Ray Bradbury is what I would call a literary author who's always labeled as writing genre stories (never mind the debate about what "literary" means in this context); he's a storyteller but his writing is also suffused with poetic flourishes and evocative, moody imagery and dialog that many genre authors skimp on. That said, none of the short stories I've read by him are among my favorite or most memorable. But some of his horror stories are very effectively creepy without any explicit violence.
Long After Midnight is a collection of twenty-two of his older stories. They range from mediocre to pretty good, but the mediocres outweighed the pretty goods, since after finishing the audiobook, I couldn't remember many details about specific stories. There is a lot of sentimentality, bordering on schmaltziness, such as in The Pumpernickel, basically about a middle-aged man remembering his childhood friends and how they drifted apart:
"In the hard, shiny crust of the bread, the boys at Druce's Lake had cut their names: Tom, Nick, Bill, Alec, Paul, Jack. The finest picnic in history! Their faces tanned as they rattled down the dusty roads. Those were the days when roads were really dusty; a fine brown talcum floured up after your car. And the lake was always twice as good to reach as it would be later in life when you arrived immaculate, clean, and un-rumpled."
A lot of the sci-fi stories in this collection are also heavily allegorical, with a tone ranging from Catholic to mystical, as in "G.B.S. - Mark V":
"What are we? Why, we are the miracle of force and matter making itself over into imagination and will. Incredible. The Life Force experimenting with forms. You for one. Me for another. The Universe has shouted itself alive. We are one of the shouts. Creation turns in its abyss. We have bothered it, dreaming ourselves to shapes. The void is filled with slumbers; ten billion on a billion on a billion bombardments of light and material that know not themselves, that sleep moving and move but finally to make an eye and waken on themselves. Among so much that is flight and ignorance, we are the blind force that gropes like Lazarus from a billion-light-year tomb. We summon ourselves. We say, O Lazarus Life Force, truly come ye forth. So the Universe, a motion of deaths, fumbles to reach across Time to feel its own flesh and know it to be ours. We touch both ways and find each other miraculous because we are One."
Many of the more dated ones also seemed to be semi-autobiographical, perhaps slightly elaborated tales of Bradbury himself as a boy.
Here is a list of the stories in the collection. Some of them have been turned into short films or Twilight Zone episodes.
"The Blue Bottle" — heavily metaphorical story about two men searching for an artifact on Mars.
"One Timeless Spring" — a twelve-year-old boy believes his parents are trying to poison him.
"The Parrot Who Met Papa" — almost felt like a bit of magical realism, about a parrot that has memorized Hemingway's last, unwritten novel.
"The Burning Man" — odd story mixing any number of "why you shouldn't pick up hitchhikers" tales with a pseudo-philosophical meditation on the nature of evil.
"A Piece of Wood" — one those speculative fiction stories that tries to make an important statement by starting with a silly premise, that a soldier has invented a device that can destroy all weapons.
"The Messiah" — a Martian manifests as Christ to a Catholic priest, with tragicomic results.
"G.B.S. - Mark V" — meditations of a robot.
"The Utterly Perfect Murder" — an old man resolves to visit his childhood friend and enemy and kill him for all the misery he suffered.
"Punishment Without Crime" — a man is sentenced to death for killing an android duplicate of his wife.
"Getting Through Sunday Somehow" — an old Irishman rambles about the past.
"Drink Entire: Against the Madness of Crowds" — a man meets a witch.
"Interval in Sunlight" — this was one of the more memorable, though devoid of any fantastical elements, about a woman who wants to leave her joyless, verbally and emotionally abusive husband.
"A Story of Love" — interesting, surprisingly thoughtful story about a thirteen-year-old with a crush on his teacher, who reciprocates his feelings on some level. Manages to examine age differences and societal taboos without being icky.
"The Wish" — schmaltzy tale about a man who wants one last conversation with his dead father.
"Forever and the Earth" — a SF writer brings Thomas Wolfe to the future to write about Mars and space travel.
"The Better Part of Wisdom" — an old Irishman discovers his grandson is gay.
"Darling Adolf" — an actor hired to play Hitler in a historical film wants to literally revive the Fuhrer's role.
"The Miracles of Jamie" — dark-themed but not very original story of a boy who believes himself omnipotent, as a way of coping with his dying mother.
"The October Game" — this is the creepiest story in the collection, and the most obviously horrific, about a man who conceives a horrible vengeance against his wife.
"The Pumpernickel" — sentimental and kind of banal slice-of-life story.
