Goose the Blog 2.0

"Oh, ha! Sarcasm: The last refuge of sons of bitches!"

30 second book reviews: the final countdown?

by John at 12/19/2005 07:25:00 AM

Note: I decided to read a bunch of old timey sci-fi stories, mostly because I could get them as e-books and I didn't even have to go to the library. I normally try to write the reviews in roughly the same order as I read the books, but this time I've lumped the older stories together at the top and I've given the original publication dates just for fun.


A Princess of Mars - Edgar Rice Burroughs (1912)
This is probably some kind of SF blasphemy, but A Princess of Mars is keerap. John Carter is an Earthman who is magically transported to Mars through some kind of astral projection, where he has many adventures and fights - he can and will kill just about anything that moves, but that fits in as normal behavior on Mars. He also meets a beautiful, mostly naked Red Martian princess. Carter is an obvious Mary Sue, perfect in every way, except he is too modest and sometimes more brave than prudent. This is very annoying to me. I'm sure this book was very inventive and titillating once upon a time, but it hasn't aged well. I hear it is going to be a major motion picture some day real soon. No joke.

Brave New World - Aldous Huxley (1932)
Now we are talking. Here is a story that holds up over that last 3/4 of a century. You might have read this in highschool (I did), because it is a classic of world literature. I probably don't even have to tell you what it is about. Some of the conceits are a little silly ("After Ford"?) and (of course) the author misses out on potential of the genomics revolution, opting instead for pre-and post-natal conditioning, cloning, and breeding programs. It skewers totalitarianism, socialism, consumerism, hedonism. All but one of the heroes gets everything he didn't know he always wanted. Huxley's style, in this novel, is easily readable. It is an enjoyable book. When is this one going to be a film?

After London or Wild England - Richard Jeffries (1885)
Jeffries was a famous naturalist, and it shows in the brilliant first half of this novel, where he describes the return of England to wilderness after the fall of civilization due to some unexplained environmental and societal collapse. The second half of the novel is much weaker - a coming of age story in a post-apocalypic world. In it, a young, impoverished noble sets out to find his fortune so he can win the hand of his true love. He has adventures and ups downs, but finally wins his fortune with his brains and skill. Then wham! the story ends with the central problem unresolved. Did the publisher think it was too many pages? Eh, no big loss. Maybe you'd want to read it for the first couple of chapters.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court - Mark Twain (1889)
Here is a classic, well known Twain story. Maybe you've seen the films, including "The Unidentified Flying Oddball"? All based on this work. The novel is full of Twain's acerbic wit and humor. He also uses the opportunity to be an advocate against slavery, state religion, and hereditary aristocracy (easy targets!), and for democracy, free markets, and liberalism. More than the social commentary, this book intentionally skewers the romantic Arthurian legend and such works as Ivanhoe. The ending is strangely weak and doesn't seem to follow the logic of the rest of the story. If you read it you may see what I mean. Should you read it? It might be good for you, but there are other books you'd probably like better.

Agent to the Stars - John Scalzi
This is a breezy novel about what might happen if extraterrestrials visited Earth. How would they introduce themselves to the world? Easy - they'd get a PR flack. Tom is a young Hollywood agent who gets the strange and difficult assignment of introducing smelly, blob-like aliens to humanity in the best possible way. Scalzi takes this unusual premise and makes it realistic enough for the reader to buy into, especially by presenting a light but convincing portrait (at least to me) of the Hollywood representation business. This is a fun story. It's free online, so check it out.

Inversions - Iain M. Banks
This is almost a sword and sorcery novel (without the sorcery). In the not too distant past of the story, a vast feudal empire fell due to an unexpected natural disaster, and various muckety-mucks are battling it out for dominance. In the small spaces is a story of love lost and found. At first glance you wouldn't think it, but the "M." means this is a Culture novel, although there are enough hints in the text for anyone familar with The Culture to make that guess anyway. I liked it - it moves along well and has some unexpected turns. Toss in a bit of medieval misery and occasional violence and it makes a good story. It has less graphic violence than some of the other Banks novels I've read, so there's that, too.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Philip K. Dick
Deckard is not a replicant! Should I type it in caps?! I don't care what Ridley Scott says. He can go to H-E-double-hockey-sticks! Anyway, DADoES? is the inspiration for the film "Blade Runner". Some of the dialogue in the film is ripped right out of the book. But there are some important differences, too, which I think make this a better story than the film. I think highly of Dick - not as a writer, necessarily, because he was often sloppy and needed better editing, but because he had such great and wild ideas. That said, this is one of the most well-written Dick stories I've read. It's not that long, and while you probably already know most of the the themes and how the story ends, more or less, you should check it out.

