nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (...Oops.)
More Mutt-ley pictures here: The Singing Marine, Part 2

So Monday I received a pudding a beautiful present, made of a suitable material, from the Tree herself.  (That is, [personal profile] beloved_tree.) Thank you, dear! :D And your card arrived yesterday!

By the way, I don't think I ever thanked you for sending those two books earlier this fall - Leigh Brackett's The Long Tomorrow and the I Spy book.  And thereby hangs a tale. Because I've heard about the I Spy books, that they're really pretty good, and the author always wished that he'd written under his own name instead of under the pseudonym John Tiger.  I'd been intending to track one down but just haven't made it.  Well... frankly, it was so cringe-worthily-awful it was downright unbelievable! (Well, it wasn't that bad.)  Considered just as a story, an adventure-spy story, it was slow, wordy, and very lacking in action.  As a companion to the I Spy TV show, it was a huge failure.  It had no mood at all, much less the quick-changing humor and concentration and even anger of the show, besides being slow and wordy and action-less (all very unlike most I Spy).  Only in a few conversations did it approach the brilliant, ad-libbed repartee between Scotty and Kelly. And the epithets drove me up the wall!  How many times can you repeat "the Rhodes scholar" or (this is awful) "the agent with the face of a movie star"?!  I have never cringed like that before.  And when he wasn't using epithets (which was rare), they were "Robinson" and "Scott."  Sorry, but nobody thinks of them that way. They're "Kelly" and "Scotty" and always will be. Aaah!

But anyway, Aspen dear, Thank You! :D  I really appreciated (besides the fact that you saw it and thought of me! Squee!) the opportunity to read one. And now I know for sure, I certainly do! I may try another again, of course; I still love those guys. I'm also still in disbelief that I found it that bad, I who so thoroughly enjoy Captain Future, etc., AND adore I Spy!  *giggles a trifle hysterically*

 
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (...Oops.)
More Mutt-ley pictures here: The Singing Marine, Part 2

So Monday I received a pudding a beautiful present, made of a suitable material, from the Tree herself.  (That is, [personal profile] beloved_tree.) Thank you, dear! :D And your card arrived yesterday!

By the way, I don't think I ever thanked you for sending those two books earlier this fall - Leigh Brackett's The Long Tomorrow and the I Spy book.  And thereby hangs a tale. Because I've heard about the I Spy books, that they're really pretty good, and the author always wished that he'd written under his own name instead of under the pseudonym John Tiger.  I'd been intending to track one down but just haven't made it.  Well... frankly, it was so cringe-worthily-awful it was downright unbelievable! (Well, it wasn't that bad.)  Considered just as a story, an adventure-spy story, it was slow, wordy, and very lacking in action.  As a companion to the I Spy TV show, it was a huge failure.  It had no mood at all, much less the quick-changing humor and concentration and even anger of the show, besides being slow and wordy and action-less (all very unlike most I Spy).  Only in a few conversations did it approach the brilliant, ad-libbed repartee between Scotty and Kelly. And the epithets drove me up the wall!  How many times can you repeat "the Rhodes scholar" or (this is awful) "the agent with the face of a movie star"?!  I have never cringed like that before.  And when he wasn't using epithets (which was rare), they were "Robinson" and "Scott."  Sorry, but nobody thinks of them that way. They're "Kelly" and "Scotty" and always will be. Aaah!

But anyway, Aspen dear, Thank You! :D  I really appreciated (besides the fact that you saw it and thought of me! Squee!) the opportunity to read one. And now I know for sure, I certainly do! I may try another again, of course; I still love those guys. I'm also still in disbelief that I found it that bad, I who so thoroughly enjoy Captain Future, etc., AND adore I Spy!  *giggles a trifle hysterically*

 
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Dangerous Books)
After the success of my last free book posting, I'm emboldened to post another recommendation.

This one, alas! lacks any Saintly references.  However, it has another reference, I might say theme, which is just as marvelous - to more than one reader of this blog.

To set the stage: "The Return" is a science fiction short story published in 1954.  It is set in what used to be the United States, two hundred years after a nuclear war or disaster; the nation is now isolated pockets of varying levels of civilization, from animalism to futuristic technology.

But in a manner of which C. S. Lewis would wholly approve, that is merely the mechanism for setting up the fascinating situation revealed in the story.  See if you can figure it out.  I did - ironically - by intuition!

The Return
H. Beam Piper and John J. McGuire

(The HTML version available on Gutenberg includes the original black and white illustrations from Astounding Science Fiction.)
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Dangerous Books)
After the success of my last free book posting, I'm emboldened to post another recommendation.

This one, alas! lacks any Saintly references.  However, it has another reference, I might say theme, which is just as marvelous - to more than one reader of this blog.

To set the stage: "The Return" is a science fiction short story published in 1954.  It is set in what used to be the United States, two hundred years after a nuclear war or disaster; the nation is now isolated pockets of varying levels of civilization, from animalism to futuristic technology.

But in a manner of which C. S. Lewis would wholly approve, that is merely the mechanism for setting up the fascinating situation revealed in the story.  See if you can figure it out.  I did - ironically - by intuition!

The Return
H. Beam Piper and John J. McGuire

(The HTML version available on Gutenberg includes the original black and white illustrations from Astounding Science Fiction.)
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)
I worked late last night, of course, to offset coming in late from my eight o'clock morning class. When I walked into the house (passing Bro. No. 1 on the way, going I know not where), "Be Our Guest!" was blasting from the stereo and Dad was dancing around the living room. It was so funny and so typical all at once. His dancing, by-the-bye, is most awe-inspiring, since he makes up for lack of training with enthusiasm, and stands 6'8" to boot. A most impressive sight. :D

Free Speculative Fiction Online has provided me some amusement in the past weeks. A certain set of three books, a collaboration published under the name "Mark Phillips," deserves special mention. Read on - this is not Nuranar once again burbling on about how fantastic something is.

