swynn reads and runs in 2020: Thread 3

Això és la continuació del tema swynn reads and runs in 2020: Thread 2.

Converses75 Books Challenge for 2020

Afegeix-te a LibraryThing per participar.

swynn reads and runs in 2020: Thread 3

Editat: ag. 23, 2020, 3:15 pm

I'm Steve, 51, a technical services librarian at a medium-sized public university. I live in Missouri with my wife and son and Buddy, a Terrier mix whose name is also his vocation.

My reading follows my whims, but is heaviest with science fiction and fantasy. I also read good amounts of mysteries, thrillers, and horror. I think I'd like to read more non-fiction in 2020, and there's still time to do that, but we'll see what happens.

I'm usually reading at least three books: something on the Kindle app, read whenever I'm standing in line or when the lights are off; a paperback, usually from my own shelves, read while walking Buddy; and something borrowed from the library. I usually have a stack of things borrowed from the library, which I call "The Tower of Due." Here's what it looks like now:

Editat: ag. 23, 2020, 3:21 pm

(A) The DAWs

For several years now, I've been reading through the catalog of DAW, the first American imprint exclusively devoted to science fiction & fantasy publishing. It launched in 1972 under the editorship of Donald A. Wollheim (hence the name), and continues today, publishing new books at a rate faster than I'm catching up. Last year I read 31 of them, and hope to read at least that many this year.

DAWs so far: 8
Next up: The Wrath of Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer

(B) Bestsellers

For the last few years, Liz (lyzard) and I have been reading through American bestsellers at a rate of one per month. I'm running behind (by 3 books, I think), and my goal this year is to catch up.

Bestsellers so far: 7
Next Up: Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

More Not Straight Not White Not Dudes

My reading list skews white and male. Go figure. For the last couple of years I've tracked proportion of non-straight, non-white, and non-male authors in an effort to be more conscious of this. I met 2/3 of my targets last year: 10% LGBTQ, 15% authors of color, and 48% women, trans women and nonbinary authors. Targets this year are 10%, 20%, and 50%. Recommendations welcome.

(C) Not Straight: 14/100 (14%)
(D) Not White: 19/100 (19%)
(E) Not Dudes: 54/100 (54%)

Every spring, my employer sponsors a Children's Literature Festival, at which invited authors and illustrators talk about their craft to students from the region's elementary schools. Every year I try to read at least one book by each guest author, and every year I fail. But I keep trying.

(F) CLF authors: 6/11

Other Good Intentions

(G) Read more books off my own shelves.
So far: 15

Continue more series than I start. I recently reviewed old threads to count the number of series I've started and not finished, and came up with 293. Granted, I'm not actually *interested* in continuing all 293, and I think I can hear Liz calling, "Amateur," but still I find that number daunting. So this year: continue more series than I start. And try to finish one every month or so. And I mean it this year.

  • (H) Series started: 16

  • Anvil of the World by Kage Baker
    Bastable Children series by E. Nesbit
    Book of the Ancestor series by Mark Lawrence
    Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty
    Dread Nation series by Justina Ireland
    Four-BEE series by Tanith Lee
    Fourth Monkey series by J.D. Baker
    Lighthouse series by Carol Berg
    Locked Tomb series by Tamsyn Muir
    Oswald Bastable series by Michael Moorcock
    Raven Boys series by Maggie Stiefvater
    Renegades series by Marissa Meyer
    Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin
    Southern Reach series by Jeff VanderMeer
    Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine
    World War II trilogy by James Jones

  • (I) Series continued: 19

  • Angel Dare series by Christa Faust
    Bastable Children series by E. Nesbit
    Book of the Ancestor series by Mark Lawrence
    Death on Demand series by Carolyn G. Hart
    Dorsai series by Gordon R. Dickson
    Dread Nation series by Justina Ireland
    Emma Merrigan series by Lynn Abbey
    Fu-Manchu series by Sax Rohmer
    Gor series by John Norman
    Green Star series by Lin Carter
    Karen Memory series by Elizabeth Bear
    Lighthouse series by Carol Berg
    Orisha series by Tomi Adeyemi
    Oswald Bastable series by Michael Moorcock
    Queens of Fennbirn series by Kendare Blake
    Southern Reach series by Jeff VanderMeer
    Tensorate series by JY Yang
    Time of Heroes series by David Drake
    Winternight trilogy by Katherine Arden

  • (J) Series finished (or up-to-date): 12

  • Angel Dare series by Christa Faust
    Bastable Children series by E. Nesbit
    Dread Nation series by Justina Ireland
    Emma Merrigan series by Lynn Abbey
    Green Star series by Lin Carter
    Karen Memory series by Elizabeth Bear
    Lighthouse series by Carol Berg
    Locked Tomb series by Tamsyn Muir
    Orisha series by Tomi Adeyemi
    Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine
    Time of Heroes series by David Drake
    Winternight trilogy by Katherine Arden

Editat: des. 31, 2020, 5:58 pm

1) Stone Mad / Elizabeth Bear (EIJ)
2) The Immoral Majority / Ben Howe
3) Gnome-A-Geddon / K.A. Holt (CEF)
4) Choke Hold / Christa Faust (EIJ)
5) Red Sister / Mark Lawrence (H)
6) The Cardinal / Henry Morton Robinson (B)
7) Factfulness / Hans Rosling
8) Your House Will Pay / Steph Cha (DE)
9) The Story of the Treasure Seekers / E. Nesbit (EH)
10) One Dark Throne / Kendare Blake (DEI)
11) Red At the Bone / Jacqueline Woodson (CDE)
12) Out of Time / Lynn Abbey (EG)
13) A Properly Unhaunted Place / William Alexander (F)
14) Winter of the Witch / Katherine Arden (EIJ)
15) City of Brass / S.A. Chakraborty (EH)
16) The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu / Sax Rohmer (I)
17) The Storm / David Drake (I)
18) The Wouldbegoods / E. Nesbit (EIJ)
19) Behind Time / Lynn Abbey (EGI)
20) From Here to Eternity / James Jones (H)
21) Gay on God's Campus / Jonathan Coley
22) Blood diaries / Marissa Moss
23) The Red Threads of Fortune / JY Yang (CDEI)
24) What is a Girl Worth / Rachael Denhollander (E)
25) The New Treasure Seekers / E. Nesbit (EJ)
26) The Only Plane in the Sky / Garrett M. Graff
27) Daybreak - 2250 A.D. / Andre Norton (E)
28) Grey Sister / Mark Lawrence (I)
29) Design for Murder / Carolyn G. Hart (EI)
30) Annihilation / Jeff VanderMeer (H)
31) The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away / Ronald L. Smith (DF)
32) Move Over / E. Pettit (E)
33) Renegades / Marissa Meyer (EI)
34) The Warlord of the Air / Michael Moorcock (I)
35) Shady Characters / Keith Houston
36) The Silver Chalice / Thomas Costain (B)
37) Dread Nation / Justina Ireland (DEH)
38) I Want the Stars! / Tom Purdom - Demons' World / Kenneth Bulmer (G)
39) The Impeachers / Brenda Wineapple (E)
40) The Land Leviathan / Michael Moorcock (AGI)
41) No Ashes in the Fire / Darnell L. Moore (CD)
42) The Night Tiger / Yangszee Choo (DE)
43) Sands of Mars / Arthur C. Clarke
44) Catfishing on Catnet / Naomi Kritzer (E)
45) A Game of Thrones / George R.R. Martin (H)
46) Strange Exit / Parker Peevyhouse (E)
47) Taking Time / Lynn Abbey (E)
48) The Witling / Vernor Vinge (A)
49) Deathless Divide / Justina Ireland (DEIJ)
50) Not As A Stranger / Morton Thompson (B)
51) The Golden People ; Exile from Xanadu / Fred Saberhagen ; Lan Wright (G)
52) The Flying Eyes / J. Hunter Holly (EG)
53) Invisible Chains / Michelle Renee Lane (DE)
54) Salt Fish Girl / Larissa Lai (CDE)
55) In the Green Star's Glow / Lin Carter (AIJ)
57) The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories / Gene Wolfe (G)
58) Vampire of the Mists / Christie Golden (EG)
59) The City in the Middle of the Night / Charlie Jane Anders (CE)
60) Children of Virtue and Vengeance / Tomi Adeyemi (DEIJ)
61) Marjorie Morningstar / Herman Wouk (B)
62) Dorsai! / Gordon R. Dickson (AGI)
63) Down Time / Lynn Abbey (EGJ)
64) The Minikins of Yam / Thomas Burnett Swann (AG)
65) Cradle of the Sun ; Wizards of Zenchuria / Brian Stableford ; Kenneth Bulmer (G)
66) Tomorrow Knight / Michael Kurland (AG)
67) Gideon the Ninth / Tamsyn Muir (CEHJ)
68) Points of Departure / Pat Murphy (EG)
69) Raven Boys / Maggie Stiefvater (EH)
70) 26 Marathons / Meb Keflezighi (D)
71) Don't Bite the Sun / Tanith Lee (EGH)
72) Br-r-r-! / Groff Conklin, ed. (G)
73) Sea Siege / Andre Norton (EG)
74) The Female Man / Joanna Russ (EG)
75) The Reality Bubble / Ziya Tong (DE)
76) Sign of the Labrys / Margaret St. Clair (EG)
77) Recursion / Blake Crouch
78) Tribesmen of Gor / John Norman (AGI)
79) Middlegame / Seanan McGuire (CE)
80) Supernova Era / Cixin Liu (D)
81) Authority / Jeff VanderMeer (I)
82) The Anvil of the World / Kage Baker (EGH)
83) The Fourth Monkey / J.D. Barker (H)
84) A Memory Called Empire Arkady Martine (CEHJ)
85) Don't Go Near the Water / William Brinkley (B)
86) The Ten Thousand Doors of January / Alix E. Harrow (E)
87) To Be Taught, If Fortunate / Becky Chambers (CE)
88) The Haunting of Tram Car 018 / P. Djeli Clark (D)
89) The Deep / Rivers Solomon (CDE)
90) This Is How You Lose the Time War / Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone (DE)
91) The Light Brigade / Kameron Hurley (CE)
92) Flesh and Spirit / Carol Berg (EH)
93) Breath and Bone / Carol Berg (EIJ)
94) The Hand of Fu Manchu / Sax Rohmer
95) Exit Strategy / Martha Wells (E)
96) The Woman Who Changed Her Brain / Barbara Arrowsmith-Young (E)
97) Destined to Witness / Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi (D)
98) Who Am I? And If So, How Many? / Richard David Precht
99) By Love Possessed / James Gould Cozzens (B)
100) The House By the Cerulean Sea / T.J. Klune (C)
101) The Equation that Couldn't be Solved / Mario Livio
102) The Daughter of Fu Manchu / Sax Rohmer
103) The Jewels of Aptor / Samuel Delaney (CD)
104) Small Doses / Amanda Seales (DE)
105) Gears and God / Nathaniel Williams
106) Doctor Zhivago / Boris Pasternak (B)
107) Ich bin mal eben wieder tot / Nicholas Müller
108) The Furious Hours / Casey Cep (E)
109) Fire in Paradise / Alastair Gee and Dani Anguiano (CDE)
110) Spectacle / Pamela Newkirk (DE)
111) Between You & Me / Casey Cep (E)
112) Mask of Fu Manchu
113) What to Think About Machines that Think
114) Prey of Gods / Nicky Drayden (DE)
115) Field of Blood / Joanne B. Freeman (E)
116) Termination Dust / Sue Henry (EI)
117) Coyote Rage / Owl Goingback (C)
118) Fire Logic / Laurie J. Marks (CEH)
119) Bride of Fu Manchu / Sax Rohmer
120) And the Last Trump Shall Sound
121) A Discovery of Witches / Deborah Harkness (EH)
122) Oware Mosaic / Nzondi (D)
123) Exodus / Leon Uris (B)
124) The Trail of Fu Manchu / Sax Rohmer
125) Lolly Willowes / Sylvia Townsend Warner (CE)
126) Carpe Demon / Julie Kenner (EH)
127) Best Horror of the Year, vol. 1
128) Dream Thieves / Maggie Stiefvater (EI)
129) President Fu Manchu / Sax Rohmer
130) Invisible Fences / Norman Prentiss (C)
131) Network Effect / Martha Wells (E)
132) Beyond Infinity / Eugenia Cheng (DE)
133) The Sun Down Motel / Simone St. James (E)
134) A Suitable Vengeance / Elizabeth George (EI)
135) Lord of Strange Deaths
136) A Burning / Megha Majumdar (DE)
137) Die Frau der Zukunft vor 100 Jaheren (E)
138) Advise and Consent / Allen Drury
139) Half Moon Street / Alex Reeve (H)
140) Five Midnights / Ann Davila Cardinal (DE)
141) Drums of Fu Manchu / Sax Rohmer
142) Unsouled / Will Wight (H)
143) The Empress of Salt and Fortune / Nghi Vo (CDEH)
144) Iron Hand of Mars / Lindsey Davis (EGI)
145) Stormhaven / Jordan L. Hawk (CI)
146) Riot Baby / Tochi Onyebuchi (D)
147) Running Like a Girl / Alexandra Heminsley (E)
148) Freshwater / Akwaeke Emezi (CDE)
149) Earth Logic / Laurie J. Marks (CE)
150) My Vanishing Country / Bakari Sellers (D)
151) The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water (DE)

ag. 23, 2020, 3:39 pm

96) The Woman Who Changed Her Brain by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young
Date: 2013

The author is the founder of the Arrowsmith School in Toronto for students with learning disabilities, whose methods are based on the idea of neuroplasticity -- that cognitive functioning is not fixed but instead can be trained. The text describes how different types of learning deficits are located in different regions of the brain, and how deficits can be corrected through targeted practice. The book goes into some detail about the brain science, and offers several success stories, but details of the therapeutic methods are sparse -- presumably, one would need to enroll in one of the Arrowsmith programs for that sort of information.

ag. 23, 2020, 3:50 pm

Happy new one!

Editat: ag. 23, 2020, 7:04 pm

97) Destined to Witness by Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi
Date: 1999

The author was born in Hamburg in 1926; his mother a German nurse, his father the son of a Liberian ambassador. This is his memoir of an eventful life: the rise of Nazism, the German home front in WWII and its aftermath, his move to Liberia after the war, and eventually to the United States, where was drafted to serve in the Korean war and eventually became managing editor at Ebony magazine. The result is what you'd hope for from a professional journalist: fascinating anecdotes and great character sketches, and a surprising perspective on a story I thought I knew.

ag. 23, 2020, 4:09 pm

>5 figsfromthistle: Thanks Anita!

ag. 23, 2020, 4:19 pm

98) Who Am I? And If So, How Many? by Richard David Precht
Date: 2007 (English translation, 2011)

This is a popular introduction to philosophy, with essays on a variety of topics, especially epistemology, ethics, and teleology. It's very accessible, emphasizing stories and personal anecdotes and breezing lightly on academic detail. It's more coffee-table book than textbook, but as conversation starters, the essays raise good questions. I especially appreciate how he uses developments in brain science to shed light on (or maybe complicate) questions like free will and our relationship to animals.

Editat: ag. 23, 2020, 7:03 pm

99) By Love Possessed by James Gould Cozzens
Date: 1957

Arthur Winner is a lawyer in a small Pennsylvania town. Over the course of a weekend, he encounters friends, family, and colleagues as he encounters, exposes and recollects sundry sordid behavior. There are numerous narrative threads: the mentally handicapped girl who probably killed her (and her employer's) newborn child; the secretary's son who has been accused of rape by a Hungarian girl from the wrong side of the tracks; the partner's wife who has decided to exchange her sexual appetites for Catholicism under the tutelage of an old college girlfriend who still carries an unrequited crush; the elderly partner who is mysteriously cagey about the acounts he administers; the politician-lawyer who wants to become a judge; the gay choir master who may be behaving inappropriately with the boys he conducts. At the center of it all is Arthur Winner himself -- never "Arthur", never "Winner", always "Arthur Winner," which becomes more annoying than you might imagine. Arthur Winner has his own baggage: one of his sons lost to reckless living, another son successful but uninterested in the family practice, a daughter who is growing up too quickly, conflicted feelings about his deceased first wife and his younger second wife, and regrets about the affair he had between marriages with his partner's wife.

It's all as sordid as it sounds which is fine, since that's the kind of book it is. But what becomes extremely wearing over its 570 pages is the excruciating style, with needlessly baroque sentences full of asides and diversions. The vocabulary is impressively large, but one gets the feeling that large and obscure words are chosen not for their precision or their nuances but just for their largeness and obscurity. The problem grows worse when Arthur ponders questions of free will or religion or matters of the heart, because abstractions accumulate so thickly that I sometimes couldn't figure out what Cozzens was talking about even after I'd sorted out the syntax.

I can imagine a defense for the book. I complain about its diffuse narrative, but perhaps something is going on more subtle than plain old plot. I complain about the clangorous prose, but perhaps there is music my ear isn't used to hearing. I'm genuinely interested in what I may have missed -- but I find it difficult to believe that those subtle merits, whatever they are, could have driven this work to bestseller status. I just don't get it.

Yeah, it had to be the sex.

ag. 23, 2020, 6:11 pm

Happy new thread!

Editat: ag. 23, 2020, 6:22 pm

Happy New Thread, Steve!

>9 swynn:

Told ya!

Anyway, I'm relieved to know I wasn't the only one losing the sense of his sentences...or being driven out of my scone by "Arthur Winner"... :D

Looking forward to your film criticism, too. If it helps I've had a 'be careful what you pray for' happening: after being let off the hook via my other film sources, Exodus is on TV here next weekend, all 208 minutes of it.

I guess if you take this one for the team, I can let you off that hook, if you choose.

ag. 23, 2020, 6:38 pm

Happy new thread, Steve and congratulations on 100 books already.

ag. 23, 2020, 6:46 pm

Happy New Thread, Steve!

From your last thread, yes, Carol Berg is worth reading!

And happy 100, which I also just reached. I will be interested in what you think of it.

ag. 23, 2020, 7:11 pm

Editat: ag. 23, 2020, 8:21 pm

>11 lyzard:

So, the film.

