

 

I would give this to a six-year-old and read it with her. Maybe a slightly slow seven-year-old. No older than that, in today's world, and I'm not all the way sure it's even a good idea because gender roles and sex stereotyping are at the core of the story. So maybe, if like me you read it in your tinyhood, you'll smile and enjoy and keep out of reach of children.

It's not the way we do things now, but...

The Case Is Closed - Patricia Wentworth

Sexist, silly, and slow.

 

Trust in me all in all, or trust me not at all, folks, this offers the modern reader mysteries few of the pleasures we presently expect. The pace is killed dead as a rock by the documents the author plops right in the beginning, and later the documentary urge is revived right at the end. It's deadly dull because it goes on too long. It works to get dreary information fed to you, the reader, but wowee toledo does it bog the pace down.

 

The author relies quite heavily on coincidence as well as Death by Documents. The number of fortuitous encounters between Miss Hilary Carew and Mrs Mercer! Gracious goodness me, the way they practically bounce off each other like billiard balls you'd think England was some teeny-tiny little island or something! I live on a quite small barrier island off the south shore of a bigger island and I don't coincidentally run into people I absolutely *must* encounter above once a week. /sarcasm

 

The sexism is really surprising. Miss Hilary Carew wants her big, dashing Captain Henry Cunningham to Save Her from Them! This despite the fact that she does a damned good job of saving herself, thank you kindly, and Henry shows up only when muscle is genuinely required. Dishrag Mercer lives in terror of her abusive husband, who never lifts a finger against her just utters horrifying threats and brandishes a knife there's no evidence whatsoever that he knows how to use. When unwelcome guests invade her home, Mrs Marion Grey simply doesn't throw them out, she endures and endures and then finally, when Miss Hilary Carew her cousin as well as roommate arrives, she simply retires to her room in a State of Nerves. The lower-class women are dimwits and cry positive rivers of annoying, soppy tears. That sexism is there at all is the surprise, since none of the women really need the men to solve their problems. Miss Maud Hephzibah Silver least of all, of course.

 

And there's the other latter-day reader's lament. Where the hell does Miss Silver (casually dismissed for being a woman more than once) keep herself? She appears at convenient moments with convenient facts. Outside that, the twenty-first century reader's expectations of becoming intimate with our sleuth is an unmet need. We don't see Miss Silver do diddly in the way of detecting or even walking around, she just seems to use Floo Powder and apparates onto the scene of whatever action she can best bring to a screeching halt as she omnisciently moves the dramatis personae into the proper configuration for the ending to occur.

 

Since I've kvetched this little opus into the weeds, why did I give it three and a half stars? Because it's a surprisingly astute and subtle indictment of the annoying tropes it deploys. Miss Silver, Miss Carew and company aren't dishrags the way the poor women are. There are several quite formidable housekeepers and chambermaids. The latter is the one who asks the question that is at the heart of the (not terribly challenging) mystery. The author, a redoubtable soul in her own right, seems to me to be draping the fig-leaf of sexist silliness onto her competent women. She was sixty the year this book was published...1937...and seems to me to be sighing somewhat impatiently at the continued necessity to pretend that women are silly little chits without the ability to Think in their scatterbrains.

 

Happen I agree, Ma Wentworth.

Very very very gross villain, tough and scary story

Fallow - Jordan L. Hawk

The half star off is for the slithering jim-jams the Big Baddie in this one has given me. I am not sleeping for the foreseeable future. *convulsive shudder*

 

***next day***

 

As predicted, sleep was elusive after reading this frightfest. I haven't had that response to any other book in the series but this one Did Me In. The name, "the rust," gave me all the horror-movie shudders I could ever (not) want.

 

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Excuse me I need to bleach my every body part and scrub my innards with Lysol.

The main thrust of this story is betrayal. The awfulness of experiencing betrayal is, by definition, that it's only one's intimates that can perpetrate it. Author Hawk was so deft in portraying the double-edged sword of betrayal in each leg of the multiple relationships that underwent it that I can only applaud. All of the betrayals were very real, as in understandable and organic to the relationships involved. No overwrought "because I am eeeeeeviiiiiillllll" emotionality; instead the betrayals (very much in the plural) are simply fallible humans failing to reach for love when confronted by conundrums in coping with unmet expectations.

