Sunday, June 16, 2013
Originally published in 1987.
I stepped away from Garrison Keillor for a while. I don't know why, but I forgot about Lake Wobegon for about 15 years. But, I have returned for the occasional visit for a couple of years now and I find that I missed these stories. Having grown up Lutheran in rural Indiana I find quite a connection with these stories.
Keillor melancholy yet heartwarming stories of the people in and around the fictional Minnesota town of Lake Wobegon are worth a re-visit if you have stayed away. Deft turns of the phrase like "Corinne doesn't believe in God, but there is some evidence to show that God believes in her. She has a gift to teach, a sacred gift. Fifteen years in dreary bluish-green classrooms, pacing as she talks, this solid woman carries a flame" (p. 23) make you nod your head in appreciation.
Towards the end, a couple from Lake Wobegon is trying to take a trip to Hawaii. Keillor's extended discussion on why the glamour of "paradise" is wasted on Minnesotans and how heaven will be just as wasted is great sly understated humor with a sweet comment that starts with: "My people aren't paradise people, but when God loves you, then everywhere is paradise enough." He ends with a long comment about love cemented in life's losses and tragedies "...will last because it has endured so much already." (p. 218)
My laugh out loud moment in the book came during the story of Larry the Sad Boy who was saved twelve times in the Lutheran church. It rings true to this lifelong Lutheran and I had to immediately run and read it to my wife who also laughed out loud. A great paragraph that gently skewers and defends the unbending Lutheran outlook on life.
I have noticed that every comment I wrote was about a religious passage. I marked a few pages as I read and they all happened to have this theme. This book is not really a religious book but religion is a clear part of it.
I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on June 16, 2013.
Friday, June 14, 2013
Originally Published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact in September of 2010.
Winner of the Nebula Award for Best Novelette.
Nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novelette.
I found this unique science fiction short story by Eric James Stone with my kindle, one of those happy accidents you sometimes get when you surf around on Amazon.
The story is about a funds manager for CitiAmerica who is stationed at the sun. Actually, just inside of the sun (but not too far in, that would be dangerous!). Stars are used to create interstellar portals - those portals require so much energy that only stars can provide them. So, our fund manager, Harry Stein, is located at the sun because he gets the news from other systems about eight-and-a-half minutes before funds managers on Earth (news can only travel as fast as the speed of light).
Harry is a Mormon and is the "branch president" of the Sol Central Mormon congregation. He has six human members and forty-six swale members. Swales are very large plasma life forms that live in stars and have been travelling from star to star for a hundred thousand years. Swales live hundreds of years and the younger swales have an interest in humans and, apparently, Mormonism
A swale member approaches Stein and asks for help with a situation. This swale has been forced to have sex with another swale. Humans would call it rape. Swales have no such concept. As Stein starts talking to human experts he finds that he must talk to Leviathan, the oldest and biggest swale of all...
What I liked about this book is that the author did not do what so many science fiction authors assume would happen - human religion would collapse at the time of contact with an alien species. Sure, there are some superficial changes, such as the Mormon Church having to re-write some passages to account for the swales having three genders, but the essence of Mormon theology is left so intact that there are missionaries (you know, those nice young men with the white shirts and the ties on bicycles) sent to the newest mission field of all - the sun.
I also like the humor of Harry Stein. He is a layman who is doing his best in the strangest of situations. Plus, he's very aware that there are precious few women that he could date on Sol Central Station, let alone Mormon women. He sadly notes that there are no unmarried Mormon women within 90,000,000 miles in any direction! But, the solcetologist (person who studies swales) who thinks that the Mormons should leave the swales alone is single and awfully attractive...
Like I noted above, this short story was a pleasant surprise. I am not Mormon, but you do not have to be Mormon to follow along with this story.
I rate this story 5 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on June 14, 2013.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Seemed like Stout was looking for ways to stretch a good story
|Rex Stout (1886-1975)|
If you are not familiar with Nero Wolfe, let me introduce you. Nero Wolfe is an obese genius who solves mysteries but rarely leaves his New York City Brownstone home. His true passions are meticulously prepared meals, orchids and keeping to his routine. Instead of leaving his home and doing the legwork himself, he has several trusted and talented investigators who serve as his eyes and ears. The Nero Wolfe stories are told by Archie Goodwin, Wolfe's number one employee.
Goodwin is an interesting character himself. He is Wolfe's employee, but not a toady. He speaks his mind, sometimes too freely. He is flippant, clever, tough and quite the ladies man. If you are a fan of Robert B. Parker's Spenser books, you will quickly recognize the enormous debt that Parker owed to Rex Stout.