Necessarily, I suppose, the cast of characters and narrative threads were sharply truncated, and remaining ones conflated. Arthur Winner's two wives have been combined into one, Clarissa (Barbara Bel Geddes). Ralph Detweiler and Lawrence Winner were folded into Warren Winner (a weirdly pale George Hamilton), a bright young lawyer son who can't wait to get out of town and can't wait for his girlfriend Helen Detweiler (Susan Kohner) to show him her Chamber of Secrets so he picks up Veronica Kovacs (Batgirl) (I mean, Yvonne Craig) to relieve some tension. Helen poisons herself when Warren tells her that he doesn't want to marry her. Arthur Winner's affair with Marjorie (Lana Truner) is a rekindling of an old passion that Winner once put aside to marry the safe & conventional Clarissa. Except for Helen and Veronica (who is basically forgotten), things end relatively happily: Marjorie and Arthur break it off; Marjorie reconciles with Julius (Jason Robards); and the Winners have a family reunion though isn't it too bad about Helen.

The thing most prominently missing, though, is what makes the novel distinctive: its ruminations. There is nothing about Reason or free will and certainly nothing about religion. I'm not sure what I'm asking for here -- I don't want tedious conversations about duty or justice and I surely don't want a droning voice-over -- but without those contemplations it's something that isn't By Love Possessed, and unfortunately it isn't even an improvement.

I'm not a fan of these soapy, pastel Hollywood dramas so I may be missing some strengths, but the whole thing seems run-of-the-mill to me. Lana Turner is of course Lana Turner, but it's not an especially interesting role. Yvonne Craig too is fun, but the part is small. Most of the cast do what the role requires, but there's little memorable about it.

ag. 23, 2020, 8:29 pm

Lana: She looked Mmmaaahhhvelous.
Yvonne: ooof...not forgotten soon enough
Susan: ye gawds
La Bel Geddes: looked shell-shocked, like she couldn't imagine where these inanities were coming from

Hamilton: eeewww ickyptooptoo
Carroll O'Connor: kept waitin' on him to tell someone to stifle

It was soooooo boooooooooooooooriiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnngggggggggg

ag. 23, 2020, 8:30 pm

>15 swynn:

That sounds par for the course for this particular era in American film-making, BIG DOMESTIC DRAMAS alongside EPIC HISTORICAL DRAMAS as the fight against TV went on. They've shunted the ruminations and kept the soap---and the opportunity for a BIG NAME CAST.

Editat: ag. 23, 2020, 9:46 pm

>16 richardderus: It was soooooo boooooooooooooooriiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnngggggggg​

This is my usual reaction to these earnest melodramas, so I wasn't going to mention it, but yeah. And man, if you thought that was boring then do not read the book.

Not that you didn't try to give me the same advice, or anything.

>17 lyzard: According to IMDb, Jason Robards called it the "worst movie ever made," which may be an overstatement. But Robards was in "The Legend of the Lone Ranger" and "Raise the Titanic," so maybe he knows. Anyway, I'll be fine if no remake ever corrects its errors.

Editat: ag. 24, 2020, 12:53 am

100) The House In the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
Date: 2020

Linus Baker, an agent for the Department In Charge of Magical Youth is sent on special assignment to investigate a home for magical orphans, sited on an island in the Cerulean Sea. His superiors' concern is warranted, in the sense that the children can be dangerous, but what he finds is that the children are children, the caretaker is conscientioius and wise, and as Linus's visit progresses he finds the home feeling increasingly like ... well, home.

This reminds me very much of the works of Becky Chambers: characters are so gosh-darn nice to each other that all dramatic tension drowns in a sea of mutual support. Like Chambers's, Klune's hand with good intentions is heavy, but he is also generous with humor, which helps much. His magical kids are delightful, and I'd voluntarily read a sequel.

ag. 24, 2020, 12:22 am

>18 swynn:

Well, now you've just got me intrigued!

I can't swear it's a worse film but Robards was in the Dino di Laurentiis version of Hurricane and I'm pretty sure that's his worst performance. :D

Editat: ag. 24, 2020, 5:34 pm

101) The Equation that Couldn't Be Solved by Mario Livio
Date: 2005

This is a popular account of group theory, which is the foundation for the mathematical study of symmetry. It's very light on mathematical detail, but focuses on stories about the colorful personalities involved, the many diverse applications of group theory, from algebra and geometry, to relativity, quantum mechanics, and string theory, and to other fields such as music and permutation puzzles like the Rubik's Cube.

Again, it's very light on detail. Livio tells us that Galois used group theory to prove that the quintic equation (the one that "couldn't be solved") has no general solution. But you couldn't even sketch the proof from Livio's information. The point here is that the quintic is what Galois invented group theory for, just before dying in a duel at the age of 20 -- and y'all, if you don't know *that* story then this volume is a good place to pick it up. Livio also does not tell us how to use group theory to solve the Rubik's Cube. What he offers is a high-level overview of groups, their history, and uses, for interested nonmathematicians. If you fall in that audience then I can't think of any competitors.

ag. 24, 2020, 12:43 am

>20 lyzard: Oooh, sorry about that, Liz. I should have known that "worst film ever" would be read as a challenge.

ag. 24, 2020, 10:16 am

Happy new thread!

ag. 24, 2020, 10:44 am

>21 swynn: Testosterone poisoning at its worst, that tale.

Happy Monday and say hallelujah it's Cozzens-free.

Editat: ag. 24, 2020, 5:32 pm

>23 drneutron: Thanks Jim!

>24 richardderus: It's one of the great tragedies of mathematics. We wuz robbed.

And yeah: hallelujah. I'm not sure Pasternak will be much better, but I'm starting with lower expectations which I hope will help.

Editat: ag. 24, 2020, 5:35 pm

Perry Rhodan 128: Mörder aus dem Hyperraum (Murderers From Hyperspace) by William Voltz
Date: 1964

The HAT-LETE is a robot-crewed Arkonide battleship, one of the ships left derelict by the defeat of the Robot Regent in episode 125. The Terran ship FRISCO discovers the HAT-LETE at about the same time as a Springer merchant, and there follows a skirmish in which the Springers are outgunned. The Terrans have no time to gloat, though, because just as the Springer ship leaves another ship arrives: one of the mysterious cubic ships encountered last episode. It is now the FRISCO's turn to be severely damaged by superior weapons. The FRISCO's distress call is answered by the new flagship THEODERICH, Perry Rhodan commanding. The THEODERICH bombards the hostile ship with knockout rays (Narkosestrahlern), which should incapacitate any organic life on board. But they do not: the mystery ship returns fire, and the THEODERICH must withdraw to a safe distance.

Perry's Plan B is to send teleporters to the enemy ship. Gucky, Ras Tschubai, and Tako Kakuta are dispatched. They all arrive at different locations on the target, but all three witness a variety of what appear to be robots -- and all three are ultimately incapacitated and brought into confinement. Which isn't much of a problem for teleporters, and when the time is right they all leave for the HAT-LETE. Which, they discover, is also crawling with robots who are apparently trying to repair the craft and bring it under their own control.

Meanwhile, Perry sends a commando unit led by Brazo Alkher to the HAT-LETE. Together with the teleporters they battle the robots, and are able to prevent the robots from taking the Arkonide ship. Eventually, when the cubic ship departs and the HAT-LETE remains behind, the remaining robots do a curious thing: they all gather to a central point and destroy themselves by heating their bodies to a molten state, leaving nothing but a single heap of metal. During this self-immolation the telepaths Gucky and John Marshall hear silent laughter.

ag. 24, 2020, 3:58 pm

Happy new thread, Steve. Love the photo of Buddy (and his buddy)!

ag. 24, 2020, 6:04 pm

>27 MickyFine: Welcome Micky!

ag. 24, 2020, 6:09 pm

Happy new thread, Steve. I hope you are all staying well.

ag. 24, 2020, 6:29 pm

Happy new thread, Steve!

ag. 25, 2020, 6:08 pm

>29 BLBera:
>30 FAMeulstee:

Thanks Beth & Anita! Welcome to the new thread.

ag. 27, 2020, 11:01 am

Saw on the previous thread you read Gideon the Ninth. I just finished Harrow the Ninth, and wow, what a ride!

ag. 27, 2020, 1:38 pm

>32 drneutron: Well, I wasn't going to miss it anyway, but that review might bump it up.

Editat: ag. 27, 2020, 2:17 pm

102) Daughter of Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer
Date: 1931

Fourth in Rohmer's series about supervillain Fu Manchu. This one appeared 14 years after volume 3, and 14 years have also passed in the narrative. Dr. Petrie is now middle-aged, married and living happily with Karameneh in Egypt and thus implausible as a romantic lead.

Enter Shan Greville, a friend of leading orientalist Sir Lionel Barton (and wooer of Barton's daughter) who comes to Egypt to help with a dig only to find Barton dead. He meets Dr. Petrie, who has received anonymous messages indicating that Barton is only asleep and instructions to revive him; but after this hopeful news Greville and Petrie discover that Barton's body has disappeared. The usual nonsense follows, including disguises, traps, dei ex machinas, and heroes slow on the uptake, with adventures in an ancient Egyptian tomb, an English hotel, and a country estate. The villain this time is not the Doctor himself but his equally fiendish daughter Fah Lo Suee -- who in her "Oriental" impulsiveness falls instantly for our romantic lead. (Parallels to the Petrie/Karameneh relationship are not ignored.)

I am sorry to report the marmoset sits this one out.

I am not sorry to report that the xenophobia seems to be dialed down in this one. There are no digs at Jews or eastern Europeans, the phrase "Yellow horde" does not appear, and when a Turkish character arrives, it is not as a villain but rather as one of Fah Lo Suee's potential victims. Even Fu Manchu gets a sympathetic portrayal when he finally appears, including a humanizing soliloquy (à la "Hath not a Jew eyes?") explaining that his motives were noble although his methods were not. Which is not to say that the series has undergone a conversion to racial harmony -- ha! -- but there is a hint of backing off the race-baiting. It'll be interesting to see where Rohmer takes it as he stretches it out for nine more novels.

On the other hand, the version I read was a 1960 reissue. It's entirely possible that the publishers cleaned it up a bit.

I am aware that my responses to these books may display a mild inconsistency:
After book 3, me: "Wow, that was offensive. I don't know how many of those I can take."
After book 4, me: "Wow, that's not as offensive as I expected. I wonder if somebody sanitized it. Damned censors."

ag. 27, 2020, 10:57 pm

>34 swynn:

It was 2013 when I read this so I had to go and check what I'd said. I don't seem to have been conscious of a diminution of racism, at least I have quotes about "malignant yellow faces" and "half-castes"; but my mileage might be lower than yours. I was also very annoyed that having had the guts to let Petrie finally marry Kâramanèh, he chickened out and had them living in Egypt instead of England. Also, heh!---

Naturally a great deal of the book’s interest lies in its femme fatale, with whom the narrative manages to be simultaneously indignant for being “above the weaknesses of her sex” and for her shameless use of her feminine wiles.


You might be right about a clean-up of the text, though I do note that this was the first book after a 14-year hiatus, when Rohmer finally caved to his publisher's pressure; so there might (we hope) have been some natural attrition / progression.

Editat: ag. 31, 2020, 12:23 pm

>35 lyzard: Very early there is a sort of hulking figure with a "malignant" and "yellow" face who later turns out to be Nayland Smith in disguise. (He does seem like a drama monarch, and one who might overdo the makeup. ) And that's sort of emblematic of the way Rohmer's racism struck new this time around: it's there, and it's unpleasant, and it's also a little ... off.

I don't want to overstate the claim, because for all I know I may be working from a compromised text or it may just be some whim of my wandering attention. But in contrast to the parade of slandered ethnicities in Hand of Fu Manchu this entry seemed subdued. I hold no particular optimism for the rest of the series just yet.

I don't know whether the 14 years have mellowed Rohmer, or whether he's just out of practice, or whether I'm seeing something that isn't there. Most likely, I'll finish Mask of Fu Manchu and report oh, never mind.

ag. 31, 2020, 9:52 am

103) The Jewels of Aptor by Samuel Delaney
Date: 1962

It's a pulpy surrealist post-apocalyptic quest adventure, with mutant monsters, magic, and super-science (also a super-amoeba, which I dare you to say ain't cool). It involves a pair of Fafhrd/Gray Mouser-style adventurers who join an expedition to retrieve a jewel and rescue a princess and then pulpy complications follow. It's Delaney's first novel, which shows in its kitchen-sick plotting, derivative situations and uneven pacing. And yet: the language is already a cut above his contemporaries' and his interest in questions of perception and religion are already evident.

ag. 31, 2020, 10:40 am

>37 swynn: I *know* that Ace Double is around here somewhere. I kept it in a special carry-with bag for decades. Now I'm settled it's nowhere I can find it! Ah, the perils of senility.

Editat: ag. 31, 2020, 1:21 pm

>38 richardderus: I got it in Kindle, actually, although the image is obviously from the Ace Double. Though I do recognize the frustration of not being able to find a book that, dammit, I *know* I've had forever.

ag. 31, 2020, 1:29 pm

So annoying! Especially since I, not so very long ago, went on the kic of reading some of Mama's old paperbacks and watching their orphaned movies so I could chuck the crumblers out!

Editat: set. 1, 2020, 3:30 pm

104) Small Doses by Amanda Seales
Date: 2019

Once or twice a year I pick up a book off some list of best humor books to see what all the funny kids are laughing at These Days. I'm usually disappointed, perhaps because my sense of humor is skewed from the norm, or more likely because the books tend to be transcriptions of stand-up routines that lose all timing and vocal nuance in print. This one came from the list of finalists for the Goodreads Choice Award for humor last year. And I think that's a miscategorization, because it turns out that this is not so much a humorous book as it is self-help/relationship advice. Content is the usual stuff, but as told by a successful and eloquent Black woman with a background in hip-hop.

If you have guessed, dear reader, that the target audience for this is Not Me then you are correct. Still, I appreciated the insights into specific challenges faced by Black women in the entertainment industry; and into challenges and etiquette of seeking relationships in the Instagram era. The former makes me angry on Seales's behalf and the latter makes me once again thank Whoever Is Listening that I am no longer in *that* market.

set. 1, 2020, 4:37 pm

CNN Headline: Trump says he feels 'terribly' for family of Jacob Blake

My headline: Confusing adjectives and adverbs, Trump accidentally tells the truth.

set. 1, 2020, 4:42 pm

>42 swynn: Heh. Loves me some pedantic wordplay. Full marks.

set. 2, 2020, 7:45 pm

>42 swynn: LOL!! Grammar rules!

Editat: set. 3, 2020, 5:23 pm

Perry Rhodan 129: Atombrand Auf Mechanica (Atomic Fire on Mechanica) by Clark Darlton
Date: 1964

You may remember several issues ago that Perry and team were fighting outbreaks of a mysterious moss whose spores caused victims to rapidly increase in body weight. Back in episode 121, "bacon moss" was tracked to the Mechanica, a planet overrun by machines and robots built to serve a population of reptiloid aliens who have all died out.

Mechanica comes up in discussion again as Perry and his team discuss the recent attacks by cubical ships full of robotic aliens. They speculate that the aliens may originate from Mechanica, so they send an expedition to establish a base on Mechanica. Members of the expedition will wear "individual absorbers," to mask their brainwaves so that the native robots will not realize they are living beings.

Meanwhile, you may remember that, in addition to the robot aliens, that Terrans at the galaxy's border have also faced attacks by invisible aliens. In this issue the invsibles get a name: Laurins. This prompts a folkloric detour:

Sie wissen, der sagenhafte Zwergenkönig, der sich unsichtbar machen konnte. Also -- Laurins!

You know the legendary dwarf king who could make himself invisible. So -- Laurins!

This is a reference to a legend about Dietrich von Bern, a Germanic folk hero identified with Theodoric the Great. More here, for starters.

Back to Perry Rhodan; the Terrans have barely begun to establish their new base when Laurin ships arrive and start dropping atomic bombs on Mechanica's cities, igniting an atomic fire that threatens to consume the entire planet. Close behind the Laurins are cubic robot ships. A battle ensues, destroying all of the Laurins' and causing one of the cubic ships to crash on Mechanica. The Terrans scramble in a race against time to gather samples of the crashed ship before Mechanica is covered in atomic fire.

set. 3, 2020, 6:10 pm

>45 swynn:

Bacon moss! - oh, how I've missed you!!

set. 4, 2020, 12:09 pm

>46 lyzard: Me too! And just when I thought it was all over....

This time it seems final, that the bacon moss is permanently crisped. But it's Perry Rhodan so who knows?

set. 4, 2020, 3:44 pm


set. 5, 2020, 10:36 pm

Editat: set. 6, 2020, 12:10 am

105) Gears and God by Nathaniel Williams
Date: 2018

Williams discusses a genre of late-19th Century American literature, which he calls the "technocratic exploration narrative." It's a variety of early science fiction typified by heroes, usually engineers or inventors, who travel to exotic locations and solve problems using technology. In a typical narrative, the hero invents some sort of transportation device such as a steam-driven man, a railless train engine, or an airship, with which he (and a small team) travel to the Wild West or hidden Africa or the poles. There they encounter local wars or injustices which they solve with technology, often using the novel transportation as a weapon.

Apparently this was a very popular narrative for dime novels, and Williams pays special attention to a series of adventures featuring boy inventor Frank Reade, Jr. Other works considered include several by Mark Twain, including A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and several polar exploration stories including an unpublished one by Twain's brother Orion Clemens.

Obviously, the genre invites analysis respecting imperialism and race, which Williams finds more ambiguous than you might expect. But the real surprise for me was the presence of religion, which surfaces frequently and tends to be of a conservative, even reactionary character. At a time when geologists and biologists were writing new and exciting stories about history, I find it surprising that these science-themed romances promote Biblical literalism. But so it was, says Williams. Frank Reade, Jr. for instance discovers three different Lost Tribes of Israel, sometimes with chapter and verse from the Book of Deutoronomy. Williams connects this to an emerging genre of pop-science narrative that gives "scientific" explanations of Biblical myths. Outside of the dime novels, treatment of religion is a little more complex. Twain's works, for instance, tend to be more skeptical of religion and particularly of clerics. Some other examples are Utopian works that explore unorthodox religion. But these seem to be exceptions that prove the rule; and in a world where fundamentalist Christianity and the military-industrial complex are disturbingly intimate it's not hard to imagine an appetite for stories about God and weaponry.

