Sigh. Looks like it’s been almost a month since my last post here: too much work and not enough reading time (along with not picking up anything I’ve really been inspired to finish). However, in a convenient coincidence, I just found out that one of the books I mentioned in my last post, Under the Wire, by William Ash and Brendan Foley, has just been released as a Kindle e-book. Better yet, it’s available via the Amazon Prime lending library, so I think I may be downloading it soon for my December “freebie”.
From the Amazon.com blurb:
The bestselling true story of an American Spitfire pilot and legendary prisoner of war escape artist.
Bill Ash went from hobo to hero as he joined up via Canada to fly Spitfires for the RAF in 1940. Shot down over France in 1942, the Resistance helped him on the run until the Gestapo caught and tortured him, then sentenced him to death as a spy. He was rescued on the eve of his execution by the Luftwaffe and put in legendary Great Escape camp Stalag Luft III. Bill thanked his captors by escaping a dozen times, over the wire with ladders, under the wire in tunnels or sometimes straight though it with home made wire cutters. Bill became one of the greatest ‘escape artists’ of the war, risking all for that elusive ‘home run’. Bill Ash was the real life ‘Cooler King’ a role portrayed by Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, but as Bill pointed out “In the real war, there was never a motorbike around when you needed one,”
Bill’s adventures took him from the United States to Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Poland and Lithuania. He was described by one reviewer as “a cross between Huck Finn and Jack Kerouak on a wild, unauthorized tour of Occupied Europe”. This e-book edition is published to celebrate Bill’s 95th birthday.
While I’m not particularly a fan of video promos for books, since it’s in the spirit of the season and for such a good memoir, here you go…
Happy birthday and Merry Christmas, Mr. Ash! (And thanks for the heads up, Mr. Foley.)
As we approach the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, I am reminded that my father would have just turned 86 yesterday if he were still alive. He joined the US Navy late in 1944, going straight from boot camp to radar school to radar school instructor, and luckily never saw any combat. This then made me realize that there probably are not a whole lot of veterans of World War II left to share their memories, and the pool will only continue to shrink. As such, I thought I might take a moment to recommend a few WW-II memoirs my readers might find interesting.
Always Faithful, by William Putney — a fascinating account of the creation of a US Marine War Dog unit and its eventual use in the invasion of Guam, told by the unit’s veterinary officer (and a man who obviously loved his canine troops). Perhaps my favorite part is the post-war section where he worked hard to return as many as possible of the (surviving) dogs back to civilian life.
Under the Wire: The World War II Adventures of a Legendary Escape Artist and “Cooler King”, by William Ash, co-written with Brendan Foley (not enKindled) — the personal account of the man who was the basis for Steve McQueen’s character in the movie “The Great Escape”. I found the early part of the book recounting his time surviving the end of The Great Depression as fascinating as the bulk of the remainder of the book recounting his military experiences, much of them as a prisoner of war.
Stuka Pilot, by Hans Rudel — Some readers may have a problem with this book in that it is never apologetic about Hitler nor the invasion of the Soviet Union. However, it is an often gripping account by a man who is considered to have been the most highly decorated member of the German military in WW-II. He was shot down over two dozen times, but just kept coming back for more (sometimes after escaping from behind enemy lines).
Company Commander, by Charles MacDonald (not enKindled) — Recounts the experiences of MacDonald as a US infantry company commander in western Europe, seeing action in the Huertgen Forest and then The Battle of the Bulge. It’s been quite some time since I read this, but I remember feeling I was in the mud and snow with him and his troops.
PS: I always use any excuse to post this image of the war dog memorial on Guam that the author of Always Faithful worked so hard to help establish:
According to a report filed by Reuters, it looks like Apple and several associated e-book publishers will be agreeing to a settlement that would allow Amazon to discount e-books in Europe, ending the alleged price-fixing that prevented Amazon from undercutting Apple’s prices.
Apple and the publishers offered in September to let retailers set their own prices or discounts for a period of two years, and also to suspend “most-favored nation” contracts for five years.
Such clauses bar Simon & Schuster, News Corp. unit HarperCollins, Lagardere SCA’s Hachette Livre and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck, the owner of German company Macmillan, from making deals with rival retailers to sell e-books more cheaply than Apple.
The agreements, which critics say prevent Amazon and other retailers from undercutting Apple’s charges, sparked an investigation by the European Commission in December last year.
Pearson Plc’s Penguin group, which is also under investigation, did not take part in the offer.
This seems to indicate a trend moving us away from the so-called “agency model” whereby the publisher would set the price and the retailer (e.g. Amazon) had no ability to discount the final retail price.
Hal Spacejock, by Simon Haynes, is a fast-paced, light-hearted romp centered around the pilot of a tramp space freighter with the unlikely title name. He falls (often literally) into one hapless and hopeless situation after another, along with assorted robotic (and about equally inept) friends while being chased by assorted do-badders with an almost equal degree of ineptitude.
