Friday, November 30, 2012

Mugged by Anne Coulter

 One thing I can say about Coulter's book is that it left me almost feeling as if I'd been mugged, myself. The political maneuverings of race and class warfare in our country over the last few decades are very disheartening.

I suppose that even as an adult, I might have been somewhat naive in granting more trust to the media than they truly deserved. Upon hearing that they had edited the 911 tape during the Trayvon Martin case in order to make it seem more racially inflammatory, I was enlightened a bit, but Coulter mentions here that they had done the same sort of thing with the videotape of the police beating of Rodney King, and it may be more common than any of us realize.

Recent threats of rioting and violence in social media, should President Obama fail his reelection have definitely made me aware that there are plenty of folks out there who are still willing to resort to wanton destruction if they fail to get their way. There also seems to be a tendency by those on the left to ascribe racial motivation to any disagreement with the policies of the current administration. I worry that if we are no longer able to criticize the actions of our government, for fear of being called racists, our first amendment rights will go the way of the dodo.

Coulter weaves just enough of her snarky humor into her account of racial demagoguery, from the time of the civil rights movement to the present, to keep it amusing, but it's depressing to see the folks who make their living by keeping racial tensions stirred up continue unchecked for so long.

An interesting passage:

"Civil rights now include the right not to have Bible verses printed on your paycheck, according to one Pennsylvania court, or not to see construction signs that say 'Men at Work,' according to the Kentucky Commission on Civil Rights, or the 'civil right' not to inform your husband that you're aborting his child."

Goes to show the simply ridiculous things the ACLU gets involved with.

And from scholar John McWhorter on racist "microaggressions":

"Say to someone, 'When I look at you, I don't see color' and you 'deny their ethnic experiences.' You do the same by saying, 'As a woman, I know what you go through as a racial minority,' as well as with hate speech, such as 'America is a melting pot.' Other 'microaggressions' include college buildings being all named after straight, white rich men."

What the heck?

This is a good book to read to get an idea of where race-baiting, gender-baiting, and gay-baiting have taken us. Just carry it in a brown paper wrapper, lest you be accused of being a "hater" for enjoying Coulter.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Heartless by Gail Carriger

Lady Alexia and Lord Maccon are moving in to Lord Akeldama's neighborhood. Their child is to be adopted by the vampire, which will cause the other vampires to give up their plan to assassinate the child.

They learn from a ghost of a plot to kill the Queen (I wondered at this point whether they meant of England or of the vampires). Alexia spends the rest of the novel waddling about in her state of advanced pregnancy, trying to find clues as to who is plotting the assassination, and how they plan to go about it.

In the midst of this, her sister shows up, claiming she has been thrown out of the house for associating with a women's suffrage organization, but it turns out she has more sneaky things on her mind. Biffy, the new werewolf in Lord Maccon's pack, is having a lot of trouble adjusting to his change, so Alexia tries to come up with some novel approaches to that problem, as well. She ends up recruiting her friend, Ivy, into her spur-of-the-moment spy organization, The Parasol Protectorate, when she needs someone to be her eyes and ears up with her husband's old pack in Scotland.

One of the truly amusing repeating bits in this novel is Lord Akeldama's ongoing terms of endearment, primarily used to refer to his friend, Alexia, but we also realize he never seems to call anyone by their actual name. One of my personal favorites was, "my little dipped biscuit". There's some good steampunk elements here when Madame LeFoux goes on a rampage in a mechanical flame-throwing octopus.

In fact, almost none of the novel deals with Alexia's baby directly, except for the very beginning and very end of the book. I suppose we'll get to find out more in the next book in the series.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Mindkiller by Spider Robinson

Once again, as in Stardance, Robinson has returned to the scene of the crime and fleshed out a short story to create a full length novel. To be quite honest with you all, I don't think Robinson really has "the chops" to write a full length novel from scratch - each of his novels ends up being a loosely connected collection of episodic short stories, to some extent. Not that he's not enormously entertaining and talented at those, but the long form is not his strength.