Anyway, it's a very interesting discussion of a corpus that I mostly haven't read -- and would now like to read more of.

set. 6, 2020, 9:56 am

Pulp fiction was always moralistic: no one gets away with it for long, until the 1960s when crime began to pay. The reaction is now that no one gets to keep their secrets, so must fall from grace with Society and become outsider-redeemers...like, oh, what was that dude's name....

Editat: set. 6, 2020, 6:55 pm

>51 richardderus: Yeah, I expect conventional moralism from pulp fiction. What surprises me is how religion is so often specifically invoked; and that ideas about evolution or deep history aren't mined for plot points. I get using exotic Biblical locations and ideas (hello Indiana Jones), but why not Darwinism too? We expect several things from dime novels, but not after all theological consistency.

Williams connects the Biblical literalism of the dime novels to imperialism. Our heroes travel to exotic locations and impose Western technology and mores on natives -- but if we're going to impose Western culture, then Western culture must be defended. And if Darwin's theory undermines Western culture (as many argued and argue still), then it must not be countenanced.

set. 6, 2020, 7:10 pm

>52 swynn: I know you're correct, that many claim evolution somehow undermines "our culture," but I don't ever see it even when the threads are patiently unpicked for me. It simply will. not. stick.

Like gawd herself. She slowly slides down whatever part of me the True Believer has lobbed her at, leaving gallons of sanctified hagfish slime to join her on my feet.

Editat: set. 6, 2020, 8:25 pm

>53 richardderus: Agreed. I do see how evolution blows a big hole in the Swiss cheese of Biblical literalism, but that was only ever one idea among several, and even among its believers ignored when convenient.

Editat: set. 6, 2020, 9:11 pm

Perry Rhodan 130: Freiwillige für Frago (Volunteers for Frago) by Kurt Brand
Date: 1964

Perry and his team analyze parts recovered from last episode's shipwreck. They discover that the robotic aliens in fact have two systems: one positronic and one biological, joined by a "hypertoyctic interface." Perry coins the name "Posbis." (For cultural reference: according to Wikipedia, the term "cyborg", from "cybernetic organism" was coined in 1960.) The Terrans' top roboticist Van Moders theorizes that their dual system allows the Posbis to learn and to have an emotional life.

To learn more about the Posbis, Perry plans a dangerous undercover operation. A team of volunteers fly to the destroyed planet Mechanica in a ship retrofitted to resemble one of Mechanica's seed ships. When it arrives, it will send out a signal asking for help. The volunteers wear devices that will block their brain waves, so that Posbis will believe that no "real life" is aboard the ship. To add verisimilitude, a Terran ship attacks the decoy.

The plan works. The volunteers are taken aboard a Posbi ship and to a sunless planet in intergalactic space: Frago, apparently the Posbis' home planet. The volunteers discover that the planet is a sort of factory producing ever more Posbis; adventures ensue, with the volunteers escaping at the last moment via matter transmitter.

Side note: the last few issues have had a subplot involving Gucky and his new love interest Iltu, one of the mouse-beavers rescued in Episode 98. There are jokes about how Gucky finds her attentions smothering, and about relationship violence, and how everyone knows that this sort of thing proves they're perfect for each other. Because it may be the year 2112 but really it's still 1964.

set. 7, 2020, 10:01 am

>51 richardderus:, >52 swynn: One of the things I loved about the first steampunk books was their poking fun of and subverting that whole aesthetic from these 19th century pulps. While I enjoy where current steampunk has gone, I miss that punk sense of peeling back layers to see the dystopia behind the scenes.

set. 7, 2020, 4:36 pm

>56 drneutron: When something becomes a marketing category it loses its will to subvert. Just a verity of the sales-driven universe.

set. 7, 2020, 6:22 pm

>56 drneutron: Having recently read Moorcock's The Warlord of the Air and The Land Leviathan, I think I recognize what you're saying -- any other recommendations?

>57 richardderus: One bites not the feeding hand, I suppose...

set. 7, 2020, 6:39 pm

>55 swynn:

"Gucky" is right...

set. 7, 2020, 7:50 pm

>58 swynn: My classic example is Tim Powers’ The Anubis Gates. Also James Blaylock’s Homonculus and Ken Jeter’s Morlock Night or Infernal Devices.

Editat: set. 8, 2020, 1:16 pm

>59 lyzard: Yes. Really, this is pretty consistent with other relationships in the series. The authors seem incapable of portraying affection, which from one perspective is fine, that's not what I'm here for -- but then they try anyway and it's just awful. Perry's own romances have been with rivals-- he and Thora pretty much despised each other through the first 50 issues, then got married in the gap between 50 and 51. Once they were married, the writers didn't know what to do with Thora so they kept her offstage for awhile and then just killed her off. They seemed to be working on a similar romance-of-rivals between Perry and Auris von Las-Toor, where courtship consisted in trying to thwart each other's plans. (Again: early death for Auris.) Even nonromantic friendships are often expressed through teasing and pranks. And don't get me started about Perry's toxic relationship with his son. (Son is dead now. Notice a pattern?)

set. 8, 2020, 9:43 am

>60 drneutron: I've read and loved The Anubis Gates; I haven't read the others but am pretty sure I have a copy of Morlock Night around here somewhere.

Editat: set. 11, 2020, 5:32 pm

106) Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
Date: 1957

The bestselling book in the U.S. for 1958 is a sprawling historical drama following the relationship between a doctor and a nurse against the backdrop of early-twentieth-century Russian history. Or rather more often, a sprawling historical drama following early-twentieth-century Russian history against the backdrop of a doctor-nurse relationship.

I came into this one with moderate expectations: everyone I've spoken to who has read it has warned me away from it. My sister, for instance, has never clearly told me why she started it but is crystal-clear that she finished it from a determination not to let it beat her. A favorite English professor told me it was the single example she know of a movie being better than the book. On the other hand, I already knew some of the challenges of Russian literature: the half-dozen names for every character, the tendency to soliloquize at the drop of a hat about land politics and Pushkin. For a couple of years as an undergrad I had a broody Dostoevsky/Tolstoy fascination, so I felt I knew what I was getting into.

And you know what? It's not bad. I love the vivid scenery (all that moody snow). I love too how historical moments are played out in detail-rich episodes. Even the philosophizing was fine: Anna Karenina was much worse with its trivia-heavy detours, and the things Zhivago ponders are more interesting.

As for difficulties, names were a larger problem than I'd anticipated; not only were there the usual Russian permutations, but also some characters adopt different identities partway through the book. Well, one at least; I want to say there were more but right I can only remember Pasha/Strelnikov, who continually confused me for some reason.

But worst is the primary narrative -- the romance, I guess -- between Doctor Zhivago and Lara, which feels meandering and aimless. As I've mentioned, I'm sympathetic to Dr. Z's ideas, but his choices -- to practice or not practice medicine in any given moment, to pursue Lara or his wife and family, to stick around or wander into the next episode -- often feel insufficiently motivated. As for Lara, I suspect that she is some symbol or other, I'm just not sure of what. She seems to be the target of all (men's) desires and also their sponge. Her motivations too are opaque to me, at least to the extent they exist at all, which I sometimes doubt. But maybe that opaqueness can be chalked up to my blind spot for literary romance.

It's also overlong, but that seems to be an entry requirement for this challenge. In any case, it's a huge improvement over By Love Possessed.

Next up is Leon Uris's Exodus, a book which for years my brother has been trying to convince me to read. His enthusiasm makes me optimistic some, but also a little worried that it appeals to a certain millenarian perspective which I do not share.

set. 11, 2020, 6:09 pm

maybe that opaqueness can be chalked up to my blind spot for literary romance

Nope. :D

My final theory was that Lara was being all things to all men - all women in one - while each of those men kept shifting his identity according to shifting circumstances...except of course Yuri. As for what it MEANS--- Something very profound about the nature of mankind, I'm sure. Women = Mother Russia who will endure no matter what her people / men do? Yuri as the Only True Russian?

The names beat me, I confess, though I recognise that this time they were tied into the identity thing and not just reflecting Russian vernacular. But they made it impossible for me to stay engaged when I kept having to stop and think who someone was, every single time, which certainly did not help with interpretation.

Exodus, in spite of a lengthy detour into Jewish persecution generally and the Holocaust specifically, is a lot easier to read, but I found it---'dangerous' was the word I used in my review. I look forward to your reaction.

Oh! - and in case you think you're catching me up, I'll be picking up The Agony And The Ecstasy from the library this afternoon. :)

set. 12, 2020, 12:48 pm

>64 lyzard: I think I liked it rather more than you did; for me, Yurii's thoughts on art and society were a strength not an annoyance. But as human beings, Yurii and Lara and company just weren't.

Editat: set. 12, 2020, 1:25 pm

107) Ich bin mal eben wieder tot (="I Just Died Again") by Nicholas Müller
Date: 2017

Nicholas Müller was front man for the German pop-punk band Jupiter Jones until 2014, when he left the band to seek treatment for severe anxiety. Here he discusses the origins of his illness after his mother's death from cancer; the increasingly frequent panic attacks that rendered him unable to function; and his decision to find help. This takes us through the first half of the book, and his story is moving and enlightening. In the second half he shares a series of experiences and thoughts on living with anxiety, which he hopes will be helpful for others dealing with similar challenges. This part feels less focused, but I suppose I am not the target audience.

The prose is crafty, as one might expect from a smart and playful lyricist. Müller's images usually work, though sometimes he can't let go of an idea, and sometimes the verbal slyness feels like whistling past the graveyard. I found it mostly effective. As a fan of the band, I appreciated the backstage perspective, and as a human being I appreciated the insight into living with chronic fear.

(And yes, the band was named for the character in the Three Investigators series of juvenile mysteries. The series is very popular in Germany where it is known as "The Three ???")

set. 13, 2020, 4:48 am

>63 swynn: I loved Dr Zhivago, Steve. Somehow I never have a problem with all those names, most I forget anyway ;-)
It was the story and the rich prose that captured me.

>66 swynn: That sounds good, sadly no Dutch translation (yet). I have suffered a lot from anxiety, and am very gratful it is mostly gone!

set. 14, 2020, 11:50 am

Hi Anita! Yes, the prose in Dr Zhivago is very rich. The story did not appeal to me so much, but the settings and ponderings were wonderful.

Re the Müller: I don't know how much demand there will be for it outside of German market, since I think the connection to the band is a big part of its appeal. I very much doubt there will be an English translation, but I don't have a good sense of whether JJ had a Dutch audience.

And since I haven't posted a music link in a while, here's one for Jupiter Jones. Their most successful track was "Still," a song about a relationship in which the other person has suddenly disappeared, and the lyrics express the singer's diffiulty processing the loss. I'd always assumed it was about a romantic relationship, but in the book Müller says the inspiration was his mother's death from cancer.

The official video has disappeared from YouTube, but here's a link to an accoustic performance on the music/talk show tvnoir:


set. 14, 2020, 12:57 pm

>68 swynn: I found the official video of "Still" at YouTube: https://youtu.be/fgCOUO-s8nY

We know this song in Dutch translation, by the band BLØF as "Zo stil".
A live registration at YouTube: https://youtu.be/YQIiyx4RS34

set. 14, 2020, 2:44 pm

>69 FAMeulstee: Alas, the Jupiter Jones link just leads to: "The uploader has not made this video available in your country."

But the BLØF link works, and I like their cover.

Editat: set. 15, 2020, 4:17 pm

108) Furious Hours by Casey Cep
Date: 2019

This is an interesting hybrid: part true-crime, part civil rights biography, part author study.

The "true crime" piece follows the story of Reverend Willie Maxwell, a rural Alabama preacher who killed two wives and several relatives in the 1970s in order to collect insurance policies. Maxwell was himself shot at the funeral of his last victim, his third wife's daughter. The shooter was the girl's uncle Robert Burns.

Maxwell was never convicted of murder, but did sometimes have trouble collecting insurance payouts. His lawyer when facing the insurance companies was Tom Radney, a white lawyer and politician who advocated for civil rights issues and was known as "Mister Liberal Alabama." And upon Maxwell's death, though Radney had helped Maxwell collect a suspiciously large number of insurance payments, Radney led the defense for Maxwell's killer.

Enter now the author, one Harper Lee, who published one book so spectacularly successful that she never had to work again, but nevertheless felt constant pressure to repeat the performance. Lee had helped her friend Truman Capote research the genre-establishing In Cold Blood, but had reservations about Capote's ... mmm, ambivalence about factual detail, let's say. She considered doing her own true-crime book, and Reverend Willie Maxwell was her chosen subject. She spent much time interviewing involved parties, among them Tom Radney. I probably don't have to add that the project never produced a book.

How far Lee got, and why she got no further, are mysteries. Cep speculates that one challenge may have been finding the story's central character: should it be Maxwell? Radney? Burns? Either choice would present narrative opportunities and challenges, and would affect the presentation of themes that Lee probably would have wished to address. There's a similar focal challenge in Cep's presentation, which she solves by choosing none at all. The book is partitioned into three sections: the first focusing on Maxwell, the second on Radney, and the third on Lee. And it works. It would no doubt have been more elegant to thread all three stories into a single narrative, but it turns out that it's not necessary because the three stories are sufficiently interesting on their own, and Cep is up to the telling of each.

set. 18, 2020, 3:04 pm

The Onion has turned partisan lately, and I kind of love it.

White House Vows To Have Something To Stick Into Your Arm By October

"At press time, President Trump brushed off concerns that early trials of the pointy-doctor-jabby-thing had serious, deadly side effects."

set. 18, 2020, 3:19 pm

>72 swynn: It is a target-rich environment for outrage and humor, so why not?

set. 18, 2020, 3:55 pm

>73 richardderus: The only reservation I have is that some of their headlines (this one, for example) are barely identifiable as satire.

set. 18, 2020, 3:57 pm

>74 swynn: That speaks more to the times than the headlines.

set. 18, 2020, 5:56 pm

>75 richardderus: Oh certainly. It's just an uneasy feeling to laugh at a joke that you know is not half as crazy as tomorrow's factual story.

Editat: set. 23, 2020, 9:48 am

109) Fire in Paradise by Alastair Gee and Dani Anguiano
Date: 2020

This is the story of the 2018 Camp Fire, which burned thousands of acres, destroyed the town of Paradise, California (pop. 27,000), and killed at least 85 people. You may remember it as the fire that had Donald Trump talking about raking the forest, despite the fact that actual foresters observed that forest management had little to do with the fire's spread; despite the fact that it had spread over brushy ground rather than proper forest, despite the fact that Finland -- to whom Trump attributed the practice -- said they didn't know what he was talking about; despite the fact that .... well, despite any facts at all, really. You know how it goes with Ding-Dong Donnie Dipshit.

More wisely than I, Gee and Anguiano avoid political observation and instead tell human stories about the fire and its aftermath: the evacuation of Paradise, people who found it difficult to evacuate, and people who couldn't leave at all. Then the aftermath of returning to destroyed homes. It's heartbreaking, and doubly so knowing that it's happening all over again and on a greater scale, and will keep happening while broken politicians babble about forest-raking instead of investing resources in actual problems like climate change, community planning, corporate responsibility, and yes land management.

In the meantime, we'll just read these tragic stories every couple of years.

Editat: set. 19, 2020, 3:15 pm

>76 swynn: In case you didn't know, you were ever so right.

>77 swynn: Oh goodness, I had no idea the book existed! My father's final surviving sibling lost her home in that fire.

set. 19, 2020, 3:18 pm

>77 swynn: I've debated with myself about reading this book. A very close friend of mine lost her home in the fire and for a short while we didn't know if she and her husband had survived.

I suppose I should, but I don't want to get any more mad at the world than I already am.

set. 19, 2020, 3:35 pm

>78 richardderus: And RBG had been one ray of hope making me feel that the worst had not yet arrived.

I hope 2020 is the worst it gets for a while, and will keep further premonitions to myself.

& >79 RBeffa:

The Paradise book is an excellent piece of reportage. Recommended if you have the stomach for it. Fair warning: it really does focus on personal stories. If you have a personal connection that might make it especially difficult. Or especially effective. Or both.

Editat: set. 19, 2020, 10:09 pm

110) Spectacle : the Astonishing Life of Ota Benga by Pamela Newkirk
Date: 2015

This is a biography of Ota Benga, a Central African man who in 1906 was put on display in a cage of the Primate House of the Bronx Zoo. Benga had been taken from Africa by Samuel Verner, a missionary/businessman/con artist who is the only source for parts of Benga's story but who gave so many contradicting accounts that it's hard to guess the truth. In 1992, a grandson of Verner's wrote an account that elided uncomfortable details, in which Verner and Benga were great friends and Benga was never really caged but rather was employed at the Zoo as a caretaker for the animals. Yeah, baloney.

The documentation for Benga's life is not voluminous, and much of the book feels like padding with extended digressions on historical context or biographical essays on secondary characters But what documentation exists, Newkirk has collected and meticulously referenced. It paints a very different picture to the one of friendship and mutually beneficial relations. Newkirk's version is one of trauma and the treatment of a human being as a commodity. Her context includes conditions in the Belgian Congo, which were horrifying; the history of human zoos and exhibits; and the early days of misapplying Darwin to promote eugenics. It is an angry-making story, and also a fascinating and important one.

set. 20, 2020, 9:41 am

>81 swynn: All four of my grandparents were alive in 1906, one of them a twenty-year-old whose career was getting going, two teens, and a kid. Any one of them, especially the youngest whose family was the upper-Midwest circus owners the Zimmermans, could have seen this.

For some reason that makes this awfulness even worse.

set. 20, 2020, 1:18 pm

Similar feeling here. From one perspective it's over a hundred years ago my haven't we come far? From another, one hundred years really isn't all that long. And it wasn't the last example of humans on display: the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels had a "Congo Village" exhibit. The Wikipedia article for "Human Zoo" even has examples into the 21st century. (Some, to be fair, questioning the line between exploitation and performance, sometimes deliberately so.)

set. 20, 2020, 1:27 pm

>83 swynn: They can question whatever they've a mind to without me lookin' on. Even knowing these horrors existed is distasteful to me.

