Thursday, December 21, 1995

The Mahabharata

condensed and retold in prose form by William Buck

Apparently Buck worked from a translation of the original, being not much of a linguist himself, but it's supposed to be a good version, and he is a fairly good story-teller.  Once the actual story of the Pandavas kicked in, I found myself engrossed, although the tragedy of the war didn't come out except explicitly in the telling, perhaps because the Pandavas and their actions were glorified too much.

three stars

The Ramayana

condensed and retold in prose form by R.K. Narayan

The story of Rama who battles the demon Ravana to rescue his abducted wife.  This version is based on the popular 11th century Tamil version by Kamban and not the 4th century Sanskrit original by Valmiki.  Although it of course lacks much, being hugely cut from the myth- and parable-rich epic style, I enjoyed it a lot.  It is told in a readable, page-turning novelist's style.

four stars 

Sunday, November 26, 1995

Jack Johnson Is a Dandy

by Jack Johnson

The autobiography of boxing great Jack Johnson. The man had a fascinating life – marrying four women, two white; opening a cabaret that allowed both blacks and whites; escaping prison through a clever ruse; traveling the globe engaging in various business and athletic exploits; spying for the U.S. government; going back to prison willingly – and so on, all in the early 1900s. His book (and I don't see why he couldn't have written the bulk himself) is very repetitive, patchy, insufficiently explanatory in places, and jumps around chronologically so as to be very confusing. However, it's still readable, and I did enjoy it. There's one section that deals with moderation in diet, the role of "the new woman" and how she should stay home, and the decline of the world due to cabarets and jazz music; this section I cannot believe Johnson wrote as he lead a very strenuous life himself, was hardly temperate, took his wives everywhere with him, and was in fact a jazz musician and cabaret owner. Other than that passage, the book was interesting throughout, and had a touching epilogue by his last wife attesting to his gentleness with women. Now, of course, I have to read a biography of him, to find out what of what Johnson wrote were lies...

three stars

Saturday, November 25, 1995

Asimov's Guide To Shakespare, Vol. 1

by Isaac Asimov

Volume I, at 670 pages, deals with the Greek, Roman, and Italian plays.  In the book, Asimov explains practically all of the historical, mythological and scientific references in Shakespeare's oeuvre, including two long poems.  In addition, Asimov makes some interesting scholarly inferences, such as suggesting that in "Troilus And Cressida," Cressida's depiction as a worthless woman has basis in the actions of Elizabeth I at the time, when Shakespeare's patron Essex had fallen out of her favor; or claiming that in "Romeo And Juliet," the text indicates strongly that the feud was not as important to either side as Juliet made it out to be, and that only her youthful love of furtive romance made things more complicated than they should have been.  This book is incredibly informative and well-written. 

four stars

Friday, November 24, 1995

Three Plays: Blithe Spirit, Hay Fever, Private Lives

by Noel Coward
1941, 1925, 1930
This volume included a humorous intro by Edward Albee.

"Blithe Spirit." I hadn't read any Coward before, and had a notion his work would be laugh-out-loud funny, like Wodehouse's, but I found this play, although extremely literate and witty, wasn't as risible as that. It concerns a man whose first wife, after a seance, reappears to plague him and his second wife. Then the latter dies, too, remanifests, and his life becomes somewhat exasperating. A jolly good plot and all, but I can't help feeling that it could have been more exuberant, if, say, it had detailed the catfighting of the two dead women, or spent more time on them deciding after death that they were pals and that Charles, the hero, was the cad. And the ending was too sudden and –
a glaring omission
totally unexplained. An enjoyable, witty play, and one with clever innuendo, but I don't see its "classic" reputation, as it seems so flawed.

"Hay Fever." This one was, I thought, funnier than the first, but perhaps less witty. It concerned a very bohemian, theatrical and artsy family that bordered on the dysfunctional without actually ever going beyond mere theatrics, instantly forgetting all strife moments after it begins. The family's guests for the weekend are all horrified. It was funny, but it all lead up to a reaction
such as the guests plotting a kind of revenge on the family that used them as theatrical foilsthat never came. I suppose in 1925 the personas of the family were novel enough to carry the play. Also flawed, but also comic and fun.