Monkeyluv: And Other Essays on Our Lives as Animals - Robert M. Sapolsky
This is a collection of essays that Sapolsky has written for several magazines on a variety of subjects relating, in general, to the dependence of human behavior on our evolutionary history, genetics, and environment. The essays are engaging and quick to read and one could probably finish a couple each night before bed. Sapolsky also wrote a touching account of his time in Africa studying baboons, A Primate's Memoir, which I also recommend.

Saturday - Ian McEwan
It's February 2003, and the world is gearing up for an invasion of Iraq. On this particular Saturday, after waking early in the morning and witnessing a suspicious aviation accident, a London neurosurgeon prepares for a small family reunion that is set to take place that evening. Unexpected events intervene. The novel is a meditation on fate and happenstance, and the role of fear in life. In fact, there is a little bit of everything thrown in - art, love, family, science. While there are one or two parts that don't ring true to life, I really enjoyed the descriptions of London (I should be careful here - I thought at first that the author was being overly attentive to detail, and wondered why), and it was a particulary enjoyable novel.

A Long Way Down - Nick Hornby
My second Nick Hornby novel (after How to be Good), it is also not like the ones that have been made into films. This story is about four strangers who meet on New Year's Eve on top of a building that is a popular spot for suicides. They are there for the obvious reason, yet somehow manage to save each other lives. The story is told in a "Rashomon" sort of style, with each of the four main characters taking turns as first person narrators. Rather than have overlapping narratives, however, they speak of events sequentially in time, and differences of perspective are only witnessed obliquely. While the novel is often humorous, it is mostly a somewhat sad recounting of desperate and disappointed people. So what else is there? It's a nice story, but if you are looking for a neat ending or moral, you should look somewhere else.

The Case for Christmas: A Journalist Investigates the Identity of the Child in the Manger - Lee Strobel
My sister sent me this book, because she wants me to stop being a heathen and accept Jesus Christ as my personal lord and savior. I can appreciate that - she loves me and cares about my wordly happiness and my eternal soul. This short book is actually an excerpt of Strobel's full length book The Case for Christ. Strobel, a former investigative legal journalist and "spiritual skeptic" is trying to present a case for believing in the literal truth of the Gospels in the New Testament, in the hopes that the reader will follow his path and decide to accept J.C. based on evidence. The book basically takes the form of a series of credulous interviews with leading Christian apologists. A short review of this book goes like this: "Unconvincing." A slightly longer, critical review would point out a fundamental flaw: The key for believing that the gospels are literally true is to accept the writers as reliable eyewitnesses to the events therein, but, despite Strobel's and other Christian apologists' efforts, this seems to remain an easily challenged assertion. In any case, I thought faith, not evidence, was the most important thing.


Whew! All done. Now we arrive at the pathetic part.

I know it's not apparent, but writing these is hard work. Wendy once told me she thought "30 second book reviews" meant it took thirty seconds to write a review. Ouch! No, it's supposed to mean it takes thirty seconds to read one, you silly. It often takes tens of minutes to write one! My point? It's hard work (hard, hard work) writing these, especially for a near illiterate like me. Look above; I only know about three synonyms for the word "story" (but I just thought of another one that I'm saving for next time - nevermind, I'm going to write it down so I don't forget - "tale"). So, if you appreciate these reviews and want to see more, let me know in the comments. I know it's hard work (hard, hard work) to leave a comment, but otherwise I may discontinue the series which would be easier on me and no sweat to you since you don't care about it anyway. K? Thx!

Update: I've added a review for Agent to the Stars because I forgot to include it the first time.
« Home | Previous »
| Previous »
| Previous »
| Previous »
| Previous »
| Previous »
| Previous »
| Previous »
| Previous »
| Previous »