Editat: set. 20, 2020, 2:29 pm

>84 richardderus: Yes, knowing that this was real makes the question uncomfortably un-academic.

A few years ago I read a story about a man who, after being rejected by his lover, hires himself out as a zoo exhibit. I thought it was fun at the time, but having finished Spectacle I suddenly have a bad aftertaste in my eyes. Not funny anymore.

set. 20, 2020, 2:57 pm

>85 swynn: What really weirds me out is how often that happens to me: things I laughed at in days of yore now leave me cold, make me cringe, or even get angry. When you know better, do better, is really fundamental to old-man me, and it wasn't always to young me.


set. 21, 2020, 7:37 am

>77 swynn: Morning, Steve! I'm adding this one to my list despite the worry that it will not help my worldview right now...

set. 23, 2020, 9:49 am

>87 scaifea: Hope you find it as interesting as I did, Amber.

Editat: set. 25, 2020, 9:42 am

111) Between You & Me by Mary Norris
Date: 2015

This is a collection of essays on topics grammatical and orthographical and also pencils, by a copy editor at the New Yorker, and it is a delight. If you have an opinion about the Oxford comma -- especially if that opinion is that people who call a serial comma "the Oxford comma" are faking sophistication -- then you'll find here a kindred soul. Or if you feel an earache every time you hear someone say "Between you and I"; or if you have ever pondered how to circumlocute the F-word (or maybe F word? "F" word? "f" word?); or if you have ever wondered about the correct plural possessive of McDonald's (McDonald'ses' but let's not); or if you disapprove of semicolons as super-commas (oh wait, that doesn't bother me), then you'll probably enjoy this as much as I did.

Also if you really like #1 pencils and don't know how to tell anyone about it without sounding weird then this is your book.

**Edit: These comments may give the impression that Norris comes across as scolding, and that is not the case. See post 97 for more.

set. 24, 2020, 3:24 pm

>89 swynn: Grammar rants are always delightful (particularly when you share the ranter's views) so I'm happy to see that one was a hit with you.

set. 24, 2020, 4:08 pm

>89 swynn: Recast: "between us"

Spurious erudition takes many more-toxic forms than "Oxford comma," like knowing there *are* #1 pencils.

I'll see myself out

Editat: set. 24, 2020, 5:43 pm

>90 MickyFine: The fun is the joy in caring about details. I often like a good grammar rant even when it's wrong. (My use of semicolons, btw, is condoned by the Chicago Manual of Style, so there.)

>91 richardderus: For example, I have never owned a #1 pencil. But the fact that they exist and that someone has a passionate opinion about them delights me. I'm more of an "Oh crap what did I do with my writing implement oh thanks yeah that'll do" guy. Come back around anytime, Richard!

set. 24, 2020, 5:59 pm

What are #1 pencils, anyway? The little-spidery-line ones, or the big-fat-black-line ones?

set. 24, 2020, 6:18 pm

Perry Rhodan 131: Das Versteck in der Zukunft (The Hideout in the Future) by Kurt Mahr
Date: 1964

At the end of Episode 127, while escaping from the doomed station BOB-21, robot agent Meech Hannigan was accidentally transported deep into intergalactic space. Floating alone in the void, slowly freezing toward a nonpowered state, Hannigan monitors faint sources of radiation and realizes that wherever he is, it seems to be within a time vector skewed from normal Einstein-space. Then he realizes he is not alone: there is a Posbi space station nearby, and a mysterious energy fluctuation brings him on board.

set. 24, 2020, 6:20 pm

>93 richardderus: Big-fat-black-line ones. The spider-line ones are #3s or higher.

set. 25, 2020, 7:07 am

>89 swynn: I also really enjoy it when someone delights in something like proper grammar or writing utensil minutiae, but I do not enjoy it when they rant about someone else not doing something properly, especially when it comes to grammar. So maybe I'll skip this one, unless it's all joy and no shaming?

Editat: set. 25, 2020, 10:32 am

>96 scaifea: I fear I've misrepresented it. I've given an impression that it is scolding and it is not -- it is mostly joy.

Given the nature of the subject and the author's role as enforcer of grammatical rules, there is much talk about what is correct. But there is also acknowledgement that correctness is contextual: what is right at the New Yorker is not necessarily right elsewhere, and even her pet peeves are not consistent -- "between you and I" is annoying but a nominative-case "You and me" doesn't bother her. To her the former seems pretentious and the latter natural. I share her affective responses, but have learned that this is a regional preference and that in some regions the connotations are reversed. When she does call out grammar offenses, her comments are aimed mostly at practices rather than practitioners.

set. 25, 2020, 10:14 am

I've always loved In Love with Norma Loquendi as a book, and as a concept. There are rules, sure; but there are many times when following them will result in lumpen ugliness, like the silliness of not ending sentences with prepositions. Anyway. Whatever makes people feel safe and comfortable in this degenerate time.

Editat: set. 25, 2020, 11:06 am

>98 richardderus: Which she acknowledges, e.g., the unsightly McDonald'ses'. Correct, maybe, but not fit to print.

I find myself going back and forth, indulging in pedantry but also philosophically supporting whatever makes one's point and expresses one's voice. And of course in practice I throw errors around like hard candy at a Halloween parade.

set. 25, 2020, 2:16 pm

>967 Oh, yay! Then onto the list it goes.

Editat: set. 25, 2020, 4:52 pm

112) Mask of Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer
Date: 1932

Fifth in Rohmer's series featuring supergenius supervillain Fu Manchu. In this one Fu Manchu is trying to get his hands on relics from the grave of a heretical Muslim prophet. The prophet's mask and sword are currently in the hands of "leading Orientalist" Lionel Barton, an archaeologist whose methods make Indiana Jones's look meticulous. If Fu Manchu can acquire these objects then he intends to stage the prophet's glorious return and thus lead a revolution against Western powers in the Middle East. (One assumes Rohmer's audience did not respond to this proposition with a hearty, "Good for him and about time too," but more on that soon.) Nayland Smith appears once again to thwart Fu Manchu's plans, and we watch events unfold through the eyes of Shan Greville, Barton's prospective son-in-law.

The first three volumes of this series were relentlessly racist. The heroes were panicky about an impending invasion of the West by Asians but they also held notable amounts of contempt for other ethnicities as well. In the last volume I thought I noticed an ebbing of venom, and with this one I repeat the claim with more confidence. There is no mention of a "yellow horde"; in fact Rohmer does not use "yellow" to describe any human being. I don't know whether this is to Rohmer's credit or to a later editor's, but the effect is that this volume reads less like a hate parade and more like a thriller that just hasn't aged well. Also, there is a new emphasis on Fu Manchu's strict code of honor in distinction to Lionel Barton's lack of one, an emphasis that casts Fu Manchu in the more positive light. One is tempted to read this volume as a comment on colonialism with Fu Manchu as its secret hero. But that reading assumes a subtlety that Rohmer seems to lack. Or does he? If Fu Manchu is an antihero, then the plot is an antithriller in which Fu Manchu's plan doesn't fail so much as fizzle.

It would be an exaggeration to say I'm looking forward to the next, but I am curious where Rohmer is going with this.

set. 25, 2020, 7:27 pm

>101 swynn:

Sad when "He didn't say 'yellow'" constitutes high praise. :D

You've caught me up now which might finally motivate me to get to 'Bride'.

set. 25, 2020, 7:42 pm

>101 swynn: In this one Fu Manchu is trying to get his hands on relics from the grave of a heretical Muslim prophet.

Oh dear. Um, well, maybe not quite so much.

Editat: set. 25, 2020, 8:28 pm

>102 lyzard: Agreed. Compared to the first three, though, this one is quite .... well, endurable.

And I look forward to your thoughts on Bride. Let's hope for a marmoset.

>103 richardderus: Well, it's certainly one that I'd recommend exactly. Or at all.

Editat: set. 27, 2020, 12:40 pm

Perry Rhodan 132 : Die Macht der Unheimlichen ("The Power of the Uncanny") by Kurt Brand
Date: 1964

The last couple of issues have brought frightening discoveries: the Posbis are reproducing in large volume on the planet Frago (ep. 130), and "Sgt. Robot" Meech Hannigan reports a huge Posbi space station from which attacks might be launched (ep. 131). It adds up to an impending Posbi invasion of the Milky Way, and Perry scrambles battleships to the galaxy's edge to meet it. But discreetly, so as not to raise a panic.

The Akonens panic. Their intelligence informs them of massive movements of Terran battleships but not the reason for it. They hire the Springer Totzal to take them closer to the action. Totzal proposes to take the Akonens to Panotol, a Springer outpost near the Terrans' maneuvers. Totzal plans a circuitous route that will avoid the Terrans, or if Terrans cannot be avoided, disguise their intentions. Totzal's roundabout itinerary, however, invites greater danger when he catches the Posbis' notice. The Posbis attack, Totzal broadcasts a distress signal, and now all secrecy is gone.

Battles ensue on and around Panotol, involving Totzal's merchant fleet, the Terran battleships, and a handful of Posbi "fragment ships." Despite their lower number, the Posbi ships have an advantage in that they are nearly indestructible and quickly destroy the Springer fleet, though Totzal and some of his crew survive an emergency landing on Panotol. The Terrans have more luck and are even able to eliminate some Posbi ships with gravity bombs before Posbi reinforcements arrive.

The Terrans are forced to retreat, leaving Panotol to be occupied by the Posbis, with the unsettling knowledge that Totzal's disabled ship has a computer containing the coordinates of nearly every life-bearing planet in the galaxy, including Earth's.

Editat: set. 27, 2020, 1:32 pm

113) What to Think About Machines That Think
Date 2016

Every year from the late 1990's up to 2018, the Edge Organization asked a question, and collected the responses of scientists, philosophers, academics, CEOs, authors and others. The question for 2015 was: "What do you think about machines that think?" These are their answers. The responses are short, 1-4 pages each, and the book contains nearly 200 of them.

It's slow going, because it's difficult to absorb more than a few at a time. There is also a huge amount of repetition because the same themes are revisited:

Don't Worry.
Worry, but not for the reasons you think.
What are we talking about anyway?

Despite the repetition, I found much to chew on here, since each response has a variety of nuances. I think varieties of the last two are the most interesting, and the ones that the intervening five years have most justified. Personally, I'm a little concerned about spontaneous emergence of self-aware AI that may have interests incompatible with humans', but agree that there is plenty of reason to think the risk is very low. On the other hand, we don't really know how humans picked it up. The fact that it took billions of years of evolution suggests that it's probably not easy to generate self-aware intelligence by accident, but we don't know.

More concerning to me are the effects of the machine "intelligence" we are building already, which tends to reinforce familiar injustices, as if (ahem) by design -- see for example Cathy O'Neil's disturbing Weapons of Math Destruction. Or, you know, the news: here, for example. Or here. Or here. Several respondents make vague comments about this sort of thing, but I think if the question were re-asked in 2020 we'd read a lot more about this problem.

Many respondents point to ambiguity in the question's terms. We barely understand what we mean when say humans "think," and are likely to mean very different things in different contexts. In some contexts -- and I think this has become steadily clearer in the last 5 years -- it is dishonest to say that human "thinking" is unique; intelligence of one sort or another is everywhere. It's true that humans have certain thinking habits, some more well-defined than others, but plenty of other animals have their own; and it's likely that we place "human intelligence" at the apex of a pyramid because we're the ones building it.

Anyway, lots to think about here.

And I can't help snarking that, whatever its long term-prospects, machine intelligence could almost certainly select a better color scheme than some human intelligence did for that awful cover.

set. 27, 2020, 2:21 pm

>106 swynn: Agreed re: cover. They paid for a four-color cover and got THAT?! *shudder*

Happy Sunday!

set. 27, 2020, 2:38 pm

>101 swynn: I bought that very book pictured when I was about 12 or so through one of the school book clubs at the time - Arrow, Tab, Scholastic sorts of things. I did not like it. And yet, I held on to it up until about 5-6 years ago when I started a serious pruning out of books I held on to but would either never read or never read again. I never read any other Fu Manchu book.

set. 27, 2020, 2:51 pm

>108 RBeffa: Wise choice. Its virtues exist only in relation to earlier books in the series.

oct. 8, 2020, 6:26 pm

I'm finally reading The Bride Of Fu Manchu, and finding it even more sexist than racist; though of course YMMV.

On the other hand---

    As he spoke, I started---suppressing an exclamation.
    A queer whistling note had sounded, almost in my ear, and some vague grey shape streaked past me, alighted upon the big table with its litter of strange books and implements, and with a final spring settled upon the yellow-robed shoulder of Dr Fu Manchu!
    Out from a ball of grey fur, a tiny, wizened face peered at me. One of those taloned hands reached upward and caressed the little creature.
    “Probably the oldest marmoset in the world,” said the guttural voice. “You would not believe me if I told you Peko’s age.”
    And as the Chinaman spoke, the wizened little creature perched upon his shoulder looked down into that majestic, evil face, made a mocking, whistling sound, and clutched with tiny fingers at the little skullcap which Dr Fu Manchu wore...

oct. 8, 2020, 11:15 pm

More marmoset! I'd worried Rohmer had retired the little bundle of evil cuteness. Bride is in my stack, and I hope to get to it soon, though life currently seems to be slowing things down. Sexism outpacing the racism surprises me not at all.

Editat: oct. 23, 2020, 5:16 pm

114) Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden
Date: 2017

This is a full-packed first novel set in a near-future South Africa where ... well, there's an awful lot going on here with gods and politics and sex and drugs and rock and roll. Also the dawn of self-aware AI. Sometimes it's a bit *too* much, but never is it boring and now I must read more Drayden.

Editat: oct. 23, 2020, 5:20 pm

115) Field of Blood / Joanne B. Freeman
Date: 2018

Wow. If think that our current batch of legislators are dysfunctional, then gentlebeings please allow Dr. Freeman to introduce you to the antebellum Congress, whose members were bugfuck crazy, routinely challenged one another to duels, physically attacked one another in the street and sometimes in chambers, went armed to work, and occasionally drew weapons on the floor (though they did sometimes, when in an especially civilized disposition, ask ladies to leave the the chamber first). So I guess things could be worse. Though I'd feel better if there weren't a movement to make sure everybody gets to carry guns everywhere again. Because things aren't *that* much better.

Anyway, Freeman tells the story of how belligerent behavior among Congressmen evolved during the build-up to the Civil War. It's fascinating and a little worrisome.

Editat: oct. 23, 2020, 5:20 pm

116) Termination Dust / Sue Henry
Date: 1995

Second in Henry's mystery series featuring Alaska State Trooper Alex Jensen and musher Jessie Arnold. In this one, an American tourist on a solitary canoeing vacation in Canada runs into some unfriendly locals, who rob him of his equipment. He manages to escape with a bare minimum of gear, makes a basic campsite and settles in for a cold night. But when he wakes in the morning he finds all of his gear returned to his camp, along with a dead body and a disapproving Mountie -- who just happens to be accompanied by Officer Jensen on an unrelated cross-border investigation. (Or is it unrelated?) The mystery's solution is as unlikely as the setup, but it does its job for a few hours.

Editat: oct. 23, 2020, 5:20 pm

117) Coyote Rage / Owl Goingback
Date: 2019

Coyote is tired of the way humans behave (go figure), so he decides to kill Luther Watie, the human representative to the Great Council, and Luther's only daughter who will inherit the title after his death. Raven on the other hand is fond of humans. After all, without humans who is going to toss french fries out car windows? So while Coyote and his allies go on a very bloody rampage, Raven maneuvers to help Luther and his daughter survive. This one is a ride: lots of action in an absorbing world. Only problem is an ambiguous ending -- fair warning, because it begs for a sequel bit it's not clear that Goingback plans one.

This won the 2019 Stoker Award for best novel, and though I haven't read the competition I think it's a respectable choice.

Editat: oct. 23, 2020, 5:47 pm

118) Fire Logic / Laurie J. Marks
Date: 2002

Here's a delight: an epic fantasy that sets out to explode the tropes of epic fantasy. It begins with a violent invasion and destruction of a thriving and more-or-less peaceful civilization. A resistance forms quickly, and we follow a few characters caught up in it, primarily Zanja, former diplomat and sole survivor of a culture otherwise destroyed by the invaders; and Emil, a soldier-turned-scholar now drawn back into violence. One expectats Zanja and Emil to play out a drama of resistance and revenge, but Marks frustrates those expectations with sensitive takes on violence and trauma and the effects of their perpetuation. In her world, brilliant military leaders are not necessarily heroes, and healers are not necessarily meek. Not incidentally, gender roles are the opposite of rigid: men and women are equally likely to be warriors, scholars, or magicians, and falling in love with a member of one's own sex is indistinguishable from just falling in love. (It's also diverse racially, though you wouldn't guess from the cover that Zanja is dark-skinned.)

Sometimes the pace seemed to drag which usually annoys me but here made me wonder -- Marks is undermining the Hero's Journey, she's undermining the Revenge Tale, she's undermining the Fisher King trope. How do I know that the problem is her pacing and not my expectations of it? And damn, I don't. It's a surprisingly introspective read, and I'll read the next soon.

oct. 23, 2020, 5:23 pm

>112 swynn: Oh! So glad you enjoyed this. I'll tell Nicky.

Some very interesting reads here. Likin' the vibe off >115 swynn: especially.

Happy weekend reads!

oct. 23, 2020, 6:00 pm

>117 richardderus: Whatever you did to earn her acknowledgement, keep it up. Looking forward to Temper, which I'll probably get to next month.

And yeah, Coyote Rage was a hoot. I'll have to find more Goingback too.

Editat: oct. 23, 2020, 6:19 pm

119) Bride of Fu Manchu / Sax Rohmer
Date: 1933

Sixth in Rohmer’s series about supervillain Fu Manchu. This one has a new romantic lead, Alan Sterling, who helps Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie thwart Fu Manchu’s nefarious plot to spread a new plague through genetically engineered insects, hybrids of fleas and tse-tse flies. When he isn't saving the world from destruction, Sterling is also interested in the titular bride whom he hopes to rescue from Fu Manchu’s clutches.