 

Along with the Big Baddie *wracking shudder* we're treated to Whyborne's meditations on Widdershins' magical vortex and its role in his life. We're given a short burst of Persephone Whyborne. We're teased with an oncoming apocalyptic confrontation. We're left to ponder the role of pragmatism in Whyborne and Griffin's mutual fate as allies become scarce. In short, book 8 is one helluva ride and I had a damn good time ripping through it.

 

Except for "the rust" *nauseated convulsive shudder* that is.

~meh~-plus

Date Night on Union Station (EarthCent Ambassador Book 1) - E. M. Foner

Entertaining, I guess, but insubstantial. Perfect plane read, or vacation, or other distracted times because not much will demand your concentration and the words flow by while retaining your attention.

 

The Eternal Verity Generator is permanently stuck in the On position here: that little girls dream of weddings and adults are clueless and dating is flat-out awful are all trotted out. For my part that was a tiresome and ultimately deadening error. But the Stryx, the omnipotent AI aliens, are a cliche that was amusing and fairly well-handled here. An example of Stryx thinking:

It’s easy enough to measure job performance, but a person could be a highly professional worker and still feel no loyalty to humanity or to EarthCent. The lower salary for the executive-track positions helps filter out those who are just in it for the money.

 

The cover teases but the book doesn't deliver a cheesy smexy space romp. The verdict from me, all things considered, is:
~meh~ plus...go enjoy it if silly and slight is what you're in the mood for. Women are cautioned against expecting the tropes deployed to amuse very much.

Voodoo Planet wouldn't get published today but was Hot Stuff in 1959

Voodoo Planet - Andre Norton

Rating: 3.5* of five

 

A novella really, and a weird cross between science fiction (space travel, other planets) and fantasy (magic, telepathy). A true old-fashioned one-sitting read.

 

Dane Thorsen, Free Trader of the ship Solar Queen, returns to your screens as a tag-along to Captain Jellico's eagerly anticipated vacation to Khatka. He has corresponded for some time with Asaki, a Ranger of very high status on Khatka, in his other-hatness of xenobiologist. Asaki has headed up the creation of a no-kill big game reserve on his homeworld, which happens to be in the same system as the Solar Queen's penalty planet of Xencho. (In Plague Ship, the Solar Queen was "sentenced" to spend two years as a mail carrying ship for one of the huge trading corporations, Combine.)

 

Since space travel takes extended amounts of time, all spacers have hobbies; Jellico, a long-time spacer, has become a renowned xenobiologist due to massive time to study and experiment aboard ship as well as freedom to explore many different planets as a trader. The Khatkans are descended of African Terran roots (they sound like Maasai to me) and happen to land their colony ships on a planet with very African climate and geography. Keep in mind this book was published in 1959 by a white librarian lady. This was some avant garde stuff!

 

Add in Grand Master Norton's already extant Negro (in the parlance of the times) characters, explicitly stated to be normal members of the Solar Queen and Spacers' Guild crews, and you have jaw-droppingly ahead of her time thinking evident here. Asaki is explicitly stated to be Jellico's equal. He is regularly deferred to by the Queen white and Asian crew members. There are 21st-century authors who don't do as well as Grand Master Norton does in this sixty-year-old tale.

 

The story, well, the story is the story and it's creaky. No notion of satellite mapping, no personal computing power, etc etc blah blah blah. The plot seems to be a bit, well, slapdash; are we fighting a sorceror, a crafty mind-gamer, an interplanetary smuggling ring, our PoV characters' personal nightmares? Sorta kinda alla the above. In just over 100pp, that is way too much to handle effectively.

 

But hellfire, y'all, it's not like stuff coming from mighty modern pens is perfect, and this lady was born 106 years ago, so what say we smile for the fun turns of phrase (particularly love her regular use of "Not so!" for the much less sparkly "No.") and the amazing inclusiveness of her vision? Let's carp less and crow's-foot some smile, hmm?

A nostalgic re-read after 45 years

Plague Ship / Voodoo Planet (Ace Double, D-345) - Andre Norton

Rating: 3.5* of five

Why not more stars, as this is a sentimental favorite? Because I'm rereading it at closer-to-70-than-4o instead of closer-to-10-than-20. It's dated, of course, but it's still a thumping good read for its wonderful interconnectedness to the other parts of Norton's universe: the Forerunners, the Salariki (a catlike people from Planet Sargol), the gems so bewitchingly described...after all, gems are perfect high-value low-bulk trade goods...the horrible, misery-sowing religious professionals, the Patrol, the finny rockets.