While the writing is generally fine and easy to breeze through, the lack of any meat on the bones in terms of satire or some underlying theme left it feeling like empty calories to me. (Hmm…what’s up with the recent food metaphors and me?). While our Hal is not an anti-hero, he really doesn’t have any particularly redeeming features, either — other than being basically good (though not averse to breaking the law when it won’t hurt anyone else who doesn’t deserve to be hurt). With the humor being mostly slapstick or otherwise fairly sophomoric (sorry any 2nd-year high schoolers, nothing personal), it felt closer to Benny Hill or The Three Stooges than the more sophisticated satire of Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett. Mind you: Benny Hill used to be a regular guilty pleasure of mine, though I never got into Larry, Moe, or Curly.
If you like your humor quick, easy, and cheap (it’s free right now at Amazon, anyway — presumably to suck you into the sequels), give it a shot. I, however, probably will not be partaking of any second course.
I was emailed by someone representing the English editions of Chinese author Liu Cixin to see if they could send me a free e-book so that I’d review it here. The idea piqued my interest, but since his short story The Longest Fall (or is it long enough to be a novella…I’m not sure what the demarcation is) was available for free at the time, I decided to read that, instead, as a quick taste that would not have me feeling in any way beholden to them (not that I really would have, mind you).
Anyway, I found it to be quite an enjoyable little read, reminding me to some extent of Asimov in its efficient prose and explanatory dialogues, if perhaps a bit darker in tone. Of course, I don’t know how much of the style should be attributed to the translator, Holger Nahm, but I will say that he or she did what appears to be a very good job: there was maybe one or two minor glitches that looked to me like a possible mistranslation, but most of the time it seemed seamless to me; the only clues that it was originally in Chinese being most of the proper nouns and some of the political subtext.
I’m not going to waste your time talking a lot about the actual story, since you can read it yourself in about the same amount of time it will take me to write this post (probably only a slight exaggeration for the faster readers). Here’s the blurb:
It was an idea right on the thin line between madness and genius: Penetrate the Earth and build a tunnel through its core. Using nothing beyond gravity and inertia one could now travel from the eastern to the western hemisphere in less than an hour. The future of travel was not the sky, it was deep below the earth. It all came crashing down when its inventor was accused of crimes against humanity. With its creator a monster in the eyes of the world the tunnel has fallen into disuse, but now it will be used once more …
For me, it was a spicy little appetizer that has me interested in trying one of his novels as an entree. As it appears they are all available for free via the Amazon Prime lending library, I suppose I could further extend the metaphor with some crack about getting more for your money than a Chinese buffet…but I shall resist the temptation.
Unless you’re living the life of a hermit in a cave (and if so, how are you reading this?), you know that Hurricane Sandy just head-butted New Jersey and threw a round-house right hook at New York. I watched a raging torrent flow up my street Monday evening, but fortunately my apartment complex’s foundation is high enough that no apartments got flooded (as far as I know), and I’m on the 3rd floor in any case. However, I was without power from then until early this evening (Thursday), as was my place of work, too.
The good news: I own a Paperwhite Kindle, so reading in the dark was a breeze, and the battery life was excellent. (I used my old Kindle 3 during the daylight hours to distribute the battery load, plus I have a few games on it I could play as a change of pace.) Between that and having some time on my hands, I got a fair bit of reading done, so I hope to post at least a couple reviews here this weekend.
I sincerely hope all my readers who also were in Sandy’s path have come through as well as I have — though I suspect at least a few must have suffered much worse, and my heart goes out to you.
The IPR Bureau (whose motto is “Democracy imposed from without is the severest form of tyranny”) works to bring newly discovered planets up to the point where they have a planetary democratic government and then induct them into the galactic federation. Unfortunately, the planet Furnil offers problems. The continent of Kurr has a well-entrenched monarchy, and the citizens seem little inclined to change. In fact, they immerse themselves in art rather than politics…and have been doing so for more than 400 years! So what’s a poor IPR agent to do…?
It’s not just language and style that differentiates it from today’s descendants, but its size, too. In a time when novel writers seem to be compelled to write books that are at a minimum 600 pages long with at least 3 different major plot lines and more important characters than a standard keyboard; it was like a breath of fresh air to read a novel that barely fills out 200 pages, has only one plot line, and does not require a scorecard to track all the characters. Not being a speed reader by any means, I was still able to finish it in three evening reading sessions (a sharp contrast to Pandora’s Star, which was the last book I read and about five times as long).
