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Commentaires écrits par
Peter D. Tillman (Cambria, CA USA)

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Callahan's Con
Callahan's Con
by Spider Robinson
Edition: Hardcover
17 used & new from CDN$ 0.37

2.0 étoiles sur 5 Has moments. For hardcore fans only., Jan. 3 2004
Ce commentaire est de: Callahan's Con (Hardcover)
I can hear the snickers and 'I coulda told you's from here, but I was in the mood for something swift and silly, OK? -- and I've always had a weak spot for the Callahan stories. Besides, Matt Peckham gave it a pretty good review (B+) over at Scifi Weekly:
Well, I got silly. You may recall that Jake Stonebender relocated Callahan's Place (sans the Mick of Steel) to Key West, after a nuclear explosion (in Jake's hands, iirc) vaporized his bar on Long Island. This time, an officious school bureaucrat arrives to check up on Jake's kid, and then a man-mountain racketeer shows up, demanding "protection" payoffs. The thug, called "Little Nuts" (his father was Tony Donuts (don't ask)), provides most of the worthwhile moments. Left unexplained is why such an obnoxious creature -- even the Mafia can't stand him -- has survived so long in the Miami underworld, not known for reluctance to shoot first and often. Especially since Tony Jr. lacks the supernatural protection against firearms (not to mention nuclear weapons) that The Place regulars enjoy. The titular con is how they finally get rid of Tony.
This is really only enough material here for a couple of short stories, so the rest is filler: bad bar jokes, worse puns, dull inner musings, standard capers by the usual suspects.... I skipped/skimmed that stuff, so I got swift, too. But I think you'd be pretty annoyed if you'd paid $24 for this.
About the only surprise here is that one of The Place oldtimers dies onscreen, permanently (I think). Callahan doesn't come, even when called. And the cover art (by Jeff Fischer) is unusually clumsy. Not recommended.
Sadly, Pete Tillman

Immortal in Death
Immortal in Death
by J. D. Robb
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 8.53
85 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 étoiles sur 5 Pretty entertaining, but *seriously* over-the-top, Jan. 3 2004
OK, here's the setup. Beautiful young police Lieutenant Eve Dallas is getting married to the richest man in the world. Handsome, muscular fellow named (so help me) Roarke. Eve's best friend, Mavis, has fallen madly in love with an up-and-coming designer. Big, burly, handsome guy, name of Leonardo(!). But Leonardo's ex-lover, Pandora(!!), a vicious, grasping supermodel, won't let go, and threatens to ruin Leonardo's first Really Big Show.
[minor **SPOILER** directly ahead! Just the one...]
Pandora turns up, messily dead, in Leonardo's apt. Her blood is found under Mavis's nails. But Eve knows Mavis didn't do it. Will she be able to clear her friend , and find the real killer? Will love triumph over all? Will I actually finish this book?
Now, here's a dialog snippet. Lt. Dallas is in conference with Lt. Jake Casto about a murder case. Jake's got "a body that, well, looked like it could ride the range just fine." The confab over, Jake saunters towards the door. "You know, Eve, you've got eyes like good, aged whiskey. Sure brings out a powerful thirst in a man." Just a typical cop-shop conversation in li'l old NYC, 2054 AD.
I can't quite decide whether to take this as a straight romantic-sf-mystery -- other than the character-names, which are clearly auctorial malice aforethought -- or as a put-on, or as "Eye of Argon" material. It is pretty entertaining, if *seriously* over-the-top. Here's Eve again, steeling herself to really marry Roarke, "this man with the sinfully blue eyes, the strong, gorgeous, somehow Raphaelite looks of a doomed angel..."
"She could and had faced an armed laser in the hands of a mad mutant mercenary with less fear than she faced such unswerving emotion..." Um. No bodices are literally ripped here, but all but. LM Bujold, she ain't.
[Didn't actually finish it. Caveat lector]

by Robert Reed
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
13 used & new from CDN$ 4.96

