nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Dangerous Books)
(Cross-posted to [livejournal.com profile] vintage_crime)

A. A. Fair was one of the pseudonyms used by Erle Stanley Gardner, who is best-known for creating the famous defense attorney Perry Mason.  Gardner wrote over seventy Perry Mason books from the 1930s through the 1960s.  Perry Mason is most known from the 1950s television show starring Raymond Burr, but there were also earlier movies and even a radio serial. In addition to the Perry Mason books, Gardner wrote a handful of other series.  His most notable non-Mason books are the two dozen or so Donald Lam and Bertha Cool detective stories published under the name of A. A. Fair.  (A full listing of Gardner's works can be found at StopYou'reKillingMe, a superb mystery book directory.)

I have been familiar, if not fully acquainted, with Perry Mason for quite some time, primarily from the television show.  My mother watches it and I've seen many five-minute segments when I wander into her room, although I don't think I've actually sat down and watched an entire episode.  (Raymond Burr himself I've heard as a very tough cop in the Pat Novak radio series, opposite a very tough Jack Webb.)  The series has never really grabbed me.  Don't get me wrong; I have nothing against it.  Courtroom drama and legal issues have simply never been that interesting for me.  I read mysteries for the excitement and the puzzles, mostly in that order, and it seemed unlikely to me that the Perry Mason books would have much of those elements, particularly the first.

Somehow, through PaperBackSwap, BookMooch, or possibly an auction for a lot of paperbacks on Ebay, I've ended up with a few Gardner books.  They've all been earlier ones, from the 1940s.  In my experience, the earlier decades of long-publishing authors tend to be the best, so I did avoid the late 1950s and 1960s books on principle.  The Perry Mason books I've read have a different feel from what I've gathered of the show.  They're a bit more wacky, a bit more romantic, and have more action.  Still, at the heart they're legal mysteries and not my ultimate favorite. My first A. A. Fair book, Spill the Jackpot, is different.  I have no memory of how I got it, but at least the publication date of 1941 didn't look bad.  I finally read it right after The Case of the Crooked Candle, since I'd been very pleasantly surprised by the Crooked Candle book.  The next thing I know, I'm really liking Spill the Jackpot.  I mean really liking it.

Bertha Cool, the head of the B. L. Cool Detective Agency, has "the majesty of a snowcapped mountain, the assurance of a steamroller."  She'll never see forty again, weighs 200+ pounds, keeps an eagle eye on agency money, and never turns down good food.  She's a peach.  Donald is one of her operatives.  Donald himself... Well, let me quote Bertha:  "He's a pint-sized parcel of dynamite with the nerve of a prize fighter and a punch that wouldn't jar a fly loose from a syrup jug--but he's always trying."  Ain't it the truth!

After that brilliant success, I've gone on and read the first two in the series, The Bigger They Come and Turn On the Heat.  I've concluded that these books are good simply because of an astute combination of characterization and style that works extremely well.  Donald and Bertha are very atypical characters in the classic crime genre.  Bertha's no old hag, no femme fatale, and certainly no Girl Friday; she's the one who runs the agency, and she's all about the money with very little benevolence.  While at 5'5" and 127 pounds, Donald in no way resembles a detective, he's got about two full measures of a hero's typical willingness to fight.  Furthermore, Donald's size isn't just a gambit to make a detective series a little different.  Because he's simply not big enough to handle a serious fight, he's got an extremely sharp mind enhanced by legal training.  The legal element thus becomes key in each plot, but working seamlessly with events and deductions instead of becoming the entire plot.

Bertha and Donald together make a pretty wacky combination, especially when Donald's determination inconveniences Bertha way too much and spends way too much of her money.  Finding out what's going on is only part of the issue.  Actually dealing with it, and other things that happen, are just as much of what goes on.  Like the Albert Campion books, these are more suspense or adventure stories than true mysteries, since they're not written for the reader to try to solve.  They're written to tell a story.  Donald and Bertha do plenty of serious information-gathering and deduction--the books have a level of detail that I've rarely seen in other authors--but they don't stop there.  They don't just try to discover; nor do they just pitch a wrench into the works to see what'll blow, like Sam Spade.  They plan and maneuver to achieve a particular outcome, changing those plans as events develop.  Combine atypical characters with atypical behaviors in atypical plots, and you've got stories with humor, action, ingenious legal reasoning, plenty of the unexpected, and even romance.  These books are page-turners.

Has anyone else read these books?  Like the Perry Mason books, Gardner continued the series through the 1960s; does the quality and content degenerate, as it does for other authors in the same period?  I'd love to hear other opinions on the Perry Mason series, too.
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Dangerous Books)
(Cross-posted to [livejournal.com profile] vintage_crime)

A. A. Fair was one of the pseudonyms used by Erle Stanley Gardner, who is best-known for creating the famous defense attorney Perry Mason.  Gardner wrote over seventy Perry Mason books from the 1930s through the 1960s.  Perry Mason is most known from the 1950s television show starring Raymond Burr, but there were also earlier movies and even a radio serial. In addition to the Perry Mason books, Gardner wrote a handful of other series.  His most notable non-Mason books are the two dozen or so Donald Lam and Bertha Cool detective stories published under the name of A. A. Fair.  (A full listing of Gardner's works can be found at StopYou'reKillingMe, a superb mystery book directory.)

