27 October 2011

Armageddon's Children

Armageddon's Children: Genesis of Shannara - Terry Brooks

I hate this book. I hate it so much I can't continue. I made it about a third of the way in and just can't go on. I usually like dystopian stuff. This fits that category in some way. It is a future world that has fallen apart. I like that part. It is all the other junk that makes me want to puke.

For instance...what future world that has cars, flying machines, guns and all kinds of cool gadgets...yet also has magical staffs that can put up a force field type shield that makes you bulletproof? Stupid!

The mixture of future technologies, old world mysticism and native American earth worshipping naturalist crap made me want to puke.

If you ever need to find the direction you need to travel throw these human finger bones on the ground. All five will point to your destiny every time you need them to show the way...blah blah. Hate it!

24 October 2011

71. 7: The Mickey Mantle Novel

7: The Mickey Mantle Novel - Peter Golenbock

Here is a fictional novel about Mickey Mantle doing a tell all about himself from heaven. It is written by a man who actually knew Mickey, and Billy Martin, and Joe Pepitone, and Jim Bouton, and Whitey Ford, and Roger Maris, and so many other real life ball players from the Yankees heyday as well as their families and friends. Golenbock wrote this book as if Mantle say down with a sports reporter from back in the day and was discussing his entire life to "set the record straight" without hiding anything. The truth. The whole truth. Nothing but the truth.

OK. Mantle was great. He was also an alcoholic. He was also famous for his infidelities. We know all that. This book expanded on those stories in ways that could have been left unsaid forever.

I loved loved loved the parts where Mantle was discussing the baseball seasons or interactions with different managers or relationships with other players on and off the field. I especially liked the Casey Stengel stories. The baseball was great. At the same time the story definitely showed how the alcohol and crazy life were affecting Mantle on the field. What could the man have done if he didn't do all the silly junk he was known for. What could he have been if he did not get injured so much?...which alcohol had a lot to do with in some ways.

But, when Mickey was discussing all his affairs and sexual encounters there was much more than was needed. It bordered on stupid. Some of the stories were funny and all, but it was taken too far. We get it. He had a problem. So did Billy Martin. Also, no secret.

Why write this book when you were "friends" with the guys? I think it is totally in response to another book that was written. Jim Bouton wrote Ball Four, in which he revealed some secrets about the late great Yankee players. I think that made Golenbock mad...and since he needed to make a few bucks he could write a book that revealed even more...fictitiously...and bust Bouton's chops a lot while doing it. I think that is what this book is all about.

It was OK, but if you want to learn anything about Mantle this is not the place to look.

23 October 2011

70. Jeremiah: Terrorist Prophet

Jeremiah: Terrorist Prophet - Michael A. Smith

This was a fast paced thriller about a terrorist disguised as a prophet of God who wants to break America apart into separate countries based on cultural factors such as race and religion. One of those areas just happens to be the north west USA. It is to be named New America, will be a theocracy, and will be run by God's appointed superhero, none other than Jeremiah himself.

Jeremiah is part of a decades old plot set up by his mega-rich German uncle. Following each act of terrorism Jeremiah reveals a new chapter of the Book of Second Jeremiah as revealed to him by God. This is the book that shall be added to the end of the bible according to Jeremiah.

He murders a guy who is a rapist and killer. He murders two boys who have been a blight on society all through their teen years. He poisons the water supply to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. He blows up the New York Stock Exchange. He threatens the use of biological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction...and the race is on to catch the bad guy.

While all this is happening he uses a national news television program to get his message out to the masses. Of course, the masses, being crazy fundamentalist Christians looking for any "message from God" they can follow blindly and fanatically, no matter how absurd, insane, or non-biblical it is, they all join in and Jeremiah starts a movement. Yeah, right.

Then the heroic government agents and "enlightened few" (I swear, they used those exact words.) prove that Jeremiah is actually a kid from Minnesota who supposedly died on a ski trip to Europe, has been plotting and planning for years, is associated with all kinds of known terrorist, separatist, and fundamentalist extremest groups, and is blowing smoke up everyones booty.

So, Jeremiah has two nuclear weapons he plans to use to bribe Washington into giving up about a third of it's territory, abandoning military assets in place, and peacefully relinquishing the reigns to him. Sure. That is gonna happen. Oh, it doesn't.