As I'm rereading at a time in life where I've had more and vastly enriching experiences translating ideas from page to screen, or at least trying to, I kept looking for the modern technology to slot into the story. It was surprisingly easy to do. Also surprisingly easy was gaying it up. When the <I>Agatha Christie's Marple</i> adapters showed the way to tart up a fairly drab story, by today's TV standards, was to chuck a gay subplot into it, I was galvanized. Heck fire, most of it was already there already! Like with Dame Agatha's stuff, Grand Master Norton's practically has footnotes saying "re-interpret this passage, 21st century storyteller" and wowee toledo does the Solar Queen (heh) have the goods.

The cover of the edition I'm posting is the one I had as a youth. The Kindle Megapack is more convenient, of course, but I still sigh wistfully at the laughable cover art from an era when we hadn't even been to the Moon yet.

Had I been consulted, I'd've told Reed Hastings' people to skip rebooting <I>Lost in Space</i> (which was a dog in 1966 and is a prettier dog in 2018) and instead *make* an episodic entertainment of the Solar Queen chronicles. Someone should...all the elements are there. The youthful, handsome protagonist Dane leaving school, joining the crew he bonds with, growing as a man and as a trader with lurches forward and swattings backward.

I don't know if modern (under-45) readers would have the patience to mentally update the old tech (space ships with mag-tape computers?!) but I'd say this series is a decent place to test the tepidarium of Papaw's stories.

Annoyingly vague review

Closed Circles (Sandhamn Murders Book 2) - Viveca Sten, Laura A. Wideburg

Ya know what's frustrating? Like lips moving from Heaven to flapping at you frustrating? NOT BEING ABLE TO TELL YOU WHY THIS ISN'T A 4-STAR REVIEW. Because major, major spoilers would be required for me to do that.

 

Minor irks: Carina and Thomas are brought up and dropped in the space of a few sentences. I'd like more of that please. The partial resolution of Nora's marital woes is a good start, but this entry has next to no Nora-and-Thomas time and I missed it. The Eva subplot's resolution doesn't seem finished, somehow. It seems unlikely to be complete as it stands and it itches for that reason.

 

Something about these books and their lutefisk-and-cardamom atmosphere makes me crave a jalapeño cheeseburger. I guess that's an index of how very Swedish they are. And how cozy are they? So cozy I want to cruise the piers (I'd have to learn to time-travel, but that's just an added bonus) to recover from the wholesome.

 

So all in all, a good read and a series I can recommend to my smut-averse, violence-averse puzzle-solving friends.

Supervillain Chelsea Humphrey made me!

Digging In - Loretta Nyhan

**I own this Kindlebook, so if anyone wants to borrow it, send me a PM with your Amazon-account email and you're welcome to it**

I read and enjoyed this paean to the overweight, overtired, overworked Average Soul taking up space the Skinny Bastages think is rightfully theirs in a shrinking economy.

At almost every turn, I felt the severe pain of the older worker not yet eligible for retirement (forget about able to afford retirement, very very very few ever will be so blessed) but labeled Not Wanted by the irritatingly chipper and voraciously ambitious backstabbing little twidgees snapping at our heels.

At every turn, I felt the agonies of the partner left behind (the love of my life died 26 years ago come May and no, I'm not over it and frankly don't expect to be) as she moves on willy-nilly with life. Not living, just life. Lying down and waiting to die sounds so good...but...nope, just can't, it feels too much like something our departed love would be really, really pissed off with us about.

And I was *revolted* by the slavish fad-following seen at every turn!

But I want a chocolate beet cake. Like, you know, NOW.

Holocaust Day (a little late) remembrance

I, Pierre Seel, Deported Homosexual: A Memoir of Nazi Terror - Pierre Seel

Horrible what hate does to people, makes them bestial and vicious and base. Seel saw all of that, from his entry into the list of homosexuals kept by police to his arrest and deportation. Gay people in concentration camps were not accepted and cared for as were other prisoners, they were victimized by the others as well as the guards.

 

What is it that you hate so much, straight people? Christian, Jewish, Muslim people? What in your souls says "I hate" so loudly that even your big bully imaginary friend hates too?

Well, anyway, after an amazing wartime changeup and a forced conversion to straightness in the 1950s, Seel finally came to peace with himself in 1981 and, in 1994, finally wrote down the painful facts of his past.

 

It's not easy to read, but I wish I could make every religious person and every anti-gay bigot read it. I can't, so there's no point in going on about it. If something in you thinks that it's okay to say "sure fine be *that way* but ewww don't talk about it" then you're the reason books like this are necessary.