I thought I’d detected in the last couple of entries an easing of the racist venom we’d seen in earlier volumes. I thought I’d also detected some vague criticism of British imperialism, and wondered whether Rohmer was setting his villain up as a secret anticolonialist hero. My hopes for subtlety were not high, which is just as well because this volume dashes them, but it also offers an explanation for the easing of the most overt racism. References to communist villains like Stalin and, um, FDR suggest that Rohmer has changed the focus of Fu Manchu’s threat from anxiety about racial invasion to anxiety about international communism, from “yellow peril” to “red scare.” Some better, I guess.

oct. 23, 2020, 7:10 pm

>118 swynn: She was a bit, um, effusive, but it was lovely.

>119 swynn: Ugh.

oct. 24, 2020, 9:42 am

>113 swynn: Yeah, that was an eye-opener, for sure. The more things change, the more they stay the same...

oct. 26, 2020, 10:26 am

Have you seen this, this TRAVESTY?!

Longest SF series my hind leg!! Perry Rhodan has it whupped all hollow!

Editat: oct. 26, 2020, 11:19 am

>122 richardderus: One hundred thirty volumes? Amateurs.

They qualify it as "the longest single-spanning author body of work in them world" sic -- which I think means they're restricting their choices to single-*author* works. Maybe it's true that 'Guin Saga' is the longest single-author sf/fantasy series, but still 130 doesn't really sound that high for a world record.

Perry Rhodan isn't a single-author series, but, say, Clark Darlton is the author for almost 200 episodes in the main series, along with about 30 episodes of the "Atlan" spinoff series and 25 of the tie-in paperback novels.

But if Perry Rhodan doesn't count then the next series that comes to mind is the "John Sinclair, Ghost Hunter" series, now over 2,200 volumes, almost all of which were written by Helmut Rellergerd under the pen name, "Jason Dark." It's only in recent years that the author has invited others to contribute episodes. But it's horror so maybe it doesn't count as "science fiction & fantasy."

So 130 volumes is an awful lot but I'm skeptical about the "world record" claim.

oct. 26, 2020, 11:49 am

>123 swynn: I think Clark Darlton is the winner, then. Even if the single-author rule is the one they're following...and I suspect it's not...then a wee bit more time spent with duckduckgo instead of google will return much more reliable results.

Or, hey, consult a librarian! Y'all're real good at this sort of stuff.

Editat: oct. 26, 2020, 2:02 pm

>124 richardderus: Aw, shucks.

The reason John Sinclair is on my mind is that I replaced my Perry Rhodan Heft-reading with John Sinclair this month for Halloween. Here are some thoughts on the first five volumes (all published 1978):

John Sinclair is the Scotland Yard detective who gets tasked with cases involving Vampires, werewolves, witches, demons, and ghosts. The series is much more episodic than Perry Rhodan -- some villains do recur, but there aren't multivolume story arcs or end-of-Heft cliffhangers.

These stories are very seventies. Casual antifeminism is especially pronounced in episode 4; homophobia in episode 5.

1. Im Nachtclub der Vampire ("Nightclub of Vampires"): Sinclair helps a German visitor targeted by nightclub-running vampires.

2. Die Totenkopf-Insel ("Skull Island"): Sinclair intervenes when an old rich guy living on a private island off the coast of Cornwall makes a deal with ghost pirates.

3. Achterbahn ins Jenseits ("Roller Coaster to the Beyond"): Sinclair deals with the ghost of a Satanist gravedigger at a carnival held on the site of a forgotten graveyard.

4. Damona, Dienerin des Satans ("Damona, Servant of Satan"): Sinclair investigates a skyrocketing divorce rate in London and a new women's religious movement. Satan is behind it of course.

5. Der Mörder mit dem Januskopf ("The Killer With the Janus Head"): A two-faced demon -- one of whose faces is harmless and the other deadly -- hires a London mob boss to assassinate John Sinclair.

oct. 26, 2020, 2:07 pm

>125 swynn: The times were what they were. Sadly, they often still are what they were, but at least it's less acceptable to be open about it!

oct. 26, 2020, 6:04 pm

>126 richardderus: So far, anyway. May that trend continue.

Editat: oct. 26, 2020, 6:24 pm

120) And the Last Trump Shall Sound
Date: 2020

This is a collection of three novellas set in a near future where Donald Trump wins reelection, and Mike Pence after him. Pence presides over a disintegrating union when the Pacific states secede, and the Northeast threatens the same. The stories do their jobs: Turtledove's sets the stage, Morrow's gives us farcical humor, though his best joke is his premise, and Rambo's gives us a bleak prognosis for Trumpistan. But they are all very of-the-moment, and I expect their appeal to wane quickly. Please, whatever powers are listening, give us a world where these stories are no longer relevant. By which of course I mean: vote.

The Breaking of Nations by Harry Turtledove: follows the secession of California, Oregon, and Washington, establishing the new state of Pacifica. It's Harry Turtledove, and if you like his stuff you'll probably like this.

The Purloined Republic by James Morrow: follows an undercover plot by Pacifican intelligence to place an agent very close to Mike Pence. They recruit a retired porn star to take the role of President Pence's spiritual advisor, from which position she can provoke Pence into behavior that might undermine his credibility.

Because It Is Bitter by Cat Rambo: follows a Pacifican IT tech who sneaks into the United States to locate a former coworker suspected of corporate espionage.

oct. 26, 2020, 6:42 pm

>128 swynn:

Currently rewatching ST: DS9 and just had the episodes where they accidentally end up in 2024. I never bought into TOS' "eugenics wars" etc. but these episodes where everything has slid into entropy, and poverty and unemployment and homelessness are all too hard and have therefore literally been hidden behind a wall are just too damn believable at the moment... :(

oct. 26, 2020, 7:08 pm

>128 swynn: kill me now

oct. 27, 2020, 9:34 am

>129 lyzard: I really must catch up on my Star Trek. I am a DS9 ignoramus, but that sounds interesting.

>130 richardderus: One more week. One more week. One more week. One more week. One more week.

And then a long two and a half months, yeah, but still. One more week.

Editat: oct. 28, 2020, 6:20 pm

121) A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Date: 2011

Another Halloween read. This one has been in the swamp a long time; I've seen enthusiastic and not-so enthusiastic comments about it and now my curiosity is satisfied. It reminds me quite a bit of Twilight, with sparkly vampires and a plot that depends heavily on Talking About Feelings. But the writing is not awful -- I finished it, a statement that Twilight never earned -- and the McGuffin involving a mysterious manuscript is actually intriguing. Intriguing enough that I may just continue the series someday, depending on which memory persists most strongly: that it's a mystery about old books or that it's a vampire romance.

oct. 29, 2020, 10:20 am

>132 swynn: I was in the camp who really enjoyed that first book but I abandoned the second book very quickly. Of course, YMMV.

oct. 29, 2020, 1:08 pm

>133 MickyFine: Yikes. Maybe I won't rush to book two.

Editat: oct. 29, 2020, 1:39 pm

122) Oware Mosaic by Nzondi
Date: 2019

Something African futurism cyberpunk virtual augmented reality game murder mystery post apocalypse vampires-not-really-vampires-totally-vampires dystopian martial arts detective something. It has to do with a ninja vampire (who isn't really a vampire) involved in a hit-and-run while driving drunk, who learns that the victim was already dead when she hit her, which makes it okay, so she investigates the crime in a virtual reality game (which isn't really virtual reality) (and also not really a game). It's supposed to take place in Ghana but almost all the cultural references are early-21st century American, so much that the CDC intervenes in one scene, so much that the narrator justifies an unusual expression with, "... which is a common Ghanian phrase," just in case we forgot where we were. The "common Ghanian phrase" appears only just that once.

I found it a mess so am not a reliable reporter of its contents, but others have liked it a lot -- it has gotten some positive press and won the 2019 Bram Stoker for Young Adult novel. So take my crankiness for what it's worth -- sometimes one has to admit that one just doesn't get it and move on.

oct. 29, 2020, 4:20 pm

>135 swynn: My excuse is always true: "wasn't written for me, so why should I care?"

Hard pass anyway.

oct. 30, 2020, 6:12 pm

>136 richardderus: Good choice, I think.

oct. 31, 2020, 2:56 pm

>132 swynn: I actually liked the second book best, because we are back in Elizabethan England with Kit Marlowe and John Dee and all, and so all that modern vampire stuff fades a bit into the background.

Editat: oct. 31, 2020, 3:27 pm

123) Exodus by Leon Uris
Date: 1958

The U.S. bestseller for 1959 is a fictionalization of the founding of the state of Israel. We're brought into the action through the eyes of a couple of American characters, one a journalist and the other an American nurse. The journalist hangs around long enough to break the story on Exodus a refugee ship full of juveniles trying to enter illegally into Palestine. (I may have mentioned earlier that Exodus is one of my brother's favorite books -- the fact that he, an anti-immigrant Trumpist, is so fond of a story valorizing illegal immigration is .... well, it's actually one of the less enraging ironies of the last four years but still.) The nurse hangs around long enough to fall in love with a manly Israeli revolutionary. You probably know the rest, though the rhetorical flourishes are worth a look. Because the rhetoric is really what it's all about, 600 pages of justification for Israel with references the Holocaust, British mismanagement of the Palestine Mandate, Arabs' irrational hostility, and Jewish righteousness. It's pulpy -- at times the density of exclamation points rivals that of a Fu Manchu thriller -- and very propagandy.

If I come across as flippant, it's aimed at this literary object and not at the history it's based on, which is serious and painful and deeply complicated. I have no expertise on Israeli/Palestinian politics, just what I read in the books and magazine and newspapers but it seems clear to me that recent history is a thorny mess whose untanglement demands nuance. But nuance is not a feature of the genre Uris employs. In his account the future Israelis are so righteous that even the Deir Yassin massacre is shrugged off as an unfortunate mistake, made in the passion of a moment caused by its victims. Arabs to Uris, on the other hand, are opportunistic superstitious lecherous duplicitous violent cowards who have it coming. Which just goes to show, I guess, that even the harshest lessons cannot cure us of racial scapegoating. Which keeps me awake at night.

oct. 31, 2020, 3:25 pm

>138 ronincats: Oh, decisions. The historical stuff does appeal to me.

oct. 31, 2020, 4:28 pm

>139 swynn: I never say this out loud. I do not like this writer's writing now that I am old and cranky. There's a point at which my politics and my aesthetic judgments must diverge to remain honest about either.

Uris is a shrill propagandist in every book of his I've read: this one, Mila-18, QB VII. I do not need this in my reading world.

I shall show myself out.

oct. 31, 2020, 4:29 pm

>139 swynn:

Yes, yes and yes again, alas. I won't say the main, but the overriding problem I had with it is that it tells the truth to a point and then parts company with it, and unless you're completely across the issues you don't know when that point is, or even that there is one; and that to me is the most dangerously dishonest form of historical writing.

oct. 31, 2020, 4:34 pm


I picked up The Shoes Of The Fisherman yesterday. I'm tempted to say "sigh" yet again. :)

I talk to my brother regularly about this project (he often watches the associated movies with me, though I didn't make him watch Exodus), and last time we were debating the intriguing point of when the trash best-sellers kick in. I mean, I guess we had By Love Possessed, which is trash posing as literature; but what was the first "best-seller for the masses", as it were? You know I never look ahead, but my best guess was Love Story---when was that, 1969, 1970? Valley Of The Dolls, maybe?

Sadly enough, I'm actually looking forward to it. :D

oct. 31, 2020, 5:50 pm

>141 richardderus: Thanks for the warning. I am in no hurry to read more Uris.

>142 lyzard: I count myself among those who don't know where the point is, and I actually did appreciate the perspective on British missteps, which sounded truthy to me. But the anti-Arab rants, the attempt to erase the Arab revolt in World War I, the victim-blaming over Deir Yassin, the One Good Arab who turned villain over being refused the hero's sister ... it was clear that Uris not only crossed a line but left it far behind.

>143 lyzard: Depends on the definition of "trash," I guess. If Forever Amber and By Love Possessed don't qualify, then the next best candidate is probably Valley of the Dolls in 1966. Of course there has always been the occasional, e.g., Elinor Glyn novel downlist.

oct. 31, 2020, 6:02 pm

>144 swynn:

The Holocaust and the British, yes; but even the story of the boat isn't entirely true, and from there it's one distortion after another. But I only know that because I bothered to find out; I wonder how many readers took it as gospel (if you'll pardon the expression)?

We-ee-ell...we did agree that there's a pretty good historical novel about the Restoration lurking inside Forever Amber, so there's that. You're right that there's been some dubious entries down the list, but I'm looking for outright, irredeemable trash at #1...but no, I won't be clicking that! :D

Editat: nov. 9, 2020, 6:14 pm

124) The Trail of Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer
Date: 1934

Seventh in Rohmer's series about supervillain Fu Manchu.

The plot follows close on the heels of The Bride of Fu Manchu, in which our heroes rescued the titular bride Fleurette, and also captured FM only to see him escape through (on his part) a clever disguise and (on our heroes' part) the usual dimwittedness. As this one opens, the fugitive FM and his daughter Fah Lo Suee re-kidnap Fleurette and return to the London haunts of the early series. There ensues the usual nonsense, though this time in an elaborate tunnel complex beneath the Thames which I confess I found actually pretty creditable -- not to say credible -- as a supervillain lair.

Over the course of reading these, I've suggested that Rohmer seems to be changing Fu Manchu from a symbol of racist anxiety to one of anticommunist anxiety. But never mind. I do maintain that the racist vitriol is less thick than in some earlier volumes, but the "yellow peril" rhetoric is definitely back. Not that is was ever really gone, or anything but (arguably) de-emphasized, mind.

nov. 9, 2020, 7:09 pm

The Yellow Peril + The Red Menace = The Orange Devil?

Editat: nov. 10, 2020, 4:03 pm

>147 richardderus: Maybe. Thankfully, "supergenius" is not among the Orange Devil's supervillain powers.

It keeps me awake at night thinking what happens when someone comes along with the Orange Devil's politics and the intelligence and competence to carry them out effectively.

Editat: nov. 10, 2020, 4:48 pm

125) Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
Date: 1926

I picked this up after stumbling across a story describing it as (1) a feminist novel featuring witchcraft and Satanism (2) written by an openly bisexual author which was also (3) the inaugural selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club. I confess my estimation of the BOTMC jumped several notches before I even received the book.

And it's okay. It's light on plot: the title character is denied agency and avenues to happiness in the context of patriarchy and rigid social roles. Laura Willowes grows up on a country estate and shows suspiciously little interest in marriage; after her father's death she moves to London to help her brother raise a family and keep house. Twenty years she spends in London, but with the children grown she takes it into her head to escape the city for Great Mop, a rural village she chose almost at random. But even Great Mop proves to be no escape from obligations to male relatives, for her nephew Titus decides Great Mop is just the place to retire and pursue his artistic dreams: romantic setting, leisure for writing, and a beloved auntie to keep house. It's then that Lolly discovers her aptitude for nature religion.

The writing is lovely, with care for detail and mood. The pace is measured, and emphasis is on social strictures and Lolly's growing need to escape them -- it's a sort of The Awakening with a guest appearance by Satan. Obviously, I'd have preferred something more pulpy but one does not criticize a book for not being what it never tries to be. What it tries to be is a very interior story about rejecting restrictive social demands, and that theme no matter its pace resonates with me.

I'm just surprised the BOTMC picked it in 1926.

nov. 10, 2020, 6:16 pm

>148 swynn: Don't ever, ever say type or think that again!

>149 swynn: A lovely, quietly evil little book. Good on ya, Lolly.

nov. 18, 2020, 3:30 pm

Painting by Chris Foss for Perry Rhodan’s ‘The Planet Of The Dying Sun,’ reprinted in a 1976 issue of Science Fiction Monthly.
From a Twitter SF Art account I follow.

nov. 26, 2020, 2:14 am

BTW, Steve, have you looked ahead to the next Fu Manchu book? Thankfully not as topical as it might have been! :D

nov. 26, 2020, 6:04 pm

>151 richardderus: Thanks for sharing, Richard. Chris Foss's work is gorgeous.

>152 lyzard: I have -- in fact, I've finished it. Comments soon. Ish.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

nov. 27, 2020, 2:03 am

This Brit wishes to express his thanks for the warmth and friendship that has helped sustain him in this group, Steve.

Editat: nov. 30, 2020, 2:03 pm

>154 PaulCranswick: Thanks for the holiday wishes, Paul! This group is among the things I'm thankful for.

My goodness I've fallen behind. This one's from way back before Halloween. Of course in 2020 every day is Halloween.

126) Carpe Demon / Julie Kenner
Date: 2005

A demon hunter who settled down to raise a family comes out of retirement for an apocalypse. The premise is appealing -- what if Mrs. Summers were the vampire slayer, not Buffy? -- and it's occasionally cute but never really finds the middle-aged version of Buffy's teenage angst that made that series work so well. Ok, but just.

(And what would the middle-aged version of teen angst be? Ennui? The despair of dreams deferred? If you can make that stuff charming I will be your humble book-buying servant.)

Editat: nov. 30, 2020, 2:45 pm

127) Best Horror of the Year, vol. 1 / Ellen Datlow, ed.
Date: 2009

It's a year's-best anthology and has the mix you'd expect of gems ("Penguins of the Apocalypse", "Loup-Garou"), duds ("Esmerelda", "The Goosle"), and wait-does-that-even-belong-heres ("Very Low-Flying Aircraft"). The percentage of just-okay stories is high.

Cargo by E Michael Lewis
Strange noises on the cargo plane returning bodies from Jonestown

If Angels Fight by Richard Bowes
A young man is good to find the son of a prominent blueblood political family. The search is only slightly complicated by the fact that the son has been dead for years.

The Clay Party by Steve Duffy
Historical horror based on the Donner Party, with a supernatural twist.