There are two main threads to the story; two protagonists. The first, whom we met in the short story, Mindkiller, is Joe the burglar. Joe is pretty much the ghost in the machine. He has no past, no official existence, and no recollection of who he is or how he ended up in residence in a luxurious hidden bunker with state of the art computer systems, tailor made, it seems, for someone like him to fly under the radar, supporting himself by burgling the wealthy. Joe makes a decision to meddle in some one's life when he rescues Karen, a hooker, from slow suicide by "wireheading". Wireheads are folks who have had a device surgically implanted in their brains which directly stimulates the pleasure center. Such stimulus is highly addictive, and wireheads will go without eating, drinking, sleeping, or even moving as long as the current keeps flowing.

The other protagonist is Norman Kent, a mild-mannered, somewhat hapless professor of literature in Nova Scotia. His wife has left him for a young plumber, his career is stalled out, and we meet him when he is standing on a bridge, ready to kill himself with a plunge to the icy waters below. The incongruous desire to save his hat, when it is blown off his head, results in aborting his suicide, and he returns to his apartment to find his long-lost sister, Madeleine, awaiting him there after her long sojourn in Europe. There's some sorrow buried in Maddie's past, too, which she won't reveal, but she stays with Norman for a while, helping him get his head back together, until she is abducted without a trace while walking home from a party late at night. Norman's search for his sister is fruitless, and he eventually appears to give up hope of finding out what happens to her, and begins to get serious about his teaching career again.

The "link" between the two men appears to be two technologies that are also linked: the ability to directly stimulate the pleasure center of the brain, and the technology to allow memories to be deleted or edited from the brain, which turn out, through the course of both men's investigations, to be owned and controlled by a single entity, whom Robinson calls, later in the book, The Mindkiller. Both men indulge in quixotic quests to surprise and neutralize the villain, and the results provide some twisty plot fun in this novel.

In the end, however, it boils down to Robinson's favorite idea; that if only mankind could get into each other's head in some way - usually telepathically, but in this case by recording one person's memories and imprinting them upon others, war, poverty, hunger and all evil will disappear from the world. A good example would be to imprint the memories of a modern farmer, with everything he knows about proper planting, fertilization and irrigation techniques, into the mind of a peasant farmer in the third world, or if a KKK member could experience exactly what it's like to be a persecuted minority.

Great concept, and obviously the technology is too dangerous to turn over to any particular country or government, lest it be abused, hence the conspiracy to keep the knowledge tightly held until it is fully developed and can be revealed to the entire world, free to all. I still see some logistical problems, but perhaps it could do some good - minor shades of this in real world things like the OLPC project, and efforts to bring "micro" water treatment facilities to third world countries, and with vertical farming, etc.

One thing I found amusing was a paragraph in the last chapter:

"...the man who pulls the President's strings, dear. For decades now, it has been impossible for a man suited to that power to be elected. Stevenson was the last to try. The rest of them accepted the inevitable and worked through electable figureheads. There hasn't been a president since Johnson who wasn't a ventriloquist's dummy. Some of them never knew it. The present incumbent, as a matter of fact, has no idea that his is owned and operated by a mathematician from Butler, Missouri."

There's just so much that's fun in that bit. The rest of the book is pretty fun, too.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Magic for a Price by Devon Monk

 So, the wells of magic in Portland are poisoned, the city is surrounded by hostile magic users, and the most powerful set of soul complements is in charge of the world magic authority, and wants to destroy or enslave Allie and her friends. Time to rock n roll, eh?

Allie, Zayvion, Terric and Shamus are barely recovered from the last battle, but it's time for them to step up and take on the coming wave of attackers. A conclave of all the concerned parties; magic users, the police and the Hounds, is called, and Zayvion nominates Allie to take charge. She decides that the first and most important thing to do is to clean the contamination from the magic wells, then to delay or stop the incursion of the Seattle magic users who are on their way, and finally to somehow or other defeat Leander and Isabelle.

