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fidficus (Chicago, IL USA)

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Angels & Demons
Angels & Demons
by Dan Brown
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.99
442 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Non-Stop Thrills, Oct. 1 2003
Angels & Demons is the kind of book that only succeeds for me if I find it difficult to put down while reading. From this standpoint, this is a great book. It reads easily, has an engaging story, and doesn't lack for thrills, action, mystery, plot twists, interesting settings, and a palatable (i.e. very slight) amount of romance. For those looking for a bit more depth, Brown has even provided a few thought-provoking comments on the state of Roman Catholicism.
If I have any objection to the story it's that the ending is a bit much. It makes for thrilling reading, but I felt a bit overwhelmed after the fourth or fifth plot twist. Other readers' tolerance for wild endings will surely differ from mine.

The Skylark of Space
The Skylark of Space
by E. E. "Doc" Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.78
23 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Smith Sizzles, May 16 2003
This review is from: The Skylark of Space (Paperback)
Brilliant scientist Richard Seaton builds the first (many times) faster than light spaceship and travels the universe with a band of friends. Along the way he saves a race of aliens, helps decimate another, rescues his girlfriend and thwarts the misdoings of his arch rival Marc DuQuesne.
This is the first E.E. Smith book I've read and I must say that for the type of book that it is, The Skylark of Space isn't too bad. Think old school comic books. It has high adventure, a smart/strong/handsome protagonist, a loyal sidekick, gee whiz technology, an extremely evil bad guy, and pretty girls. For a large part of the book, the story is fairly interesting. Smith moves the action along quickly and provides a respectable amount of tension to the drama. Even though I knew everything would turn out fine in the end, I still wanted to know how Smith would accomplish it. At a short 159 pages, it was a quick and fun diversion.
The Skylark of Space is not, however, without issues. Many of them are given: flat, completely unreal characters, rigid gender roles, featherweight science, wildly campy. I won't fault the book for these sorts of things. It's a product of its time that targeted a specific audience.
What I do want to point out is that Smith treats war very lightly. Although this book was completed in 1920, Smith revised it in 1958. It's surprising to me that even though Smith had seen the effects of two world wars, mass destruction of life is a very casual act in his book.
For those of you who aren't already huge Doc Smith fans, you'll probably enjoy this book if you know what you're getting into. Understand that it doesn't hold up very well under careful (or even casual) scrutiny. But, for what it is, Smith wrote a great book.

Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was
Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was
by Barry Hughart
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 8.54
41 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Add fantasy and slapstick. Throw in a pinch of history., April 27 2003
The children of the small village of Ku-fu fall into a deathly coma. It's up to Number Ten Ox to save them. He enlists the help of Li Kao and the two travel all over China in an adventure that turns into much more than either bargained for.
I honestly can't really find any faults with this book. Perhaps it's because I've never read anything quite like it before. It's 70% fantasy, 25% slapstick and 5% historical fiction. The main focus is on the plot and in this regard, Hughart has done a bang up job weaving a bizarrely entertaining tale. The quirky characters add spice to the already zesty story and the plot elements (gods, eternal life, ghosts, treasure, labyrinthine castles, flying machines, invisible monsters) have a wonderful ancient Chinese spin on them.
My only regret is that I don't know more about ancient China to find out how much of the book is based on real customs and places.

The Demolished Man
The Demolished Man
by Alfred Bester
Edition: Paperback
17 used & new from CDN$ 0.92

5.0 out of 5 stars Tight, Engaging Story, Dec 15 2002
This review is from: The Demolished Man (Paperback)
Powerful corporate executive Ben Reich attempts to get away with murder. He's opposed by mind reading police detective Lincoln Powell.
This book was a pleasure to read. Bester has a wonderful, crisp writing style that lends itself well to his quick-moving plot. Plot is the real focus of this story. Bester explores both the characters of Reich and Powell, but he never does so at the expense of the story.
Mind reading is Bester's key conceit in "The Demolished Man". In Reich's world, Espers, as they're called, are ranked into one of three groups based on their mind reading ability. Much of the plot revolves around both of the main characters trying to use mind reading to their advantage. Powell relies chiefly on his innate mind-reading ability, while Reich obtains the help of other Esper characters. Bester does a fantastic job of integrating this main concept into his story.
I always derive some amusement from the technology imagined in older sci-fi novels. For instance, why do the humans who have developed the technology to take quick flights to the moons of Jupiter, still use computers that read and write via tape?
Too many modern sci fi/fantasy authors write slow-moving, bloated books. The Demolished Man is the exact opposite -- succinct, fast paced, and engaging. I highly recommend it.