I think “Trumpets” made a bigger impression on me the first time I read it, as at that time it was possibly the first science fiction book I read that was not about rockets, robots, and technology; but was instead more centered on social sciences, so to speak. The only descriptions of any detail about hardware were the descriptions of musical instruments (acoustic, not electronic), architecture, and paintings. Sure, there is mention of interplanetary travel, at least one “ray gun” makes an appearance, and a stealth airplane of sorts plays a role: but mostly it’s just people and, eventually, trumpets (for which I have a soft spot). If a quick, somewhat retro read sounds like fun to you, then I highly recommend it; while if you really prefer long tomes with intricate plots and character interactions along with verbose descriptions of scenes and science, you might find it too terse and simplistic.
I finished Peter F. Hamilton’s Pandora’s Star last night, and I guess the good news is that it’s the sort of book that would make me stay up way past my usual bed time in order to finish it. The only bad news of sorts might be for anyone who has not yet made the jump to e-books, as in paper form it’s about 1000 pages — the kind of thing that can give you hand/wrist cramps if you’re not careful. I also found it to be an almost refreshing alternative to a lot of current science fiction which seems to center around a relatively near future dystopias and/or virtual reality becoming more important than, umm…, real reality. Instead, Pandora’s Star supposes that some critical scientific and technological advances (in particular the ability to travel across interstellar space via generated worm-holes) have led to a relatively benign human society, perhaps somewhat matured by the fact that people are able to live for hundreds of years and thus developing a different perspective on life and assorted social issues.
That’s not to say that virtual reality does not play a part, nor that there aren’t societal problems — one of the main characters is a “serious crimes” detective, after all. Overall, however, there is a sense of not needing to fear the future; though like today we’ll still need to watch out for the rich and powerful (which generally go hand in hand) trying to become richer and more powerful at the expense of others. And, as any good sci-fi story of this sort demonstrates, we’ll need to look out for alien races who can’t just get along; not necessarily because they’re evil, per se, but because they may have evolved in a way where what we consider to be “right” makes no sense to them. In this sense Pandora’s Star harkened back to the so-called golden era of science fiction when many of its practitioners looked to the future with anticipation rather than with trepidation.
My only real complaints are that I found some of the underlying scientific and technological ideas to be more on the convenient side (for storytelling) than on the side of what I suspect is more realistic (the aforementioned wormhole generators, for one), and the ending was a bit of a disappointment for me, as it ended on a literal cliffhanger. Even though I knew there was a sequel (Judas Unchained), after reading a thousand pages, I want some sort of ending with a certain sense of resolution, even if I realize it’s not the end of the story. So be warned: if you read this book, you’re likely going to have to read at least another 1000 pages. (In fact, there are more books in the series, but my understanding is that the second book does conclude the story started in the frist, so you could comfortably stop there — or at least take a hiatus before coming back to the series later.)
I was pleasantly surprised today to notice that Lloyd Biggle Jr.’s The Still, Small Voice of Trumpets is now available for Kindle. I had actually just been checking to see if maybe any used print copies were available, after a thread on the KindleBoards forum made me think about it. At only $3.19, I quickly made use of the one-click-purchase button.
It may be a couple weeks until I get a chance to [re-]read it, but I wanted to post something here on the off chance anyone else might have read it way back when and be as interested as I am in seeing how well it holds up today. I guess it’s been about 40 years (!) since I picked it up in our local library and immediately found myself immersed in a fascinating story. It was probably the first science fiction novel I read that was more about societal and psychological issues than about technology and action — and it was about trumpets, too! (My degree is in Music Ed., and my performance instrument was the trumpet.)
I’ll report back here as soon as I get a chance to re-read it, and let those of you who now will be waiting impatiently with the proverbial bated breath (and hopefully not with baited breath) whether or not it had the same impact on me as it did four decades ago.
After the relative disappointment that was The Long Earth (which may have suffered from being a collaboration that just didn’t work), Terry Pratchett seems to be back in fine form with his latest novel Dodger. This is a departure from his highly popular Discworld series, instead being a dip into the historical fiction waters (or “historical fantasy” as he calls it, though it certainly is not a member of the fantasy genre), probably closest to his YA novel Nation, though perhaps not quite as YA.
The story takes place in Victorian London, where our hero Dodger, a young “tosher” who up until now made his living by scavenging in the sewers, starts by saving a damsel in distress and ends up interacting with numerous historical (and at least one fictional) characters, including “Charlie” Dickens, while looking to solve a mystery and make said damsel safe for good. Along the way, this reader, at least, learned a bit of history — being able to jump onto Wikipedia and Google on your e-reader can make this sort of book even more fun/educational. I found Sir Terry’s writing to be right up there with the best of his books, a welcome return from the much drier and less image-generating text of the aforementioned The Long Earth. Probably the only things that did not completely click for me were the title character being perhaps too good at too many things, and there being not much of an underlying theme: more of just an exposition on how the divide between lower and upper classes was probably greater back then.
Nit-picking aside, anyone who likes Victorian era historical fiction should enjoy this, as will any Pratchett fans willing to step outside of the Fantasy/Sci-Fi genres.