"Long After Midnight" — another gay-themed story, but frankly the plot slips my mind.
"Have I Got a Chocolate Bar for You!" — a chocolate addict confesses to a priest, in another allegorical tale about redemption and pleasure and freedom.
In general, not a bad collection of stories, especially if you are a Ray Bradbury fan, but they didn't really excel in my opinion, although there is enough horror and creepiness in a few of them to make this good Halloween reading. 3.5 stars.
This is clearly a bit of filler between trilogies, and a contrived excuse for Larry Correia to write a battle between a giant robot and Godzilla into his Grimnoire trilogy, but like the rest of his magical-superhero alternate universe stories, it's fun and action packed pulp adventure that just doesn't bear too much thinking about.
Taking place about twenty years after the end of Warbound, Tokyo Raider stars Joe Sullivan Jr., a chip off the old block. Having joined the Marines, just like that he is whisked off to Japan at the direct request of the President (who is not a historical figure but instead a familiar face from the previous books). Even though the US and the Imperium are clearly headed for war, at the moment the Imperium is at war with their mutual enemy, the USSR. Stalin's sorcerers have summoned a giant monster that's devastating Japan, and Imperium scientists and mages have built a giant robot that, conveniently, none of their own magically-gifted warriors can operate. Somehow our old friend Toru, now in charge of the Imperium, figures his old frenemy Jake's son is the man they need.
This doesn't really make sense, but like I said, it's just an excuse for a battle between a giant robot blazoned with a rising sun pumping the Star Spangled Banner from its speakers, and a Godzilla-sized demon with the Soviet hammer & sickle burned into its chest. Fix that image in your head and have fun. It does make me look forward to the next Grimnoire series.
This was an unexpectedly entertaining page-turner, though towards the end, so many plot twists are woven together in an improbable climax and epilogue that my suspension of disbelief was tested a bit. However, getting there was fun in this combination courtroom drama and suspense thriller.
Paul Copeland survived a summer camp massacre as a teenager. He and his girlfriend snuck off into the woods for a little nookie, only to hear the screams of three other kids — including Paul's sister — being murdered. Years later, they are sure that they know who the killer is, as a creepy teenager who was also at the camp turned out to be a serial killer who was convicted for similar crimes elsewhere. The fact that Paul's sister's body was never found means he has never really had closure, but as an adult, he's now a New Jersey county prosecutor, buddies with the Governor, and he has political ambitions.
Things start unraveling when he begins prosecuting a Law & Order-style "ripped from the headlines" case: Chamique Johnson, a poor black underage stripper/prostitute, has accused a couple of rich white frat boys of raping her in their frat house. Their families start going after everyone involved in the prosecution, including Paul, to pressure him to drop the case. For Paul, this means digging into his past and uncovering some of the questions left unanswered when his sister disappeared into the woods twenty years ago.
There are a lot of characters, a lot of twists, and a lot of revelations. From Paul reconnecting with his old girlfriend, to his ex-KGB uncle, to his interview with his old camp buddy-turned-serial killer, to the super-hottie private detectives sent out to dig up dirt, there's lots of plot and it never slows down.
I had a little trouble believing the ending, and Paul was just little bit too much a combination of Perry Mason and Jack McCoy, but it was refreshing to have an imperfect but not crooked protagonist who prevails largely by not being intimidated, seduced, or corrupted. I liked it enough to try Harlan Coben again.
This is another one of those depressing books that catalogs in grim detail just how badly humans are destroying the environment, on a cataclysmic scale, how greed, desperation, and short-sightedness have destroyed entire ecosystems, devastated nations, and displaced millions, and how even though we have the scientific and technological know-how to do better, we're not going to, because short-term thinking always wins.
Oh, the author ends with an optimistic chapter, as all these books do, detailing bold and forward-thinking news plans from economists and water engineers and politicians and scientists around the world — all the ways in which we could save the water tables, grow crops more efficiently with more "crop per drop," irrigate more cheaply, supply urban populations more sustainably, etc.
But that's after chapter after chapter detailing such disasters as the Aral Sea, which the Soviets basically destroyed and which the current government is continuing to destroy, and the Salton Sea in California, created by a mistake and now allowed to become a festering, drying blister in the Sonora desert, and the Dead Sea, which is receding visibly every year. Worse, though, are the water tables. These are the underground reservoirs of water which, unlike rivers, are non-renewable. Much like oil, once you tap them dry, they're gone (and they also destabilize the surrounding earth, leading to erosion and possibly even earthquakes), and farmers and cities around the world, from the American west to India, are tapping them at an alarming rate. Everyone knows that wells used to hit water at 200 feet and now have to go 1500 feet or more, but this doesn't stop everyone from trying to get the last drop.