"Private Lives." About a divorced couple who both remarry and happen to meet again on their simultaneous honeymoons, and then run off together. They fight horribly, and seem to cause their respective second spouses to quarrel just as horribly, and seem to find it amusing. Rather an unpleasant little work, but mildly amusing in parts.

three stars

Tuesday, October 17, 1995

Crime And Punishment

by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

This edition is hailed as the best translation ever, and the two have done many other Dostoevsky works.  There was also a very perspicuous introduction by Pevear which analyzed some of the more vague passages, and the whole was annotated, all of which helped my understanding immensely.  Just one minor example: knowing that Raskolnikov is named after "raskolnik," meaning schismatic, sheds quite a bit of light of Dostoevsky's intention in laying out his character.  I would have to say that the novel is one of the best I've ever read.  I began it many months ago, with long breaks between beginning and finishing it, which is probably not the best way to read such a complex book, but there it is.  The novel has at least three plots and many levels of meaning.  It doesn't just deal with a murder and a detective's psychological intimidation of Raskolnikov: Dostoevsky's characters offer opinions on the issues of the day, they embrace ideologies that were in vogue at the time, parodying them simply by the nature of their own personas; there are romances; other deaths; two methodical, selfish villains; symbolism through dream and vision; and so on.  The author laughs at reason, nature and law.  Reason fails Raskolnikov and doesn't help Porfiry, the detective.  Everyone makes his own plan, carves out his own existence and scoffs at precedent.  This existentialism is not certain; it helps Porfiry, but fails Raskolnikov, and drives Svidrigailov, the lecher who attempts to conquer Roskolnikov's sister, to suicide.  A great, towering, multi-layered book, one that I will have to read again in the future.

five stars

Friday, September 15, 1995

Shakespeare: His Life, His Language, His Theater

by Samuel Schoenbaum

While a bit jumpily written and at times vague or awkward, this was a fascinating book.  Although relatively short, it contains a wealth of fascinating nuggets like the complete reversal of the meanings of some words ("deer," "girl," "let") since Shakespeare's time; a quick background on other dramtic works, like the mysteries, moralities, the work of Marlowe, Kyd and Greene; and many astute comments on and facts about the plays themselves.  I haven't thought about any of this material since my 12th-grade Shakespeare class and found it utterly absorbing.  The book had a good balance of background explanation and focused detail.  Also, it was quite readable, despite the stylistic murkiness; it didn't bog down in scholarly jargon, at least.

four stars

Saturday, September 2, 1995

Full Moon

by P.G. Wodehouse

Crazy doings at Blandings Castle.  A typically Wodehousian romp, supremely well written and extremely funny. The acme of hilarity for me was when Blister was apprehended as a burglar by the centenarian pig man Edwin Pott. The final wrap-up was a little bit too quick and easy (as is Wodehouse's wont) but right up to that point it was non-stop ha-ha.

four stars

Monday, July 31, 1995

Just Above My Head

by James Baldwin

This is a masterpiece. It's well-written, full of emotion and power and imagery that reveals everything. Like this phrase at the end of the book: "It is true that our judgement flatters the world's indifference, and makes of us accomplices to our doom." The text is full of that kind of startling truth posed in passionate and flowing prose. The characters were real and their actions and emotions were moving. I have to say that Baldwin has, like any truly great author must have, a deep understanding of the human psyche and the various impulses that make so many and so disparate people act the way they do. Although there are powerful physical descriptions and psychological analyses, the most powerful passages in the book for me are ones of pure emotion, especially the beginning and the end, which Baldwin neatly tie together after 550 pages to bring a full understanding of the extent of the narrator's grief which opened the book. I also enjoyed the unusual style of the book – there was a first person narrator (the brother, Hall), but omniscience often took over the description without seeming forced or contrived; rather, it was natural and a strong aspect of the narrative.

five stars

Wednesday, July 19, 1995

The Talisman

by Stephen King and Peter Straub

A 750-page monster that's been taking up all my reading time with its non-allegorical, simplistic story.  It was very well written in some ways.  I enjoyed the passages that took place in America, because one or both of these writers has an expert eye for describing human foibles (the description and psychological outline of the inhabitants of the run-down, trashy town of Oatley was especially perspicacious).