Allie consults with her father's spirit, which is still possessing her at times, and he tells here that he believes that by filtering the magic through Stone, the gargoyle/magical construct, and then seeding the wells with the result, they can be cleansed. The wells have been sealed for a while now, and must be opened to cleanse them, as well as re-sealed so that the invading magic users can't tap them to attack with, so Allie decides that she and her three friends, with the addition of Dr. Collins, can get the job done, and they head off for the each of the wells, in succession.

I think this is the final book in this series, as things go more or less according to  Allie's plan, though not without pain and struggle along the way. Allie's dad's spirit is finally removed from her body, and she learns about most of the details of her missing past. Magic is clean once more, evil is destroyed, and most of the good guys survive the battles. And, by the way, the moral of this story, like so many others these days, is that you can't go it alone, you have to trust and love your friends.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

No Easy Day by Mark Owen

 Mark Owen gives us an interesting and compelling account of the mission which finally killed Osama bin Laden, from the point of view of one o,f the members of SEAL Team Six. The book jumps right into the action, as the author is inbound towards the compound in the helicopter that is forced into a controlled crash landing. Unfortunately, we leap away just before touchdown and Mark begins to tell us, as Paul Harvey would say, "the rest of the story".

Owen moves on to the story of how he attended DEVGRU special warfare training, after being on the Navy's SEAL teams for about six years. One of the amusing anecdotes relates to how when DEVGRU began, there were really only two teams available, but one of them was called "Six" just in case the Soviets heard of them, so they'd think we had more teams than we actually did. Richard Marcinko was one of the founders back then - I gotta pick up some of his novels one of these days.

Owen relates some great combat stories from his deployments to the Anbar province in Iraq and the Pakistani border area in Afghanistan. There's some great stuff about his weapons of choice for all you gun nuts out there - and I got to learn some new things about our military hardware, including some funky looking NVGs our special forces use. He also gets into the massive amounts of training and rehearsal that happen long before any missions begin, and some of the difficulties faced by our military families.

Eventually, at long last, he returns to wrap up the book with the story of the raid on bin Laden's compound, and essentially a bullet by bullet account of the incursion. Some of it is actually almost funny, as various REMFs attempt to put their stamp on the ROEs. One of the suggestions was that the SEALs should push bin Laden's car out of its garage and park it on the street with a flashing police light on top of it, so that nearby residents would believe that the police had already responded to any disturbance at the compound, and wouldn't call the police, themselves. In the end, our forces with guns and saying in Pashto, "move along, nothing to see here", got the job done just as well.

A quick read, full of excellent action.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Inside the Revolution by Joel C. Rosenberg

I've read a few of Rosenberg's thrillers in the past, but this is the first non-fiction book I've picked up by him. By the way, I did a wiki search and verified that Joel C. and Joel are different authors - the latter wrote some really fun novels based on Dungeons and Dragons back in the late 70s and 80s, called the Guardians of the Flame series. Different fellow, now unfortunately deceased.

Rosenberg seems to enjoy alliteration, as his subtitle reads "How the followers of Jihad, Jefferson and Jesus are battling..." and his major section divisions within the book are the Revolutionaries, the Reformers and the Revivalists. There's also the Resisters, the Reticent and the Rank-and-File.

 Some parts of the book were an interesting trip down memory lane for me, as I was in college, with an Iranian roommate (wonder what became of my friend Muhammed Husseini?), when the Iranian revolutionaries stormed the U.S. Embassy and took our folks hostage for 400 days. It seems as if the media only broadcast a small portion of what was going on, and/or I might have merely been oblivious to the big picture back in my school daze.

The book has become a bit dated at this point, as it was written in 2009, before the fall of Ghaddafi in Libya and the civil war in Syria began, but his description of those regimes seems fairly accurate, depicting those leaders as being the type who play the Islamists against the West, depending on which they feel is a bigger threat to their regime at any given point. In a 2009 interview with Lt. Gen. William Boykin, Boykin states that he thinks the Iranian regime could have a nuclear bomb in three years - so far that hasn't materialized...that we know of.