The books in question are Brain Twister , The Impossibles , and Supermind , originally published in Astounding in 1959 and 1960. All can be found at The Gutenberg Project.

The introduction to Brain Twister is priceless, and sets the tone for the series.

"Mark Phillips" is, or are, two writers: Randall Garrett and Laurence M. Janifer. Their joint pen-name, derived from their middle names (Philip and Mark), was coined soon after their original meeting, at a science-fiction convention. Both men were drunk at the time, which explains a good deal, and only one has ever sobered up. A matter for constant contention between the collaborators is which one.

They have been collaborating for some time now, and have devised an interesting method of work: Mr. Garrett handles the verbs, the adverbs and the interjections, Mr. Janifer the nouns, pronouns, and adjectives. Conjunctions are a matter of joint decision, and in the case of a tie, the entire game is replayed at Fenway Park, Boston, early in the following year.

BRAIN TWISTER was fifteen years in the making, of which time three days were spent in the actual writing. When the book was finished, both authors relaxed in the mutual pleasure of nervous breakdowns, from which it is not certain that either has ever recovered.

Mr. Garrett is a large, roundish fellow with a beard. He wears flowered vests and always carries a small talisman which no one has ever seen. Mr. Janifer is a somewhat shorter and thinner type, with a shorter and thinner beard. His vests are in solid colors, he wears horn-rimmed glasses because he has always done so, and he is never found without a souvenir subway token from the City of New York.

The personal lives of the authors differ widely. Mr. Garrett's hobbies, for instance, include such sports as close-order drill and river pollution. Mr. Janifer, a less active type, prefers sedentary games such as humming or blinking.

Mr. Garrett is engaged to an exotically beautiful creature, and the two plan to be married as soon as they run out of excuses. Mr. Janifer, on the other hand, is fascinated by women, and hopes some day to meet one.

Great start, huh? The books themselves are not flat-out amazing, but they're quite humorous and the cast of characters is terrific. Although set slightly in the future, the "science fiction" aspects are primarily concerned with mental power. Furthermoer, Supermind draws all three plots together with real genius. I don't know if they planned it, but the three have a latent coherency and hidden connection that's superior to most series. The big electrifier, though, came in The Impossibles:

He [Malone, an FBI agent] found a phone booth in a bar called the Ad Lib, at Madison Avenue. Sternly telling himself that he was stopping there to make a phone call, a business phone call, and not to have a drink, he marched right past the friendly bartender and went into the phone booth, where he made a call to New York Police Commissioner John Henry Fernack.
*moves on* *pauses* *looks again* * eyes widen* No way! 

nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)
I worked late last night, of course, to offset coming in late from my eight o'clock morning class. When I walked into the house (passing Bro. No. 1 on the way, going I know not where), "Be Our Guest!" was blasting from the stereo and Dad was dancing around the living room. It was so funny and so typical all at once. His dancing, by-the-bye, is most awe-inspiring, since he makes up for lack of training with enthusiasm, and stands 6'8" to boot. A most impressive sight. :D

Free Speculative Fiction Online has provided me some amusement in the past weeks. A certain set of three books, a collaboration published under the name "Mark Phillips," deserves special mention. Read on - this is not Nuranar once again burbling on about how fantastic something is.

The books in question are Brain Twister , The Impossibles , and Supermind , originally published in Astounding in 1959 and 1960. All can be found at The Gutenberg Project.

The introduction to Brain Twister is priceless, and sets the tone for the series.

"Mark Phillips" is, or are, two writers: Randall Garrett and Laurence M. Janifer. Their joint pen-name, derived from their middle names (Philip and Mark), was coined soon after their original meeting, at a science-fiction convention. Both men were drunk at the time, which explains a good deal, and only one has ever sobered up. A matter for constant contention between the collaborators is which one.

They have been collaborating for some time now, and have devised an interesting method of work: Mr. Garrett handles the verbs, the adverbs and the interjections, Mr. Janifer the nouns, pronouns, and adjectives. Conjunctions are a matter of joint decision, and in the case of a tie, the entire game is replayed at Fenway Park, Boston, early in the following year.

BRAIN TWISTER was fifteen years in the making, of which time three days were spent in the actual writing. When the book was finished, both authors relaxed in the mutual pleasure of nervous breakdowns, from which it is not certain that either has ever recovered.

Mr. Garrett is a large, roundish fellow with a beard. He wears flowered vests and always carries a small talisman which no one has ever seen. Mr. Janifer is a somewhat shorter and thinner type, with a shorter and thinner beard. His vests are in solid colors, he wears horn-rimmed glasses because he has always done so, and he is never found without a souvenir subway token from the City of New York.

The personal lives of the authors differ widely. Mr. Garrett's hobbies, for instance, include such sports as close-order drill and river pollution. Mr. Janifer, a less active type, prefers sedentary games such as humming or blinking.

Mr. Garrett is engaged to an exotically beautiful creature, and the two plan to be married as soon as they run out of excuses. Mr. Janifer, on the other hand, is fascinated by women, and hopes some day to meet one.