3.0 étoiles sur 5 Super-science space opera, flawed but fun. 3.5 stars, Jan. 3 2004
Ce commentaire est de: Marrow (Mass Market Paperback)
In the far future, humans discover a derelict starship the size of
Jupiter, out on the galactic rim, They claim salvage rights, get some
of the great ship's machinery running, and defend their claim against
late-arriving aliens. The ship is very old, perhaps as old as the
universe.... and big. Really big.
The new owners put the Great Ship into service as -- the galaxy's
grandest cruise-liner! All lifeforms and sentients are welcome -- if
they can afford the fare. By the time of our story, 50,000 years later,
there are some 200 billion passengers and crew aboard, a fifth of the
way through a leisurely circumnavigation of the Milky Way....
Then, a Mars-size "planet" is discovered, somehow suspended at the
very core of the Great Ship! A team of the Ship's best and brightest
officers are sent to explore the mysterious "Marrow" -- and are
stranded there by a wild energy-storm. Complications ensue, and
things, it turns out, are not as they seem....
Humans of this age are heavily gengineered, long-lived, tough and
very hard to kill. Indeed, the Master Captain, and many of her
officers, have served onboard since the Ship's commissioning. So
their perspective on long-term projects, and risk, is considerably
different than yours and mine.
This may sound like a Doc Smith adventure-story, and it shares his,
umm, non-rigorous treatment of basic science (but is much better-
written). Marrow works best as mind-candy science-fantasy -- the
grand sweep of events kept my suspension of disbelief intact until I
started thinking things over for this review. I usually find dumb,
sloppy science irritating [see note 1, with minor *SPOILERS*], and
Marrow suffers from this in retrospect, but I still liked the book. I
liked the the silly audacity of imagining a cruise-ship with 200 billion
passengers, on a quarter-million year voyage! I liked the peeling away
of layers of mystery from the Great Ship, only to find a new mystery,
then another. I liked the ambiguous ending, in contrast to the tidy,
often bathetic endings common to grand SF epics.

But -- you should be aware that Marrow is not to everyone's taste.
The plot isn't coherent. The science is, well, not. And the book
doesn't have a tidy wrap-up. One Amazon reader describes Marrow
as "the dumbest and most aggravating book I've ever read."
Another wrote: "I'm glad I bought it, because I had a long cross
country flight and it helped me sleep." P>And the great ship, with the mass of 20 Earths, is propelled by (fusion-
powered?) rocket engines -- a truly enormous mass to push around,
especially since most of it is dead weight. There seems no real reason
to build such a massive ship, except that Reed thought this would be a
Neat Idea.... as did Doc Smith.
And -- if the Great Ship really is the size of Jupiter, and masses 20
earths (Reed is somewhat vague about this), it would have to be
made of aerogel, as Jupiter masses 318 Earths....
review copyright 2000 Peter D. Tillman

Slaves of the Machine: The Quickening of Computer Technology
Slaves of the Machine: The Quickening of Computer Technology
by Gregory J. E. Rawlins
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 28.52
10 used & new from CDN$ 6.55

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Fine computer history, philosophy and speculative science, Jan. 3 2004
Prof. Rawlins has written an elegant small book on the history and
future of computers, ranging from Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine
(1842) to future machine intelligence. His book joins such
distinguished predecessors as Hans Moravec's "Mind Children" and Eric
Drexler's "Engines of Creation": speculative-science books more
interesting (and certainly more rigorous) than most science-fiction.
From Babbage, Dr. Rawlins turns to Alan Turing, "another farsighted
English mathematician who dreamt of machines that manipulated
information... Like Babbage before him, Turing saw so far ahead that he
never understood why he had to explain everything he foresaw to the
government." Like Babbage, he lost his funding and his heart.
Convicted of homosexual acts in 1952, he was forced to undergo chemical
castration. He killed himself in 1954.
Rawlins treats the maddening inflexibility of present-day programs: we
can blame David Hilbert (c. 1900). "Hilbert wanted a completely
mechanical way to solve any mathematical problem; something like
directions in a cookbook, only more precise... Although he never knew
it, he was asking for computer programs... We'll eventually have to
give up our Hilbertian total-control philosophy and let our machines be
more adaptive. Because we're already losing control."
"The answer to "Could computers think? is that it doesn't matter...
What matters is whether we *think* they think." His discussion of AI is
succint and illuminating: "A future of smart machines is strange
indeed... it may be much harder to kill yourself by turning on a gas
oven or running a car in a locked garage - both your oven and your car
may figure out what you're trying to do and prevent you... Possessions
might get more dangerous, too... Are we ready for a world of feral
"As Thoreau said long ago, we've become the tools of our tools... One
day, something vast and cool and strange may read these very words -- and
chuckle with amusement.
Welcome to tomorrow."
Highly recommended.
[review written in 1997]