Something interesting that Rosenberg says about Islam:

"As you study the Qur'an, you will find that Islam is a works-based religion. Therefore, Radicals - and all religious Muslims who take the Qur'an seriously - constantly have to be thinking about a "51 percetn solution." They must constantly strive to do more good works that bad, lest they be dammed for all eternity. The problem is that the Qur'an does not provide a way for Muslims to assess how they are doing throughout their lives. There are no quarterly report cards."

So, when the Radicals claim that the only "true assurance or secure promise of eternal salvation is to be a martyr - and ideally a suicide bomber" there must be a certain temptation for some Muslims to accept the sure thing.

And yes, the rumor is confirmed in this book. The U.S. did, indeed support the mujahadeen in Afghanistan against the Soviet invasion.

"In July (1979), President Carter authorized a half million dollars in covert financial aid to the Islamic rebels known as the mujahadeen..."

Of course, aid continued under the Reagan administration until the Soviets were forced to withdraw from Afghanistan, but it all started with Carter. LOL.

Just as a reminder of what life was like under the Taliban in Afghanistan, before the Coalition invaded to drive them out and destroy Al Qaeda,

"Children were beaten by their fathers  and psychologically abused. Their schools were shut down. Their toys were taken from them. Movies were forbidden. Television was forbidden. Radio was forbidden, except for a station that continuously taught from the Qur'an. Games were forbidden. Kite flying was forbidden. Concerts were forbidden. Playin music in public was forbidden. New Year's celebrations were forbidden. Christmas decorations were forbidden. Christianity was most certainly forbidden. Museums were closed. Zoos were closed. Dissenters were jailed. Others were murdered. Apostates were executed."

If you're interested in getting a good deep background on what has been happening for the last few decades in the Middle East, this is a great book to read. There are some especially interesting things going on with the underground spread of Christianity that I hadn't heard about at all before this. As a soothsayer, Rosenberg hasn't quite got it down, but he certainly has done his legwork on this one.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Blameless by Gail Carriger

 Alexia is in a "delicate condition" in more ways than one. When her husband, Lord Maccon, the werewolf pack leader, finds out that she is pregnant, he blows a gasket. You see, supernaturals, being undead, are not able to sire children, so he believes she must have been unfaithful to him. Never mind that Alexia is simply not that sort of person, it's "impossible", so he throws her out of his house, and she flees back to London. When the society pages catch a whiff of the scandal, her own family gives her the cold shoulder, Queen Victoria (ever the moralist) dismisses her from her council, and the vampires of the city place a bounty on her head. The vampires have had experience in the long past with what is generally considered to be unprecedented, and the child of a preternatural, soulless one like Alexia, and a supernatural, is a dangerous being to them.

Lord Akeldama, being Alexia's friend, leaves her a cryptic warning before exiting town, in pursuit of one of his drones who has been kidnapped by another "rove" vampire. The only people behaving sensibly in the situation seem to be Floote, Alexia's butler (inherited from her father), Lord Maccon's beta Professor Lyall, and the cross-dressing inventor, Madame Lefoux. Floote and Lafoux accompany Alexia as she flees from the vampires of the city, to her father's homeland, Italy.

They have some interesting encounters along the way, with Lefoux's fellow members of the Order of the Octopus, and the Templars, who hope to study Alexia and use her as a weapon in their centuries-long war against the supernaturals. She learns a few new things about her heritage, the nature of the child she is bearing, and about herself, too.

Good entertainment, indeed.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold

I had a spot of bother obtaining this book. I first went to the publisher's site, and couldn't seem to find an electronic version, nor was I able to find it at Amazon. Bending with the wind, I headed to a nearby Hastings, and hunted for it on the new releases shelf without success, so I had to ask the manager to look it up - turned out they weren't ordering any copies in. What?? Back to the Baen web site, trying a different path, and found the ebook for sale - so I downloaded it before anything else could delay my gratification. I have been eagerly awaiting this book for soooo long, and Bujold did not disappoint me.