Great start, huh? The books themselves are not flat-out amazing, but they're quite humorous and the cast of characters is terrific. Although set slightly in the future, the "science fiction" aspects are primarily concerned with mental power. Furthermoer, Supermind draws all three plots together with real genius. I don't know if they planned it, but the three have a latent coherency and hidden connection that's superior to most series. The big electrifier, though, came in The Impossibles:

He [Malone, an FBI agent] found a phone booth in a bar called the Ad Lib, at Madison Avenue. Sternly telling himself that he was stopping there to make a phone call, a business phone call, and not to have a drink, he marched right past the friendly bartender and went into the phone booth, where he made a call to New York Police Commissioner John Henry Fernack.
*moves on* *pauses* *looks again* * eyes widen* No way! 

nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)

Since I have to. I guess.

;-)
 

 



[profile] roses_for_ann, I have you to thank for this dilemma:



Blue. And silver. And deco.  My winter coat is navy. And it's on (sort of) sale for this week, plus free shipping.  But it's still not a steal, and I certainly don't need it.  Agh! What to do?
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)

Since I have to. I guess.

;-)
 

 



[profile] roses_for_ann, I have you to thank for this dilemma:



Blue. And silver. And deco.  My winter coat is navy. And it's on (sort of) sale for this week, plus free shipping.  But it's still not a steal, and I certainly don't need it.  Agh! What to do?
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)
Forcing myself to write about the MacLean books has been good for me. (Don't get me wrong; I love to write about MacLean. It's just work, like anything besides reading is, for me, Work.)  In some ways PaperBackSwap has been a greater temptation than a blessing.  The sheer volume of my reading this year is staggering.  I couldn't keep up with a monthly record, since I couldn't hope to remember everything I'd read in a month.  I'm certain I'm well over 100 for the year, and possibly more like 150.  Plus there's all the science fiction books, novellas, and stories that I've skimmed with varying degrees of attention.  (For stuff that I don't choose, like in sale boxes or in random compilations, I don't make myself read closely at first. That way it's easier to jump ship when Something Objectionable crops up.)

That last brings me to the books I'm going to review.  I feel like I'm making a confession, of all things!  I've made no secret of the fact that I love fiction, and of fiction I love mysteries, and action/adventure, and space opera stories the most.  Most of the time it doesn't bother me, but it's true that the critics (and the general sheep public) look down upon these genres.  I'm not ashamed of loving that stuff - I'm not - but the general disdain makes me feel defensive from time to time.

nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)
Forcing myself to write about the MacLean books has been good for me. (Don't get me wrong; I love to write about MacLean. It's just work, like anything besides reading is, for me, Work.)  In some ways PaperBackSwap has been a greater temptation than a blessing.  The sheer volume of my reading this year is staggering.  I couldn't keep up with a monthly record, since I couldn't hope to remember everything I'd read in a month.  I'm certain I'm well over 100 for the year, and possibly more like 150.  Plus there's all the science fiction books, novellas, and stories that I've skimmed with varying degrees of attention.  (For stuff that I don't choose, like in sale boxes or in random compilations, I don't make myself read closely at first. That way it's easier to jump ship when Something Objectionable crops up.)

That last brings me to the books I'm going to review.  I feel like I'm making a confession, of all things!  I've made no secret of the fact that I love fiction, and of fiction I love mysteries, and action/adventure, and space opera stories the most.  Most of the time it doesn't bother me, but it's true that the critics (and the general sheep public) look down upon these genres.  I'm not ashamed of loving that stuff - I'm not - but the general disdain makes me feel defensive from time to time.

Circus

26 July 2007 09:08 pm
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)
I found this book waiting for me in a PaperBackSwap package when I got home one day last week.  By lunch the next day, I'd finished it.

Alistair MacLean's Circus

Published in 1975, Circus is one of MacLean's last, and poorest, set of novels.  I'm glad to report, however, that it was a very enjoyable read.  It's not up to the technical standards of his earliest novels, but I liked it better than The Way to Dusty Death.

Bruno Wildermann and his two younger brothers are known as the Blind Eagles, a group of extremely skillful trapeze and high-wire experts who perform blindfolded.  Bruno is the linchpin of the act, being in addition borderline clairvoyant and having a literally photographic memory.  The Wildermanns were refugees from Eastern Europe, an unspecified country that seems to be either East Germany or Poland. His combination of skills and his background bring him to the attention of the CIA.  Bruno agrees to break into a high-security prison and research center in the city of "Crau" and memorize/destroy certain plans.

The major criticisms of MacLean's latest period are excessive dialogue, "sagging" prose, poor characterization, and lazy description.  These are the technical standards in which Circus does not measure up; however, it is a long way from being the worst example.  The dialogue is not excessive; I found none of it boring, and some quite amusing.  The quality of the prose did not bother me or lose me, although it could have been sharper.  My biggest criticism is that the antagonists do not quite live up to their menace and their knowledge.  There is a definite reason to account partially for this, albeit is one I cannot reveal.  Nonetheless, they do not even approach the terrifying efficiency and genuine brilliance of their counterparts in The Secret Ways.

MacLean handles the circus setup with quite a bit of skill; I found his descriptions fascinating in and of themselves.  His characters are a little more nebulous than I like, yet they're interesting and I cared about them.  Especially when they... never mind.  Several of Bruno's fellow circus men are quite good creations. Their banter is reminiscent of Hansen, Zabrinkski, and Rawlings in Ice Station Zebra.

Circus might be held up as an example of the old "male writers write helpless females" trope.  I won't go into a discussion of this, since it would be long and rife with spoilers.  Let me just say once again that MacLean uses layers of deception in his work.  In Circus, there are excellent reasons for what he does with his characters (and I'm saying this generally, too), no matter how long it takes to see or how clichéd it seems in the meantime.  In the specific instance, it's unfortunately not shown nor explained as skillfully as it was in the earlier novel that used the same idea.  But it makes very, very good sense.  MacLean is not an author to judge quickly.  Even in 1975 he could be a master of subtlety.

