Thursday, March 31, 2011

Good-Bye Borders

The bell has rung, fat lady sang, etc.
Just had to post these pics of a local Borders', now closed. It had been a Dalton's, before that venerable mall chain was absorbed into the great limited edition machine. I think the same thing happened to Walden's, another mall chain of bookstores.
Still, a closed bookstore is a depressing thing.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mariposa and Quantico by Greg Bear

In the near future, the United States is threatened by bio-terror, state succession, religious fanatics, and bankruptcy. Sounds timely, no? Fortunately, a diverse group of FBI agents rise from their training to save the republic and set the stage for a New World Order.
Welcome to the latest two novels in "hard" science fiction writer Greg Bear's Queen of Angels series.
Bear has always been known for his cutting-edge science application to the craft of fiction. His characers are compelling, but not essential to the plot. Most of his books peak at a specific event which is crucial to the plot. In Mariposa and Quantico, he's ventured into Ken Follet territory by applying his style to contemporary thrillers. And by setting the books a few years into the future, he isn't stuck with creating a whole Brave New World. It works quite well, actually. I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the conclusion of each novel.
Major characters carry over from one book to the next. We are introduced to a team of stalwarts trying to complete their final training at the FBI center in Quantico: a Muslim american, the son of a famous FBI, among others. Bear seems most concerned with his heroic Muslim FBI agent, Fuad, making me wonder if he isn't saving the character for something bigger in future books. Most of the trainees reappear in the next book, Mariposa, as full-fledged agents.
Both books are exceptionally well-written and I'm looking for more in the series

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Stolen World by Jennie Smith

Two full-time jobs and various home remodeling projects have taken a toll on my reading, but never-less I endure.
I don't usually post about non-fiction books, unless they have something to do with the fiction I do read. However, Stolen World has the feel of a pulp adventure from the 1930's. In one volume you have reptile-obsessed collectors, fauna smugglers, and people risking death or imprisonment just to find the rarest of all snakes. I kept expecting Doc Savage to make an appearance and send all the perpetrators flying into the next chapter. Stranger yet, the events in this book start in the distant years of 1970 and continue to the present day.
Subtitled " A Tale of Reptiles, Smugglers, and Skulduggery", Stolen World is a book which focuses on the universe of people fascinated by snakes. Fascinated to the point of having their interests in our scaly friends dominate every aspect of their life. Fascinated to the extent of illegally importing rare iguanas at the risk of doing jail time. And some of them end up spending years behind bars.
Two men are the focus of this book: Hank Molt and Tommy Crutchfield. Molt started out selling Kraft Food products around Philadelphia, turned his herpetology hobby into a full time job, was imprisoned for importing endangered species, but bounced back again and again as a snake expert. Cructchfield ran a reptile emporium in Florida, fled the country to avoid charges against him for smuggling iguanas from Fiji, but is still a respected expert in his field. Along the way, we get to witness red boa hunts in the Dominican Republic and thefts of rare turtles.
What makes the book stand out is the author's fascination with her subjects. For all the wretchedness of them, these are people who truly love reptiles. The same man who can beat his own brother senseless can gaze in wonder at a small lizard. You can't help to be astonished reading about a man who figures out a way to care for rare African vipers.
I just wish the book came with some decent illustrations. It would have been nice to have seen a photo of a Fly River turtle. An index would've helped too.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Bring the Jubilee (1953) by Ward Moore

I am a sucker for a good alternative history novel. But the genre has been around so long that it's starting to get dull. Recently I picked up a novel by a noted SF writer about might have happened if the Nazis had lived to fight a guerrilla war against the victorious allies. I'm still trying to get into it. In the meantime, I did manage to finish one of the grandaddy of all "Lee Triumphant" books, Bring the Jubilee.
Known for his science fiction novels, Ward Moore, didn't publish much, but what he did get into print was top-notch. Greener Than You Think (previously reviewed) and Lot are both considered classics. Too bad he didn't turn out much after the 50's.
In Jubliee, the South has won the civil war. The book begins in the 1920's, but not our 1920's. Hodge Backmaker is recounting his strange life, how it began on a poor farm in upstate New York. The United States consists of all the Northern states in the civil war that the victorious South let them keep. While the imperial Confederacy has conquered most of central and south america, the US is mired in debt, corruption and illiteracy. Many people sell themselves into virtual slavery as indentured servants in the North. Slavery has been ended in the South, but full citizenship is restricted to actual descendants of the whites. Hodge manages to acquire a basic education on his own before heading to New York City.
In New York, he expands his literacy horizon by working for a bookstore. In his spare hours he visits the Haitian ambassador, whom he's met while delivering books. Much of this section is taken up with him discussing the concept of free will between his employer and the ambassador. After getting involved with a secret Unionist "lost cause" army, Hodge manages to make the journey to a scholars colony in the isolated town of Haggershaven near York, PA. There, he achieves renown as a Civil War historian, but his very fame will alter the past.
As with his other books, Moore has no qualms about using science and fantasy to crictize his present world. This is a fascinating novel which served as the touchstone for all alternate history works.