Category Archives: Books


The other day, I dropped $3 on a Kindle Single, The Story of the Beatles’ Last Song, billed as the tale of I Want You (She’s So Heavy), track six on Abbey Road.

Apparently, that’s the last song the Beatles – all four of them – recorded together.

The book – which seems oddly long for a Kindle Single – seems to be more a narrative of how & why the Beatles broke up, than of a particularl song.

That makes it something of a disappointment, since Why The Beatles Broke Up is one of those questions – like Who Shot JFK – so thoroughly investigated & argued, by so many people over so many decades, that nobody has anything new to say about it.

And, really, anyone still holding a grudge against Yoko Ono forty-five years later needs to let it go.

Recent reading

The other day, I bought The Year’s Best SF #1, edited by David G. Hartwell. I was between books, and this one was 99¢ on the Kindle store: a bargain.

I wonder, sometimes, about all those 99¢ Kindle books. Surely nobody involved makes any money, selling e-books so cheaply. (In all likelihood, 99¢ doesn’t even cover the cost of bandwidth to download it.) Maybe they’re loss leaders? Am I supposed to read The Year’s Best SF #1, then rush to buy the rest of the series?

They’re all 99¢, up to #11; then the price begins to creep upward. #18, published just last year, is full price ($9.99). I could buy the complete series, for about the price of a single hardcover edition. That’s quite a deal for me, but what’s in it for the publisher?

The first story in #1 is Think Like A Dinosaur, by James Patrick Kelly…which, as it turns out, I’d read once before: probably in Gardner Dozois’ Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirteenth Annual Collection, published in 1996, the same year as #1. (But I didn’t read it until late 1997.)

I suppose there’s always a bit of overlap between Dozois and Hartwell.

My Hartwell Number – if we can pretend for a moment that such a metric exists, and isn’t completely frivolous – is four: David G. Hartwell edits (has edited?) anthologies with Kathryn Cramer, who has (once had?) some kind of business connection with Stephen Wolfram, who owns the company I work for.

I suppose that says more about the three of them than it does about me, but I’ll take my self-esteem anywhere I can get it.

Mars, again

For the last month or so, I’ve been slogging through The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Third Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois.

It’s a big book. The dead-tree edition weighs in at 600+ pages, entirely too bulky to carry around.

The single-digit Annual Collections are all…um…collector’s items, and sell for $100 each. So even if I were willing to lug one around, I couldn’t afford to buy it.

The Kindle edition is only $6, and electrons are (more or less) weightless. So last August, flush with an Amazon gift card, I bought the first five Annual Collections.

I finished #1 in April, and #2 in June; I started #3 in July. They were all a bit dodgy, with occasional stories that to this reader qualified neither as science fiction nor as the year’s best. But I soldiered on, skipping only one story (a bloated mess of a tale from Avram Davidson).

Dozois likes to end his collections with something big, always novella-length & usually quite good. I was curious to find out what he had chosen for #3; but when I got there, it was…

Green Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson.

I tried to read Red Mars four years ago, and hated it. I wasn’t too thrilled at the prospect of more bloated, yet somehow empty & pointless narrative, but I tried to read Green Mars. I really tried.

But it was exactly the same: tedious people, doing uninteresting things, and all of it described with ten – no, make that twenty – times as many words as necessary. I gave up in disgust.

I think Kim Stanley Robinson’s position on my never-read-again list is now quite secure.


On May 6th, 1984, I began reading Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany.

It was, in fact, my second attempt; the first, in 1980, ran aground after one too many sex scenes. I had just turned seventeen, and masochistic homosexuality was a bit much for me.

Also on that day, I began keeping a list of the books I’ve read: date started, date finished, number of pages and (most important) the title.

At first, the list was handwritten, on sheets of loose-leaf paper held in a clipboard. (I used to have a half-dozen clipboards, one in almost every room. They’re all gone now, except one that never strays far from my desk. I wonder where they went.)

After a while, I converted the list to a text file on my computer. It’s been that way for a long time – probably twenty-five years, if not longer. It has migrated, with all my other files, to each new computer, but always as a simple text file. (I did have to convert the line endings from cr+lf to lf when I bought the iMac in 2006.)

Yesterday, though, I finally did the (obvious) thing, and imported the list to a Numbers document. This required a tiny Python script to convert the raw list to csv, plus a few manual fix ups, post-import: book titles like 1984 and 2001 were imported as numbers, not text.

So, my list is finally real, computable data, which is nice. And, courtesy of iCloud, it’s available on the iPad & iPhone, not just on the computer: how very 21st-century, etc.

(It tells me I’ve read 700+ books in the last twenty-eight years. That doesn’t seem like very many….)

Worlds enough, already

In 2009, I read Fleet of Worlds, by Larry Niven & Edward M. Lerner. It was…ok.

In 2010, I read Juggler of Worlds, also by Niven & Lerner. It was…somewhat less than ok. Well into meh territory.

In 2011, I declined to read Destroyer of Worlds and Betrayer of Worlds. The franchise had begun to smell a bit like Herbert & Anderson’s endless series of Dune novels: milk the fans for all they’ve got, quality of writing be damned.