After the initial exposition, things get menacing fast with two murders.  I'll warn you - one is quite grisly, not for the descriptions but for the imagination.  *shudder*  Nonetheless, after Fear Is the Key and The Satan Bug, the relative lack of grimness in Circus is a relief.  It gets worse, trust me, but it's not a numbing grief or paralyzing fear that permeate the entire book.  He hasn't lost the humorous touch by any means.

A very minor aside: I'm amused that the highest-up CIA man shown is an admiral.  In The Hunt for Red October, James Greer of the CIA (played by James Earl Jones) is also an admiral.  Note: It's a departure for MacLean to use the CIA, although he used quite a few Americans in Ice Station Zebra and did them well.  I think the whole premise necessitated it.

I think I'd like to start including excerpts in my reviews.  It's always great to get an idea of an author's style, even at its less-than-brilliant moments.  In this excerpt (not necessarily the best, just the one that came to mind), a certain Colonel Sergius is having to deal with Alex, a less-than-successful... employee.

Sergius sighed.  "Alas, it was ever thus.  I am left to fight on virtually alone.  All the decisions have to be made, all the thinking has to be done by a senior officer, which is no doubt why I am a senior officer."  A false modesty was not one of Sergius's besetting sins.  "Our Bruno Wildermann is clever, he may also be dangerous.  He suspected, only he knows how, that he was under surveillance and put his suspicions to the test.  He had this man Roebuck standing by to follow whoever might follow him.  This would make Roebuck--and, by implication, the other two--something just a little bit more than friends.  Roebuck followed Alex.  He didn't go to borrow money, he went to inform Bruno that he, Bruno, had been followed by a man with a black coat, black moustache, very stupid."  He bestowed a pitying glance on the crest-fallen shadower.  "I don't suppose it ever occurred to you, Alex, to look over your shoulder?  Just once?"

"I'm sorry, Colonel."

Sergius gave him a look more commonly associated with a starving crocodile which has just spotted lunch.

Circus

26 July 2007 09:08 pm
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)
I found this book waiting for me in a PaperBackSwap package when I got home one day last week.  By lunch the next day, I'd finished it.

Alistair MacLean's Circus

Published in 1975, Circus is one of MacLean's last, and poorest, set of novels.  I'm glad to report, however, that it was a very enjoyable read.  It's not up to the technical standards of his earliest novels, but I liked it better than The Way to Dusty Death.

Bruno Wildermann and his two younger brothers are known as the Blind Eagles, a group of extremely skillful trapeze and high-wire experts who perform blindfolded.  Bruno is the linchpin of the act, being in addition borderline clairvoyant and having a literally photographic memory.  The Wildermanns were refugees from Eastern Europe, an unspecified country that seems to be either East Germany or Poland. His combination of skills and his background bring him to the attention of the CIA.  Bruno agrees to break into a high-security prison and research center in the city of "Crau" and memorize/destroy certain plans.

The major criticisms of MacLean's latest period are excessive dialogue, "sagging" prose, poor characterization, and lazy description.  These are the technical standards in which Circus does not measure up; however, it is a long way from being the worst example.  The dialogue is not excessive; I found none of it boring, and some quite amusing.  The quality of the prose did not bother me or lose me, although it could have been sharper.  My biggest criticism is that the antagonists do not quite live up to their menace and their knowledge.  There is a definite reason to account partially for this, albeit is one I cannot reveal.  Nonetheless, they do not even approach the terrifying efficiency and genuine brilliance of their counterparts in The Secret Ways.

MacLean handles the circus setup with quite a bit of skill; I found his descriptions fascinating in and of themselves.  His characters are a little more nebulous than I like, yet they're interesting and I cared about them.  Especially when they... never mind.  Several of Bruno's fellow circus men are quite good creations. Their banter is reminiscent of Hansen, Zabrinkski, and Rawlings in Ice Station Zebra.

Circus might be held up as an example of the old "male writers write helpless females" trope.  I won't go into a discussion of this, since it would be long and rife with spoilers.  Let me just say once again that MacLean uses layers of deception in his work.  In Circus, there are excellent reasons for what he does with his characters (and I'm saying this generally, too), no matter how long it takes to see or how clichéd it seems in the meantime.  In the specific instance, it's unfortunately not shown nor explained as skillfully as it was in the earlier novel that used the same idea.  But it makes very, very good sense.  MacLean is not an author to judge quickly.  Even in 1975 he could be a master of subtlety.

After the initial exposition, things get menacing fast with two murders.  I'll warn you - one is quite grisly, not for the descriptions but for the imagination.  *shudder*  Nonetheless, after Fear Is the Key and The Satan Bug, the relative lack of grimness in Circus is a relief.  It gets worse, trust me, but it's not a numbing grief or paralyzing fear that permeate the entire book.  He hasn't lost the humorous touch by any means.

A very minor aside: I'm amused that the highest-up CIA man shown is an admiral.  In The Hunt for Red October, James Greer of the CIA (played by James Earl Jones) is also an admiral.  Note: It's a departure for MacLean to use the CIA, although he used quite a few Americans in Ice Station Zebra and did them well.  I think the whole premise necessitated it.

I think I'd like to start including excerpts in my reviews.  It's always great to get an idea of an author's style, even at its less-than-brilliant moments.  In this excerpt (not necessarily the best, just the one that came to mind), a certain Colonel Sergius is having to deal with Alex, a less-than-successful... employee.