But...Jeremiah gets away (again and again and again, ugh)...and the end of the book is him revealing himself to someone as they begin establishing their "nation" from within...for the sequel...in the trilogy...which I will pass on.

The book was fun and exciting and a real page turner. It was also predictable and full of me guessing correctly about where the author would go next. I enjoyed the read, but there was nothing challenging.

One paragraph I really did enjoy was when the FBI agent was explaining how Jeremiah was able to get such a following to the President's chief-of-staff. Superhero Steve said
         "I see a melting pot that no longer makes stew. It has quit boiling and the ingredients are starting to separate out. Not only have we given up on integrating people of different colors, cultures, and religious backgrounds, but we've got thousands of groups that have circled their philosophical wagons around some central belief, whether it's religion, abortions, guns, sexual orientation, whatever, and they don't want anything to do with anyone who believes differently."


17 October 2011

69. The Iron Heel

The Iron Heel - Jack London

Before 1984. Before A Brave New World. Before We. There was The Iron Heel. A dystopian novel with a different dystopia than normal. This one covers an America run by an oligarchic tyranny.

It is possible to completely disagree with the premise being promoted by a book and still be in awe of the novel itself. Jack London has written a masterpiece of political dialogue in this dystopian novel.

The book itself is written as if a narrator is reading an ancient manuscript (The Everhard Manuscript written by Avis Everhard) that is a first-person account of the rise of the Socialist movement against the Oligarchy that is running the capitalist America. The manuscript is discovered hidden in a tree and explains so much of what was unknown about that time hundreds of years earlier.

There are also numerous notes within the book that explain the results of actions and expand on subjects touched on in the manuscript. The novel explains more than the author of the manuscript could possibly have known. It was an interesting way to read a story.

The first half of the book is a series of extended conversations between middle class businessmen - clergy members and a working class Socialist with a gift for debate and leadership.

The second half of the book is what happens after they have these numerous discussions about what could and may happen politically. Of course, all the Socialist predictions of enslavement of the workers and abuses from the capitalists came true and caused lots and lots of problems.

This book was like reading current events in 1905. It was all real world stuff...and then it branched off into the future and became dystopian. Being that I am now reading it over 100 years later it is hard to consider it actually dystopian without placing myself back in time. It also feels a lot like an alternative history. Of course, it was not intended that way at all. It feels that way because the book survived so long and is still relevant enough to make sense.

What I found most interesting is that despite my disagreement with London's philosophy and the protagonist's (Ernest Everhard) ranting against capitalism...it was awesome. I loved reading it. I loved cheering for the little guy. I could feel the tension in the rooms as Ernest debated with clergy or with upper middle class businessmen. The dialog in this book was some of the best I have ever read.

The one problem I had with the dialog though was that it was one sided. Earnest would go on and on about the benefits of Socialist society and then the opponents in debates would always stutter or fall into his linguistic traps. They never had real counter-points. It was always a point they would make to lead into Ernest's next rant...but ohhh, how fun those rants were. Really.

That is a credit to an outstanding writer. He took a subject that would normally have me throwing up a little in my mouth, used numerous convenient events (like Shaggy and Scooby always stumbled upon a clue), and still made me love the characters and the book itself.

READ IT! You must.

I did this one as a audio book. I downloaded it for free. The man who read it (Matt Soar) did an outstanding job. I am sure I liked the book more because it was in this format. The long debates would have probably worn me down in a printed version. I suggest you download the MP3 for this novel and listen to it. It fit on 8 CDs (normal CD audio) and played in the car as I drove everywhere.
You can get it here:  The Iron Heel by Jack London

Oh, I forgot...in some ways it reminded me a lot of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.

12 October 2011

68. Are Women Human?

Are Women Human? - Dorothy L. Sayers

Like the front cover says, this is a book of: "Penetrating, sensible, and witty essays on the role of women in society". It really was outstanding.

This book is about the rights of women. The essays contained in the book were written in the 1930s. It was a very different world then. It is not about being pro-feminism. It is about the rights of women as human beings. Human beings with exactly the same rights as every other human being, male or female. Ms. Sayers uses common sense to reach her conclusions. She also says a number of times that she does not agree with "aggressive feminism" as a tactic. She thinks the humanization of women is what we should pursue. I love her approach.