However, there was no foreshadowing, no imagery that was not explained for the reader, no metaphor, nothing that makes a book a work of literature rather than escapism.  There was also a lot of purple prose filler.  My other main gripe is that the world of this book is one in which evil is always impalpably evil, and good is always recognizable.  The hero, Jack Sawyer, did nothing especially strategic or thoughtful to defeat his enemies, he needed only to touch the forces of good to destroy evil.  Simplistic, and not that exciting.

two stars

Wednesday, June 14, 1995

Billy the Kid: A Bio-Bibliography

by Jon Tuska

A fascinating work in two ways. The first is that Tuska tells the intriguing life of the Kid in a clear, readable manner that is engrossing and yet highly scholarly. The second is that, in the remaining sections of the book, Tuska contrasts the Kid's image in books, film and general legend with the historical facts. Much of this section is a rather tiring litany of bad film plots, but it all comes together when Tuska talks about the historian's responsibility to sift the fact from the fiction when discussing legend (and he chastises many scholars for failing to do this). The biography section was the most interesting, however.

I learned about the Lincoln County War, which I'd never heard of before, and that the Kid fought on the side of those who battled some of the most disgusting political corruption on record. I came away with a clear picture of the Kid's personality and even some respect for him, although as Tuska says, he was no saint. (By the way, Tuska is a genuine scholar: even this book, with its less than rarefied subject matter, had untranslated Latin passages!)

four stars

Friday, May 26, 1995

Mexican And Central American Mythology

by Irene Nicholson

This is perhaps the most well written of the Hamlyn books I've read, and the author comes across as more of an expert than the others.  Like the Egyptian one, this book had a thesis geared to dispelling popular misconceptions about the myth at hand: that Mexican theology was not centered around subjugation and the sacrifice of human hearts, but that such things came later with the Aztec conquest; before then, the Nahua and Mayan religions emphasized the self-sacrifice of the humble and the victory of the spiritual over the material or base urges. Unlike the Egyptian book, this one made a good case for the thesis, although Nicholson tends to over-explicate the various symbols in the myths to the point of stretching credibility.  Other than its main thrust, the most interesting aspect of the book was its bewildering presentation of the amazingly accurate and complex Maya and Aztec calendar.

three stars

Sunday, May 21, 1995

Blandings Castle

by P.G. Wodehouse

Containing six stories about Lord Elmsworth and his woes, a story with Bobbie Wickham ("Mr. Potter Takes a Rest Cure") and five tales of what really goes on in Hollywood, as told by a Mr. Mulliner to people he knows only by what they drink.  The reading matter was very much Wodehouse, and made me laugh aloud several times, although somehow he never quite reaches the brilliance of the Bertie & Jeeves material when he writes about other characters.  Tangled plots, young couples that are forbidden each other, young couples who have the all-clear but break up, dominant sisters, etc.  I noted that the last story, "The Castaways," stood out as being very odd, much more fantastic than P.G.'s usual tone.

four stars

Friday, May 19, 1995

In the Field with Teilhard de Chardin

by George Barbour

A book about the priest-archeologist.  I was interested in the subject, but I don't feel it's a good book.  First of all, Barbour included several letters from Teilhard in their entirety, but without explaining many of the references (such as the details of geological problems he was working on) or questions he had about friends or plans (which were never answered by Barbour in the text, so it was pointless to include them).  Since there was rarely a context for his comments, I didn't really get a feel of how Teilhard thought and rarely got a sense of what Teilhard's objectives in the field were.

