BOOKS AND MORE BOOKS

EVOKING IDEAS, EVOKING DREAMS – BOOKS AND MORE BOOKS


Seriously, I don’t understand how it happened. I don’t have a job. I am definitely, absolutely 100% retired. Yet — I’m always busy!

It’s probably all the reading. In recent months, there have been publications of great books by some of my favorite authors, many of whom hadn’t released a new one in quite a while.

You know I absolutely had to read them. Immediately!

There were two new books and a short story by Jodi Taylor, “The Something Girl,” and “The Rest is History.” book 8 of her St. Mary’s time travel series. Both were great. I’m crazy about the time travel books. Sometimes I need a “time travel fix” and listen to them again.

Then, “Mary Russell’s War: And Other Stories of Suspense” was released — a whole bunch of short stories about Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes. “The Furthest Station: A PC Peter Grant Novella” by Ben Aaronovitch was released and while it wasn’t as long as the other books, it was a day of reading.

Somewhere in there I also read the last three Michael Connelly books, two about Harry Bosch and another new one for another L.A. cop. The new Bosch stories are narrated by Titus Welliver, who plays Harry Bosch on the Amazon series, so it’s not just any old book. You can watch the series — or the movie — in your head and the right guy is the star.

I stumbled across “Strange Practice” by Vivian Shaw which is the kind of book you sincerely hope is the start of a new series. It was way too good to be a onefer! It’s about Dr. Greta Helsing who specializes in a  medical practice for treating the undead. Great book and I hope it is followed by many more!

And then, Craig Johnson came out with a new Walt Longmire book — best one in quite a while — and there was Dan Brown’s “Origins” and Peter Clines’ “The Fold” and  Neal Shusterman’s “Scythe” … and finally, to finish me off, the long-awaited “Robicheaux” by James Lee Burke. It has been a few years since his last Dave Robicheaux story and this was a honey. Simultaneously, up came this new book about Trump, “Fire and Fury” and …

You know? I just realized why I’m so busy.

As you may have realized, I’m a listener rather than a text reader. I started listening to audiobooks when I was commuting long distances. I got so into the habit of listening … and very much out of the habit of focusing on text … that I pretty much always listen and very rarely read. I do read a few things because they aren’t available as audiobooks and I want to read them … or I’m committed to reading them. To be fair, though, I love listening. It’s like watching a long movie in your head. It’s better than movies, really.

It’s definitely the books. And that isn’t all of my list, either. There are at least a dozen more still waiting for me to get to them.

I’m in the middle of “Fire and Fury” right now. Curiosity won on this book … but really, I just can’t resist a good book!

NATIONAL SCIENCE FICTION DAY – JODI TAYLOR AND THE CHRONICLE OF ST. MARY’S

Yesterday, January 2, 2018, was NATIONAL SCIENCE FICTION DAY


It was another day too, including National Cream Puff day, but I’m much more interested in science fiction. So I’d like to talk about Jodi Taylor, author of a series called “The Chronicles of St Mary’s,” a school which isn’t a school where all the historians are time travelers. Never have I found time travel so much fun as I have found in all of Jodi Taylor’s books.

Just One Damned Thing After Another cover art
Book 1

There have been nine full length books and a bunch of short stories too, many of which are free. All of them also available as audiobooks. It’s actually less expensive to buy the Amazon Kindle version and get the audiobook for a couple of dollars than to buy the audiobook by itself, by the way. But I don’t care: I’d have bought them full price too.

The Long and the Short of It cover art
Book 9

The books are funny. Not in a slapstick, stupid way, but with intelligence and lots of historic detail. I’ve learned a lot of history from these books. Lots of cool details I never read in more “serious” history books. And oh how I have laughed!

It’s hard to find good science fiction that’s funny without being dumb, but this is it. There’s also drama and violence, a bit of sex and sometimes, death. But mostly, the books are a great deal of fun. Extremely British, witty, and smart. AND well researched. If you like time travel, you cannot go wrong with any of these. They are great.

They are all available from Amazon and pretty much on every continent and also on Audible.com. Super highly recommended!

LIFE, THE UNIVERSE, AND FINDING YOUR WAY HOME – BY TOM CURLEY

Marilyn wrote a blog about National Towel Day. That was May 25th, the day fans celebrate the works of the late great Douglas Adams.

I’m not a fan, I’m a zealot. I’ve read all his books. Listened to all the BBC radio series. And watched both movies of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.”  The first one done in the 80’s with the original BBC radio cast, was actually a TV series. It was done on a budget of … maybe 25 bucks, but it was great.

The Disney movie was okay. Mostly, because Douglas Adams was the producer. Unfortunately, he died before it was finished. Even if you didn’t like the movie, it was worth watching just for the opening musical number “So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish”.