We (sorta) get away from the Vorkosigan saga here, in that the protagonist is actually a Vorpatril, Miles' cousin, Ivan Xav. We've seen this a couple of times before from Bujold, such as when Ellie Quinn or Cordelia told their tales, which wove into the overall history. I hope she's not done with Miles, though seeing him appear in this one as a peripheral character, leaning on his cane, dandling children on his knee, makes me wonder.

Ivan is on assignment with Barrayaran military's Operations department on Komarr, blithely going about his business, when he is visited abruptly by Byerly Vorrutyer, best known as a wastrel disowned heir of a noble house, but known by Ivan and his cousin to actually be an ImpSec agent. By enlists Ivan to keep an eye on (translation - attempt to seduce) a subject of one of his investigations, the lovely shop girl (looks can be deceiving) Tej. When Ivan's pickup attempt doesn't go as smoothly as he hopes - Tej's sister stuns him and ties him to a chair in their flat - he finds himself involved in something far more dangerous than a casual fling.

It seems that Tej and Rish are from Jackson's Whole, the daughters of a Baron and Baronne who have recently been removed from power and forced to flee for their lives. Somehow, the ladies have gotten separated from the rest of the family, and are being pursued by kidnappers hoping to return them to Jacksonian space for the bounty on their heads. Ivan helps them foil the plans of one set of kidnappers, then offers them sanctuary at his own apartment (a bit more upscale than the fugitives').

When the local cops and customs officials put in an appearance later, Ivan (whether out of genius or desperation - he's more like Miles than he likes to admit) offers Tej the protection of the Barrayaran Empire through becoming his wife - temporarily, of course. Heh.

The rest of the story goes some unexpected places, as well as our old familiar haunts. Though Bujold claims she writes all the stories in the Vorkosiverse to be stand-alone, the whole middle section of this book is just one long, huge inside joke for Miles' fans. Sure, there's just enough explanation of all the dramatis personae to keep the newbie from choking, but there are far more "in" references for the illuminati.

You can imagine the scene when Ivan's mother, Lady Alys, gets to meet his new bride, and the amusing competitive intrigue that develops between his step-father, Simon Ilyan, and his new father-in-law, Baron Cordonah. We get to drop in on Miles and Ekaterin, briefly, catch a bit of family gossip about clone-brother Mark, and devour a couple of meals prepared by the marvelous Ma Kosti, including some maple ambrosia for dessert which is definitely an insider's joy.

This one is worth whatever you have to endure to grab a copy.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cast in Ruin by Michelle Sagara

Bodies are turning up in the fief of Tiamaris. Now, it's not unusual for bodies to be found in the fiefs, but when seven in a row are of the identical person, that's a cause for concern. Kaylin and Severn are called away from Kaylan's lessons in dragon etiquette to aid in the investigation.

We finally get a fairly long digression by Sanabalis about the history of the founding of the Empire, and the establishment of the rule of law there, as well as a great deal more about dragons, in general, than we've previously seen. I really need to go back and take a glance at some of the earlier books, but it does seem as if Sagara has focused on revealing the aspects of a particular race in each novel. I can recall, for certain, the one that dealt almost entirely with the Tha'alani, and the one that dealt with the Lions, and there was Cast in Courtlight, about the Barrani...maybe some follow up later.

I've read a lot of fantasy books, and it seems to me that the use of magic which Sagara describes here that Kaylin has is unique, in my experience. Most of what she does with it seems to take a long time to develop, has a great deal of visuals attached to it, and manifests through her emotions in a controlled, though sometimes unexpected, way. Most spellcasters in modern fantasy are more the wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am types, with a lot of flash for a few words and gestures, you know?