I have been familiar, if not fully acquainted, with Perry Mason for quite some time, primarily from the television show.  My mother watches it and I've seen many five-minute segments when I wander into her room, although I don't think I've actually sat down and watched an entire episode.  (Raymond Burr himself I've heard as a very tough cop in the Pat Novak radio series, opposite a very tough Jack Webb.)  The series has never really grabbed me.  Don't get me wrong; I have nothing against it.  Courtroom drama and legal issues have simply never been that interesting for me.  I read mysteries for the excitement and the puzzles, mostly in that order, and it seemed unlikely to me that the Perry Mason books would have much of those elements, particularly the first.

Somehow, through PaperBackSwap, BookMooch, or possibly an auction for a lot of paperbacks on Ebay, I've ended up with a few Gardner books.  They've all been earlier ones, from the 1940s.  In my experience, the earlier decades of long-publishing authors tend to be the best, so I did avoid the late 1950s and 1960s books on principle.  The Perry Mason books I've read have a different feel from what I've gathered of the show.  They're a bit more wacky, a bit more romantic, and have more action.  Still, at the heart they're legal mysteries and not my ultimate favorite. My first A. A. Fair book, Spill the Jackpot, is different.  I have no memory of how I got it, but at least the publication date of 1941 didn't look bad.  I finally read it right after The Case of the Crooked Candle, since I'd been very pleasantly surprised by the Crooked Candle book.  The next thing I know, I'm really liking Spill the Jackpot.  I mean really liking it.

Bertha Cool, the head of the B. L. Cool Detective Agency, has "the majesty of a snowcapped mountain, the assurance of a steamroller."  She'll never see forty again, weighs 200+ pounds, keeps an eagle eye on agency money, and never turns down good food.  She's a peach.  Donald is one of her operatives.  Donald himself... Well, let me quote Bertha:  "He's a pint-sized parcel of dynamite with the nerve of a prize fighter and a punch that wouldn't jar a fly loose from a syrup jug--but he's always trying."  Ain't it the truth!

After that brilliant success, I've gone on and read the first two in the series, The Bigger They Come and Turn On the Heat.  I've concluded that these books are good simply because of an astute combination of characterization and style that works extremely well.  Donald and Bertha are very atypical characters in the classic crime genre.  Bertha's no old hag, no femme fatale, and certainly no Girl Friday; she's the one who runs the agency, and she's all about the money with very little benevolence.  While at 5'5" and 127 pounds, Donald in no way resembles a detective, he's got about two full measures of a hero's typical willingness to fight.  Furthermore, Donald's size isn't just a gambit to make a detective series a little different.  Because he's simply not big enough to handle a serious fight, he's got an extremely sharp mind enhanced by legal training.  The legal element thus becomes key in each plot, but working seamlessly with events and deductions instead of becoming the entire plot.

Bertha and Donald together make a pretty wacky combination, especially when Donald's determination inconveniences Bertha way too much and spends way too much of her money.  Finding out what's going on is only part of the issue.  Actually dealing with it, and other things that happen, are just as much of what goes on.  Like the Albert Campion books, these are more suspense or adventure stories than true mysteries, since they're not written for the reader to try to solve.  They're written to tell a story.  Donald and Bertha do plenty of serious information-gathering and deduction--the books have a level of detail that I've rarely seen in other authors--but they don't stop there.  They don't just try to discover; nor do they just pitch a wrench into the works to see what'll blow, like Sam Spade.  They plan and maneuver to achieve a particular outcome, changing those plans as events develop.  Combine atypical characters with atypical behaviors in atypical plots, and you've got stories with humor, action, ingenious legal reasoning, plenty of the unexpected, and even romance.  These books are page-turners.

Has anyone else read these books?  Like the Perry Mason books, Gardner continued the series through the 1960s; does the quality and content degenerate, as it does for other authors in the same period?  I'd love to hear other opinions on the Perry Mason series, too.
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Dangerous Books)
Acting on [livejournal.com profile] jordannamorgan's recommendation of the Mr. Moto films and Wikipedia's description of the Mr. Moto books by John P. Marquand, a couple weeks ago I found myself the proud possessor of four out of six novels.  Unsurprisingly, given my track record, I zoomed through all four in less than a week.

Wikipedia supplies a lot of analysis in a lengthy and slightly disorganized article, which I have not completely read because Wikipedia users are not careful of spoilers. However, it seems pretty clear that, while both are excellent, the Mr. Moto of the movies is a very different creature from the Mr. Moto of the books.  The former is "a benevolent InterPol agent" and "hero-at-large," while the latter is "a dedicated and cold-blooded spy for Imperial Japan."  They take place in the 1930s, when Japan was making steady expanionist progress.

nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Dangerous Books)
Acting on [livejournal.com profile] jordannamorgan's recommendation of the Mr. Moto films and Wikipedia's description of the Mr. Moto books by John P. Marquand, a couple weeks ago I found myself the proud possessor of four out of six novels.  Unsurprisingly, given my track record, I zoomed through all four in less than a week.