I enjoyed the anecdotes, such as the meaning of Teilhard's Chinese name, or what he said to someone who had undergone a tragedy and was thinking about becoming Catholic.  As self-contained units of information, they really gave insight into Teilhard's world.  It was too bad that there wasn't more commentary like the Epilogue on his thought, and the geological jargon certainly should have been explained for the layman.

two stars

Saturday, May 6, 1995

A Sense Of Detachment

by John Osborne

John Osborne is a writer totally unknown to me. This drama was a very weird, and not very admirable, example of his work. It begins with the characters talking to the audience, Pirandello-like. They have nothing but contempt for the play, the audience, and each other. There are two plants in the audience who help ridicule the cast, and the cast note that the plants are "tired plot devices." The second part takes off: while the Grandmother reads very graphic descriptions of porn films from a brochure, the rest of the characters recite eloquent and dated love poetry. Then the Chap and the Girl, both denying love and falling in love, embrace each other. That's about it. I'm sure the play would be better visually, as there are very specific notes as to what is to be played on the screen behind the players and what music is to be played. It's interesting that the stage notes, in mentioning the audience, say twice "if there are any left." Well, it's a different play, if not that original, which this kind of thing really should be.

two stars

Sunday, April 30, 1995

Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All for You & The Actor's Nightmare

by Christopher Durang

"Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You": I'm hesitant to call it only my second reading, since I was in it at 12 and probably read it dozens of times, but for simplicity's sake I will.  Coming back to it after a decade, I see that this is a very brave play, poking fun at the long-standing traditions of some fairly humorless people.  It flings homosexuality, abortion and single mothers into the fray, almost as a sidebar to the main controversy, rape and cancer in a world which a good God is supposed to rule.  Of course, it is a comedy, and it's very funny too, although much less so after the appearance of Diane and the others.  Sister Mary shooting Diane is absurd, but not that comic (the shooting of Gary, on the other hand – "I've sent him to Heaven!" – manages to be funny).  This is one of the best black comedies ever, guaranteed to offend: the best kind. 

"The Actor's Nightmare": I found a lot more meaning to this play this time than my first reading (and viewing) at age 12.  I had thought of it as just a surreal, extremely funny play, which it is, but there's also the fact that George has deep guilt about not going to a monastery, which figures into his torment.  In addition to being a send-up of the trappings of the theater and actors' airs, it's a comment on the Catholic Church's use of guilt as a power tool.  Mainly, though, it was a great comedy.  I laughed out loud reading it.

[Read twice – actually, heard and performed in dozens of times]

Saturday, April 29, 1995

Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture

by Carol Padden

This book argues that Deaf people (capitalized in the original to show a community rather than to describe a condition) need to have and create their own culture; no argument here.  To illustrate their point, the authors show examples of Deaf folktales, shared Deaf experience in school and in hearing society, and so on.  I especially enjoyed the part about translating "Jabberwocky" into ASL.

One new thing I learned was that Deaf people do not live in total silence.  Sound, though not in the way hearing people use it with specific meaning, plays a large part in their lives.  The stories of Deaf kids roaring through the halls, banging walls and windows just to get a feel for sound and to use it in their games, brought out this point well.  This book was a good basic introduction on Deaf culture in America (although my girlfriend had told me a lot of the most basic stuff already, it was still quite interesting). 

three stars

Friday, April 21, 1995

Mr. Palomar

by Italo Calvino
translated by William Weaver

I tried to read this a couple of years before, and got through a considerable amount, but stopped. It's a quite hermetic, cryptic work. Anyway, I tried again and this time I plowed all the way through. A definitely different work, it's extremely well-written (and translated into a smooth, perfect English admirably by the great William Weaver), and a great intellectual exercise into questions on the relation of self to the mind, self to the world, language and symbols. The last chapter, on "learning to be dead," is particularly intriguing in this way. Palomar's thoughts are, now and then but not often, comic, often at his expense.