It is the Tragedy of the Commons on a regional scale. As many of the farmers Fred Pierce interviews point out: "If everyone stopped using the water, that would be great, but if only we do, it won't make a difference, except that our family will starve."
When the Rivers Run Dry is a bit of travel journalism that covers nearly every continent. India and China and their respective mistreatment of the Ganges, the Indus, the Yellow and the Yangtze rivers are all covered, as is the madness that is Los Angeles and Las Vegas, currently draining the Colorado River dry and casting thirsty eyes thousands of miles north to the Great Lakes.
While America's water woes are certainly serious (at least in the west), the most tragic regions of the world are, predictably, the places where government policy is completely disconnected from local resource management, or where politics and war mix violently with water rights. China and the former Soviet Union have literally killed millions in man-made floods. The author's visit to the region around the Aral Sea was particularly depressing, as he describes a stunted, poisoned land where the people have no jobs, no hope, and no future. Then there is the Middle East, where Palestinians go thirsty in sight of Israeli swimming pools.
While there are some compelling stories in here, and enough facts and history to make you think, When the Rivers Run Dry was... well, a bit dry. Fred Pierce has been to many places and talked to many people, and what he's produced is a global atlas of water mismanagement, wrapped up in the end with a few cheery programs that might solve a few of them, and some suggestions that no one is really going to heed. He questions the wisdom of dam-building, says that cities like Los Angeles and Las Vegas need to be more conservation-minded, and that farmers worldwide need to use more water-efficient irrigation methods.
Yup, good luck with that.
Another one of the Corey writing duo's "filler" novellas set in between their Expanse novels, this one takes place on Mars shortly after Caliban's War. David Draper is the nephew of Marine Gunnery Sergeant Bobby Draper, one of the main characters in the aforementioned novel. She plays only a small (but significant) part in this novella.
David is a promising and gifted young chemistry student on Mars, with demanding parents who have high expectations for him. In a scheme that is half rebelliousness and half path-of-least-resistance spinelessness, David has become a "cook" for a local drug dealer. I wouldn't be the first reviewer to call Gods of Risk "Breaking Bad on Mars."
The plot pinch comes when David finds out his "friend" LeeLee is in trouble, and he decides he wants to save her. The annoying part comes when we realize that David is every stereotypical nerdy "Nice Guy" chump ever, fantasizing about how a grateful Leelee will reward him for his white knight heroism with kisses and maybe even letting him touch her ... Since Leelee is in fact a pro in debt to a drug dealer, this is obviously not going to have the happy ending David is hoping for, but for a smart kid, he sure is dumb.
Despite the main character's painful lack of self-awareness or worldliness, this is a good story that really doesn't have much to do with the central events of the Expanse series; although they are mentioned, this is just a bit of filler material.
This prequel to James S.A. Corey's Expanse series, starting with Leviathan Wakes, tells the story of Amos Burton, whom we first met aboard the Rocinante as the cheerful, casually violent engineer. As a novella providing "filler" material for the series, it's only interesting if you already like the series and want to know more about the characters.
Amos, when we are first introduced to him, turns out to be an evil and amoral crime lord in future Baltimore. While the reader might be thrown by this man who seems to bear little resemblance to the character we know, the "twist" ending is soon telegraphed as we're introduced to two characters under Amos's employ, Timmy and Eric, who are both caught up in the "churn" of one of the city's intermittent crack-downs on organized crime.
Since The Churn takes place entirely on the ground, it's really more of a crime thriller than a space opera, with the technology of space exploration rarely intruding into the lives of the people trying to survive the mean streets of Charm City. (I was disappointed that the audiobook narrator did not even attempt a "Bawl-mer" accent.) It's a decent story with action and violence, but only barely science fiction. Recommended for those who like The Wire and the Expanse series.
This is the second book I've read by Daryl Gregory. He seems to like writing speculative fiction set in a near future, rather than settling into a series or a theme. "Raising Stony Mayhall" was one of the best zombie novels I've ever read. Afterparty, his latest, is also set a couple of decades from now, in a world where 3D printers have advanced to manufacturing pharmaceuticals, so anyone can "print" their own custom controlled substances.
Lyda Rose, the protagonist, was a neuroscientist who helped create Numinous. It was supposed to be a treatment for schizophrenia; instead, it helps its users find God. Or gods. Or some god.