Penguins of the Apocalypse by William Browning Spencer
An alcoholic meets a strange man who promises to help solve his problems if in return the addict will help the penguins.

Esmeralda: the First Book Depository Story by Glen Hirshberg
In the near future, as bookstores and schools close, unwanted stock and collections of books are removed to abandoned warehouses, and it becomes fashion for urban explorers to go looking for the hidden mountains of books. And sometimes the explorers disappear.

The Hodag by Trent Hergenrader
The narrator recalls a late fall in his rural Wisconsin boyhood when something in the woods started attacking dogs and deer and people.

Very Low-Flying Aircraft by Nicholas Royle
Reckless RAF pilots on Zanzibar. I'm not sure this one is even horror, really.

When the Gentlemen Go By by Margaret Ronald
The inhabitants of a small rural town have an arrangement with otherworldly gentlemen who sometimes come through town and demand payment.

The Lagerstätte by Laird Barron
After the death of her husband and son in an airplane crash, a woman stinks into a deep depression and begins to see doubles of her husband.

Harry and the Monkey by Ryan Harvey
A father and his toddler son in Thailand invent a game of spot-the-invisible-monkey. Then the boy starts seeing them.

Dress Circle by Miranda Siemienowicz
A sort of Hotel California story about a girl who wants to be made beautiful and appear on stage.

The Rising River by Daniel Kaysem
A woman talks to ghosts and deals with trauma from her childhood.

Sweeney Among the Straight Razors by JoSelle Vanderhooft
Poem about Sweeney Todd.

Loup-Garou by R.B. Russell
A man on a business trip stops in an art cinema and watches a film with unlikely similarities to his own life.

Girl in Pieces by Graham Edwards
In a dark urban-fantasy world inspired by Raymond Chandler and monster movies, a gumshoe detective assists a golem framed for murder. It has a clever bit of fantasy mathematics too, involving binary code written in Hebrew, a script without zeroes.

It Washed Up by Joe Lansdale
Short piece about a garbage monster from the sea.

The Thirteenth Hell by Mike Allen
Poem about a voice in one's head.

The Goosle by Margo Lanagan
Seems to be a dying-earth retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story, with incest and pedophilia. I say "seems" because I'm not sure I followed it, but also didn't care to stay in the world long enough to figure it out.

Beach Head by Daniel LeMoal
A group of fratboys skimming from a drug-snuggling operation wake up on a beach, buried to the neck.

The Man From the Peak by Adam Golaski
A society party on a mountainside is crashed by a gentleman who lives even higher up the mountain where there are no homes at all.

The Narrows by Simon Bestwick
After a nuclear attack, schoolteachers and children escape the radiation by descending into the caves of an old coalmine. But something even worse is in the depths.

nov. 30, 2020, 2:05 pm

>156 swynn: Sounds like it's worth waiting for a sale, if not rushing out to buy today.

>155 swynn: I'm still pissed off at that book's casual homophobia. "Of course {child} isn't gay."

Screw you, Karen. And I *am* the manager.

Editat: nov. 30, 2020, 2:43 pm

128) Dream Thieves / Maggie Stiefvater
Date: 2013

Second in Stiefvater's "Raven Cycle" series, about a group of supernaturally-powered teenagers looking for the lost burial site of a 14th-Century Welsh king in Virginia. In the first book, the teens awakened the magic that will help them in their quest; this volume introduces complications: a ruthless mercenary and another talented teenager whose goals conflict with our heroes'

I enjoyed this as much as the first and am looking forward to the next, though it seems to me that the heroes spend too much time not working on their quest. (Maybe it's not actually a quest-story?)

Editat: nov. 30, 2020, 2:42 pm

>157 richardderus: I am embarrassed to admit that I missed that. Probably because of skimming while straight.

As for the horror anthology, I've gotten several volumes in this series for a couple bucks at a time when they go on sale for the Kindle.

nov. 30, 2020, 5:08 pm

>159 swynn: I doubt that, with the best will in the world, straight people could identify more than one in fifteen nasty, cutting little comments their peers direct at gay people. It's not you they're aiming at!

nov. 30, 2020, 5:54 pm

>160 richardderus: For this reason, I appreciate your calling it out when I've missed it. My disinclination to continue the series is reaffirmed.

des. 1, 2020, 9:17 am

>158 swynn: Well, it *is* YA and so must, to some extent deal with general teen angst, right? I do really, *really* love the character development in this series, though.

des. 1, 2020, 3:18 pm

>162 scaifea: Right about the angst in YA. And I get it about the character development -- these characters are more interesting than most.

Editat: des. 1, 2020, 6:27 pm

129) President Fu Manchu / Sax Rohmer
Date: 1936

Book 8 of Rohmer's series featuring supervillain Fu-Manchu moves the action to the United States, where Fu-Manchu supports the presidential campaign of populist candidate Harvey Bragg. It's part of an elaborate plan to conquer the world, beginning with the United States. Because it's a Fu-Manchu story:

Nayland Smith must appear, and he does so as a special agent on loan to the U.S. as "Federal Agent Number 56".

We must have a fresh romantic lead, and we get that with FBI agent Mark Hepburn. He must fall in love with one of Fu-Manchu's minions, in this case the reluctant tool Moya Adair.

There must be deadly insects, disguises even when they don't make narrative sense, an underground lair, drugs, hypnosis, fiendish traps and heroes dumb enough to walk into them. Check, check, check, check, check, check, and check. And of course, race-baiting, red-baiting, and misogyny. Big fat check. Really, it's not so much Book 8 as Iteration 8 of Book 1.

This book does bring some mild interest in the way it draws on contemporary American politics. Harvey Bragg's personality seems to be patterned on Huey Long's. Bragg's politics are ambiguous, except that he supports jobs programs and other policies designed to support the working class, but also with a nativist streak: "America for every man and every man for America." Bragg's opponent, Norman Thomas, has even more ambiguous politics, his main concern apparently that Bragg will lead the country into dictatorship. I can't identify the prototype for Thomas, assuming there is one, maybe Alf Landon? Supporting Thomas is a Catholic radio host pretty obviously modeled on Father Coughlin. Unfortunately, the novel never goes deep enough into the characters' positions to say anything interesting. Rohmer is much more interested in poisons and insects and disguises and underground lairs. Which is fine, I guess, except that we've been there before and before and before.

Alas, the pastiche of American politics isn't enough to offset the book's significant flaws. But to be fair, if I was expecting anything else I got exactly what I deserved.

des. 1, 2020, 9:08 pm

>164 swynn: dude
what will it take to get you to stop hurting your brain? please!

des. 3, 2020, 12:45 am

Only a few more, then I can resume the DAW project ....

des. 3, 2020, 4:17 pm

>164 swynn:, >165 richardderus:


>166 swynn:

So you'll be moving on to something classy, like John Norman??

des. 3, 2020, 5:14 pm

How can it be that I've been a member of this group since 2008, and never found your thread? Nevertheless, I am happy I discovered it today.

The books you read are fascinating. For now, I added Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga to my to be read list.

I'll return again to see what you are reading.

des. 3, 2020, 6:14 pm

>167 lyzard: Precisely. Fortunately, "The Wrath of Fu-Manchu" was immediately preceded by a John Norman so I have a respite until number 232, which I probably won't reach until late next year.

Of course, it's anybody's guess what awfulness may hide behind upcoming titles, but many are promising: the next dozen novels include (SPOILERS!) a translation of a 1922 French SF novel; another Dray Prescott adventure, an annual-best anthology, more works by Tanith Lee and Andre Norton, and the debut novel of C.J. Cherryh.

The reward for finishing Fu-Manchu is great.

Editat: des. 3, 2020, 9:15 pm

>168 Whisper1: Welcome Linda!

I've been a poor visitor recently, but will drop a star on your thread as well.

Editat: des. 4, 2020, 12:21 pm

130) Invisible Fences by Norman Prentiss
Date: 2010

Here's a horror novella with a burn so slow that you'll forget that it's a ghost story until the punch lands. And it's hard to talk about without getting all what-it's-really-about-y. The plot involves a boy recalling a childhood where parents invented "invisible fences" to prevent harm: "Don't go into the woods that's where the junkies hang out." So when the children go into the woods anyway -- as our narrator does -- and encounter danger they begin constructing their own "invisible fences." As, again, our narrator does, not just immediately after the incident but well into adulthood as well. Until.

It's a ghost story with a burn so slow and so preoccupied with its thematic agenda that you'll forget it's supposed to be a ghost story at all. Until. Carefully structured, nicely composed, and an effective resolution. This won a Stoker Award in 2010, and it's an excellent choice.

Also free on Kindle. Just sayin'

des. 4, 2020, 12:23 pm

131) Network Effect by Martha Wells
Date: 2020

Yay Murderbot!

This is the proper review for every Murderbot novel so far. I expect to write it again next spring.

des. 4, 2020, 1:00 pm

>172 swynn: I'm anxiously awaiting my hold on this one but expect my review will be identical. :)

des. 4, 2020, 2:43 pm

>173 MickyFine: Yay Murderbot love!

des. 4, 2020, 2:47 pm

>172 swynn: Yay Murderbot in April, too!

Editat: des. 7, 2020, 9:42 am

132) Beyond Infinity by Eugenia Cheng
Date: 2017

Math follows. You have been warned.

Undergraduate math students are often introduced to set-theoretic infinity through a series of thought-exercises set at the "Hilbert Hotel," a facility with infinitely many guest rooms. Typically, the exercise ask you to imagine that the hotel is full, then to imagine ways to accommodate additional guests. For example:

The Hilbert Hotel is full. A new guest arrives. Can they be accommodated?
A: Yes. Just ask the guest in room 1 to move to room 2, the guest in room 2 to move to room 3; and the guest in room (n) to move to room (n+1). The new guest may then move into room 1.

Students are then asked to accommodate more guests: how do you accommodate any finite number of guests? Infinitely many guests? Two buses, each carrying infinitely many guests? Infinitely many buses. each carrying infinitely many guests? What if one of the rooms is designated an Executive Suite, whose occupant will never be asked to move? What if infinitely many of the rooms (say, all the even-numbered rooms) are designated Executive Suites? What if the Hotel has a second floor? Infinitely many floors?

All of these situations have solutions -- there's always room at the Hilbert Hotel! -- but you might hope that nobody drives up in a bus carrying all the real numbers because (spoiler) they won't fit. Not even the real numbers between 0 and 1. Or even between 0 and 0.0000000001. Some of those real numbers will have to sleep on the bus. This can be proven, and -- heh -- is left as an exercise for the reader.

Tennish years ago I took a course in Axiomatic Set Theory, where I served my time at the desk of the Hilbert Hotel, and man I love the place. I love the way intuition breaks down after the really big numbers turn into numbers bigger than any real number, and how I felt like I had to learn all over again how numbers work.

Eugenia Cheng clearly loves it too. She tells the stories about the Hilbert Hotel, about how Georg Cantor proved that the set of real numbers is strictly larger than the set of integers, and what kinds of numbers you can assign to infinitely large sets. She also talks about "infinitely small" numbers -- the "infinitesimals" that informed early ideas about the calculus, and their relation to the idea of a "limit." And in one chapter she draws on her own area of research -- category theory -- to discuss how working with an infinite series of sets can actually simplify things.

There are a few points where I felt Cheng neglected some interesting material, or broke off an explanation just before getting to the really good part. At one point she belabors a metaphor that I'm not sure would have been helpful if I didn't already know what she was talking about. But nowhere was I bored. Her selection of material is appealing and she is clearly enthusiastic about it, which counts for a lot.

des. 6, 2020, 10:36 pm

Nice review! I need to find that one.

des. 6, 2020, 11:34 pm

>176 swynn: Sounds a challenge and a reward too, Steve.

des. 6, 2020, 11:39 pm

>176 swynn: kthxbye

des. 7, 2020, 9:13 am

>176 swynn: Oooh, neat! When I was on faculty at Kenyon, I sat in on a math-for-humanities-students class that a friend had created on his own and was at the time polishing up a textbook for, called Surprises at Infinity. It was such a hoot. This book sounds like it's in a similar vein.

Editat: des. 7, 2020, 10:22 am

>177 drneutron: Hope you like it, Jim!

>178 PaulCranswick: Mostly rewarding this time around, Paul, like a guided tour of a space you love.

>179 richardderus: See you soon, Richard!

>180 scaifea: Probably, yeah. The ideas that mathematicians play with in this area are mind-blowing and really deserve a wider audience. Kudos to your friend for spreading them around. The details get fussy, of course, but Cheng mostly sticks to the big picture. Her text would be a good choice in a math-for-humanists class, and I'd be interested in your friend's too. Unfortunately, I can't find a book titled "Surprises at Infinity." Maybe the publisher changed it to something more tweedy.

des. 7, 2020, 11:02 am

>181 swynn: I need to ask him what he's published it as - I'll try to remember and then get back to you.

des. 8, 2020, 12:45 pm

133) The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James
Date: 2020

In 1982 Viv Delaney disappeared while working the night shift at the Sun Down Motel, a low-end lodging place in small-town upstate NY. Thirty-five years later, Viv's niece Carly goes looking for her -- even moving into Viv's old apartment and getting a job on the night shift at the Sun Down Motel. Chapters alternate between Viv's and Carly's viewpoints as both encounter local crimes and angry ghosts. It's a fun supernatural thriller begging for a film adaptation.

des. 8, 2020, 2:55 pm

>183 swynn: I hope it gets one, based on everything I've heard abt it. Amazing how many page-to-somekindascreen adaptations there are announced these days.

It's almost like Hollywooders are reading or something. One has to wonder why.

des. 9, 2020, 11:24 am

>184 richardderus: I wish Sun Down Motel every success, though I find myself decreasingly interested in movies, especially adaptations, toward which I have a complicated relationship.

Me: That film sounds interesting, but I think I'd like to read the book first.
Also me: Meh, I read the book so the movie can only be a disappointment.

des. 9, 2020, 12:26 pm

>185 swynn: My relationship to adaptations is more weighted towards success than yours, probably because I think the filmed version is a different beast...I make movies in my head anyway, so am disinclined to accept the text as The Revealed Word of Kalliope.

Illogical, now that I think about it for a minute, but true.

des. 9, 2020, 10:15 pm

>186 richardderus: That's the way to do it, no doubt: to think of the film as its own riff on themes/characters/situations/sets from the book. And I find it difficult to do, especially after having read the book.

Most cases where I've like both the film and the book, I watched the film first. FWIW. There's probably a lesson for me there, and I'll almost certainly ignore it.

Editat: des. 9, 2020, 11:32 pm

134) A Suitable Vengeance by Elizabeth George
Date: 1991

Fourth in George's series featuring posh Scotland Yard Detective Thomas Lynley and his working-class partner Barbara Havers. Though it's number four it's also a prequel to the first three, set in a time before Lynley and Havers were partners. Havers barely appears: the cast instead involves Lynley's circle, the setting Lynley's childhood home in Cornwall on the occasion of Lynley's bringing his fiancee home to meet the family and announce their engagement. A tangled web of grudges old and fresh is prodded: Lynley's resentment toward his mother, who was unfaithful years ago to his dying father; younger brother Peter's resentment toward Lynley for abandoning the family after their father's death; Peter's cocaine addiction, whose toxic effects have been felt by everyone; fiancee Deborah's complicated feelings toward her former boyfriend who is also Lynley's best friend and thus has been invited to join the festivities. Eventually there is a body -- it is a murder mystery after all -- in the form of a local muckraking reporter and rumored ladies' man. In the wake of the murder even more secrets, offenses, and retaliations emerge.

I missed Havers a lot in this entry, whose disdain for the upper classes is a welcome counterbalance to Lynley's privilege. I sometimes hoped the entire cast would meet a suitable vengeance and soon, a feeling that reaches its peak after multiple characters witness an attempted rape and everyone is too proper to disinvite the attempted rapist from the garden party. And there's violence against a cross-dressing character that feels exploitative.

Still, it's not awful. The point I suppose is the pain one accumulates even in the most privileged families. And while it's sordid, there are a couple moments of pathos. And a mystery whose solution I did not suspect until very late in the book, but which nevertheless felt fair. Which is a win, since it's a mystery after all.

It's my least favorite in the series so far, but I'll keep going -- I just hope Havers returns in the next.

des. 11, 2020, 12:39 am

This evening I got my first push-poll robo-call for the 2022 elections. Just in case I was tempted to think we might soon be between campaign cycles, I guess.

Editat: des. 11, 2020, 12:55 am

>189 swynn:

I don't know how you people keep your sanity. (Well. Some of you.) Our federal election campaigns go for about 3 weeks and we get sick of them.

Editat: des. 11, 2020, 1:06 pm

135) Lord of Strange Deaths
Date: 2015

This is a collection of mostly very interesting essays on Sax Rohmer, his work, and his world. Most authors express some ambivalence about Rohmer's work: there's little enthusiasm for rehabilitating his reputation for racism, and the essays are not likely to increase enjoyment of the novels. But they offer broader perspective on context and on Rohmer's preoccupations. The result is a collection more interesting than the works commented upon, which is a win.

Sax Rohmer's Egyptian intoxication / Roger Luckhurst
Luckhurst notes that Rohmer's ignorance about China is almost complete, but that he has a career-long fascination with Egypt. Several novels have Egyptian settings or references: Daughter of Fu Manchu, but also several other novels such as Brood of the Witch Queen and The Green Eyes of Bast. Lockhurst gives summaries of several of these novels, and identifies sources for some of Rohmer's derivative tropes (Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, Theophile Gautier, and others).

Orientalism, Fu Manchu, Arabophilia / Robert Irwin
Although Rohmer's reputation for racism is well earned, he seems to have little animus against China when compared to other writers like Thomas De Quincey or Jack London, or even compared to his own animus against Jews and Blacks. Rohmer was capable of respect and admiration for "the Orient", which for Rohmer includes the Middle East and Egypt. Irwin discusses Rohmer's complex treatment of "Oriental" characters, and identifies some of Rohmer's sources, including the Arabian Nights, an avid interest in Egyptian archaeology, and books about, e.g., hasish and hashishin.