The Other End of Time
The Other End of Time
by Frederik Pohl
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 10.99
31 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Vintage Pohl - wry, dark, beautifully-written, Jan. 3 2004
There's something strange going on at the derelict "Starlab"space
station - aka the "Starcophagus" - and Dr. Patrice Adcock is going up to
find out what's happening. Her party is kidnapped by reps of the
"Beloved Leaders" and fired off as tachyon images to a distant starbase.
It seems the Beloved are fighting a war with the Horch and want to
enlist humanity on their side.
The plot thickens when the Horch smuggle in disturbing images of
whole worlds destroyed by Beloved forces - dismissed by the Beloved
with "we merely transported them to their immortality at the
The Beloved run off a couple more copies of Dr. Pat for "breeding
purposes". She finds she rather likes being a triplet... but the extra copy
situation turns darker, with unsettling echoes of earlier uses of this old
and disturbing SF idea.
This is vintage Pohl - wry, dark, beautifully-written. I've seen some
unflattering reviews of this book, but this is first-rate
not to be missed if you're a Fred Pohl fan - and who isn't?
Happy reading!
Pete Tillman

by Hayford Peirce
Edition: Paperback
10 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Original title: The Thirteenth Majestral, Jan. 3 2004
Ce commentaire est de: THIRTEENTH MAJESTRAL (Paperback)
Rating: "A-" -- very cool, very Vanceian dinosaur-adventure tale.
Jack Vance fans shouldn't miss this one.
My copy of this had gone astray, so I picked up another at the used
bookstore the other day. I'd forgotten how Vanceian it is -- not really
a pastiche, it reads pretty much like a mid-period, mid-quality Vance
SF novel. 10-year old Kerryl Ryson pulls a prank that humiliates an
offworld grandee and starts a riot. As a result, his father is executed,
and Ryson and his whole clan are enslaved. Ryson grows up obsessed
with vengeance. He makes a galaxy-wide search for the Immaculate
Ultima of Aberdown, who ordered his father's death. Along the way,
he encounters exotic worlds, strange people, stranger religions, and
acquires a luxurious space yacht from one Baron Bodissey, in case
you're still wondering who the book reminds you of... Even Vance's
signature footnotes are here.
Ryson's search eventually brings him to old Earth, which has become
an extraordinarily reclusive, stratified world, with the arrogant,
aristocratic Palatines served by pallid, puling leperons, an artificial
human subspecies (another Vance trademark). He meets the
beautiful but troubled Yveena Soolis, and the tale is resolved with
some (somewhat) surprising revelations. Yes, dinosaurs are featured,
along with possibly the silliest explanation yet for their demise.
I really like The Thirteenth Majestral, and I'm pretty sure that you
Vance fans will like it too. Peirce's hommage to Vance is, well, just
about as entertaining and well-done as the real thing. Check it out.
Happy reading!
Pete Tillman

by Larry Niven
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 10.32
59 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Best alien-invasion story ever written?, Jan. 3 2004
Ce commentaire est de: Footfall (Mass Market Paperback)
I still think this is the best alien-invasion story I've ever
read. Granted, it's hard to write a sensible invasion story, given that
a) it's hard to think of a reason for rational aliens to invade, and
b) if they did, they should win overwhelmingly. See rifles vs. spears.
But it makes a great *story*, and N&P have given probably as
reasonable a backstory as anyone could. As an example of high-level
page-turner storytelling, Footfall still rings my chimes. I've read it
three times, plus the last time I picked it up a couple of years ago, to
jog my memory to reply to a post, I got sucked in again and spent the
afternoon rereading the good parts. "Orion will Rise" -- all right!
Footfall is dragged down a bit by dated political background: the
USSR is alive and well here, and is portrayed as considerably
stronger and healthier than it actually was in 1985. I'd skim over the
Russian scenes; in fact the book is pretty slow-moving until the
aliens arrive, so a quick skim of most of this early scene-setting
material is all you need.
And make no mistake, once the action starts, you'll have no futher
complaints. Good stuff, guys.
Happy reading!
Pete Tillman

