Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Some Books I've Read Lately

  • Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome - Laugh out loud funny, from his incisive skewering of mendacious anglers to slothful fellow boaters to "scenic" graveyards, Jerome spins a comic travelogue as he and two pals, along with his dog Montmorency, take a trip up the River Thames. The book was written in 1889, the height of Victorian propriety, but it has a bash at every sacred cow of the era--and was all the more successful for it. Amusing situations, humorous phraseology, biting social commentary and wicked sarcasm all take their turn, perhaps more evenly than the narrator thinks he takes his turn in skulling or pulling. Highly recommended for the Anglophile, lover of delicious language, or boater.
  • These Are The Voyages: TOS series One-Two-Three by Marc Cushman - The three volumes of this series equate to the three seasons of the original Star Trek series. The main feature of the books is a blow-by-blow account of the conception, writing, pre-production and making of each of the 79 episodes. Included for each are key changes in each script during its development, some contemporary critics' reviews, memories of guest actors, and original TV viewership ratings reports (contrary to popular lore, ST:TOS did not languish at the bottom of the ratings, it was usually in the top thirty for the week). The books are well-illustrated, and also have numerous forays into the zeitgeist, from what was on TV the night before an episode began shooting, the #1 song on the radio and political events to "Save Star Trek" write-in campaigns. Must reading for Trekkies, and maybe reading for people interested in TV production.
  • The Ark Royal trilogy (Ark Royal, The Nelson Touch, The Trafalgar Gambit) by Christopher Nuttall - Some time in the future, earth (aka humanity) has advanced to the point of interstellar travel and colonization, thanks to FTL technology called tramlines. Sadly, humans retain the blinkered political apparatus of nationhood as they do so. Starship defenses are geared toward their earth-based competition, and thereby utterly inadequate to an attack by a more advanced alien race from beyond humanity's sphere of influence. All the starships except one--the Ark Royal, an early prototype, slow, cumbersome, but well-clad. When the sleeker, faster, less well-protected craft are shattered by the superior aliens, the Ark Royal and its drunkard captain, left like her to fade away, suddenly become the last hope. Three improbable missions, one for each volume. If you like this kind of story, this is the kind of story you'll like: interesting technology, tactical warfare blow-by-blow, professional triumph over personal demons, in-the-ranks sexual peccadilloes, an English prince as undercover hero, and aquatic aliens with super-moist spacecraft.
  • The Worst Motorcycle in Laos by Chris Tharp - Travelogue by an ESL teacher in Korea. This is a guy who really took advantage of his vacations from teaching, traveling the farthest-flung of places, doing the strangest mix of things. His travels are enviable. He is at least adequate with language and description throughout, but somehow doesn't make me feel the places he goes, or like the people he goes with or meets when he's there (well, except for Smokin' Joe).
  • Breakthrough by Michael C Grumley - A strange mix of Special Forces derring-do, alien visitation and/or exploitation, and communication with dolphins. The story is always a bit over-the-top, but a good read, until right near the end when the good guys engineer an-earth-destroying tsunami expressly to ... well, I don't want to give it away.
  • The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins - I had heard the name of this guy for years, so I finally picked up one of his books--electronically (A great thing about e-books is that public domain texts are actually free, due to the absence of printing costs.) Published in 1872, this is an early entry in the murder mystery genre. It is slow-moving in a way typical of Victorian-era fare, but interesting enough to keep me going. British Lord Montbarry throws over his English love and marries a mysterious European Countess. He dies while honeymooning in Venice, and his rooms in the palace they rented appear haunted. Whose body was shipped back to England and whose apparition appears in the hotel?
  • The Trimmed Lamp and Other Stories by O. Henry - O. Henry was a master of "cuckoo clock" stories, along with Guy de Maupassant. My sixth grade textbook (I mean the one I use here in Korea) made numerous references to the story "The Last Leaf". The stories here are all well-written, precisely characterized, and crowned with a smart twist that can still surprise and delight a hundred years later.
  • The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson; translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles - This guy spins a tale that requires some serious suspension of disbelief, but the reader who buys in is richly rewarded. Nombeko is born and raised in the infamous Soweto township of Johannesburg, absconds with a fortune in diamonds, but becomes a virtual slave of an Afrikaans nuclear scientist after he runs her over on the sidewalk while drunk (apartheid worked like that). Later, she finds herself in Sweden with South Africa's missing nuclear bomb, in love with one of two brothers whose father had a lifelong obsession with bringing down the King of Sweden. Oh, and there's an elephant, a pillow factory and an American who digs an escape tunnel because he thinks the CIA is after him.

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