I think the book could have used more of this deprecatory angle for comic relief from trio after trio of analysis – to have more of a character development, since there is no plot. When Palomar dies at the end, it is funny, true, but should anyone care? If not, why did it happen? I suppose my main impression of the book is, in fact, like something Palomar would think: I didn't get that much out of it except respect for Calvino's writing skills, but – since it is the work of such a gifted writer and has garnered such praise – I feel I must be missing something.

four stars

Monday, April 17, 1995

Japanese Mythology

by Juliet Piggott

A brief summary of Japanese mythology. As with all Paul Hamlyn myth books, really fine examples of the art of the culture were included, which made the book. Most of it wasn't about the gods themselves or their histories, but either folktales concerning talking animals or ghosts, or very loosely historical tales of heroes.

Of the indigenous mythological creatures, I liked the kappa, who lose their strength when the water is spilled from the dents in their heads. I also like the idea of the mischievous tengu. Like the others I've read in the series, the book could have used some cohesion, more detail where interesting-sounding stories are only glossed over, and a little better organization. But it's a good reference book as a starter, and again, great pictures (Japanese art is so detailed and stylized!).

[read twice]

Tuesday, April 11, 1995

Troubled Sleep

by Jean-Paul Sartre
translated by Gerard Hopkins

(Translated from La Mort Dans L'Ame a somewhat different title.) This series was apparently supposed to continue beyond three books, and although I get the sense of transition in this book, there's also completion: Mathieu makes a final decision for freedom, Brunet finds out that the mindset he wants his fellows to share does not come about so easily. It is sad that we never find out what happens to Odette & Jacques, Daniel & Philippe, or Gomez, lost in America... However, the main focus of this book is Mathieu, representing the typical soldier who fights simply because, and Brunet, the party member who has a cause which is shared by few. The scene describing Mathieu's last stand was particularly moving, as was the death of the printer at the end of the book. A great series, all in all, that I am very sorry to see end before the end of the road is found for everyone.

four stars

Sunday, March 26, 1995

The Reprieve

by Jean-Paul Sartre
translated by Eric Sutton

The second volume of the Roads of Freedom. It is a completely original, intricately planned masterwork. The narration of the novel shifts frantically back and forth from character to place to first person, all without warning, once even going into the head of a dead man (he died secure in the knowledge that WWI was the last war). This duplicates the confusion and frantic anxiety everyone was feeling as the Germans demanded Czechoslovakia. Often, two scenes that parallel each other are shown intertwined, to great effect. Perhaps the most powerful of these was the final scene, when the taking/rape of Czechoslovakia shifted and corresponded with the taking/rape of Ivich. And beyond matters of style, it was fascinating to read about the war years from a totally European perspective, a book in which America is mentioned (I believe) once. It really was an utterly European concern. A great book, a classic.

five stars

Tuesday, March 7, 1995


by anonymous
8th-11th century AD
translated by Burton Raffel

The edition I read also had a lengthy afterword by Robert P. Creed. The poem itself was great stuff, epic in the Homeric sense, full of lengthy monologues and side stories in the midst of bloody action. It was also surprisingly subtle (for instance, the contrast of Beowulf's personality from the Grendel stage to the dragon-slaying, elderly stage). Raffel's intro was basically an ad for the poem, while Creed's essay was first an ad for Raffel's translation (and he made a great case for its quality), and in its second part an interesting description of the style, intent and ability of the historical poem-singers of sixth century England.

four stars

Saturday, March 4, 1995

Egyptian Mythology

by Veronica Ions

Although messily written, with misplaced sentences, non-identified references and awkward redundancies, it was an intriguing beginner's book. What I learned from the book in a nutshell is that there were a lot of Egyptian gods, existing not in set story form like Greek & Roman mythology, but as changing concepts: a war god might evolve into a fertility god, a fertility god into a solar god, or a domestic god into a death god. Also, despite the book's rejection of the idea that ancient Egyptians were obsessed with death, what I got out of the deity descriptions (which made up 98% of the text) and the (many, fascinating) pictures was that basically they were concerned with two things: fertility and the afterworld. (I realize that this book is a narrow view of the entire picture.) All in all, my curiosity was definitely whetted about Egyptian myths.

four stars

Wednesday, February 22, 1995

The Age of Reason

by Jean-Paul Sartre

It's the first book in his Roads of Freedom trilogy. A very meticulously planned novel, it centers around Mathieu, a disenchanted college professor with a pregnant mistress. The character of Daniel, the cruel and masochistic homosexual who hates himself, is one of the great instigators in literature. Throughout the book, Mathieu trees to be free, even though he doesn't know how to attain freedom. He sees marriage as sacrificing his freedom, but has no clear alternatives.

