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Science-Fiction and Fantasy

"Speculative fiction reviewed with a discerning eye."

Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes

This is one of the few "classics" that I truly enjoyed reading. This is a fun book. Very entertaining. Burroughs' language, while very British, is simple enough to draw the reader into the action, of which there is a lot.

From the beginning, Burroughs does not slow down much to describe feelings of the characters, only those necessary to continue the story. He simply goes on with the action, which makes for a fast-moving story. The chapters are short, as well, which makes for quick reading.

I had one complaint with the character of the boy Tarzan, and that was his seemingly unending ability to learn. He finds a book and in a couple of years, he recognizes the characters enough to know how they relate to the pictures. Then he finds a pencil, and, after marking up a desk for a while, suddenly comes up with the idea to copy the characters in the book. A ten year old boy is going to come up with that on his own? And by eighteen he is fully fluent, with the help of a dictionary.

Also, I did not like how the ending is a sort of cliffhanger, which leaves the reader wondering what will happen next. However, it does guarantee that I will read The Return of Tarzan, which is, I suppose, the intent.

Along the way, one does get caught up in the romance angle with Jane Porter, especially knowing her standing in the Tarzan canon. It is this angle which makes the ending all the more frustrating. One wishes to know for sure that they will end up together, in spite of interference from her previously intended.

One English phrase that comes to mind to describe this book is that it is "a ripping good yarn." I look forward to reading others in the series.

Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

Well, I can certainly tell what attracted the hippies to this book. What with all the free lovin' going on, this is practically a primer for the Haight-Ashbury crowd. All that's missing are the drugs, and religion probably counts as one.

SF-wise, this is pure old school from the X Minus One days. "Martian teaches Earthlings a better way" goes at least back to The Day the Earth Stood Still and probably farther (I'm no SF scholar by any means). But here it's given the Heinleinian twist of adding sex and characters who are lovable in their crassness (e.g. Jubal Harshaw).

Now, I would consider myself a Heinlein fan (of the Lazarus Long fan subgenre), but I found this a slow read. This story would have been served best as a novella at its longest--optimally a long short story. The lead character of Mike (Valentine Michael Smith, the "Man from Mars") is simply not that compelling. At first, its somewhat interesting (in a Starman sort of way) to watch Mike learn the our language and customs. But after that, he becomes a one-dimensional Messianic figure. His followers suffer the same fate. The women especially are difficult to tell apart--a typical Heinlein failure.

All in all, I was not impressed with this "classic." Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I don't think that this is even one of his ten best.

Spider Robinson, The Callahan Touch

I seem to have started in the middle of this series. First, I read Callahan's Legacy because it was the only one my library had. Then, I found this book in my local used bookstore. So, not only am I out of order, but I'm reading backwards. (I then read Callahan's Key, at least getting back in the right direction.)

But I don't really think that matters. I'm still really enjoying this series from Spider Robinson--the stories of a bunch of really strange folks that hang around a bar, whether the proprietor is the titular Mike Callahan or the narrator Jake Stonebender.

The plot is negligible, when it exists. The main draw is all the varied characters and their wild personalities and how they interact with one another. Beware, however, the puns come fast and furious. But, if, like me, you think playing with words is the highest form of humor, then pull up a stool because here is a place where "shared pain is lessened, shared joy is increased."

Curt Siodmak, Donovan's Brain
Curt Siodmak, Hauser's Memory

Donovan's Brain was the first book to feature a brain being kept alive outside its body. Now, if you think about that, there have been several stories to use that idea. You can thank Curt Siodmak for that.

It is a really good read, besides. I read it in two days, and that is pretty fast for me. Every free minute I had, I picked it up and continued the story. I think that says a lot.

Now, I'm not saying it's a great novel. It is not. But it has that one aspect that all good novels should have--grip. This story gripped me and I constantly wanted to know what would happen next.

This book was written in 1942 but it feels as if it were written today. If you are a fan of science-fiction (or of the Orson Welles radio play that was made from this, as I am), I think you would enjoy Donovan's Brain and its sequel, Hauser's Memory. If you're interested in finding more about what happened to Dr. Patrick Cory, then this is the place to go.

Hauser's Memory is along the same lines, except that in this one Cory and his colleague Hillel Mondoro try to save just the memory of a dead Nazi--Karl Hauser--by extracting the RNA from the brain using mortar, pestle, and centrifuge. Cory offers himself as the subject but Mondoro injects himself behind Cory's back. Mondoro almost immediately begins to feel the effects--having dreams and memories--and begins to follow the dead man's wishes. A similar story to its predecessor, but still well-told.

    Other SF/F books I've reviewed
  • Fade by Robert Cormier -- "It's what might happen if Holden Caulfield stepped into H. G. Wells' The Invisible Man"--Stephen King
  • The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham -- Not so much a science-fiction story as an apocalyptic horror novel.
  • ...more to come...