Monday, December 20, 1993

Confessions Of a Crap Artist

by Philip K. Dick

Possibly Dick's best novel (and I've read about 15 of them). It was intriguing in character development and psychology, and fairly innovative in style for example, having three narrators. The sympathy of the reader is directed with skill through the course of the novel. Great!

Monday, November 29, 1993

The Queen And I

by Sue Townsend

The royal family is made to live like commoners.  Rather shoddily written compared to some Townsend books, but very, very funny. The fact that the whole story was the Queen's nightmare was obvious from line one – but then, it couldn't have been anything but a nightmare, and it couldn't have been anything but obvious that it was. The ending was also spotted a mile off, but who cares? It was a fun, funny book. The premise (royals become commoners) wasn't dealt with realistically at all, and that made it all the more enjoyable. 

Tuesday, November 23, 1993

Sophocles 1: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone

by Sophocles
440-430 BC
translated by David Grene, Elizabeth Wyckoff, Robert Fitzgerald

"Oedipus the King": Fascinating, and amazingly human, amazingly visual. I could practically picture the emotions flitting over Oedipus' face when Jocasta was telling the story of his birth without realizing what it meant to him. Oedipus blamed himself & everyone else, but took control of his life only when he gouged out his eyes. Creon, meanwhile, started out innocent & obeisant but was eager to give orders at the end. A thrilling psychological drama. One subtle part that really shows Sophocles' talent was how it just hinted that Jocasta knew (or more than suspected) the truth long ago, and just hoped quietly that things would stay the way they were. Now that's brilliant psychological writing.

"Oedipus At Colonus": Another wonderfully modern play. This edition had stage notes (Fitzgerald's?) that were irritatingly superfluous due to the superb and already explicit dialogue. But the play itself was wonderful: not quite as psychologically intense as the first, but as dramatic as the plot (the exile suddenly becomes crucial to his homeland) allowed.

"Antigone": Very good. The conflict arises from hubris (Creon not wanting to obey Antigone, "a girl", or Haemon, "a young boy", or even Teiresias – "to yield is dreadful") opposed to humble piety (Antigone's unlawful but just burial of her brother). Although last in series, Sophocles wrote this one first, & the drama does not have as tense & terribly inevitable a build-up as Oedipus the King.

five stars

Friday, November 19, 1993

The Alcoholics

by Jim Thompson

Different from the typical Jim Thompson thriller, this book is more funny, less dark, and with a much more sympathetic hero.  Plus, it was ahead of its time (1953) in more ways than one --- competent, capable black characters, for one thing, but also in its whole treatment of alcoholism, before A.A. was a well-known concept.  In parts, it read like a warning tract against alcoholism written by an old-timer A.A. man, but it was mainly very good. 

three stars

Wednesday, November 17, 1993


by various authors, edited by Mike Resnick,

"True Faces", Pat Cadigan. The suspects of a murder are all aliens who are compulsive liars. Great.

"Gut Reaction", Jack C. Haldeman II. It was short & funny, like all JCH2 I've read.

"Loss Of Phase", Anthony R. Lewis. The detective is a dolphin a human society! Interesting.

"Its Own Reward", Katherine Kerr. Probably the most complex, yet subtle, story in the book. Great.

"Monkey See", Roger MacBride Allen. This story was very funny; an alien tries to prove that chimps are murderers.

"Heaven's Only Daughter", Laura Resnick. A bit of nepotism, but an enjoyable, simple story.

"Heaven Scent", Virginia Booth. Very good. The plant did it. Could've used more explanation tho.

"Lost Lamb", Barbara Delaplace. A good story. The only one I figured out before the ending.

"Cain's Curse", Jack Nimersheim. Different in that the 'detective' is a time-traveller sent to observe & confirm facts. Great court-room dialogue. One of the best.

"Murder On-Line", John DeChancie. I love DeChancie. Not quite what Resnick asked for, but different (a world where only the internet flourishes). Good.

"Color Me Dead", Sandra Rector & P.M.F. Johnson. Used all of Resnick's clues; interesting & entertaining.

"Signs And Stones", Judith Tarr. Very entertaining. The victim died simply because of its alien nature; the catalyst of its death had no intent.

"Murder Under Glass", Bob Liddil. A good story, using Resnick's clues & a little more. Slightly sexist.

"It's the Thought That Counts", Michael A. Stackpole. Not what Resnick specified, but a good story.

"The Colonel And the Alien", Ralph Roberts. An OK story; relied too much on futuristic devices & not enough on character power.