She breaks down the fight for women's rights in a way I have not seen before. She fights for the individual. "What is repugnant to every human being is to be reckoned always as a member of a class and not as an individual person"

When discussing why women should be allowed to attend classical universities like Oxford and the resistance she encountered in her own education, she says:
"...the cry went up at once: "Why would women want to know about Aristotle?" The answer is NOT that all women would be the better knowing about Aristotle...but simply: "What women want as a class is irrelevant. I want to know about Aristotle."

Later she discusses another little inequality:
"We are asked: "Why do you want to go around in trousers? They are extremely unbecoming to most of you. You only do it to copy the men." To this we may very properly reply "It is true that they are unbecoming. Even on men they are remarkably unattractive. But, as you men have discovered for yourselves, they are comfortable, they do not get in the way of one's activities like skirts and they protect the wearer from draughts about the ankles. As a human being, I like comfort and dislike draughts. If trousers do not attract you, so much the worse; for the moment I do not want to attract you. I want to enjoy myself as a human being."

And then later she is discussing women in the workplace and how the response is usually that a woman's place, and work, are in the home. She says:
"Let us accept the idea that women should stick to their own jobs- the jobs they did so well in the good old days before they started talking about votes and women's rights. Let us return to the middle ages...It is a formidable list of jobs: the whole of the spinning industry, the whole of the dyeing industry, the whole of the weaving industry. The whole catering industry...the whole of the nation's brewing and distilling. All the preserving, pickling and bolling industry, all the bacon-curing. And (since in those days a man was often absent from the home for months together on war or business) a very large share in the management of landed estates. Here are the women's jobs- and what has become of them? They are all being handled by men. It is all very well to say that a woman's place is in the home- but modern civilization has taken all these pleasant and profitable activities out of the home, where the women looked after them, and handed them over to big industry, to be directed and organized by men at the head of large factories. Even the dairy maid in her simple bonnet has been replaced by a male mechanic in charge of a mechanical milking plant."

She goes on to say that the new way is much more efficient and makes a better product, but that there is no "work" left like it used to be. That, and that the home is now much smaller than the castles and plantations of the past.

Dorothy L. Sayers

67. The Dueling Machine

The Dueling Machine - Ben Bova

This is another fun science fiction novel that I have wanted to read for quite some time and finally got around to it.

This one is about inter-planetary and societal conflicts being settled using the dueling machine. It is essentially a virtual reality machine that two people enter and fight it out in a "world" of their own making. The duels are used to settle everything from legal problems to treaties between planets.

That is great, though I am still not sure how being a better fighter in any arena makes one more correct than another, but it sure is fun to make a story about such a scheme.

The dueling machine works fabulously until people start getting killed...for real. One faction is using the machine to kill members of another faction so they can take over politically and avoid an actual military assault.

Luckily the super mega ultra hyper genius that invented the machine comes to the rescue. He figures out that the bad guy is a telepathic and the machine is enhancing his abilities and allowing him to bring others into the battle to assist him. All his opponents are so shocked at this ploy that they have strokes and heart attacks and generally faint dead away like fragile 19th century women. Wimps!

It all gets figures out and the good guys use the same tactic against him, but they bring really good fighters and kick hell out of the bad guys in virtual reality and win the duel. Once the duel fails to kill someone the entire evil genius plan falls apart and they retreat back to their galactic hideout to fight another day.

OK, so I described the story in comic book super hero terms. That doesn't mean it was stupid like that. It really was a good book, a fun quick read, and something that didn't take a lot of thought to stay involved or entertained.

11 October 2011

66. Hot Rod

Hot Rod - Henry Gregor Felsen

What an awesome find from a thrift store bookshelf. This book was originally published in 1950. My copy was from 1963. I picked it up for a quarter. You can't lose for only a quarter.

I have been using PaperBackSwap.com a lot to trade books I have for other books I want. I would recommend that site to anyone looking for something they are having trouble finding. Anyway, I added this book to my To Be Read pile and found that there were a lot of folks wishing for this particular book. Then I did an online search for the title and found that it has been selling for 90-100 dollars. Wow! I might try to sell this one rather than swap it.  :-)

As for the book...Bud Crayne is a 17 year old phenom driver. He loves speed. He loves to control his car through what others could never handle. He is a legend and the town's big man that everyone looks up to.