Amazon tells me a fifth book is in the works: Fate of Worlds, which (apparently) picks up after Ringworld’s Children. It’s hard to care.


Poking around on Amazon just now, I noticed two titles, coming Real Soon Now:

Shadows in Flight, by Orson Scott Card, a sequel to Shadow of the Giant (which I read in 2005). Am I still interested in the endless Ender series? And do I really want to buy books written by an asshat? No, and no.

Sisterhood of Dune, by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, a sequel to…one or another of the nine-and-ninety Dune books Herbert & Anderson have cranked out over the last ten years. There are so many I can’t keep them straight, but I confess I have read only two: Dune: House Atreides (in 1999) and Dune: House Harkonnen (in 2000). They were so vile I refused to read any more.

…so I think neither of these will appear on my wishlist.

Review: The Girl On The Stairs: My Search For A Missing Witness To The Assassination Of John F. Kennedy

The Girl On The Stairs: My Search For A Missing Witness To The Assassination Of John F. Kennedy

The Girl On The Stairs: My Search For A Missing Witness To The Assassination Of John F. Kennedy by Barry Ernest
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Not so much an investigation into the Kennedy assassination as a narrative of the author’s obsession with the Kennedy assassination – in particular, with Victoria Adams, who watched from the fourth floor of the Texas School Book Depository.

Given the real focus of the book, critiquing the author’s investigative skills is probably unnecessary. Suffice it to say that he’s unorganized, and not very good at evaluating testimony (nor at reconciling conflicting testimony from multiple sources).

The quest for JFK’s death certificate made me laugh. It wasn’t where it should have been: stolen by the conspirators? Later, it turns up mixed in with some unrelated papers: hidden there by the conspirators? A footnote suggests that the conspirators couldn’t just destroy the death certificate, because that would be a federal offense.

The conspirators had already murdered the President. Why would they be afraid to shred a piece of paper?

JFK conspiracy theories are a rabbit-hole down which I refuse to jump. I won’t be reading any more books like this one.

P.S. Mr. Ernest has been known to do a little ego-surfing now & then. If you publish negative comments about his book, there’s a chance he’ll show up to argue with you.

A Criminal History of Mankind

Jeff Duntemann recently mentioned A Criminal History of Mankind by Colin Wilson; it sounded interesting, so I went looking for a copy.

The first edition was published in 1984; the second, in 2005. Both are out of print. Used copies apparently qualify as collectibles, and command absurd prices. Maybe I’m just a cheapskate, but I will not pay $190 to read this book.

I see that Scribd has a copy, but there’s no indication that the upload was approved either by the publisher or by the author. Given Scribd’s reputation for e-book piracy, it’s probably not safe to download.

The Champaign Public Library also claims to have a copy – two copies, actually. (One of each edition?) Perhaps I should dust off my long-neglected library card and go check out one of them.

Remember 1985, when everybody waited for the record companies to reissue their back catalogs on CD? The record companies were fixated on new releases; the older stuff trickled out, eventually. For some albums, I waited ten years to buy a CD.

We’re in the same situation now, with e-books – only worse, because publishers have less regard for their back catalog than record companies. They’ll publish a single edition – a few thousand copies – then lose interest. The book goes out of print, never to return.

Review: For Us, The Living

For Us, The Living

For Us, The Living by Robert A. Heinlein
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

As a novel, not very good: minimal plot, whole chapters devoted to rather tedious lectures on government, finance, etc., etc., blah blah blah.

As the unpublished first novel by Robert A. Heinlein, somewhat more interesting: For Us, the Living is full of scenes, characters and ideas that appear (greatly expanded) in Heinlein’s later fiction, so it was amusing to play spot-the-story: The Roads Must Roll, “If This Goes On–“, even Lazarus Long’s discussion of currency in Time Enough For Love.

For Us, the Living was Robert A. Heinlein’s last unpublished fiction. His remaining unpublished works are – I suspect – limited to grocery lists and birthday cards; perhaps we’ll be seeing an omnibus edition of them fairly soon….

View all my reviews

Review: Against All Things Ending

Against All Things Ending

Against All Things Ending by Stephen R. Donaldson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Given the title, you might expect Against All Things Ending would have something to do with the Worm of the World’s End, accidentally awakened at the end of the previous volume.

You’d be wrong about that. The Worm is mentioned now & then, in a We really ought to do something about that sort of way, but nothing ever comes of it.

Some random thoughts:

The book starts very slowly: the first four chapters span about thirty minutes. The overall pace of the book is somewhere between plodding and glacial.

There seemed to be too many characters, and not enough plot to keep them all busy. Too many scenes begin with a recital of who’s doing what, and most of the time none of it’s very interesting. (Donaldson must have felt the same way, because halfway through the book he killed off quite a few characters.)

The Deus ex Machina – excuse me, the Insequent – are even more annoying than the Elohim.

Even so, I’ll probably read book four, The Last Dark, when it’s published (in 2013, according to Wikipedia).