A Princess of Mars
A Princess of Mars
by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 7.19
13 used & new from CDN$ 0.77

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars You Had To Be There, Nov. 25 2002
This review is from: A Princess of Mars (Paperback)
Virginian John Carter is mysteriously zapped from the Arizona desert to the planet Mars. Adventures ensue.
I'd definitely lump this book into the Fantastic Fiction category. The word "Mars" in the title tempted me to think that Burroughs was making an early attempt at sci-fi. However, the location just allowed him to make his technology, character physiology, and sociology more outlandish.
The story is colossally silly. If that were it's only fault I would be more understanding, but the book (especially the first half) is quite boring. "Tarzan of the Apes" is also quite absurd, but it never becomes boring.
My key objection is that Burroughs spends far too much time on anthropological exposition. I could forgive him if the verbose explanations of Martian culture truly added something to the story. They don't.
Admittedly, the book becomes more action-oriented in the second half. Burroughs does have a knack for writing action but unfortunately that's about all the book has going for it. The book uses a ludicrous plot, uninspired setting and cardboard cutouts for characters.
I'm in my mid 20s and I just read this book for the first time. I have a very strong feeling that I would have enjoyed A Princess of Mars much more if either (1) I had I been younger when I first read it, or (2) I had read it closer to its original publication date.
Yes, it's a classic, but from my perspective, that doesn't make it a good read. I'm perfectly happy to read books for mindless entertainment. This one just isn't entertaining. If you want to read it for nostalgic purposes or to gain a historical perspective of sci-fi, go for it. Otherwise, skip it. If you'd like to try another Burroughs book, read "Tarzan of the Apes". I found it infinitely more entertaining.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
by Philip K. Dick
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.00
69 used & new from CDN$ 3.20

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Protagonist, Compelling Setting, Nov. 23 2002
"Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" describes a day in the life of Rick Deckard, android bounty hunter. The story takes place on a future Earth. The planet is dying and many people have moved to off-world colonies. Most earth flora and fauna has died and therefore the remaining humans aspire to own as many real animals as possible. In a pinch, even an android animal will do (as long as no one finds out). The law forbids humanoid androids from living on Earth. On this particular day, Deckard is charged with "retiring" five highly advanced androids.
I found this book difficult to nail down. Perhaps it was because I've seen the movie "Blade Runner" many times and kept making comparisons between the book and movie. The plot, while interesting, really just provides a framework for Dick to explore Deckard's character as Deckard struggles with issues of his own humanity. This is made more obvious at the end of the book when Deckard and another character have strange quasi-mystical experiences. I re-read the last few chapters a couple times to see if I could figure out exactly what Dick was getting at. He lost me.
I still enjoyed the book. Deckard is an interesting character living in a compelling post-apocalyptic world. If you're a big fan of the movie, you'll enjoy reading the story that inspired it.

Shogun
Shogun
by James Clavell
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 10.82
148 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Thank You Mr. Clavell, Nov. 10 2002
This review is from: Shogun (Mass Market Paperback)
John Blackthorne, English pilot of a Dutch ship, is shipwrecked on Japan with a few members of his crew in the year 1600. As he learns about Japanese society and forms relationships, he slowly becomes involved in high level political intrigue under the watch of powerful Japanese daimyo Toranaga.
Within the historical context that Clavell lays out, the book works very well. However, since I know nothing about historical Japan, I had to accept Clavell's assumption that Japanese society of the time was sophisticated but extremely violent.
The characters are very believable. Blackthorne starts out appalled by various Japanese customs and slowly begins to accept them. While never wholly embracing all that's going on around him, he understands it and can work with it to his advantage. Toranaga is a brilliant political and military tactician who understands his own limitations and has a high regard for his vassals. Mariko (a key character and Blackthorne's love interest) is torn between duty and desire. Father Alvito (the main Jesuit priest) seems at first to be the archetypal evil Christian missionary, but by the end he's portrayed as a much more sympathetic character.
The plot is interesting and moves quickly. In spite of a large cast and a sprawling story (covering 1100+ pages), Clavell does a good job of keeping it all together. Since it took me a long time to finish the book, I sometimes lost track of the minor characters, but in the end it didn't really matter. All of the writing in "Shogun" was worth reading. Clavell didn't write long, needlessly descriptive passages and he still managed to capture my imagination completely.
My main objection to the book is the ending. It was too abrupt -- almost as if Clavell was completely caught up in the story and suddenly decided (or was told) to wrap it up in the next 50 pages. A few people have commented on how they didn't want the book to end. I wanted to the book to end, but wasn't entirely happy with the ending given to me.
That being said, I do recommend "Shogun". It's definitely one of the best historical fiction books I've read.