There's certainly a wry twist here, worthy of someone like Tolkien, in that we see the avatar of the Tower of Tiamaris' fief, Tara, going about in grubby gardening clothes much of the time. A bit of Radagast the Brown, perhaps, concerned with the smallest of living things.

And I still have another installment of this series on the shelf, awaiting my attention.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


The changing of the seasons has slowed down my reading, it seems. My scheduled posts are tapped out; I'll be posting as I finish and review things, in the near term.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Stardance by Spider Robinson

While re-reading Stardance, which I'd call one of the true classics of modern SF, I thought about a couple of other great books in that category: Ender's Game by Card and The Forever War by Haldeman. It came to me that all three of these books have something in common - they're about humanity's first encounter with aliens. In Stardance, we appear to achieve peaceful relations, but in the other two, it ends in war. Could it be because Robinson's aliens are great glowing firefly-like balls, while Card's and Haldeman's are just icky bugs?

Charlie Armstead is a former dancer, turned video man after a burglar's bullet messed up his hip. He is introduced to Shara Drummond, possibly the most talented dancer of her time, by her sister, Norrey, who hopes that Charlie can break the news to her gently that she can never make it as a professional dancer; not because she doesn't have talent, but because she is simply the wrong body type, statuesque and womanly rather than small and cadaverous. Together they embark upon a hopeless quest, to make marketable videos of her innovative dance ideas. Unfortunately, it is not to be, and they give it up as hopeless at last, much as Charlie gives up on his hopeless unrequited passion for Shara, herself.

Some time later, Shara contacts him again, and asks him to come to SpaceFac, an orbital station, to film her as she develops the first zero gee dances. She has become the kept woman of the owner of the facility, Bryce Carrington, the stereotypical heartless businessman every good story needs. When Shara's physiology becomes almost irrevocably adapted to space, Carrington exiles her back to Earth, as he doesn't want the bad publicity that would come from allowing her to die. On the way home, however, Charlie and Shara's ship is drawn into the first encounter with an alien race, luminous balls of plasma. Shara observes that they seem to be dancing, and insists that she alone can learn to communicate with them. She figuratively dances her heart out, and drives the aliens away from Earth, which they intend to invade, evidently, then jets into a decaying orbit and burns up in the atmosphere, like a shooting star.

End part one. I think this was the original novella that Robinson published.

The story, which to my knowledge is the first ever published that seriously considered that dance might be the way to "talk" to our first alien race encountered,  is helped immensely by the collaboration of Spider's wife, Jeanne, who was a professional dancer. Passages like,

"Dancers speak of their 'center,' the place their motion centers around often quite near the physical center of gravity. You strive to 'dance from your center,' and the 'contraction-and-release' idea which underlies so much of Modern dance depends upon the center for its focus of energy. Shara's center seemed to move about the room under its own power, trailing limbs that attached to it by choice rather than necessity."

"And the new dance said, 'This is what it is to be human: to see the essential existential futility of all action, all striving - and to act, to strive. This is what it is to be human: to reach forever beyond your grasp...It said all this with a soaring series of cyclical movements that held all the rolling majesty of grand symphony, as uniquely different from each other as snowflakes, and as similar. And the new dance laughed, as much at tomorrow as at yesterday, and most of all at today."

In the next part of the story, Charlie has inherited the rights to the videotapes of the Stardance, Shara's legacy, and has been written a blank check, basically, to form a zero gee dance company. He approaches Norrey and the two of them finally admit that they love each other, marry, and head for the space station to build a dream together.

One anachronism I noticed in the story, which was written in 1979, was that he mentions that a Beatles reunion took place. John Lennon was murdered after the book was published, so the reunion only takes place in Robinson's alternate future.