"Obscurocious", Ray Aldridge. An ingenious solution to impending destruction by aliens.

"An Incident At the Circus", Rick Katze. This man is not a pro writer. It shows. Bad syntax, incorrect grammar, total absence of character development, total absence of character feeling. AWFUL.

"Dead Ringer", Esther M. Friesner & Walter J. Stutzman. Again, not what MR specified, but very good and complex.

three stars

Sunday, November 7, 1993

Future Earths: Under African Skies

by various authors, edited by Mike Resnick

A collection of science fiction stories with African themes, mostly quite good:

"For I Have Touched the Sky", Mike Resnick. Innocent curiosity beaten down by tradition. Good.

"Apartness", Vernor Vinge. The last Afrikaaners after a Northern World War are found in Antarctica. Great.

"Termites", Dave Smeds. The solution to world hunger and the solution's problems. Good.

"The Finger", Naomi Mitchison. Not really SF; a young boy escapes from his evil father, the witch doctor. I liked it.

"The Lions Are Asleep This Night", Howard Waldrop. An alternate history, but really about a boy writing a play. Good.

"Etoundi's Monkey", Judith Dubois. An alien baby is found, and the ownership disputed among a medicine man, an old woman, & a Japanese exchange student. Very good; a surprise ending!

"Dry Niger", M. Shayne Bell. A possible future Africa; my favorite story.

"A Transect", Kim Stanley Robinson. On a train, two worlds collide. Great.

"Of Space-Time And the River", Gregory Benford. An actual Sf story: aliens steal Egypt. Good, but could've been about any ancient civilization.

"Still Life With Scorpion", Scott Baker. A tourist gets a taste of African magic. Good.

"The Quiet", George Guthridge. An African tribe is placed in a conservation preservation on the moon. Very good; very sad.

"Dinner In Audoghast", Bruce Sterling. A prophet foretells African downfall. OK.

"A Passive Victim Of a Random Genetic Accident", Janet Gluckman. A diseased exile is given new hope by a female doctor. Also OK.

"The Pale Thin God", Resnick. Jesus meets the African gods. Good, for three pages.

"Toward Kilimanjaro", Ian McDonald. An alien jungle is attacking Earth. I disliked it for the use of quirky metaphor, the absence of commas in lists, & other literary irritants. Also, could've been about any place, especially since all three protagonists were Irish!

Monday, October 25, 1993

First And Last

by Michael Frayn

A screenplay about an old man who walks across the length of England.  It was fairly funny in the way screenplays can be, through description of visual humor.  It was also kind of touching, although I think it attempted too much psycho-drama for its length.

Friday, October 22, 1993

Native Stranger: A Black American's Journey into the Heart of Africa

by Eddy L. Harris

The author, an black American, travels through Africa. It is a triumph of superb writing and philosophical reflection. Quite possibly the best non-fiction book I have ever read. It is a travel book, but so much more not as much about Africa as people, skin color, race, generosity, need, pride, and everything else that makes people human. The description was incredible: I could put the book down for long periods of time, and when I started again was transported instantly back to where Harris was, with no gap in the experience. It is about the generosity of people who have nothing, the patient endurance of people who have been conquered. Finally, Harris' honesty was astounding: he described his neuroses about germs, his anger, his sadness, his happiness in South Africa which astounded him, the tyranny of black officials, his moments of luxury amidst poverty all this without flinching, clearly and calmly. A perfect travel book.

Thursday, September 23, 1993


by Evelyn Waugh

The story of a hapless reporter out of his element. It was very funny, extremely well written. I really don't have much comment except that it started with a scene that built up to nothing whatsoever, then got very good. The telegrams were especially bitingly satirical. The ending was funniest, and it was a happy ending for all.

four stars

Sunday, September 12, 1993

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

by Robert Louis Stevenson

The scientist Jekyll wants to see if the "bad" side of man can be isolated, but doesn't realize the consequences for him when he succeeds. Told in multiple narratives, it's a well-written, engrossing story of man's pride and fall.

Includes the intriguing story "The Suicide Club;" it too was well-written and engrossing, a continuous story in three parts, but each part was a short tale in itself. The faux retelling, as if from an Arabic story, was a great touch. The second part had the blackest humor. The eloquence of the characters was compelling; the language as a whole, far from being antiquated, was charming. Great.