Wikipedia supplies a lot of analysis in a lengthy and slightly disorganized article, which I have not completely read because Wikipedia users are not careful of spoilers. However, it seems pretty clear that, while both are excellent, the Mr. Moto of the movies is a very different creature from the Mr. Moto of the books.  The former is "a benevolent InterPol agent" and "hero-at-large," while the latter is "a dedicated and cold-blooded spy for Imperial Japan."  They take place in the 1930s, when Japan was making steady expanionist progress.

nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)
This time I'm quick with another Alistair MacLean review!  In the past year I've pretty much exhausted his pre-1970 books.  Now I'm working my way through the later ones. (Complete list and links here.)  I'm not bothering to read them in order, since by most accounts their quality, although uniformly poor in comparison to his previous excellence, varies.  I'd rather go in with poor expectations and be surprised.

To be entirely frank, I'm getting this review out of the way because I'm wanting to ramble. As I've read more and more MacLeans, I'm really beginning to grasp the depth and variety and consistencies of his work.  In addition, there are certain allegations on the Wikipedia MacLean article that I want to address.

Athabasca )
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Default)
This time I'm quick with another Alistair MacLean review!  In the past year I've pretty much exhausted his pre-1970 books.  Now I'm working my way through the later ones. (Complete list and links here.)  I'm not bothering to read them in order, since by most accounts their quality, although uniformly poor in comparison to his previous excellence, varies.  I'd rather go in with poor expectations and be surprised.

To be entirely frank, I'm getting this review out of the way because I'm wanting to ramble. As I've read more and more MacLeans, I'm really beginning to grasp the depth and variety and consistencies of his work.  In addition, there are certain allegations on the Wikipedia MacLean article that I want to address.

Athabasca )
nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Dangerous Books)
I've had a few friends-list additions (Yay!) since I last wrote about Alistair MacLean, one of my Favorite Authors Evah. To sum up, since explaining would take too long, he wrote action/adventure/spy novels from the 1950s to the 1980s. They particularly appeal to me because they (1) are really exciting, (2) are complexly and carefully plotted, (3) have really good characters, (4) are written with exquisite and delightful language and wording, (5) have no more profanity than would be found in a typical 1930's mystery, and (6) have the perfect touch of romance while lacking any sexual language, double entendres, or escapades whatsoever.

The primary drawback to MacLean's writing is that reasons (1)-(4) are not consistent throughout his books. He became an alcoholic, and I understand that's the primary reason why his writing declined so strikingly. I am a compulsive, extremely fast reader of fiction, but my experiences with his work range from I'm-staying-up-til-4-to-finish to I'm-finally-finished-and-I-can't-remember-what-happened. It's really sad. Thankfully, the good stuff outweighs the bad, and even his "bad" is bad only in comparison.

Below I freely adapt text and lists from Wikipedia, where I learned just why my reader experiences varied so widely when I was first trying to find his stuff. (I don't think it's in print - go for used paperbacks and the library.) The breakdown into periods and styles are generalizations, but reasonably accurate and fairly useful.  The links are to my reviews.  I have read all the ones in bold.



Now that I've set the stage, here are two more reviews. Bro. No. 1 gave me a gift certificate to the used book store for Christmas, so a couple weeks ago I went on a spree and got about a dozen books. Among them were When Eight Bells Toll and Puppet on a Chain.





nuranar: Hortense Bonaparte. La reine Hortense sous une tonnelle à Aix-les-Bains (1813) by Antoine Jean Duclaux. (Dangerous Books)
I've had a few friends-list additions (Yay!) since I last wrote about Alistair MacLean, one of my Favorite Authors Evah. To sum up, since explaining would take too long, he wrote action/adventure/spy novels from the 1950s to the 1980s. They particularly appeal to me because they (1) are really exciting, (2) are complexly and carefully plotted, (3) have really good characters, (4) are written with exquisite and delightful language and wording, (5) have no more profanity than would be found in a typical 1930's mystery, and (6) have the perfect touch of romance while lacking any sexual language, double entendres, or escapades whatsoever.

The primary drawback to MacLean's writing is that reasons (1)-(4) are not consistent throughout his books. He became an alcoholic, and I understand that's the primary reason why his writing declined so strikingly. I am a compulsive, extremely fast reader of fiction, but my experiences with his work range from I'm-staying-up-til-4-to-finish to I'm-finally-finished-and-I-can't-remember-what-happened. It's really sad. Thankfully, the good stuff outweighs the bad, and even his "bad" is bad only in comparison.

Below I freely adapt text and lists from Wikipedia, where I learned just why my reader experiences varied so widely when I was first trying to find his stuff. (I don't think it's in print - go for used paperbacks and the library.) The breakdown into periods and styles are generalizations, but reasonably accurate and fairly useful.  The links are to my reviews.  I have read all the ones in bold.



Now that I've set the stage, here are two more reviews. Bro. No. 1 gave me a gift certificate to the used book store for Christmas, so a couple weeks ago I went on a spree and got about a dozen books. Among them were When Eight Bells Toll and Puppet on a Chain.





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.

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