There's a metaphor about life from Zelazny's Isle of the Dead that I've used quite often, how life is like Tokyo Bay. Robinson comes up with an interesting metaphor in Stardance:

"Picture us all as being in free fall, all of us that are alive. LIterally falling freely, at one gee, down a tube so unimaginably long that its ultimate bottom cannot be seen. The vast tube is studded with occasional obstacles - and the law of averages says that at some finite future time you will smash into one: you will die. There are literally billions of us in this tube, all falling, all sure to hit some day; we caro off each other all the time, whirling more or less at random in and out of lives and groups of lives. MOst of us construct belief structures which deny either the falling or the obstacles, and place them underneath our feet like skateboards. A good rider can stay on for a lifetime.

Occasionally you reach out and take a stranger's hand, and fall together for a while. It's not so bad, then. Sometimes if you're really desperate with fear, you clutch someone like a drowning man clinging to an anchor, or you strive hopelessly to reach someone in a different trajectory, someone you can't possibly reach, just to be doing something to forget that your death is rushing up toward you."


When the aliens reappear out near Saturn, Charlie's dancers are recruited to go find out what they want this time. Robinson sort of cheats on the long journey to Saturn (which takes a year in story time) by describing one typical day, then skipping over all the other days, saying they were much the same.

A good description of the "there are two kinds of people" meme that Spider uses goes like this:

"That had been the real root of our struggle with the diplomats over the last year. They were committed to the belief that what would be understood best by the aliens was precise adherence to a series of computer-generated movements. We Stardancers unanimously believed that what the aliens had responded to in Shara had been not a series of movements but art."

Yeah, there are those people who get dance - as art, and those who merely see the movements.

Spider was one of the SF authors whom I encountered early in my reading who first introduced me to the concept of the singularity - the concept that at some point mankind would reach a point in their evolution where the entire paradigm would shift, and all of our earlier history would become irrelevant. He once again visits this theme in Stardance, not merely with a telepathic group hug, but with the idea that mankind will be fundamentally changed and inherit the universe. A classic definitely worth keeping on your shelf, folks.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Callahan's Secret by Spider Robinson

Callahan's Secret appears to have been Robinson's attempt, like Doyle's in The Reichenbach Falls (which he mentions) to put the series to bed at last. I was saddened at the time, but when the inevitable financial pressures got to Spider's web... One a personal note, one of the stories has a bunch of Princes Bride references, and I believe that when I first read this book was when I was motivated to hunt high and low for a copy of the book. Of course, by now everyone in the galaxy has seen the movie.

There are only four stories in this collection, though they are lengthier than the stories in earlier collections. The first, The Blacksmith's Tale (a nod to Chaucer?) tells how Jake meets Callahan's daughter, Mary, and falls hopelessly in love with her (a theme that reappears every so often in Robinson's novels), but she gets introduced to Mickey Finn, and it's love at first sight for her, leaving Jake in the cold, so to speak. We finally get the rest of the story on Finn, which leads us to the climactic story at the end of this book. There's a throwaway line in this one about Mary's mother being Lady Sally, madame of the finest whorehouse in the area, which leads to later Robinson stories about Lady Sally's.

Pyotr's Story is actually almost an urban fantasy bit, long before the genre became so overwhelming. Where would a vampire who became an alcoholic long ago hang out? At Callahan's Saloon, of course, and his ability to filter out alcohol from the patrons' bloodstreams has helped alleviate many a hangover.

Involuntary Man's Laughter comes up with a novel solution (in an era when PCs, laptops and smart phones were either nonexistent or very very rare) to befriending a person who suffers from severely socially debilitating diseases, and including him in Callahan's magic.

The Mick of Time is the story of what happens when the alien race whom Finn once served finally shows up to find out what became of their missing spy/slave. What do you do when an irresistible force encounters and immovable object like Mike Callahan. The solution in part lies in all of the patrons of Callahan's achieving a telepathic gestalt (another them that turns up often in Robinson's works). Robinson introduces a suitcase nuke - it seems like this is long before I'd heard of them in other types of literature or media - to save the day, and incidentally destroy the bar.

Oh, no need to shed any tears, you know it's getting resurrected.