He takes a bet that he can run from his home town of Avondale to Trenton in under 30 minutes. If he does it he wins ten dollars! But, the high school driver's education teacher and a state highway patrolman get wind of it and try to convince Bud to pass on the bet.

Needless to say, the ribbing from the guys and the encouragement of his hot girlfriend are too much for Bud. After all, his reputation is far more important than a future or facing jail time, aren't they? He makes the run in 29 minutes. The cops chase him all over the place. They fail to catch him. He has broken so many laws that he knows he will lose his license. He is a hero, for all of about an hour. The teacher and the cop show up while he is prepping to pick up his girlfriend so they can high-tail it to California, a real hot rod place where she can pursue acting dreams. They convince Bud that running is a bad idea. He stays and agrees to take part in a Roadeeo they plan to use to teach kids how to drive. Bud is supposed to be the sacrificial lamb who will do it his way. They want to prove speed and recklessness are no match for safety and defensive driving.

So, while waiting for the Roadeeo to take place some little kids that envy Bud take a joy ride in a car and try to drive like Bud says to do it. They end up crashing and die. Booo! Killing little kids to make a point?

Bud loses the Roadeeo to the driver's ed teacher's prodigy who has only had a license for six months. The lesson? It is easier to teach kids how to drive than it is to teach people that already have bad habits and instincts to change the way they drive.

Bud is now devastated. He goes into a overly dramatic tailspin where his entire life is falling apart and he can no longer even drive a car because he is not the best. He is second best. Even the tires of his car as they touch the stripes in the road are yelling at him..."second best"..."second best". Bud has no reason to live. Please!

After some time goes by and Bud is just a lump, a lot of kids show up at the garage where he works. They decide to go out Rat Racing. It is kind of like a 30 minute game of hide and seek with cars. All his friends go. They end up in a head on collision with each other in the middle of "ninety-mile curve". A high speed wreck with bodies strewn all over the highway.

The highway patrolman is visiting Bud at the time and convinces Bud to give him a ride in his hot rod. They head for the accident and both guys are the first on the scene. Bud is told to go get the doctor because one person (the one who beat him in the Roadeeo) is still barely alive. He also needs to trade the hot rod for the police cruiser. Bud does it. The ambulance is too far away. The boy has less than an hour to live according to the doctor. The patrolman jumps in the back of the cruiser to help the injured boy and makes Bud drive.

Where are they going? The hospital in Trenton! They are in Avondale. The Trenton run reenactment! Of course! How convenient. But Bud is now afraid to drive. The patrolman explains how it is OK now because he is in a police cruiser. Turn on the lights and siren. Go Bud, GO!

Bud makes it to Trenton in 27 minutes! He even ran into a teen driver along the way who was driving like Bud used to. Stupid teens driving aggressively and much too fast! Arrghhhh, they made Bud so mad. Golly, it is so much better and faster to do things the right way!

The book is total cheese. It is utterly preachy about safe driving. This could have been used in a driver's education course back in the 1950s. It probably was. The crash scenes had descriptions of how the bodies were mangled that reminded me of the old "Blood on the Highway" driver's ed movies. Films like this.

But, ya know what? I liked it. A lot.

The author's kids are selling a 60th anniversary version of this book on their website. It says they can be autographed. I am not sure who would be autographing them since the author died in 1995, but you can get someones autograph. :-)

I also just learned that the driver's education course theory is exactly right. In fact, this book was contracted to the author by the Des Moines Safety Council specifically for that purpose after a fatal crash involving teenagers.

10 October 2011

65. Planet Of The Damned

Planet of the Damned - Harry Harrison

1962! The year I was born. I think I turned out better than this novel though. :-)

Harry Harrison is the same guy who wrote the book that the movie Soylent Green was based upon (Make Room! Make Room!). That was a better book than this one. This was good, but that one captured my imagination much more.

This book involved planets that were inhabited by humans from Earth. After many centuries of exploring and colonization something went wrong and the entire system collapsed. The planets were no longer "connected" and they became different over thousands of years.

