Book Review: Interesting Stories For Curious People by Bill O’Neill (two stars)

Book Review: Interesting Stories For Curious People: A Collection of Fascinating Stories About History, Science, Pop Culture and Just About Anything Else You Can Think of by Bill O’Neill (two stars)

“I had one qualification when I took the job: if they ever wrote a segment whereby Colonel Klink would come out the hero, I would leave the show [Hogan’s Heroes].” Werner Klemperer

The title says it. A hodge podge of very short articles about almost everything odd and curious. Cotton candy for the brain. In many cases O’Neill identifies issues without resolving them.

Writers, even historians who claim to be objective, still have opinions, which can sometimes turn into an agenda. Even ancient writers were guilty of having agendas—maybe even more so.

Well intended, just … useless. The quotations cited are as good as it gets.

“Had I been ordered to bomb Seattle or Los Angeles in order to end the war, I wouldn’t have hesitated. So I perfectly understand why the Americans bombed Nagasaki and Hiroshima.” Saburō Sakai, Japanese Navy ace, nicknamed the Sky Samuri during World War Two

Book Review: Murder Most Malicious by Alyssa Maxwell (four stars)

Book Review: Murder Most Malicious (A Lady and Lady’s Maid Mystery #1) by Alyssa Maxwell (four stars)

“As you said, the war is over. The men have come home. Time for you ladies to return to the roles for which God designed you.” 

Miss Marple does Downton Abbey. Not your mother’s cozy murder mystery. A noble house guest disappears, then parts of him appear, and the family middle daughter and her maid go Jessica Fletcher trying to find the body and solve the assumed murder. Clues, motives, and suspects multiply.

“I’m not a modern woman. Not when it comes to matters like this. I need . . . time.”

Christmas 1918 evokes painful memories of The Great War and the Spanish Flu pandemic. Social and technical details conform to the Downtown Abbey norms, if not the actual 1919.

‘It was a situation where there could be no happy outcome.’ 

Characters are fully, if stereotypically developed. Excellent misdirection and foreshadowing before the climax reveal.

“I suggest you both take a cloak. It’s deadly cold outside.”

Book Review: Bear Head by Adrian Tchaikovsky (three stars)

Book Review: Bear Head (Dogs of War #2) by Adrian Tchaikovsky (three stars)

“So you’re some weird-ass species traitor deviant type. Fine. I can work with that.”

This could have been a mind-blowing SF challenge to contemporary thinking, but Tchaikovsky gets distracted making cheap shots and almost loses his way. Weak on science, especially on Mars.

Even I remember those days, no rights, no responsibilities. No knowledge of good and evil.

Skip the Thompson chapters. Distract. Lost a star for gratuitous politics. (Do English get to hate Trump so intensely?) Tchaikovsky should have recognized the parallel to the mischief caused by limited liability corporations being legal entities.

Sounds exactly like the kind of crazy that gets a copy of your mind sent to Mars for safekeeping.

Lost another star for gratuitous profanity, which increases logarithmically toward end. Three stars is a gift, though this should have been four or five.

Once she’s saved us from Thompson she’ll want to save us from ourselves.

(Paradoxically, tried and gave up on Dogs of War.)

Book Review: The Return of Santiago: A Myth of the Far Future by Mike Resnick (four stars)

Book Review: The Return of Santiago: A Myth of the Far Future (Santiago Saga #2) by Mike Resnick (four stars)

“Look around the galaxy and you’d be hard-pressed to prove that intelligence is a survival trait.”

A hundred years after Santiago runs roughshod over the galaxy’s Mid Frontier, the need for him is just a great. No nearly as much fun as Santiago. Too straightforward and linear. Everyone is who they seem; boring. It’s all too easy. Still, it’s good, clean fun.

“He’s out there somewhere. But he doesn’t know he’s Santiago.”

The closing plot twist is inevitable and foreshadowed long before. Some technical quibbles, but no worst than most modern science fiction. More typos than would be accounted for by sloppy optical character scanning.

“You’re absolutely sure you’re right?” “I’m absolutely certain that I hope I’m right.”

Book Review: Santiago: A Myth of the Far Future by Mike Resnick (four stars)

Book Review: Santiago: A Myth of the Far Future (Santiago #1) by Mike Resnick (four stars)

“My cause was lost before I ever joined it.”

Good book, Fresh–if obvious–plot twist. Not so much SF or fantasy as a horse opera set in space, but that worked for George Lucas.

“I’ll do what I promised.” “But you won’t be happy about it.” “I’m never happy about killing things.”

Verses of doggerel open each chapter, introducing cast and propelling the plot. (Especially cute that most were admitted to be erroneous.)