The effect is spiritual if not supernatural: Numinous rewires the brain and provides you with your very own guardian angel (in Lyda's case, a judgmental winged psychologist named "Dr. Gloria"). The subjects are absolutely convinced they are receiving messages from the Divine, even if they know intellectually about Numinous. Lyda's conversations with her guardian angel, who she knows is a product of her drug-induced imagination, are believable because deep down, Lyda believes in her.
How Lyda came to be hooked on her own creation, and why she has to escape from a prison-hospital and track down the other former members of her little start-up company that was going to get rich, is a mystery that unfolds in a well-paced thriller with plenty of reveals and twists. There is an Afghan grandmother who is the most powerful drug lord in Seattle, a psychopathic hit man who calls himself "The Vincent" and raises bonsai buffalo herds in his apartment, a millionaire whose adopted daughter is a little prodigy assisted by her "deck" of "IFs" (Imaginary Friends), and of course, Dr. Gloria.
This wasn't quite a grand-slam of a book, but it was interesting and well-paced and original, with believable characters. Definitely recommended.
"Is whispering nothing? Is leaning cheek to cheek? is meeting noses? Kissing with inside lip? Stopping the career Of laughter with a sigh?—a note infallible Of breaking honesty;—horsing foot on foot? Skulking in corners? wishing clocks more swift; Hours, minutes; noon, midnight? and all eyes Blind with the pin and web but theirs, theirs only, That would unseen be wicked?—is this nothing? Why, then the world and all that's in't is nothing; The covering sky is nothing; Bohemia nothing; My is nothing; nor nothing have these nothings, If this be nothing."
I can see why this play is called "complex" and "problematic." The tone shifts completely from the first act to the last. It begins as a tragedy in which King Leontes becomes irrationally convinced that his wife, Hermione, has been committing adultery with his best friend, the King of Bohemia, and that her child is that of Polixenes. This leads to a lot of death and misery, which makes the final act, in which everyone is reconciled, a miracle occurs, and the play ends with a Happy Ever After more typical of Shakespeare's more straightforward comedies, almost dissonant.
That and the fact that it has few of Shakespeare's famous quotable lines is probably the reason why it's one of his less frequently performed plays, but I think it's a great and twisty tale, and if the ending was a bit deux ex machina, it's still rich in humor and tragedy, and well worth listening to.
"Exit, pursued by a bear!"
I enjoyed the first book, Terms of Enlistment, and found the second book in the series to be better; Kloos is definitely developing as a writer. Where Terms of Enlistment was a fairly by-the-numbers knock-off of Starship Troopers, Lines of Departure takes place several years later and further develops the universe and its politics.
In the first book, humans encountered their first alien race — eighty-foot giants who build almost indestructible climate-altering machines that render a planet's atmosphere unbreathable to humans. As the second book begins, humanity is losing their ongoing war with the "Lankies." They've lost eighty colonies and have yet to actually take a planet back from the invaders.
Despite what is clearly an existential threat, the two terrestrial superpowers, the North American Commonwealth and the Sino-Russian Alliance, are also at war over their shrinking stock of colonies
With all this warfare going on, Earth is becoming an overpopulated, underfed planet of slums and riots.
Andrew Grayson, our protagonist, has become a career soldier, realizing he doesn't have anything else to do and that while war in space is likely to shorten his lifespan, it beats going back to Earth to stew in a slum and eat recycled waste. He also has a girlfriend who's a fighter pilot, and is a combat network controller, making him a respected professional in the NAC's beleaguered military.
Lines of Departure is a fine example of military SF, and while perhaps not quite as philosophical as Heinlein's Starship Troopers, Grayson does become an interesting and thoughtful character as he has to weigh his duties as a soldier with the morality of unlawful orders and the practicality and consequences of disobeying them. As well, the stupidity of fleet staff and the intransigence of political leaders is quite believable — yes, I think we Earthlings really would keep squabbling among ourselves even in the face of alien invasion.
Be warned, though, that this book ends in a cliffhanger, so if you've been hooked this far, you will not see the story resolved until the next volume.
Elinor Dashwood is "sense" — the sensible, even-tempered sister who is mindful of propriety and the necessities of life. Marianne Dashwood, the younger sister, is "sensibility," which in the Austenian sense means something more like "sensitivity" — Marianne is the passionate, feeling sister who wears her heart on her sleeve.