The story is about an empathetic all around great guy from one planet working with a band of interplanetary super-heroes to prevent the planetary destruction of Dis by a nearby planet they are threatening to destroy themselves.

Anyway, it is pulp sci-fi and does not explore anything really new. Well, maybe it was doing that fifty years ago, but how the heck would I know about that. I didn't read it as soon as I came out of the womb. Today, it is the same old tired story, but is fun because I knew it was as old as me.

FYI...the planets are saved. The people of all planets are spared. The wonderfulness of all people is retained because the aggressive people are all know to be sick with a symbiotic-parasite in their brains that caused them to be violent and unfeeling. The obligatory happy ending was achieved. Blah blah.... but it sure was fun getting there this time.

Enjoyable and fun.

08 October 2011

64. Second Variety

Second Variety - Philip K. Dick

This was a great science fiction story. It was originally published in 1953, but is still a great read today.

The story takes place in a post-nuclear war earth. The war between the Soviet Union and the United Nations was disastrous for the planet. The Soviets took the early advantage and were dominating the planet. The UN government took refuge on a secret base built on the moon. The only folks left on Earth are military forces.

The UN forces have designed killer robots. They also gave the robots the ability to create better robots. They learn and improve and become deadlier as time passes. So much so that the Soviet Union is being defeated and there are talks of surrender.

The story take a twist as the robots "evolve". They learn to alter and eliminate the programming that keeps them from killing UN troops. They also learn to create human looking robots that can fool people. A wounded soldier version is used to enter Soviet bunkers and kill the troops within. A little boy with a teddy bear is designed to take the place of the wounded soldier when the troops catch on.

The second variety is a type of human looking robot and the actual identity of this type is not known or revealed in the novel. That is what makes it so good. The reader is spending the whole time trying to figure out who the second variety is? Think you have it figured out? Something happens to change that or cast doubt upon your prediction. It was a lot of fun to figure it out.

FYI...I did figure it out about half way through.

What was interesting is that the story reminded me a bit of the Terminator movies. Robots hunted people. Robots learned and modified the production of better and better weapons against humans. It was familiar, but very different also.

I like Philip K. Dick a lot. It was a quick read also. Perfect for work. :-)

05 October 2011

63. Sleepyhead

Sleepyhead - Mark Billingham

This is a police-procedural type book. It is the first novel by this author and was a hit. A big enough hit to spawn an entire series of books starring Detective Inspector Tom Thorne.

It was a creepy book. Weird in that it had a person killing people, but his intent was not for them to die. His goal was to put them into a semi-comatose state where they were alive and aware, but unable to move or communicate with the world outside their own minds.

That raised an interesting legal question for me early on. If and when they catch the "killer" would he be tried for first degree pre-meditated murder when the intent was NOT to kill? Would it actually be second degree? Maybe even manslaughter with reckless endangerment if they got a super lawyer?

Another interesting part to this book was the character of Allison. She was a 24 year old woman who was the "killers" first success. She is actually in this semi-comatose state all through the book. That could make for a seriously boring character, but it was the opposite. I found her to be the most interesting person in the book. Every second or third chapter was Allison alone. It was Allison within her head. Her thoughts. Her frustrations. Her desires and triumphs and failures. Rational and irrational. It was fascinating. Allison's character very much reminded me of "Johnny Got His Gun". That one freaked me out.

04 October 2011

62. The Ego Machine

The Ego Machine - Henry Kuttner

This was a science fiction story written in 1952. It is about a writer who is contracted to work for a studio in Hollywood to write movies. There is suddenly a time traveling robot that appears and wants to use him as part of a sociology experiment. The man gets the robot drunk on AC power and twists things around where he can have the brain patterns of Ivan the Terrible or a guy named Mammoth Slayer put into his brain for 12 hours in order to not become a slave to the puppet-master studio owner.

It is a strange book, but it was quick and was fun. I was looking for a copy of this, but I found it in an mp3 format down loadable for free from LibraVox. So, i listened to it and liked it very much. The dude doing the reading was slow and deep. That did not help, but it made me pay attention more to understand what he was saying.

I enjoyed this one. I have a whole line up of old sci-fi books sitting here waiting to be read. The Plague Ship, Star Surgeon, and many more. I hope to get to them sooner rather than later. We shall see.