Rules Of Engagement
Rules Of Engagement
by Elizabeth Moon
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 9.49
32 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Brisk light action/adventure/romance. 4.5 stars, Jan. 3 2004
Rules is the sequel to Once a Hero (97), and shares some supporting
characters with the "Heris Serrano" trilogy (1993-95). It's reasonably
self-contained, though you'll enjoy it more if you've read some of
the preceeding books, all of which I've liked.
Esmay Suiza (the Hero) is a likeably nerdy young officer. Her heroic
exploits overshadow her difficult childhood, her love life is terrible,
she's had a bad-hair *life*... When Brun, rich, spoiled & beautiful,
breezes into her life with hairdressing tips, & then goes after Esmay's
secret beau... Well! Another reviewer (alright, Christina Schulman)
comments that "these confident, decisive people behave like
insecure teenagers when they're thrown together at Command
School..." Ah, but I think that's precisely Moon's point -- Cupid's
tardy arrow will turn someone like Esmay, a seriously repressed
overachiever, to instant mush. Personal resonance here: Ms. Moon
and I were classmates at Rice in the mid-sixties (though I don't
think we ever met), and I'm willing to bet she was a TRG, just as I
was a TRB -- earnest, nerdy, bad hair, socially-awkward, sexually-
repressed... oh god, it's excruciating just to think about those times...
Anyway, Moon's delightfully Wodehousian aunts-in-space arrive
just in time to save Esmay's butt (and career), and young love
prevails... As usual, Moon's fast-&-furious action, meticulous
military-medical backgrounding, and formidable storytelling skills
carry the day. There's another Suiza-Serrano-Familias novel
coming, and I'm looking forward to it.
Rules is Moon's fifth book set in her Familias Regnant
universe -- a rather implausible interstellar plutocracy with
corruption/kleptocracy/rejuvenation problems -- threatened
by, eg, the Bloodhorde barbs-in-space (Hero) and the NuTexas
Godfearing Militia (Rules). This background was light
entertainment for the Heris Serrano series, but Ms. Moon seems
to have a bit deeper intentions for the Esmay Suiza books, and the
backstory creaks ominously under the load. After this OCC (obligatory
critical carp), I should note that she is simply carrying on an historic
space-opera convention, and the the scratchy backstory will interfere
little (if at all) with your reading pleasure.
Happy reading!
Pete Tillman

Monument Valley
Monument Valley
by K. C. Dendooven
Edition: Paperback
16 used & new from CDN$ 5.25

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Beautiful photos, interesting history and people., Jan. 3 2004
Ce commentaire est de: Monument Valley (Paperback)
Rating: "A-" -- beautiful photos, interesting history and people.
Not to mention a great place to visit.
Josef Muench smacked Adolf Hitler with a well-aimed tomato back
in 1927; prudently, he moved to the US the following year. He got a
job with the Ford Motor Co., kept it until he could afford a new
Model A ($535), and headed West. His big break came when he met
Raymond Carlson, the editor who turned "Arizona Highways" from
an obscure highway-promotion magazine into a world-famous
showcase for landscape photography. Muench made his first trip to
Monument Valley in 1935, and by 1992 had made 355 trips there,
while becoming one of the world's leading landscape photographers
(his son David may be even better). Josef took the cover photo of this
little book in 1937, the year they started selling Kodachrome color
film. You'll recognize many of the classic views here, taken over the
next 60 years.
Harry Goulding moved to Monument Valley in 1923 to open a
trading post, which is still "the place" to stay when you visit. Times
were tough in the Depression -- no money, no business, no jobs. But
Hollywood was making Westerns, so Harry decided he'd sell the
studios on making movies in Monument Valley. Muench made up
a portfolio of photos for Goulding to bring to Hollywood, still
considered by some to be his best work. By pure persistence, Harry
worked his way up to John Ford, and layed out Muench's pictures.
Ford decided that Monument Valley was *the* location to shoot his
next big picture, "Stagecoach" (1938). He had to import cowboys, but
Indians came with the package. The rest, as they say, was history -- if
you've watched western movies, you've had a preview of
Monument Valley.
Monument Valley, a Navajo Tribal Park, straddles the Utah-Arizona
border in the vast Navajo Reservation. It's still pretty much in the
middle of nowhere. Gets a little busy in the summer, now. but it's
still otherwordly. And don't miss Betatakin ruin at Navajo NM!
This is one of the "Story Behind the Scenery" booklets, of about the
size and heft of an"Arizona Highways" magazine, that are ubiquitous
at national-park visitor centers and souvenir shops. I'd always kinda
looked down my nose at them ("booklike objects for tourists" --
I know, hopeless snobbery), but the recent ones have truly gorgeous
photos, so I'm catching up on them. Their website is at
[...] , or email them for their very
attractive catalog: A nice feature for
visitors from abroad is foreign-language editions: most titles are
available in German, many in French & Japanese, and some in
Spanish, Italian, Chinese & Korean.
Happy reading!
Pete Tillman