Sergius sighed.  "Alas, it was ever thus.  I am left to fight on virtually alone.  All the decisions have to be made, all the thinking has to be done by a senior officer, which is no doubt why I am a senior officer."  A false modesty was not one of Sergius's besetting sins.  "Our Bruno Wildermann is clever, he may also be dangerous.  He suspected, only he knows how, that he was under surveillance and put his suspicions to the test.  He had this man Roebuck standing by to follow whoever might follow him.  This would make Roebuck--and, by implication, the other two--something just a little bit more than friends.  Roebuck followed Alex.  He didn't go to borrow money, he went to inform Bruno that he, Bruno, had been followed by a man with a black coat, black moustache, very stupid."  He bestowed a pitying glance on the crest-fallen shadower.  "I don't suppose it ever occurred to you, Alex, to look over your shoulder?  Just once?"

"I'm sorry, Colonel."

Sergius gave him a look more commonly associated with a starving crocodile which has just spotted lunch.
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)
Apparently I have an audience that enjoys the so-called reviews I thought I was inflicting on my friends list.  This does flatter me, I admit. *g*  Sometimes I get really lazy and don't want to do them; writing IS an effort, particularly when I want to do a good job.  But I really need to get this one taken care of before the details and my impressions fade.  The plot in this one isn't so impossible to discuss as it was for Fear Is the Key (see my so-subtle review here), so I can elaborate a bit.

Alistair MacLean's The Satan Bug

This books is centered about the possibility of biological warfare, or as they put it in 1962, "germ warfare".  It's the only one of MacLean's stories I've yet read that is set wholly in England itself. The extremely high-security facility for developing germ warfare has been broken into - or broken out of - and two dangerous diseases have been taken.  One is the Satan Bug of the title.  Who has them, and what will they use them for?  (Trust me, you won't guess.)

The action of the story develops with surprising slowness, at least initially.  First-person narrator Pierre Cavell assists with the investigation, which is structured like a typical mystery with crime scene investigation, following up clues, and questioning witnesses and suspects.  Of course it picks up, and when a crisis is reached, things develop rapidly.

Cavell himself is somewhat shady; trust me, MacLean's layers of deception are not absent.  He is in a subtle way one of MacLean's more unusual characters; for starters, he has two physical handicaps - a crippled leg that had been crushed by a tank, and a nearly-blind eye from a shell explosion, both earned in the war.  He is also married; his wife Mary is another of MacLean's minor but wholly admirable females.  I love how MacLean balances the extraordinary with the ordinary; if his protagonist is unusual in one aspect, he is terribly ordinary in another.  This balance of the fantastic with extreme realism is part of why MacLean's stories are so compelling.

I'm very good at suspending disbelief to enjoy a story; I'm also very rarely emotionally caught up in a story.  (Unless it's anger at stupid characters or writing, which is scarcely what the author intended.)  But the descriptions of the power of these germs actually scared me.  I remember being so very glad that I am separated by 45 years and thousands of miles from the hypothetical scene of action - that's how intensely it affected me.  And yet... the Satan Bug in question is the granddaddy of all plagues.  Forget about the Black Death.  Imagine the worst case scenario for any epidemic - I mean it, literally the worst possible case - and you'll have what the Satan Bug would do.  As simple as that.

With the skill I've come to expect, MacLean doesn't dwell on the horror, even in the first-person narration.  He makes the situation horrifyingly clear, and moves on.  The tone is overall very grim, but it's not the personal, back-of-the-mind grief of Fear Is the Key.  And the humor is still there.  I figure I've talked about it in enough reviews; here's a paragraph from near to the end.

Cavell is trying to cross a deserted London railyard without being detected.  It is in complete blackout.

The reference book compilers who assert that Clapham Junction has more sets of parallel tracks than any place in Britain wouldn't go around making silly statements like that if they'd try this lot on a pitch black October night with the sleety rain falling about their ears.  There wasn't a single piece of ironware in the whole interminable width of those tracks that I didn't find that night, usually with my ankles and shins.  Railway lines, wires, signalling gear, switch gear, hydrants, platforms where there shouldn't have been platforms--I found them all.  To add to my discomfort the burnt cork that had been so heavily rubbed into my face and hands was beginning to run, and burnt cork tastes exactly as you would expect it to taste: and when it gets in your eyes it hurts.  The only hazard I didn't have to contend with was live rails--the power had been switched off.

As you can see, if MacLean's writing has any fault it's his tendency to very long sentences.  It's something I can easily forgive, since it's simply an old-fashioned style (see Dickens!) and  I'm prone to it myself.

So overall, another winner for Mr. MacLean.  *applause*
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)
Apparently I have an audience that enjoys the so-called reviews I thought I was inflicting on my friends list.  This does flatter me, I admit. *g*  Sometimes I get really lazy and don't want to do them; writing IS an effort, particularly when I want to do a good job.  But I really need to get this one taken care of before the details and my impressions fade.  The plot in this one isn't so impossible to discuss as it was for Fear Is the Key (see my so-subtle review here), so I can elaborate a bit.

Alistair MacLean's The Satan Bug

This books is centered about the possibility of biological warfare, or as they put it in 1962, "germ warfare".  It's the only one of MacLean's stories I've yet read that is set wholly in England itself. The extremely high-security facility for developing germ warfare has been broken into - or broken out of - and two dangerous diseases have been taken.  One is the Satan Bug of the title.  Who has them, and what will they use them for?  (Trust me, you won't guess.)