Purple clouds and yellow shadows: sickly vapors and perilous hues at the fin-de-siecle / Anne Witchard
Witchard examines color symbols in Rohmer's work, which is more interesting than you might expect. She spends most of her time discussing yellow, exploring various associations the color would have had to Rohmer's audience -- code for Asian characters, obviously, but also fog, disease, and a certain sort of sensationalist journalism that also provided types and themes for his yellow-peril fiction.

The little I know about Sax Rohmer / Christopher Fowler
The title summarizes the content, which is indeed little. I'm not sure what this contributes to the collection.

Sax Rohmer, Dr. Fu Manchu and the music hall / Christopher Frayling
Before he became a pulp fiction superstar, Rohmer wrote music hall lyrics (one of his biggest hits was Bang Went the Chance of a Lifetime). Frayling discusses Rohmer's career as a lyricist, and how that experience affected his prose style.

The Emperor's old clothes / Gary Dickinson
Dickinson discusses Chinese dress, particularly that of "mandarins", contrasting Rohmer's imagination with reality.

The brow of Shakespeare : the origin of Sax Rohmer's villain / Clive Bloom
Bloom discusses predecessors of the Fu Manchu character. There are literary models such as Dracula, Moriarity, and villains of other Yellow-Peril novels. There were also racial anxieties about immigrant workers and "white slavery" that fed his effectiveness as a villain.

Limehouse variations / Alan Moore
Moore discusses using the Fu Manchu character in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Well, not the actual character because of copyright restrictions, but a Chinese supervillain supergenius so ...

Sax Rohmer's London : exotic confusions in the imperial metropolis / Phil Baker
Baker notes that Rohmer's scenes in London often have very specific locations. This essay offers a tour of London with references to events from Rohmer's works and life.

Guy Debord and Fu Manchu : a history of two conspirators / Jean Augris
A short piece exploring some parallels between Fu Manchu and the French "situationist" Guy Debord.

The mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu / Kim Newman
Newman discusses the old movie serials starring Werner Oland.

The romance of sorcery : Sax Rohmer and the occult / Gary Lachman
Rohmer had an interest in, and early in his career published a history of, the occult. There are claims that he was a member of the Golden Dawn with Aleister Crowley, Arthur Machen, etc., but little evidence (and it's the nature of this sort of thing that a lack of evidence can be taken as proof -- it's a "secret" society after all, right?) Hard to say what his activities were, but his interest was real and his authority questionable.

Fu Manchu, his daughter, and the dragon ladies of China / Paul French
French argues that Fu Manchu's daughter Fah Lo Suee is the origin of the "dragon lady" stereotype: a strong, assertive Asian woman who is also duplicitous and cruel. Rohmer did not use the term "dragon lady", but the character of Fah Lo Suee -- or maybe similar characters from Yellow-Peril literature -- inspired Milton Cardiff to invent it for his strip Terry and the Pirates. (One anecdote has it that Cardiff invented his character after seeing a Fu Manchu serial featuring Fah Lo Suee.) The term & stereotype gained such saturation that it has migrated to China, where it is used pejoratively for people like Madame Mao, Anna May Wong, and Gu Kalai.

The mysteries of the pomegranate : Sax Rohmer's The orchard of tears / Mark Valentine
After the success of the first Fu Manchu novels, Rohmer wanted to write a serious novel exploring theosophy. There are reasons it's forgotten.

Sax Rohmer, Harry Houdini & Fire-Tongue / Lawrence Knapp
Rohmer claimed that he once had a philosophy of writing mysteries based on the premise that the best way to stump your reader is to stump the writer. To this end, he would write the early chapters in a way to make the mystery unsolvable then ponder the problem until he had found a solution, when he would write the conclusion. Rohmer claims that through a misunderstanding the first chapters of his novel Fire Tongue actually appeared in print before he had discovered a solution to its mystery, committing him to a story he doubted he could finish. Fortunately his good friend Harry Houdini saved the day by suggesting the resolution. Knapp discusses this story and concludes it probably didn't happen, though it is certainly the case that Houdini and Rohmer were friends.

Monkey business : Peko's predecessors / Steve Moore
Peko is Fu Manchu's pet marmoset and one of the most appealing characters in the series (okay, Liz, the *only* appealing character...) Moore acknowledges the mystery of how Chinese supervillain Fu Manchu comes to have a pet marmoset, which are native to South America. He briefly investigates the history of monkeys as pets in China, but there's so little to tell that within four pages he turns his attention to pet crickets.

The fiendish world of Sax Rohmer / Antony Clayton
Brief biography of Sax Rohmer, with frequent reference to points made in other essays of this volume. I'm a little puzzled at the editorial decision to put it at the end, where it presents very little fresh material. Seems it would work better as an introduction.

des. 11, 2020, 1:55 am

>190 lyzard: I don't know how you people keep your sanity.

It's touch-and-go at the moment, I tell you.

Editat: des. 15, 2020, 11:41 am

136) A Burning by Megha Majumdar
Date: 2020

Terrorists fire-bomb a passenger train. Teenage student Jivan posts a snarky comment on Facebook, suggesting that police who stood and watched while humans burned might also be a sort of terrorist. She thought the comment was edgy, might get her a few more likes than usual. It gets her arrested. As Jivan's fate unfolds, chapters cycle through her viewpoint and two others: Lively, a transgender hijra who aspires to Bollywood stardom and can give Jivan an alibi for the day of the burning; and PT Sir, a Physical Education teacher at Jivan's school, who knows Jivan's character and academic record but who has political ambitions that would benefit if Jivan were convicted.

The conclusion is inevitable, but the drama of corruption and ambition is compelling and painfully realistic. It's a strong debut, and I'm looking forward to more from Majumdar.

des. 15, 2020, 12:42 pm

>193 swynn: Already on my Kindle, thank goodness, or I'd have to run spend money on it. Well flogged. (in the UK sense)

des. 15, 2020, 6:00 pm

>194 richardderus: Hope you like it as well as I did, Richard!

des. 21, 2020, 5:29 pm

Tachyon Publications, an SFF house, posted this on Twitter. Says it all, no?

des. 22, 2020, 2:12 pm

>196 richardderus: I hope so, and am trying hard to fight the dread feeling that 2020 was 2021's way of saying "Hold my beer."

des. 23, 2020, 4:10 pm


Editat: des. 24, 2020, 1:42 am

>198 richardderus: There are chronic problems that won't go quietly away. But at least we will have a not-sociopath in the White House who might handle those problems as if he were not an irresponsible self-dealing malicious bizarroburger. That will count for a lot.

Editat: des. 24, 2020, 2:23 am

137) Die Frau der Zukunft vor 100 Jahren (= The Woman of the Future 100 Years Ago) / edited by Detlef Münch
Date: 2018 (4th ed.; 1st ed. published 2017; Selections originally published 1899-1914)

This is a collection of 8 German-language early science fiction stories, originally published 1899-1914, imagining the future of women, all written by women. I don't think any of the stories are available in English, so I'll make comments a little more detailed than usual in case anyone's interested. From the mile-high view, it's about what you'd expect: visions of expanded opportunities and rights for women, but also antifeminist satire pokes fun at the idea of women and men exchanging roles. From a genre standpoint, they have more in common with utopian works than with Verne's technological adventures. Münch includes a bibliographical essay on gender roles and relations in late 19th- and early 20th-century science fiction; and a collection of caricatures ridiculing the goals of the women's movement.

Die Frau nach fünfhundert Jahren
"The Woman After Five Hundred Years" by Therese Haupt (1899)

This is antifeminist satire, but an ambiguous one -- or at least I find it so. Marga Ebner, an upper-class leader of the women's movement neglects her household work while she prepares a lecture for the next meeting of the Women's Union. Marga's husband admonishes her for her disordered priorities; besides, he says, why prepare a lecture when she can visit the future in person via the science of mesmerism? Having first hand knowledge, she can address the Women's Union ex tempore (so to speak) and avoid timewasting preparation. Marga agrees, and via hypnosis visits the home of a famous physician and surgeon, also named Marga Ebner, in the year 2499. In the wake of a war in the year 2000 that devastated the male population, women of 2499 have taken over most occupations. Men have adopted domestic roles and are responsible for households, raising children, and decorating themselves for their wives' enjoyment. Future-Marga's husband Darling has become curious about pre-war times when men ruled the world. To learn more about those ancient days he uses a device that allows him to converse with a ghost from the twentieth century - a conversation on which Marga can eavesdrop. Darling has also grown dissatisfied with his marriage and infatuated with another woman. Near the end of Marga's visit, Darling announces that he is leaving his union with Future-Marga to start a new life with his new love. His leaving means that Future-Marga's children will have to go to boarding school -- a prospect devastating to Future-Marga, but time-traveling Marga is also horrified by a world in which a mother can be separated from her children. So horrified is she, that upon waking from her trance, Marga renounces feminism forever.

Haupt's satirical future pokes fun at assertive women and domesticated men; but I find it telling that in Haupt's 2499 women haven't done such a bad job really: notably, the world is at peace, a Mars colony has been founded, and technology has advanced to the point that Future-Marga can take a "traveling chair" (Fahrstuhl) through the center of the Earth when she needs to perform an emergency artificial heart transplant in New Zealand. Not all is rosy: nonhuman animals are extinct, citizens are identified by numbers rather than names, and sentiments like patriotism, idealism, and piety are forgotten -- wait, that's a disadvantage? -- but the world led by women seems not so bad. Maybe it's just my 21st-century sensibility, but I think Haupt intended the comparison to be not black and white. Consider the story Darling hears from the twentieth-century ghost: the ghost tells a story of forced marriage, financial loss, and institutionalized greed and dishonesty. Marga may be naive, but the men's world is not clearly preferable to the women's. Haupt may tell an antifeminist story, but it's a nuanced one, and Marga's climactic renouncement of the women's movement feels more like a generic trope than well-motivated action.

Weibliche Zukunftsmusik
"Feminine Future Music" by Franziska Wolff (1902)

In contrast to Haupt's story, Wolff's is an unsubtle antifeminist nightmare. In 1950, due to a high proportion of female births, Europe has become majority-female: four women to every man. Women dominate every profession, including heavy labor. (Men have only themselves to blame for this situation, because they kept inventing machines that reduced work to button-pushing.) Men are enslaved. But then the European women import workers from China, which wakes the racial conscience of European men. A messiah arises, who preaches mass suicide to women: the very best of the women and the very worst follow the messiah's teachings and kill themselves on land and sea, leaving only poor-to-average women, who are exactly what Europeans need to re-establish a great race.

It is exactly as "WTF did I just read?" as it sounds, so I want to add that I am not making this up:

So starben sieben Zehntel der Frauen, unter ihnen die Edelsten und die Schlechtesten ihres Geschlechtes.
Was übrig blieb, war ziemlich minderwertiges Mittelgut.
Das hatte der Priester gewollt. Er wußte, das gab für die Züchtung eines neuen und kraftvollen Geschlechtes das beste Material.
Nachdem er sein Werk vollendet, gab er sich selbst den Tod. Er hatte Europa gerettet - für mehrere Jahrzehnte.

"So seven tenths of the women died, among them the noblest and the worst of their sex.
What was left over was pretty inferior middlings.
That was what the Priest wanted. He knew, that was the best material for the breeding of a new and powerful race.
When his work was complete, he gave himself to death. He had saved Europe - for a few decades."

Das Ewig-Weibliche im Jahre 2500
"The Eternal Feminine in the Year 2500" by H.W. (1908)

A (male) engineer falls in love with a (female) chemist. Bureaucratically, she is his superior and therefore it is her place to make the first move, but alas she is shy. Finally, the engineer can stand it no longer so he signs up to join a Mars colony. When she hears the news, the chemist begs him not to go and to stay with her instead. Of course he will stay, and he promises eternal love -- but what changed her mind? Was it the thought of being parted from him? No, she says, it was the Martian women.

Die Frauenwelt auf dem Mars
"The Women's World on Mars" by E. Tanne (1910)

After hearing a lecture about life on Mars, the narrator takes an astral journey, climbing the branches of the tree outside her bedroom window, until she reaches the interplanetary realm and then Mars itself. The Martians immediately recognize that the narrator is ill, with disruptions in her magnetic and electrical something, probably irritated by her wearing clothing (on her astral body?), but the diagnosis is something I can't quite make out. Homes are solar powered: every house is equipped with a "sun-magnet" on its east side, which collects sunbeams and redirects them to the "sun-chamber," where they are used for "cooking, heating and power for industry." Much attention is paid to health: the Martians exercise frequently, in the fresh air when possible, drink only filtered water, and have hospitals for the body, mind, and soul. Men and women have separate newspapers, hospitals, schools, and even governments, with men ruled by men and women by women:

Nur Frauen können Frauen erziehen, unterrichten, richten, und regieren.

"Only women can raise, teach, judge, and rule women."

To be married, both husband and wife must establish proof of financial stability. A marriage contract is not binding, and divorce carries no stigma: on the contrary, divorced women are considered to have valued experience that young idealists lack.

The narrator's journey is only possible by the light of the full moon. As the moon wanes, so does her ability to remain on Mars. When she returns to Earth, she despairs on revisiting the egoism and greed of men, and longs for a time when Earth will be more like Mars.

Die Frau in hundert Jahren
"The Woman in One Hundred Years" by Ellen Key (1910)

By the 21st century, children are produced in factories and raised by the state. A serum has been invented to suppress the will for individualism and originality. Days are divided equally into six-hour blocks for sleep, work (at electrical push-buttons), parliament, and socializing. Criminals are exiled to Mars, and loners are regarded as anarchistic assassins. School is compulsory until age 30, but universities are closed in order to avoid free inquiry. Nobody opens a book after graduation. In 2009, a revolution began among the schoolchildren: journalists were sent to Mars, parliaments were outlawed, and children were returned to their mothers. Violence and chaos reigned for a little while until 2100, when humanity regained a sort of balance and was wiser for the experiences of earlier generations.

Die Frau und die Liebe in 100 Jahren
"The Woman and Love in 100 Years" by Dora Dyx (1910)

Not so much a story as a manifesto for free love. Dyx categorizes "love" into three sorts: marriage, prostitution, and free love. Too much talk of "love" is really about the first two parts, but a time is coming soon when love for its own sake will reign -- then mothers will be valued as the highest of loves, and these mothers will give birth to a new generation, which will be terrific. Or something like that: it's a lot of blah blah blah.

Vor der Gründung des Frauenstaates
"Before the Founding of the Women's State" by Magda Trott (1914)

After a devastating world war, which Germany won, women stepped into many professions that had been dominated by men. As women became more self-determining, they formed their own banks, and now are on the brink of founding a women's state in the Lüneberger Heide. The piece takes the form of an announcement of the state's founding.

Verehrte Anwesende! Seit Jahrhunderte ringt die deutsche Frau nach Selbständigkeit, nach Anerkennung ihrer Individualität, nach wirtschaftlicher Macht. Allmälich hat sich im deutschen Staate die Erkenntnis von der Berechtigung unserer Forderungen Bahn gebrochen. Man gab uns das Recht, wir gaben uns die Macht.

"Honored attendees! For centuries, German women have struggled for independence, for recognition of our individuality, for economic power. The realization has gradually emerged in the German state that our demands are justified. They gave us the right, we gave ourselves the power."

According to the bibliographic essay, this story reflects an actual movement for women's banking that some hoped would culminate in an actual women's state. The movement died with WWI.

Die Frau der Zukunft
"The Woman of the Future" by Luise Schulze-Brück (1914)

This is another piece that is not so much a story as a manifesto for the future status of women. Schulze-Brück takes as her launching point a folk saying, Seefahren ist nötig, Leben aber nicht. ("Seafaring is important, life is not." According to Google, this derives from a Latin saying posthumously attributed to Pompey.) Schulze Brück argues that both life and seafaring -- i.e., both self-sufficiency and participation in struggles of the social body -- are important, and are the dual goals of the women's movement.

des. 24, 2020, 3:53 am

>200 swynn:

Fascinating, thank you for doing that.

loners are regarded as anarchistic assassins

Well that's just hurtful... :(

des. 25, 2020, 12:18 pm

I hope you get some of those at least, Steve, as we all look forward to a better 2021.

des. 25, 2020, 1:54 pm

>200 swynn: How wonderful. Really fascinating to see what women have thought of their real plight in other times and places.

Try this one, too: http://strangehorizons.com/non-fiction/reviews/womens-weird-2-more-strange-stori...

des. 26, 2020, 4:47 pm

Merry Christmas to you and to Mrs. Steve! Maybe a meet-up in 2021?

des. 27, 2020, 4:41 am

>200 swynn: That's fascinating! Would you be willing to crosspost your review to Reading Globally's Speculative Fiction from around the World thread?

des. 27, 2020, 10:21 pm

>201 lyzard: You're welcome! Small repayment for your frequent informative reports.

Well that's just hurtful...

Tell me about it. And since I've sometimes been guilty of sarcastic and unfair summary, I want to clarify that this is not one of those cases:

Das Gesellschaftsleben ist eine Gesellschaftspflicht, und der Einsame wird als anarchistischer Attentäter betrachtet.

"The social life is a social duty, and the loner is regarded as an anarchistic assassin."

Editat: des. 27, 2020, 10:40 pm

>202 PaulCranswick: Happy holidays to you too, Paul. All fingers crossed for 2021.

>203 richardderus: Thanks for that link, Richard. Into the swamp it has gone!

>204 BLBera: I am definitely up for a meeting whenever meetings are a thing again.

>205 Dilara86: Welcome, Dilara! Crossposting done -- thanks for the link to that thread.

des. 27, 2020, 11:26 pm

>207 swynn: Wonderful! Now, you tardigrade, where is your 2021 thread?

Editat: des. 30, 2020, 11:46 am

138) Advise and Consent by Allen Drury
Date: 1959

This was the bestselling novel in the U.S. in 1960. It's a political drama centered on the confirmation of a nominee for Secretary of State: Robert Leffingwell, a charismatic young liberal politician. Opposition to the nomination is based on a concern that he may be too soft on communism -- a charge that gathers weight when he is accused of having participated in a communist cell in college. Senators take sides: majority leader Bob Munson is charged with seeing the nominee affirmed come Hell or high water; Seabright Cooley, President Pro Tem who cannot forgive that Leffingwell once called him a liar and so organizes the opposition; and Brigham Anderson, chair of the committee investigating the nomination, who comes to doubt Leffingwell's fitness. But when Anderson's doubts begin to jeapordize the nomination, his own past is used against him.

