Tue, 9 Jan 2007

The Green Odyssey

— SjG @ 7:56 pm

Philip José Farmer, 1957, read as an ebook from

This is far from Farmer’s best, but it’s still a swashbuckling adventure. Reminiscent of the better Edgar Rice Burroughs adventures, it features technologically advanced humans trapped on a medieval backwater planet. As the story progresses, you find that maybe the world isn’t as primitive as our hero thinks.

It’s a fun ride, filled with what I’d call old-school wish-fulfillment sci-fi. Also notably, it features ships that sail through great grassy plains a good thirty or forty years before Dan Simmons’ Hyperion.

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Why Things Are and Why Things Aren’t

— SjG @ 7:48 pm

Joel Achenbach, Ballentine, 1996

A collection from a newspaper column where Questions are sent in, and they are Answered.

It’s entertaining, like reading any of various collections of trivia. Will you learn new things that will change your life through their enlightening revelation? Probably not. Is it a book that will help you pass a few pleasant hours? Probably.

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Mon, 8 Jan 2007

Among Malay Pirates

— SjG @ 9:22 pm

G. A. Henty, 1905, read as a Project Gutenberg e-text from

This is actually a collection of action/adventure stories; only the first of which has anything to do with Malay pirates. I’d dismiss the collection as forgettable adventure fluff, except for the fact that several of the stories have flights of pedagogical exposition on the part of one character or another which give a fascinating insight into some British end-of-the-empire ideas and beliefs.

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Sat, 6 Jan 2007

Celtic Twilight

— SjG @ 6:35 pm

W.B. Yeats, 1902, read as a Gutenberg Project e-book from

A collection of folk stories, reminiscences, poems, and observations of the Irish countryside as retold by William Yeats, read in preparation for our upcoming Ireland trip.

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Tue, 2 Jan 2007

In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash

— SjG @ 10:02 pm

Jean Shepherd, Doubleday 1966

I arrived at this book via the now-obligatory film Christmas Story. The film is not only adapted from the book, but is narrated by Shepherd.

The movie, it must be stated, is cobbled together from numerous unrelated episodes from the book, and yet forms a much more cohesive narrative arc than the book. The book is a collection of reminiscences, but the thread that ties them together is meandering stream-of-consciousness rather than a telling of a particular story.

The various episodes vary in their impact and quality. Shepherd’s talent for exaggeration and consciously creating mythic trappings for the mundane is the source of some of the humor; self-deprecation, an occasional winking (to let you know that he knows you’re in on the joke), and a real sense of which details are important supply the rest.

Shepherd’s approach is more successful for some stories than others. Some, however, are profound. “Leopold Doppler and the Great Orpheum Gravy Boat Riot” gives insights into human nature, the Great Depression, and manages to create the very distinct feel of a specific time and place.

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