The action of the story develops with surprising slowness, at least initially.  First-person narrator Pierre Cavell assists with the investigation, which is structured like a typical mystery with crime scene investigation, following up clues, and questioning witnesses and suspects.  Of course it picks up, and when a crisis is reached, things develop rapidly.

Cavell himself is somewhat shady; trust me, MacLean's layers of deception are not absent.  He is in a subtle way one of MacLean's more unusual characters; for starters, he has two physical handicaps - a crippled leg that had been crushed by a tank, and a nearly-blind eye from a shell explosion, both earned in the war.  He is also married; his wife Mary is another of MacLean's minor but wholly admirable females.  I love how MacLean balances the extraordinary with the ordinary; if his protagonist is unusual in one aspect, he is terribly ordinary in another.  This balance of the fantastic with extreme realism is part of why MacLean's stories are so compelling.

I'm very good at suspending disbelief to enjoy a story; I'm also very rarely emotionally caught up in a story.  (Unless it's anger at stupid characters or writing, which is scarcely what the author intended.)  But the descriptions of the power of these germs actually scared me.  I remember being so very glad that I am separated by 45 years and thousands of miles from the hypothetical scene of action - that's how intensely it affected me.  And yet... the Satan Bug in question is the granddaddy of all plagues.  Forget about the Black Death.  Imagine the worst case scenario for any epidemic - I mean it, literally the worst possible case - and you'll have what the Satan Bug would do.  As simple as that.

With the skill I've come to expect, MacLean doesn't dwell on the horror, even in the first-person narration.  He makes the situation horrifyingly clear, and moves on.  The tone is overall very grim, but it's not the personal, back-of-the-mind grief of Fear Is the Key.  And the humor is still there.  I figure I've talked about it in enough reviews; here's a paragraph from near to the end.

Cavell is trying to cross a deserted London railyard without being detected.  It is in complete blackout.

The reference book compilers who assert that Clapham Junction has more sets of parallel tracks than any place in Britain wouldn't go around making silly statements like that if they'd try this lot on a pitch black October night with the sleety rain falling about their ears.  There wasn't a single piece of ironware in the whole interminable width of those tracks that I didn't find that night, usually with my ankles and shins.  Railway lines, wires, signalling gear, switch gear, hydrants, platforms where there shouldn't have been platforms--I found them all.  To add to my discomfort the burnt cork that had been so heavily rubbed into my face and hands was beginning to run, and burnt cork tastes exactly as you would expect it to taste: and when it gets in your eyes it hurts.  The only hazard I didn't have to contend with was live rails--the power had been switched off.

As you can see, if MacLean's writing has any fault it's his tendency to very long sentences.  It's something I can easily forgive, since it's simply an old-fashioned style (see Dickens!) and  I'm prone to it myself.

So overall, another winner for Mr. MacLean.  *applause*
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)
Back when I first started reading Alistair MacLean, I was enthralled and wanted to share my find with the world.  It was disconcerting to discover how hard writing a review was.  "Hah!" you'll say.  "How many words and posts have you made on the fellow in the last month, hmm?"  Ah, but those are on him, on his style and the elements of his writing.  In the intervening years enough has gelled for me to have a semi-coherent analysis.

But the plots, still no.  Take, for example, Fear Is The Key, which I started last night and finished this morning.  A good review should begin with a summary, no?  Well, here's my summary:

...

I'm not being cute.  In journalistic writing, I was able to focus on the W's (and the H) to get the point of the story across.  Who, [did] What, When, Where, Why, and How.  For a review, sometimes all of the W's would let out a spoiler.  Easy enough to avoid, right?  You just tell part of the answer, and maybe leave out a couple W's and the H that reveal too much.  But for Fear Is The Key, the W's and the H are Spoiler City.  I'll do an exercise and see what I come up with.

Who:  Uh... His name? John Talbot.  But who is he?  There's nothing I can say to that.  In a MacLean story, identity and character are not confused or ambivalent.  The reader simply doesn't know.  That is, the intelligent reader doesn't know.  The ordinary reader thinks he does, until he's been fooled two or three times and gives up.

[did] What:  Definitely off limits.  I can't offer even the tiniest smidgeon of the beginning of a hint, or you'll start guessing things.

When:  Ah, well, this doesn't tell you much.  1962 or 1963, I think.  The prologue is in 1958.

Where:  Southeast Florida, partially, and partially off Key West on an oil rig.  No, that is not any kind of a hint; you can't extrapolate from that unless you're really imaginative.  Try it.  I dare you.  *g*

Why:  Uh-uh.

How:  Double uh-uh.

Okay, we've got a protagonist, John Talbot, in Florida and the Gulf of Mexico in 1962.  What kind of a summary is that?  Is it anything to build a review on?

Now that I've maundered on enough to give this entry a more-than-respectable length, I might as well attempt something worthwhile about Fear Is The Key.  So I don't have to restate it every two sentences, take it as a given that I could offer a less vague analysis if I didn't mind giving away plot points.

I think it's the saddest MacLean books I've read.  I don't like sad books.  I liked this one still because (1) it's a MacLean and (2) there's no dwelling on the sadness.  It's shoved to the back of the reader's mind, just as it is in Talbot's.  MacLean does not develop his characters by giving a psychological profile of their suffering.  He gives the facts, and a poignant phrase, and allows human emotion to develop a deeper empathy than any words would create.  Like in a Nero Wolfe I just read. To an acquaintance who'd just lost his only son, a flier, in Sicily: "I would hold up your heart if I could."  From Wolfe, that irritable, contrary, unsympathetic genius, it's outrageous.  Outrageous and heartbreaking.

I digress.