It's a long book -- a bestseller, after all -- and it feels long, but it's also quite engrossing. The characters have depth, and Drury's project is depicting the messy mix of ambition, idealism, competition, resentment, compromise, horse-trading, and showmanship that is Congress. It's an exhausting ride, but an entertaining one. In at least a couple of ways it hasnt necessaily aged well: its scandalous behavior feels awfully quaint compared to the malicious jackassery that has been Senate leadership for the last few years. And then there's the gay scandal -- about which I have multiple thoughts.

(Spoilers follow.) When Brig Anderson questions the Leffingwell nomination, his opponents find and exploit a photo from Anderson's service in WWII, suggesting that he was in a romantic relationship with another soldier. When Anderson realizes that he cannot prevent the story from being made public, he kills himself in his Senate office. It's all very "bury your gays," but also with precedent in the setting Drury aims to depict -- Drury apparently based the plot point on the suicide of Lester Hunt, and the fear that exposure could be professionally devastating remains justified today. Drury's presentation seems to be a mixed bag: the relationship is not presented as shameful in itself, but instead as more fulfilling than Anderson's marriage; while the blackmail is presented as despicable. On the other hand, Drury is also careful to place the relationship is in Anderson's distant past and to reassure us that he hasn't slept with any men since then. I'm not sure where that puts A&C in terms of representation. I'm pretty sure it's the first bestseller to have a gay major character, but it's not exactly encouraging -- in fact, Barney Frank wrote in his autobiography that A&C convinced him to stay in the closet as a young politician.

In any case, I have fallen another month behind on the bestseller challenge. In my defense, I found myself unable to read it last month; let's say I had my fill of political shenanigans from other sources. I'd say "I'll catch up in the new year," but we all know how that song goes.

EDIT: Richard correctly points out below that Anderson is a bisexual character. I appreciate the correction.

Editat: des. 28, 2020, 12:16 am

>208 richardderus: I've been trying to read down the Tower of Due in order to minimize carryover into 2021. And I'm behind on postings .... oh, very well, SOON.

des. 28, 2020, 12:29 am

139) Half Moon Street by Alex Reeve
Date: 2018

It's a historical mystery set in Victorian London featuring Leo Stanhope, a trans protagonist investigating the murder of his love, a prostitute who knew his secret and accepted him anyway. Because Leo was one of her last customers he is himself suspected of the crime. I confess I picked it up for the gimmick, but found it a solid mystery with intriguing characters and convincing setting.

des. 28, 2020, 12:33 am

140) Five Midnights by Ann Davila Cardinal
Date: 2019

YA horror set in Puerto Rico, featuring a group of teenagers being picked off one by one, by a mythical boogeyman monster thing. It's a dead-teenager story that scores some points about colonialism and addiction, but mostly it's a thriller and works as one just fine.

Editat: des. 30, 2020, 11:16 am

141) Drums of Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer
Date: 1939

Ninth in the series. In this one our heroes defend Adolph Hitler, so there's that. Our new narrator is journalist Bart Kerrigan, who for some reason is the person Nayland Smith runs to when being chased by assassins. Naturally Kerrigan joins Smith in unravelling Fu Manchu's latest plot, a fiendish attempt to secure world peace. To this end, he targets European dictators -- the Italian Pietro Monaghani and the German Rudolf Adlon, obvious stand-ins for Mussolini and Hitler -- warning them that the Si-Fan will no longer tolerate their warmongering ways. Smith and company don't especially approve of Monaghani and Adlon's politics, but they're *our* dictators and we can't just let an Asian supervillain swoop in and prevent war for his own unfathomable ends now can we?

I swear I am not making this up.

Right on schedule, Kerrigan falls in love with a minion of Fu Manchu, named Ardatha in this iteration. When Kerrigan tries to lure her away from Fu Manchu by reciting the sort of murderers he employs, Ardatha retorts:

And your Christian rulers, your rulers of the West—yes? What do they do? If the Si-Fan kills a man, that man is an active enemy. But when your Western murderers kill they kill men, women and children—hundreds—thousands who never harmed them.

"Such was the sophistry of Fu Manchu!" cries Kerrigan, and observes accurately: "But I hadn't the wit to answer her."

Once again, I am left wondering who the villain of the piece really is. Well, not "wondering", exactly.

des. 30, 2020, 2:33 am

143) Unsouled by Will Wight
Date: 2016

First in Wight's YA fantasy series "Cradle." I picked it up because the latest "Cradle" novel was nominated for a Goodreads Choice award, and I'd never heard of author or series. The premise is familiar: a young protagonist who doesn't fit standard categories (in this case, styles of magical/martial training) deals with his pariah status by becoming greater than all of them. Maybe familiar but entertainingly executed and I will read more.

des. 30, 2020, 9:51 am

>213 swynn: Wow, what a plot!

des. 30, 2020, 10:30 am

>215 drneutron: I know, right? The kindest thing one can say is that it was written in 1939 so Rohmer just didn't know. It's hard to imagine that the same book would be written ten years later. Or even one.

There is an interesting bit near the end where Nayland Smith takes Fu Manchu's side in preferring peace over giving dictators enough rope to hang it. Of course, when a White person takes such action, it's a perfectly justifiable moral choice.

des. 30, 2020, 10:53 am

>213 swynn: I...I...actually agree with the Wisdom of Fu Manchu...? And...support an idea 45 supports...?!

I hate this fucking year.

Advise and Consent is arguably the first representation of *bisexual* men in commercial fiction, and deserves its props for going there. What the message is hasn't changed in the sixty-plus years since the events that inspired Drury to write about Anderson: Secrets are dangerous, and lies are lethal in the long run.

But being honest could cost you your livelihood.

So the choices are bad, worse, or worst? It's that that we're still working to change.

des. 30, 2020, 11:45 am

>217 richardderus: Thank you for the correction, Richard.

Agreed that the dilemma has not changed and that honesty can cost one's livelihood (and even more) still.

des. 30, 2020, 11:59 am

>218 swynn: I'm a bit pedantic on the subject, I suppose, but it's for a good cause. There is almost ZERO bisexual-male representation anywhere. Like this beast simply doesn't exist...men's desires are *only* safe as binaries, and that's a big fat lie.

Desire is unsafe no matter who experiences it. It's kinda the point.


Editat: des. 30, 2020, 5:59 pm

>219 richardderus: Pedantry is unwelcome attention to detail. Yours is welcome.

des. 30, 2020, 6:22 pm

>220 swynn: *blush* Chee whiz, fanks

des. 30, 2020, 10:54 pm

>213 swynn:

Averting my eyes from your Fu Manchu reviews at the moment but even skimming past it seems like I have quite a trip in front of me?

>209 swynn:

Of all our recent chunksters this is the only one I've found genuinely readable. I also had the opposite response from you, taking a certain comfort in the depiction of politicians putting country ahead of president and party.

The most shocking thing here isn't poor Brig's fate, it's Bob Munsen facilitating the blackmail plot---putting president ahead of country and precipitating disaster.

Without disputing Richard's view of things I read the Anderson marriage purely as smokescreen---a suitable wife and an adorable daughter acquired in a calculated way as part of playing the long game. I can believe that after Hawaii, Brig chose never to walk that path again and was self-controlled and ambitious enough to stick to his resolution; but as Steve says, there's no doubt which is the critical relationship in his life and I find it pretty brave that Drury was as frank about that as he is; that he dares have Brig refuse to repudiate it. And I don't really get a sense of 'kill your gays' here, I mean, I don't feel like the outcome is the point or what we're supposed to take away from the situation.

The fact that you still have to wonder how this would play out today is pretty damn depressing. Probably the blackmailers would be party heroes...

des. 31, 2020, 5:42 pm

>222 lyzard: Probably the blackmailers would be party heroes...

That feels accurate to me. There would be no ethical dilemma recognized if there were the remotest possibility of advantage; and if blackmailers happened to face any legal consequences, they would be pardoned for the good of the party. That's why I say the scandal feels quaint. The prioritization of country over personal ambition, president, and party also feels, sad to say, naive.

(Tangent: My own junior Senator, a contemptible climber, recently announced that he would challenge certification of the election. He's a Fred Van Ackerman who should be slapped down by a Bob Munson, but he won't be -- because his majority leader prioritizes party above all else, and therefore cultivates Van Ackermans. To be fair, Van Ackermans are what my state's population wants, apparently.)

With respect to Brig's sexual orientation, to the extent that I thought about it, I originally called Anderson "gay" for reasons similar to yours: he has had multiple relationships with women, but generally finds them unsatisfying; he maintains his marriage largely for his career, and has little interest in "loving"; his single satisfying relationship was with a man. But he has had relations with women and still does. With exactly one exception, he has chosen women for partners. I *think* this is Richard's point. Brig never explicitly identifies as "gay", "homosexual", "bisexual", etc., and absent a personal identification, "bisexual" is probably most descriptive. (I welcome correction.)

(Tangent: Speaking of unidentified categories, I loved Drury's strategy of never identifying a senator by party affiliation. It helped build his picture of a community of mutually-respected opponents, which I also think is a thing of another age -- gone, but may it come again.)

My understanding of the "kill your gays" trope is the overuse of tragic story arcs with respect to LGBTQ characters: if you see a gun, you know it's going to be fired by the third act; if you see an LGBTQ character, you know they're going down. We have two LGBTQ characters in this story, and both kill themselves. If he were to write the book today, my guess is that Drury would probably (among other things) include LGBTQ characters who don't meet awful ends. Of course, today we have -- thankfully -- rather more public models.

des. 31, 2020, 6:09 pm

143) The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
Date: 2020

Between the death of one empress and the coronation of another, cleric/historian interviews the former empress's former servant. The servant tells how her employer became the Empress of Salt and Fortune. This is a packed, crafty novella that is as much about story-making as it is about the story itself - a sort of "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" in a fantasy setting.

des. 31, 2020, 6:16 pm

>224 swynn: I did enjoy that one, and I see there is another in that setting out now that I must get to.

des. 31, 2020, 6:20 pm

144) Iron Hand of Mars / Lindsey Davis
Date: 1992

Fourth in Davis's historical mystery series featuring Marcus Didius Falco, private detective enquirer in Vespasian's Rome. In this one, Vespasian sends Falco to the wilds of Germania to find a number of people who probably don't want to be found: the missing commander of a possibly insubordinate legion, a local revolutionary, and an enigmatic prophetess. Falco is essentially a gumshoe detective transported to 70 AD, so you know he's going to get in over his head, get beat up a couple of times, and solve the mysteries. I loved the setting here, and always enjoy Falco, though solutions to the mysteries were more coincidental than satisfying.

des. 31, 2020, 6:21 pm

>225 ronincats: Me too! I hope to get to it early next year.

des. 31, 2020, 6:29 pm

145) Stormhaven by Jordan L. Hawk
Date: 2015

Third in Hawk's mm romance/historical horror series featuring Whyborne and Griffin, a scholar and an ex-Pinkerton in Victorian-era New England. In this one, a friend is framed for murder and sent to an asylum with mysterious goings-on. Meanwhile, Whyborne is having nightmares about a dweller in the deep and Griffin's family comes to visit with a prospect for respectable marriage. The balance in this one is a little heavy on the relationship/family drama side as opposed to weird peril where I'd prefer it, but it's still plenty fun.

des. 31, 2020, 6:46 pm

146) Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi
Date: 2020

An urban-fantasy novella featuring a sister/brother pair: Ella, who has a "Thing," a vaguely-defined psychic power she can use to see the future and destroy things; and Kev, born during the L.A. riots in 1992, growing up a Black man in America. Ella and Kev's story traverses our ugly recent history of racist violence, and still manages to emerge with a sense of hope. It's angry, exhausting, and powerful.

des. 31, 2020, 6:51 pm

>228 swynn: ...wait 'til ya get to #4...

des. 31, 2020, 6:54 pm

147) Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley
Date: 2013

Another running memoir by an amateur runner. It has some funny stories, some inspiring ones, some that made me say, "I know how that feels," and some that made me say, "I had no idea." (Her insight on sports bra engineering was new to me, and interesting if not immediately practical -- for obvious reasons, a couple strips of medical tape satisfy my needs.) It's slanted towards beginning runners, with advice on things you need and don't and what to expect when you start, so if you've been contemplating that first pair of running shoes then this might be your book.

des. 31, 2020, 7:04 pm

>230 richardderus: Looking forward to it!

des. 31, 2020, 7:12 pm

148) Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Date: 2018

This is the story of a Nigerian girl occupied by multiple spirits, told mostly from the perspective of the spirits. It's a mythological acount of what Western diagnosis (arguably a functional mythology in its own way) would probably call "dissociative identity disorder." It's not a pleasant book -- trigger warnings for rape, self-harm, and attempted suicide -- but it's an extremely powerful, and enlightening, one.

des. 31, 2020, 7:33 pm

149) Earth Logic by Laurie J. Marks (CE)
Date: 2004

Second in Marks's high fantasy series, "Elemental Magic." I loved the first volume, Fire Logic, for the way it undermined genre tropes right and left, but had some trouble with its choppy pacing and wondered whether that too might be a jab at genre conventions. The pace in this volume I am happy to report is smoother, and the rest is interesting as before. As it opens, Karis and Zenja and their found family are lying low, but they are soon drawn into fighting a plague and resolving the continued conflict with the Sainnites. I love the nonviolent ideals, and the serendipitous timeliness of a plotline which has the Chosen One battling a pandemic and working for peace.

Ah, if only.

des. 31, 2020, 7:43 pm

150) My Vanishing Country by Bakari Sellers
Date: 2020

Memoir of the politician/lawyer/activist/commentator Bakari Sellers. There's some terrific material in here, including an account of the Orangeburg Massacre and an insider's view of South Carolina politics following the Charleston Church Shooting. But Sellers pays closest attention to his own political career, with details of how he won a seat in the S.C. legislature at 22, and his failed bid for the lieutenant-governorship in 2014. Despite the the interesting source material, too much of it felt too much like the sort of political biography one publishes to promote a campaign. Which I sort of hope it is.

des. 31, 2020, 7:49 pm

151) The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho
Date: 2020

This is a novella-length fantasy story about a nun who joins a gang of bandits to deliver a package across a war-torn country. It's fun.

des. 31, 2020, 8:23 pm

>235 swynn: Double 75!

Editat: des. 31, 2020, 8:44 pm

Perry Rhodan 133-142:


133: Roboter, Bomben und Mutanten = Robots, Bombs and Mutants

The Posbis have overtaken an outpost of the Springers, galactic merchants. If the Posbis can access the Springers' computer records then they will be able to locate every life-sustaining planet in the galaxy. Perry sends a task force to make sure that doesn't happen.

134: Die Kanonen von Everblack = The Cannon of Everblack

A new, sunless, planet is discovered in intergalactic space, and the ship that discovered it returns severely damaged. Perry assembles a team to investigate. The team intends to scout the potentially dangerous planet from a distance, but they find themselves stranded on the surface, which is crawling with Posbis.

135: Wächter in der Einsamkeit = Guardians in Solitude

With help from Harno, the Living Television, Perry witnesses a planet being attacked by the Posbis but Harno cannot provide coordinates. The planet is occupied by Akonish colonists, but the Akons are curiouisly reluctant to assist in locating it.


136: Bestien der Unterwelt = Beasts of the Underworld

Agents of Division III infiltrate an Akonish base on the planet Afzot. Afzot seems to be a barren rock, but beneath its surface the Akons have built a vast biological laboratory with forst, sea, artificial sun, and strange beasts -- some dangerous and some not even of this galaxy.

137: Sturm auf der Galaxis = Storm on the Galaxy

Posbi warships invade the galaxy, destroying entire colonies. Meanwhile, the Terrans develop a theory for communicating with the Posbis, and a desperate plan that involves teleporting onto a hostile warship.

138: Risiko unendlich groß = Infinitely High Risk

The previous episode ends with a truce and hopes for peace. But the truce is quickly broken when Laurins arrive and attack the Posbis. The Posbis, apparently concluding that the Laurins and Terrans work together, turn hostile again. Perry's next desperate plan involves an attack on a Posbi stronghold and a daring bluff.


139: Die Laurins kommen! = The Laurins Are Coming!

A teleporter mishap sends a Terran team including Perry, Atlan, and members of the science team and mutant corps to an unidentified location somewhere in the universe. Wherever it is, it's an underground complex of a planet closely orbiting its sun: the surface is too hot to survive, but the complex swarms with Laurins, invisible aliens hostile to Terrans. A further complication: one on the team is a spy.

140 Ein Toter soll nicht Sterben = The Dead Should Not Die

The "parapoler" Ernst Ellert is a mutant who can cast his consciousness into the body of another intelligent being -- say, that of a pilot on a Posbi warship. Such is Perry Rhodan's latest plan to steal weapons technology. But the Posbi mind is different from any other mind Ellert has encountered. Once embodied he may not be able to escape. And in his absence, Ellert's own body deteriorates unusually quickly...

141 Station der Unsichtbaren = Station of the Invisibles

Agents of Division III infiltrate an outpost of the Baalol-Cult on the planet Aptulad. They discover that the cultists have established contact with the Laurins and are trying to establish a Baalul-Cult/Laurin alliance. Such an alliance would threaten Terrans everywhere. The agents must determine the status of the partnership and if possible capture Laurin prisoners so that Terran scientists can determine the source of their invisibility.

des. 31, 2020, 8:46 pm

>237 richardderus: Thanks, Richard! Just under the wire, too.

des. 31, 2020, 8:49 pm

And that, friends, wraps my reading for 2020. Find my 2021 thread here:

des. 31, 2020, 9:16 pm

>237 richardderus:

Congratulations, Steve!

See you on the other side...

des. 31, 2020, 9:20 pm


As the year turns, friendship continues

gen. 1, 2021, 3:50 am

>235 swynn: Congratulations on reaching 2 x 75, Steve!