"Nay, Mama, if he is not to be animated by Cowper!—but we must allow for difference of taste. Elinor has not my feelings, and therefore she may overlook it, and be happy with him. But it would have broke MY heart, had I loved him, to hear him read with so little sensibility. Mama, the more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much! He must have all Edward's virtues, and his person and manners must ornament his goodness with every possible charm."
(There's a third Dashwood sister, Margaret, but she's thirteen and barely enters the plot.)
We can see here the "formula" Austen was working on. Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion... each book examines a particular set of character traits and their effects on the person marked by them. (Her other books did the same thing, if not in the titles.) Elinor is the protagonist of Sense and Sensibility; she initially falls for a man named Edward Ferrars, the eldest son of a rich family, whose problem is that he wants to become a humble clergyman while his mother, who controls the family fortune, has great ambitions for him and certainly doesn't want to see him marrying some poor girl from an impoverished no-account family of minor gentry. (Shades of Lady Catherine from Pride and Prejudice.)
Marianne, meanwhile, falls for the rake who always wreaks romantic havoc in Austen novels. In this one, his name is Mr. Willoughby. Initially set up as a true scoundrel who leads Marianne on, even forms an "attachment" to her (i.e., an engagement in all but name), only to later break it (which in Regency times was a very grave moral offense if not a legal one), and then turns out to have left one of his other conquests ruined and with child. Austen does a clever job of making Willoughby out to be a villain, only to somewhat redeem him later by revealing that, while he is no saint, his conduct wasn't quite as bad as it appeared to the uninformed Dashwood sisters.
Waiting in the wings is the other Austen prototype, Colonel Brandon, the very serious old bachelor who'd be a fine catch for the right girl who doesn't mind marrying someone twenty years her senior. (Colonel Brandon is unmarried and in his early thirties — for a woman that would be beyond hope, and even for a man, in Regency times, that was getting well past prime marrying years.)
Having read all of Austen's other novels, Sense and Sensibility did suffer a bit from being yet another story about two sisters with contrasting temperaments, living in reduced circumstances thanks to the ungenerosity of their more affluent relatives, facing spinsterhood due to their lack of prospects before happy engagements with men who fortuitously turn out to be well-heeled, not without first surmounting a number of misunderstandings and existing engagements as obstacles.
Did I enjoy this book? Yes, certainly. Every Austen is worth reading. But I finished it for completeness' sake. I would recommend that everyone read something by Austen, and if you like the first one, read some more. But I don't think anyone but the true Austen fan needs to read all of her works, and I'd really only recommend Sense and Sensibility as either your first Austen (in which case all the tropes and devices will be fresh, and you'll see them used more skillfully in later books) or if you are a true fan wanting to read her complete works.
Bob is a hacker who accidentally came to the attention of a super-super-no-for-real-secret British agency known as the Laundry, and was recruited into an intelligence agency that literally makes you sign your oath of secrecy in blood. The Laundry is dedicated to saving the world one day at a time from eldritch horrors who threaten to blot out the sun, and also to maintaining Total Quality Management and keeping Parliament from cutting back on their office supply budget. In other words, it's meant to be wacky Call of Cthulhu adventures as undertaken by Chuck. No sooner does he get back from a mission to Pluto to stop undead Nazis from summoning a Great Old One than Bob has to explain to his bureaucratic tyrant of supervisor why he didn't file a request for comp time when he didn't show up the next day during core office hours.
I liked this book better than Stross's space operas, though it did not have quite the genius of Accelerando. But it's a sort of weak Stephenson, the satire more reminiscent of Dilbert and User Friendly comic strips than the biting inventiveness that marks really good satire. I found it funny because I got a lot of the jokes which many readers will not, as they lean heavily into fairly esoteric computer science references, plus being an (ahem) civil servant myself, I know a bit about the spook shops that Stross is satirizing.
I don't think you need to be a CS geek or a federal employee to enjoy The Atrocity Archives. You do need to have some appreciation for British humor and Lovecraft, though. I enjoyed Stross's sharp skewering of government work (and yeah, I can totally believe that even a super-secret super-elite agency that literally saves the world on a routine basis still would not be exempted from bureaucratic and regulatory idiocy), but Bob himself was the sort of gormless Everyman character so popular in British urban fantasy (think Neil Gaiman) and on TV, who manages to execute very clever tricks to save the day and somehow manages to wind up with girls several orders of magnitude out of his league, and seems to be a wish fulfillment character for his nerd audience.
Fun, light, somewhat clever, would read more Laundry novels, but it's the kind of clever that can get old quickly if the author gives in to the tendency to let cleverness substitute for plotting and character development.
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