Friday, September 10, 1993

A Hero Of Our Time

by Mikhail Lermontov
translated by Paul Foote

A collection of previously published stories about Pechorin, a Russian officer, who turns out to be hardly a hero. Said to be the first Russian psychological novel. In my opinion, the author himself was more interesting (he wrote this – his sole novel – between the ages of 21-25, killed in a duel over a trivial insult at 26) than his book, which had awkward, obviously translated phrases (something I have an automatic eye for these days), way too much purple prose and little action/poignancy. On the other hand, when there was interaction and emotion between the characters, it was excellent. All in all, fairly good. I liked "Princess Mary" and "The Fatalist" best.

three stars

Tuesday, August 24, 1993

Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

Achebe is a Nigerian writer completely new to me.  This book is about a fierce, proud tribesman who sees his way of life being destroyed by white colonialists, and his own people complicit in that destruction through inaction.  At first I found it simplistic and shallow, but grew to appreciate the psychological subtleties.  Each portrayal of each character is full and internal to that character.  The story really begins halfway through, when the whites arrive.  The first half is character building.  A fine morality tale.

four stars

Friday, August 20, 1993

The Butcher Boy

by Patrick McCabe

A young English punk narrates in slang & bad grammar the events of his life leading to the inevitable, final, horrible climax. It was fabulous, excellent, great, funny, horrifying, sad. A cross between Clockwork Orange and Chronicle Of a Death Foretold, the whole book is peppered with great, funny images like "two newspapers wrestling" on a deserted street. A great book.

Thursday, August 5, 1993

Quest To Riverworld

various authors; edited by Philip Jose Farmer.

A collection of stories about Riverworld, ranging from so-so to quite thought-provoking:

"Up the Bright River" by Philip Jose Farmer. About his own quasi-famous ancestors, apparently. The best story, or would be, if it didn't end abruptly.

"If the King Like Not the Comedy" by Jody Lynn Nye. Richard III vs. Shakespeare. Clever and enjoyable.

"Because It's There", Jerry Oltion. Admunsen & Peary fly to the South Pole. Very good.

"A Place Of Miracles", Owl Goingback. Very short but moving piece on Sitting Bull.

"Diaghilev Plays Riverworld", Robert Sheckley. Nice story of the art critic and impresario forging new art in a new world; some irritating incongruities in the telling.

"Secret Crimes", Robert Sampson. Pinkerton, Cleopatra, Tiberius: suspense, well done in just a few pages.

"Hero's Coin", Brad Strickland. Short but thought-provoking. What makes a hero?

"Human Spirit, Beetle Spirit", John Gregory Betancourt. So-so. An interesting point of view, anyway.

"Nevermore", David Bischoff & Dean Wesley Smith. Poe vs. the hack writers. Fun.

"Old Soldiers", Lawrence Watt-Evans. Patton in gladiatorial games. Great build-up, but a disappointing ending.

"Legends", Esther Friesner. Medea vs. the mystery woman & her own sons. Great.

"Stephen Comes Into Courage", Rick Wilber. An okay story, but it could've been about anyone, really.

"Riverworld Roulette", Robert Weinberg. Enjoyable battle-type adventure story with Bowie & Crockett vs. the Nazis. Nice.

"Coda", by Farmer. Also thought-provoking. Probably the best story of the lot. The mystic/nutcase Alfred Jarry finds an Artifact and is tempted to leave the Sufi Rabi'a's teaching.

three stars

Tuesday, August 3, 1993

God Knows

by Joseph Heller

The story of King David, portrayed as a wunderkind whose time has passed, who has lost his God; Solomon is a moron, Bathsheba a schemer. It was funny and touching. It mixed Biblical speech with modern slang to humorous effect. David's references to many things modern, although "now" in the book is when he is seventy and thus it's still Biblical era, did throw me a bit. What I liked best was how human the characters were, how Heller took apparent discrepancies in Scripture and made them into symbolic, meaningful, complex and human acts. Also, the disjointed chronological order of the book resembled the ramblings of an old man looking back, each story reminding him of another. All in all, a very solid book.

four stars

Monday, July 19, 1993

Is There a Doctor In the Zoo?

by David Taylor

The early years of an exotic animal veterinarian. An enthralling, fascinating, hilarious, wonderful story. One thing that impressed me was how much a pioneer Taylor was – no anaesthetic dart guns, no zoo or exotic animals classes in vet school back in the '40s and '50s – yet Taylor made it work. I loved his assessment of Christian outlooks on animals, the drug-dealing Arab episode and especially his anecdotes about the chimps. They certainly are a lot smarter than we think!