The Silent Speaker is the first post-World War II Nero Wolfe mystery. There are numerous references to Wolfe's exertions on behalf of the Allies during the war. During the war (both in reality and in Nero Wolfe's universe) the American government instituted a series of price controls to try to control inflation and insure that an appropriate amount of resources were sent to the war effort and also to the civilian sector. In Wolfe's universe, it is 1946 and the Bureau of Price Regulation is slowly releasing its hold on the economy. If it releases too fast, it could trigger a recession or a depression. But, if the National Industrial Association is very sure that it is releasing its grip far too slowly.
When the Director of the Bureau of Price Administration is found dead backstage just before he is to give a major policy speech and present his plans to the gathered members of the National Industrial Association, it looks like an open and shut case of a free market fanatic killing the government regulator. But, which member of the NIA was it? There was a room full of them. Or, did internal government politics inspire murder?
This is my third Nero Wolfe story and I would have to rank it my third favorite. The premise was clever, Archie had plenty of good lines and Nero Wolfe is actually forced to leave his house at one point. But, the story just dragged in the middle while Wolfe was casting around for any sort of clues. Goodwin was left out of most of the heavy lifting and since the story is told through him the reader is left with too many tales of sitting around the house waiting for things to happen. Throw in the way too forced "nervous breakdown" episode and it seemed like Stout was looking for ways to stretch the book.
However, it will not deter me from reading other books in the series.
I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on June 12, 2013.
Monday, June 10, 2013
Can't Miss for Fans of Garrison Keillor
Published in February of 2013 by HighBridge Audio.
Duration: 1 hour, 9 minutes
NPR's "A Prairie Home Companion" has an extensive collection of audio CDs based on lots of different themes, including skits that highlight certain regular actors on the show. This CD focuses on Sue Scott, an actress with a versatile voice and an admirable repertoire of characters to draw upon. She has been a member of the cast since 1992 and is the only female member so she gets a real workout.
This CD has 14 different tracks. Some are laugh-out-loud funny, some are merely amusing. Altogether, this is a very solid hour of listening and a sure thing for any fan of Garrison Keillor.
Disclosure: I was sent a complimentary copy of this CD by the publisher through the Audiobook Jukebox Solid Gold Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.
I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on June 10, 2013.
Fantastic Narration by Jonathan Davis
Published by Harper Audio in April of 2013
Performed by Jonathan Davis
Duration: 8 hours, 10 minutes
There are two plots at work in this novel. Dana Cutler, appearing in her fourth novel is hired for a bizarre cross country case involving a 500-year-old scepter from the Ottoman Empire. The other story involves fashionable couple Horace and Carrie Blair. Horace Blair is a multi-millionaire international businessman and Carrie is much younger and is a career-focused prosecutor. When Carrie disappears, Horace is charged with her murder and eventually these two stories come together with a true sociopath and that's when the book starts to move.
The best part of this audiobook was the performance of the reader, Jonathan Davis. He told the story (the narration part) with a variety voices, sometimes ironic, sometimes earnest, sometimes neutral. His character voices were excellent. He covered a wide variety of characters - Hispanic, African American, Russian, old, young, male and female - with a great deal of skill. It was like having a whole crew of actors reading the book.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on June 10, 2013.
Friday, June 7, 2013
Incorrectly Named and a Rather Disjointed Effort
Published by Thunder's Mouth Press in 2006
Full disclosure: I am a huge fan of the Indy 500. I have been to every 500 since 1986 and I live within earshot of the track. I have whiled away many a day at the track watching qualifications, practice or just going through the gift shop during the winter when the track is silent.
I was dimly aware that a Chicago gangster had fielded an entry in the Indy 500 in the 1930's so I hoped that this book would tell that story. And it does, but the title of the book makes it sound like Umbrella Mike (Mike Boyle, the crooked boss of Chicago's International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) somehow saved the race or even financed the construction of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
He did not.
|Wilbur Shaw in 1939 in one of the Boyle Maseratis. |
He won the 1939 Indy 500 in this car.
Photo courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society
The title also gives the impression that the book is primarily about Umbrella Mike while I would argue that the book is really about the Indy 500 and auto racing in general in the 1930's, especially the late 1930's. That was fine with me, I mostly enjoyed the digressions away from Umbrella Mike. I especially was amazed with the story of the American-born woman living in France who so desperately wanted to field an Indy 500 team that she smuggled a Maserati race car out of Fascist Italy, across embattled France and into Fascist Spain to be smuggled out to America. Then, she got a driver released from his duties in the French Army and got him out to America as well.
Mostly, though, this book was a chore to read because of its herky-jerky nature such as switched topics with no segues, super-clumsy attempts to tie in what was happening in World War II and American politics.
Even worse, was Yates insistence on repeating himself. Often he would say something and than say it again. He would write about it and then write about it again . Then, he would write about it again. At times, he would mention something and then at other times he would mention it all over again like it was the first time.
If the preceding paragraph was annoying, imagine a whole book full of it and you can see why I am rating this book 3 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on June 7, 2013