There are exceptional passages, such as when Mathieu goes up to Lola's apartment after Boris has mistakenly reported her dead. The complex network of occurrences takes place in the space of three days in the book, so it's a very tight examination of its characters' minds. All in all, a great work, the theme of which will hopefully be expounded on in the second novel

four stars

Friday, February 17, 1995

Gods And Myths Of Northern Europe

by H.R. Ellis Davidson

Another academic work on the Norse gods (not a storybook retelling at all), this concentrates more on the Northern people than Dumézil's work, surveying the practical meaning and historical base for many of the stories and concepts. Intriguing passages included the similarities between Freyja and Frigg; the relation between the powers of the volva or Odin's acquisition of knowledge and shamanism; and the reasons for Christianity's power over the heathens of the late period. A great archeologically-based examination of myth.

four stars

Monday, February 13, 1995


by Jean-Paul Sartre
translated by Lloyd Alexander

A volume containing five stories. Each of these is repugnant in its own way, coming a little too close to the characters' personalities for the reader's comfort. The protagonists in the stories all deal with existentialist crises, much like Roquentin in Nausea does (in fact, some passages contain identical phrasing to describe these feelings). The stories:

"Intimacy." A fairly straightforward account of a wife who almost leaves her impotent husband. She suffers in that, like Roquentin, the essence of people is stripped away for her, and she sees nothing but their rather disgusting existence.

"Erostratus." A portrait of a serial killer (predating Henry). He can't handle humans existing all around him either, and fires off a diatribe against humanists, just like you-know-who again.

"The Wall." The agony of men who know they will die (they are to be shot the next day). An amazing excursion into this mindframe, with an oddly rote ironical ending.

"The Childhood of a Leader." How a boy grows disenchanted and turns to anti-semitism, believing he can find the reason for existence in power. Hard to read, the same way Marquez's Chronicle of a Death Foretold is.

"The Room." An insane man, and his wife who wants to live as he does, see what he sees. ...Er, didn't quite get this one.

four stars

Wednesday, February 1, 1995

Gods Of the Ancient Northmen

by Georges Dumézil
translated by John Lindow, Alan Toth, Francis Charat, and George Gopen

Not actually a retelling of Norse myths. There's a ten-page intro by G. Scott Littleton outlining Dumézil's thought on Indo-European myth structure and a 26-page intro by Udo Strutynski on the history of scholarship after Dumézil.

The book itself is a revised version of the French version with four additional articles appended to it, eight segments in all. Not aptly named, it was a highly academic work on the connection between Germanic and Vedic myth, with bits of Roman, Celtic, and other folklore thrown in. I have to say that a great deal went over my head, but the arguments and connections that I did understand were quite intriguing and compelling (for example, the Byggvir-Beyla Barley-Bee argument was great, as was the linking of Heimdall's oceanic birth with some extremely obscure Celtic and Welsh folklore). A fascinating work. I just wish the Latin passages had been translated.

three stars

Tuesday, January 24, 1995


by Jean-Paul Sartre
translated by Lloyd Alexander

An engaging novel of philosophy. The long passages of pure angst and self-examination, where everything is reduced to pure existence, were fairly hard to slog through. But passages wherein Roquentin is dismantling the élite, or arguing against pure humanism, were great. Also, The Autodidact is a great character. And it did have a surprisingly happy ending. A book worth talking about, and well worth revisiting some day.