The Ghost of the Revelator
The Ghost of the Revelator
by L. E. Modesitt
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
17 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Well-done, complex, worthwhile alt-hist political thriller, Jan. 1 2004
[paired review with Of Tangible Ghosts]
Johan Eschbach, retired from an eventful career in service to
Columbia as a naval aviator, Spazi agent, and cabinet minister,
now teaches environmental economics at Vanderbraak State
University in New Bruges (New Hampshire in OTL). Doktor
Eschbach lost both his wife and daughter in a political murder --
he himself was badly wounded -- and he would like nothing better
than a quiet life in this academic backwater. But that would make
for a dull book, and he is soon caught up in a murder
investigation, love affair, political intrigues, and secret military
research into "deghosting".
Doktor Eschbach's solution to the ensuing tangle is
"rather appalling and not entirely credible" [note 1].
"A land of dirigibles and difference engines, Modesitt's
eerily refined world is compelling and coolly original, a place where
you still drive to work in a car--albeit steam-powered--but think
nothing of waving good morning to the zombies raking leaves off the
lawn." -- Paul Hughes,
Ghost of the Revelator picks up Doktor Eschbach and his new
wife Llysette Du Boise as her singing career is taking off, and
as the messy ending to "Tangible" comes back to haunt Eschbach.
The story unfolds slowly, but the same wonderful details of
everyday life that enlivened the first book -- lunch at a favorite
cafe, icy roads, dense, lazy, occasionally sharp students, petty
academic politics, politicians who can "smile and smile and be a
villain" -- make the trip worthwhile. This world is slower-paced
than ours, and Modesitt's prose has something of the heavy Dutch
feel of well-fed burghers, shining-clean windows, tidy lives. Very
human. If slow bothers you -- skim.
Modesitt still hasn't smoothed out his jarring exposition
of the differences between his alternate world and ours, here
usually dumped as interior monologues. Show, don't tell, please!
Llysette sings at a Presidential Arts Awards dinner and is
invited to perform at the prestigious Salt Palace in Deseret --
after fleeing the fall of France and an Austrian political prison.
Johan comes to the uncomfortable conclusion that he's about to be
eclipsed in fame and fortune by his glamorous wife....
....but maybe Deseret is after more than just a performance by the
new prima diva. And what about Austria-Hungary? And New
France? And the shadowy "Revealed Twelve"?
Minister Eschbach resolves the ensuing international crisis with
verve, skill, and a couple of twists that would be unfair to reveal.
Suffice it to say that the ending is most satisfactory, and leaves
plenty of room for future Eschbach/Du Boise adventures.
Both books are reasonably self-contained, but if you read one and
like it, you'll want to read the other, so it makes sense to start with #1.
Doktor Eschbach and the "Ghosts" books have parallels to Mr
Modesitt's real life: the author was a naval aviator, spent twenty
years in our "Federal District" as a political aide, EPA staffer, and
college teacher. He's married to a lyric soprano (sorceress?, who
teaches at Southern Utah University). He and his family moved
from DC to New Hampshire ("New Bruges") and then to Utah:
these are the settings for the "Ghosts" books. "Write what you
know," the old adage goes -- it certainly works for Modesitt. I
presume the spies and ghosts are from the author's imagination...
Note 1) -- not to mention *confusing*. A reader at writes: "I've read the book 6 or 7 times,
and I'm *still* not sure what's happened at the end..."

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