Correspondingly, it's one of the least humorous MacLeans.  Oh, his word choice is as much a delight as ever, and well-worthy of a few chuckles.  But it's in first person from Talbot's point of view, and Talbot isn't in a very funny mood.  He can still see the humor in things, but even his naturally dry humor is tinged by more than a little bitterness.

MacLean's more poetic titles, I ought to mention, are particularly apt, once the reader discovers what they mean.  Night Without End, which takes place on the Greenland ice cap, refers to the endless darkness that falls when the midnight sun sets.  Fear Is the Key and The Way to Dusty Death are even more integral to their plots.

My verdict?  It's not in my absolute favorites list, but there's no real reason I can give.  It's good, very good.  The opening sequence/hundred pages/however many chapters is, ah, excellent reading.  (Boy, he can mess with your mind!)  And that's not to minimize the rest.  No Save The World stuff, either.  Just some rats who need a very definite squashing, and a man with a great desire to right a wrong.
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)
Back when I first started reading Alistair MacLean, I was enthralled and wanted to share my find with the world.  It was disconcerting to discover how hard writing a review was.  "Hah!" you'll say.  "How many words and posts have you made on the fellow in the last month, hmm?"  Ah, but those are on him, on his style and the elements of his writing.  In the intervening years enough has gelled for me to have a semi-coherent analysis.

But the plots, still no.  Take, for example, Fear Is The Key, which I started last night and finished this morning.  A good review should begin with a summary, no?  Well, here's my summary:

...

I'm not being cute.  In journalistic writing, I was able to focus on the W's (and the H) to get the point of the story across.  Who, [did] What, When, Where, Why, and How.  For a review, sometimes all of the W's would let out a spoiler.  Easy enough to avoid, right?  You just tell part of the answer, and maybe leave out a couple W's and the H that reveal too much.  But for Fear Is The Key, the W's and the H are Spoiler City.  I'll do an exercise and see what I come up with.

Who:  Uh... His name? John Talbot.  But who is he?  There's nothing I can say to that.  In a MacLean story, identity and character are not confused or ambivalent.  The reader simply doesn't know.  That is, the intelligent reader doesn't know.  The ordinary reader thinks he does, until he's been fooled two or three times and gives up.

[did] What:  Definitely off limits.  I can't offer even the tiniest smidgeon of the beginning of a hint, or you'll start guessing things.

When:  Ah, well, this doesn't tell you much.  1962 or 1963, I think.  The prologue is in 1958.

Where:  Southeast Florida, partially, and partially off Key West on an oil rig.  No, that is not any kind of a hint; you can't extrapolate from that unless you're really imaginative.  Try it.  I dare you.  *g*

Why:  Uh-uh.

How:  Double uh-uh.

Okay, we've got a protagonist, John Talbot, in Florida and the Gulf of Mexico in 1962.  What kind of a summary is that?  Is it anything to build a review on?

Now that I've maundered on enough to give this entry a more-than-respectable length, I might as well attempt something worthwhile about Fear Is The Key.  So I don't have to restate it every two sentences, take it as a given that I could offer a less vague analysis if I didn't mind giving away plot points.

I think it's the saddest MacLean books I've read.  I don't like sad books.  I liked this one still because (1) it's a MacLean and (2) there's no dwelling on the sadness.  It's shoved to the back of the reader's mind, just as it is in Talbot's.  MacLean does not develop his characters by giving a psychological profile of their suffering.  He gives the facts, and a poignant phrase, and allows human emotion to develop a deeper empathy than any words would create.  Like in a Nero Wolfe I just read. To an acquaintance who'd just lost his only son, a flier, in Sicily: "I would hold up your heart if I could."  From Wolfe, that irritable, contrary, unsympathetic genius, it's outrageous.  Outrageous and heartbreaking.

I digress.

Correspondingly, it's one of the least humorous MacLeans.  Oh, his word choice is as much a delight as ever, and well-worthy of a few chuckles.  But it's in first person from Talbot's point of view, and Talbot isn't in a very funny mood.  He can still see the humor in things, but even his naturally dry humor is tinged by more than a little bitterness.

MacLean's more poetic titles, I ought to mention, are particularly apt, once the reader discovers what they mean.  Night Without End, which takes place on the Greenland ice cap, refers to the endless darkness that falls when the midnight sun sets.  Fear Is the Key and The Way to Dusty Death are even more integral to their plots.

My verdict?  It's not in my absolute favorites list, but there's no real reason I can give.  It's good, very good.  The opening sequence/hundred pages/however many chapters is, ah, excellent reading.  (Boy, he can mess with your mind!)  And that's not to minimize the rest.  No Save The World stuff, either.  Just some rats who need a very definite squashing, and a man with a great desire to right a wrong.
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)
I've compromised.  It's now the recycle can, not the wastebasket, that's handy for kicking over.  It won't make such a mess when I tump it over, but will give no less satisfaction.

---

In addition to the heaps of Nero Wolfe books, my to-be-read Debris Field includes several Alistair MacLean books.  Besides The Way to Dusty Death, sent to me by the Most Gracious [personal profile] jordannamorgan, I have The Satan Bug (from PaperBackSwap) and Fear Is the Key (from the Book Rack).  The Way to Dusty Death, written in 1973, is the first of MacLean's final, and poorest, phase, so I read it first.

The Way to Dusty Death is set on the Grand Prix racing circuit in Europe.  It tells of the seeming - seeming - mental breakdown of Johnny Harlow, unquestionably the best driver, after a series of crashes, and his lapse into alcoholism.  Reader beware - Things are seldom what they seem.  I have zero interest in automobile racing, but that was not a handicap to understanding the book.