Tarzan of the Apes
Tarzan of the Apes
by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.49
55 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Burroughs Delivers, Nov. 1 2002
A ship's mutiny forces a young noble English couple to live on the African coast. They have a child and then die a short time later. Their infant son is adopted by an ape mother and raised as her own. The boy, Tarzan, rises to jungle dominance and subsequently discovers another group of marooned Europeans.
I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. This is mindless jungle entertainment at it's best. Of course it's ludicrous that a human baby could survive living with a family of apes. Of course it's silly that the human could not only survive but thrive to become the supreme jungle power. Of course it's ridiculous that he could teach himself to read and write English from books alone. Does all that really matter though? Of course not. Don't expect deep characters, life-changing philosophies, or even intricate plotting. Burroughs wrote this book as entertainment, pure and simple.
Burroughs style may be a bit dated but he certainly does know how to write an engrossing adventure tale. He uses tried and true writing techniques like ending chapters on cliffhangers and presenting his protagonist as the underdog in a struggle against all odds. Early on in the book I found myself rooting completely for Tarzan.
For the sensitive reader, I'll offer a couple of warnings. First, Burroughs presents native Africans as superstitious, cannibalistic "savages". Second, the book is surprisingly violent. I'm sure that in the screen adaptations Tarzan never stabbed or throttled to death so many humans and animals.
One final caution -- the book ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger. Make sure to have "The Return of Tarzan" ready.

The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz
The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz
by L F Baum
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.26
59 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Upbeat Story, Fun Fairy-Tale Logic, Oct. 25 2002
As Baum put it, The Wizard of Oz is a "modernized fairy tale". The book tells to the story of a young girl named Dorothy who lives with her uncle, aunt, and pet dog Toto on the dreary Kansas prairies. One day a tornado whisks her and Toto away to a magical land called Oz. There she goes through a series of adventures in order make her way back to Kansas. A lion, a tin woodman, and a scarecrow provide aid and companionship throughout her journeys.
When I started to read the book, I naturally wanted to know how it compared to the 1939 Judy Garland movie. Both the movie and the book have the same basic characters and broad plot elements, but book is quite different in the details. For example, in the book, the Tin Woodman gives a detailed description of how he (somewhat violently) replaced his flesh and blood body for a tin one. Singing and dancing are, as you might expect, almost completely absent from the book.
I'm a bit too old now to be completely lost in the story, but I nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed it. I appreciated the way Baum used the characters and plot to communicate an upbeat, quasi-philosophical view of life ("I shall take the heart," returned the Tin Woodman; "for brains do not make one happy, and happiness is the best thing in the world.") Baum also wrote in a lot of fun Oz-logic that often made me laugh ("I am never hungry, [the Scarecrow] said, "and it is a lucky thing I am not, for my mouth is only painted, and if I should cut a hole in it so I could eat, the straw I am stuffed with would come out, and that would spoil the shape of my head.")
Read it to your young children or read it by yourself. Either way you'll find it difficult to dislike Buam's classic.

Allan Quatermain
Allan Quatermain
by Rider H. Haggard
Edition: Paperback
4 used & new from CDN$ 6.00

2.0 out of 5 stars Period Adventure Not suited for Most Modern Readers, Oct. 9 2002
This review is from: Allan Quatermain (Paperback)
Allan's son has just died. Having grown tired of the easy life he leads in England, he gathers up his two friends, Sir Henry Curtis and Captain John Good, and the three of them head to Africa in search of a legendary white civilization. Along the way they add to their party a fierce Zulu warrior and a cowardly French cook.
At the time of the writing, "lost civilization" books were popular. For the Victorian reading public, the possibility still existed, however unlikely, that such a civilization existed. Unfortunately for this sub-genre, the idea has not aged well. I found it very difficult as a 21st century reader to suspend my disbelief enough to wholeheartedly embrace Quatermain's adventure. Its easier to accept the idea of Bigfoot, than the idea that at the end of the 19th century, an entire race of white people lived in a completely self-contained kingdom in the middle Africa.
Haggard's writing style, while typical of the time for which he wrote, is weighty. Quatermain as the narrator, often gives descriptions of conversations instead of relating the actual spoken word. When he does write dialogue, it's often made up of long, flowery speeches. He has an especially irritating habit of using an older form of English (e.g. "thee", "thou", "wilt", "nay", "alas") for all speech that is supposed to be spoken in a language other than English. He also likes to give to give long descriptions of places and objects. Sometimes they're interesting, but more often they slow down the pacing and seem to serve little purpose (The description of the "Flower" temple is particularly cumbersome). Haggard can write exciting, interesting action, but those portions are few and far between.
A final objection to this adventure novel is that Haggard, through no fault of his own, is thoroughly steeped in the Victorian mind set. The British empire can do no wrong. Native Africa is divided into two camps. First there are the ordinary "savages" who need European influence, and second there are the "noble savages" who should be left untouched by the Europeans. Haggard's racism, nationalism, and sexism heavily influence his story.
ALLAN QUATERMAIN should be read as a period adventure novel. It will probably appeal to readers who have enjoyed Haggard's other books or the writings of similar authors (Edgar Rice Burroughs comes to mind). However, I do not recommend it to the general reader looking for an adventure novel set in the late 19th century.

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