four stars

Monday, January 16, 1995

K2: The 1939 Tragedy

by Andrew J. Kauffman and William Lowell Putnam

The apparently infamous story of Fritz Wiessner's expedition to K2 in which climber (and financier) Dudley Wolfe and three Sherpas died. It contains new evidence on the story, notably Jack Durrance's diary. Durrance has heretofore been the scapegoat. The book also contained many appendices, like the official report, climbing charts, and so on. The book's writing style is childish: misused words, jumpy, rambling at times. Near the end it got repetitive, like a schoolchild attempting to meet an essay's length requirement. What annoyed me most was its noncommittal stance on its own argument. The book ends with a series of questions that the text ostensibly provided answers for! However, on the whole, it was an informative and surprisingly engaging book. I for one was convinced that Fritz's oft-proven faulty memory is a poor indicator of what happened, whereas Durrance's diary seems to be straightforward and reliable.

three stars

Sunday, January 8, 1995

More Whatdunits

by various authors, edited by Mike Resnick

The second volume of mystery stories begun by Mike Resnick and solved by various writers - editors this time. The stories therein:

"Worthsayer", Stanley Schmidt. Very well written, with a truly unexpected twist solution (an original explanation of precognition).

"For Love of Juoun", Jane Yolen. Enjoyable, with a different slant on the subject than most of the other stories.

"DragNeuroNet", John Gregory Betancourt. A tight, traditional investigative story, except the detective is a robot, one of the first. Ingenious and clever.

"Bauble", David Gerrold. A 'bittersweet mood piece', just what was asked for, and well-crafted.

"Ashes To Ashes", Beth Meacham. Another intricate detective procedural. Good.

"The Lady Louisiana Toy", Barry N. Malzberg. Written in a flowing, hermetic style, with a dreamy, detached tone, this story stands out from all the others. I liked it, but couldn't quite understand it.

"Alien Influences", Kristine Kathryn Rusch. This story shared the same problem as the one above; it too is dreamy and detached. I liked this one better.

"The Pragmatists Take a Bow", Thomas A. Easton. Good, but the ending left me unsatisfied.

"Sincerity", Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Too rushed to be enjoyable and not all that clever: The Manchurian Candidate in six pages.

"Dark Odds", Josepha Sherman. My favorite story because the hero, though clever, is never in control of the situation.

"Things Not Seen", Martha Soukup. Very clever, very intricate, and satisfactorily played out.

"Windows of the Soul", Susan Casper. Built in a necessarily contrived manner around Resnick's odd problem, but good character interplay makes up for it.

"The Whole Truth", Susan Shwartz. Another story that adds a little too much to the plot asked for, so it ends like the first chapter of a serial rather than a story. Good otherwise.

"Way Out", Jody Lynn Nye & Bill Fawcett. A clever, appealing story about the existence of UFOs and the detective hired to verify it.

"The Killer Wore Spandex", Brian M. Thomsen. Very enjoyable.

"Catachresis", Ginjer Buchanan. Her name is spelled 'Ginjer' and her story is a forced kind of zany surrealism that is neither funny nor informative nor appealing.

"Flight of Reason", Tappan King. A good story with a satisfactory ending.

"She Was Blonde, She Was Dead---And Only Jimmilich Opstromommo Could Find Out Why!!!", Janet Kagan. Fun, doesn't take itself seriously, but justifies the whole plot. Great.

"The Ugly Earthling Murder Case", George Alec Effinger. A standard procedural with a minor twist ending. Also enjoyable.

three stars

Inspector Imanishi Investigates

by Seichō Matsumoto

A post-war Japanese crime novel.  Plotwise, it's very complicated and tightly-woven, replete with subtle clues and red herrings. But stylistically, it's plodding. Probably due to the translation, the writing is choppy and repetitive. And perhaps because of the culture, perhaps because of the period, the process of investigation is laughable at times. Examples: the overheard word "Kameda" is instantly assumed - for no apparent reason - to be a person, and the police proceed to look for such a person, assuming he's in Japan; when Imanishi talks to a very guilty-acting suspect, he allows the man to tell the police what he knows the next day, instead of taking him into custody then and there. In short, some of the investigating is carried out as if a retarded and exceptionally naive five-year-old is at the helm. But overall, it comes through with an intricate murder scheme and some subtle police work. And it's also intriguing as a diary of Japanese thought and cultural activity of the time.

three stars