Shielding themselves from the planet’s ever-present rain.

 Resnick follows the Star Wars/Trek convention of treating each planet as a single climate zone. Not so applicable to the original sample.

“It’s easy to decide to remake a world. It’s more difficult to choose between evils.”

Movie Review: A Man Called Otto, directed Marc Forster (four stars)

Movie Review: A Man Called Otto, directed Marc Forster (four stars)

Poignant, funny tale about a curmudgeon’s reawakening. Many parallels to Pixar’s Up movie. Need to read the book A Man Called Ove again.

Tom Hanks once again displays his unique ability to submerge himself in his role. But he didn’t have to carry the show alone; Mariana Trevino especially added depth and humor.

The young Otto, played by Hank’s son Truman, was played as having a mild personality disorder while the old Otto was just a grump.

Yes, it’s about the end of life, but it’s also about being a blessing to those around you. Every day is a gift.

Book Review: The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik (three stars)

Book Review: The Last Graduate (Scholomancy #2) by Naomi Novik (three stars)

To offer sanctuary and protection to all the wise-gifted children of the world. 

Novik develops her not-Hogwarts as she examines the senior year of Galadriel and friends. Lots of overlap from previous story, presumably for first time readers. (If you haven’t, read The Scholomancy first.) Sufficient foreshadowing and deception to keep the reader engaged.

Or was I just being a stupid wanker who thought she was too good to look people in the face while I killed them? 

Not appropriate for target audience, which I assume to be teen Harry Potter fans. Not bad, not insulting, but insensitive.

“I wasn’t planning to go anywhere.” “That just means you didn’t have a plan, not that you weren’t going. 

Obviously going to be another tale. Doubt if I’ll read it.

I could never afford to look past survival, especially not for anything as insanely expensive and useless as happiness, and I don’t believe in it anyway. 

Book Review: Worlds Seen in Passing, Irene Gallo, editor. (three stars)

Book Review: Worlds Seen in Passing: Ten years of Short Fiction, Irene Gallo, editor. (three stars)

“You know it’s going to be a disaster, in the end. You’re the one person on Earth who can avoid the pain, and you still go sticking fingers in the socket.”

This 2018 anthology is the usual mashup of mismatched, uneven quality we all expect from most publishers “best of” books. Quite a variety of stories—not just science fiction and fantasy. Also horror, mystery, historical fiction, and soft porn. A few really good stories among the drivel.

“The unified individual is a fallacy of traditional human philosophy. It is, in fact, the foundation of many unenlightened, old customs. 

Had to force myself back to it twice after putting it “on hold” while I read something more engaging. My favorites were the historical fiction “A Short History of the Twentieth Century.” It was worth what I paid for it, but that typical of anthologies.

It sounds good, anyway. It sounds the way one would like to have been. 

Book Review: The Widowmaker by Michael Resnik (three stars)

Book Review: The Widowmaker (The Widowmaker #1) by Michael Resnik (three stars)

“I’ll be hiring specialists—not just specialists in killing, but in behavior as well. How difficult can it be?” “I’ll bet Pandora said those very words just before she opened the box.”

Super-non-hero in space. Typical fastest-gun-in the West (or Rim) space opera. Decent storytelling flawed by intentionally simple-minded protagonist. Not much to identify with or root for.

“I’m the boss and you’re not. What’s fair got to do with anything?”

Too-good-to-be true string of luck just keeps going. Cynical witness character hardly needed to point out the protagonist’s stupidity. Unfortunately, introductory books like this kill interest in continuing the series.

I suppose not many four-month-olds could dope it out. But you’re going to have to grow up fast if you want to survive out here.” 

Book Review: The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal (four stars)

Book Review: The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal (four stars)

“Everyone has a secret, and everyone lies.”

The Thin Man does And Then There were None in space. Not science fiction so much as a murder mystery set in on a space cruise liner. Complete with Asta and “copious drinking and flirtatious banter.”

‘On a ship like this, stairs were the unholy love child of Dalí and Escher.’

Some writer finally gets the Coriolis Effect right! Most science fiction ignores it altogether. (extra star)

‘Tesla gave a smile as frozen as the far side of an asteroid.’

Kowal’s least sympathetic protagonist to date. Poor little rich girl. Anyone that rich and that injured would be accompanied by her lawyer, doctor, and personal security. Cocktail recipe chapter openings underscore Tesla as an alcoholic.

‘Her back seized as if each separate screw in her spine had sprouted spikes into the surrounding muscles.’ 

Quibble: Seven years after major accident she should be healed or in traction. Twentieth century medicine. Gratuitous profanity. (lost a star)

“I’m going to smile and nod because I recognize all of those words.”