If this is a poor book, it's poor only in comparison to MacLean's best.  I didn't find it terribly suspenseful, but that is a very subjective opinion; it's far more suspenseful than most mysteries, for example.  There's a bit too much narration and too little dialogue, particularly in the beginning.  Characterization is not poor, but certainly doesn't show the extreme care and effort put into his earlier books.

In all of the four or five Cussler novels I've read, I've thought that Cussler tried to accomplish too much.  He tries to write a modern thriller with heavy historical elements, and his hero(es) have to head off The Biggest Catastrophe to Hit the World Ever.  In every book.  I swallow a lot, but that's just too much.  Another of MacLean's later books that I've read seemed to fall into the same trap, coupled with a (Cussler-like) caricatured Evil Villain.  But not in The Way to Dusty Death.  As always, the kernel of the conflict is deeply hidden; it's not a Save the World situation, though.  I refuse to give away plot points, so I cannot elaborate.  But it's a definitely a worthy plot.

There were a few notable word choice examples in the dialogue.  At one point, the Hero agrees with the Partner, saying, "True, true!"  That little phrase is up there with "wonderfulness" as the biggest of the many catch phrases that I SPY made famous.  At another point, the Hero refers to the opposition as "the ungodly."  If you think that didn't bring a big grin to my face, you don't know me!
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)
I've compromised.  It's now the recycle can, not the wastebasket, that's handy for kicking over.  It won't make such a mess when I tump it over, but will give no less satisfaction.

---

In addition to the heaps of Nero Wolfe books, my to-be-read Debris Field includes several Alistair MacLean books.  Besides The Way to Dusty Death, sent to me by the Most Gracious [personal profile] jordannamorgan, I have The Satan Bug (from PaperBackSwap) and Fear Is the Key (from the Book Rack).  The Way to Dusty Death, written in 1973, is the first of MacLean's final, and poorest, phase, so I read it first.

The Way to Dusty Death is set on the Grand Prix racing circuit in Europe.  It tells of the seeming - seeming - mental breakdown of Johnny Harlow, unquestionably the best driver, after a series of crashes, and his lapse into alcoholism.  Reader beware - Things are seldom what they seem.  I have zero interest in automobile racing, but that was not a handicap to understanding the book.

If this is a poor book, it's poor only in comparison to MacLean's best.  I didn't find it terribly suspenseful, but that is a very subjective opinion; it's far more suspenseful than most mysteries, for example.  There's a bit too much narration and too little dialogue, particularly in the beginning.  Characterization is not poor, but certainly doesn't show the extreme care and effort put into his earlier books.

In all of the four or five Cussler novels I've read, I've thought that Cussler tried to accomplish too much.  He tries to write a modern thriller with heavy historical elements, and his hero(es) have to head off The Biggest Catastrophe to Hit the World Ever.  In every book.  I swallow a lot, but that's just too much.  Another of MacLean's later books that I've read seemed to fall into the same trap, coupled with a (Cussler-like) caricatured Evil Villain.  But not in The Way to Dusty Death.  As always, the kernel of the conflict is deeply hidden; it's not a Save the World situation, though.  I refuse to give away plot points, so I cannot elaborate.  But it's a definitely a worthy plot.

There were a few notable word choice examples in the dialogue.  At one point, the Hero agrees with the Partner, saying, "True, true!"  That little phrase is up there with "wonderfulness" as the biggest of the many catch phrases that I SPY made famous.  At another point, the Hero refers to the opposition as "the ungodly."  If you think that didn't bring a big grin to my face, you don't know me!
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)
I read Margery Allingham's The Crime at Black Dudley yesterday and today. It's the first Albert Campion book, published in 1929, and I really enjoyed it.  It's far more a thriller than a mystery novel, I was pleased to discover.  Now I really want to read the next one.

I'm in the midst of arranging The Great Nero Wolfe Book Deal on PaperBackSwap, so of course I must read all the books before they go in the mail.  I'm extremely fast, but upwards of two dozen still take me a while.

With so many to choose from, I've been able to go in something like chronological order.  I'm enjoying the 1930s Archie Goodwin very much.  He's a bit more whimsical and even outrageously funny in his narrative, less mellow than the 1960s version I've read from the library.  His devices for either goading or merely irritating Wolfe are delicious.

I need to re-arrange my workspace so I can prop up my feet on a desk drawer. Especially when said feet are clad in fully-fashioned stockings and peep-toe shoes. *purr*

I also need to put my wastebasket somewhere where I can kick it over deliberately, when I'm in a bad mood.  Too bad I don't have a fat companion who will be annoyed when I do so.
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)
I read Margery Allingham's The Crime at Black Dudley yesterday and today. It's the first Albert Campion book, published in 1929, and I really enjoyed it.  It's far more a thriller than a mystery novel, I was pleased to discover.  Now I really want to read the next one.

I'm in the midst of arranging The Great Nero Wolfe Book Deal on PaperBackSwap, so of course I must read all the books before they go in the mail.  I'm extremely fast, but upwards of two dozen still take me a while.

With so many to choose from, I've been able to go in something like chronological order.  I'm enjoying the 1930s Archie Goodwin very much.  He's a bit more whimsical and even outrageously funny in his narrative, less mellow than the 1960s version I've read from the library.  His devices for either goading or merely irritating Wolfe are delicious.

I need to re-arrange my workspace so I can prop up my feet on a desk drawer. Especially when said feet are clad in fully-fashioned stockings and peep-toe shoes. *purr*

I also need to put my wastebasket somewhere where I can kick it over deliberately, when I'm in a bad mood.  Too bad I don't have a fat companion who will be annoyed when I do so.

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