Thursday, July 15, 1993

Good As Gold

by Joseph Heller

The trials and tribulations of one Bruce Gold, professor and possible Secretary of State. While not up to Heller's masterpiece Catch-22, of course, this is a solid satire. In fact, it mixes surreal, sharp humor with passages of pure political barbs and with passages of straight emotion – what it's like growing up Jewish, being Jewish in America, the family's recollections and tribulations, etc. The last part was particularly moving. Although I am a bit of a sap as a reader – I like to see a happy ending, even if in this case Bruce doesn't really deserve one.

four stars

Tuesday, July 6, 1993

Changing Places

by David Lodge

A comedy about an exchange between two university professors, one English and one American. (It's Lodge's "mandatory American novel.") Funny, intriguing, and written in a loose, varied style (one chapter is all letters, for example). I liked it a lot, and it left me wanting a sequel.

four stars

Friday, July 2, 1993

The Importance Of Being Earnest

by Oscar Wilde

Farcical play about mistaken identity and class relations.  Funny, witty, light escapism. Has the usual Wilde epigrams and lofty generalizations about "life." 

five stars

Thursday, July 1, 1993

Saint Francis

by Nikos Kazantzakis

A fictionalized account of the saint's life, as told by his assistant Brother Leo. A powerful, thought-provoking work. Kazantzakis ponders: How can there be two ways to Paradise, one of effort but also one of ease? How can there be Paradise as long as anyone is not saved (is in Hell)? Mostly, like Last Temptation, it was about struggle, but the struggle to shun the earthly in everything – although it's noted that the urge for heaven can be a temptation as well (pride). I wondered how much is fact – did Francis really meet the Sultan? Go on Crusades? The book also points out that loving God might be easier without struggle (if we eat, for example, we pray with a clearer head). One basic flaw that hurts the book as narrative: a lack of continuity throughout – a sense of unconnected events instead.

four stars

Monday, June 7, 1993

The Picture Of Dorian Gray

by Oscar Wilde

Exquisite, as Wilde often describes Gray's passions. A morality tale, but full of epigrams and witty sayings. A masterpiece.

Also containing:
"The Happy Prince"
"The Birthday Of the Infanta"
"Lord Arthur Saville's Crime"

five stars

Saturday, June 5, 1993

Past Master

by R.A. Lafferty

A sick planet that purports to be Utopia gets the historical Thomas More to come save it. Full of interesting ideas, not quite as compelling as Lafferty's astonishing short story collection 900 Grandmothers.

Sunday, May 30, 1993

African Mythology

by Geoffrey Parrinder

Great as a basic primer, and surprisingly fair in tone (except for one heading "How Others See Us" about African views of Europeans: only white people are "us," I guess). One problem: Rarely was the significance or historical meaning of a myth given. Great art illustrations though, beautiful & informative.

Tuesday, May 25, 1993

The Cat-Nappers aka Aunts Aren't Gentlemen

by P.G. Wodehouse

The last, and sadly not one of the best, Bertie & Jeeves books. Bertie is not quite as entertainingly doltish as usual, and worse: Jeeves is almost not in the picture. He provides conversation but does not fill the usual role of presenting a genius and yet fortuitous solution.

three stars

Thursday, May 20, 1993

The Inimitable Jeeves

by P.G. Wodehouse

The one where Bingo finally gets married; each triptych or so of chapters forms an independent story about Bingo. Not Plum's best work, but even his misfires are still quite entertaining.

[read twice]

Saturday, May 15, 1993

Holidays In Hell

by P.J. O'Rourke

The self-effacing conservative humorist travels to some of the world's hot spots and makes his typically trenchant comments on the culture and geopolitics of the areas.  Laugh-out-loud funny, well-informed, highly cynical. 

[read twice]

Wednesday, May 5, 1993


by Henry David Thoreau

The perfect example of the out of touch philosopher. Filled with irritating, condescending pieties about work, from a man who mooched off of others. He is contemptuous of the average man, and has strange ideas of what would make the world work if everyone were like him. The man is clearly a lucid thinker, but practicalities are not his strong suit.

Monday, April 5, 1993

The Aye-Aye And I: A Rescue Mission In Madagascar

by Gerald Durrell

A very good account of Durrell's experience in Madagascar, one of the world's most fauna-rich areas. I hadn't read Durrell in at least six years & remembered him fondly.  Unfortunately, I found the book to be patchily written. Very interesting account of his hunts & well-expressed ecological facts, but very repetitive and incongruous.  Liked it anyway, perhaps for nostalgia's sake.