While Hitchhiker is my favorite Adams work, I also loved the Dirk Gently series.

One of the things in the book always stuck with me. Whenever Dirk was lost he would simply follow someone who looked like they knew where they were going. He found that he never got to where he was going but he always ended up where he needed to be.

I used that concept once. I was driving home from work one night and I was on the local road that leads to my house. I came upon a police barricade. The road was closed.

There were no detour signs. I only knew that one road. So, I did what Dirk did. I saw a car in front of me turn off the road. He/she seemed to know where he/she was going. So I followed him/her. For the next 20 minutes to a half hour we wound our way through twisty back roads in the bowels of Southern Connecticut. I had no idea where I was.

Suddenly, the car in front of me turns on to the main road again. Past the barricade. I couldn’t believe it! It actually worked! But here’s where it got weird. The car in front of me turned off the main road and on to the road I live on. OK, I thought. Makes sense. There are a lot of houses on my street. This person was obviously going home too. But then the car turned into my driveway! That’s when I realized it was my daughter. I should have recognized the car, but I didn’t put two and two together.

The really funny part was that my daughter had just spent the last 20 minutes or so completely freaking out because this mysterious black car had been following her, turn for turn and then followed her to her house! True story.

I know Douglas Adams was smiling.

“BELLWETHER” IS NOT NEW, BUT APROPOS

I’m listening to it again. Not the first, second, or third time. Maybe the fifth or sixth? When life gets too weird, I need a “Bellwether” fix. It’s novel — a short one — Connie Willis and along with several books by Douglas Adams, is one of the books that keeps me sane when all the world is going out of its way to drive me batshit.

It was the bellwether and sheep connection I never got. What do I know about sheep? And why would I care? It turns out, sheep and people have an unnerving amount in common.

A bellwether is the leader of a flock of sheep. She is — the bellwether is always female — an über ewe. She is the sheep who the flock always follows. There’s no specific reason why the bellwether leads and no reason why the flock follows. There is just something about that ewe.

What the bellwether does, other sheep do. They don’t have to think about it — not that sheep do a lot of serious thinking. Their following is automatic, instinctive. Every sheep in the fold will mindlessly, blindly follow, even over a cliff if that’s where she leads. The flock doesn’t know they are following a bellwether. They just do it.

We have bellwethers. One of them is president. His followers are akin to sheep. They don’t examine. They don’t think. They don’t care what “their bellwether” is doing because she is the sheep all of them follow. We no more recognize our bellwethers than do the sheep. An atavistic instinct, embedded in our DNA which says some are born to lead, others to follow. A few will walk their own way.

The book is laugh-out-loud funny. Erudite, witty, and replete with trivia guaranteed to upgrade your anecdotal skills.

Bellwether suggests answers to previously unanswerable questions. Why do people vote against their own self-interest? Why do we do so many stupid things? The answer? We’re following a bellwether. They are loose amongst us, invisible shakers and movers. Unaware of their effect on the people around them, they change the world. Bellwether explains a lot of events throughout history which have never made sense. Even after you know all the facts of what happened, most of history still doesn’t make sense. When you add in a few critical bellwethers, there is a hint of clarity. Human life, history and relationships are illogical. They happen. We can explain them only in retrospect. That’s what historians are for, after all. To make sense of the past because it won’t make sense by itself. Human society is chaotic. The only predictable thing is unpredictability.

I found Bellwether original, insightful, amusing and thought-provoking. Highly entertaining and funny. I can’t imagine what more anyone could want from a book. I recommend it both in print (Kindle or paper) and audio. It is a book you will read and remember.

Then read it again. It helps make the nonsensical almost sensible.

TOM STRANGER: INTERDIMENSIONAL INSURANCE AGENT by LARRY CORREIA

“What’s that?” you cry. “What’s an interdimensional insurance agent and who is Tom Stranger?”

From the official blurb on Audible. com:

“Have you ever seen a planet invaded by rampaging space mutants from another dimension or Nazi dinosaurs from the future? Don’t let this happen to you! Rifts happen, so you should be ready when universes collide. A policy with Stranger & Stranger can cover all of your interdimensional insurance needs. Rated “Number One in Customer Satisfaction” for three years running, no claim is too big or too weird for Tom Stranger to handle. 

The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent – by: Larry Correia Narrated by: Adam Baldwin

If you like funny science fiction, this was one of the funniest things I’ve ever listened to. It was obviously written for audio. The author is part of the story, as is the narrator (Adam Baldwin).

tom stranger

If you like science fiction and you’ve got a weird sense of humor, this is laugh-out-loud funny. It’s just over 2 hours long. I probably will listen to it at least twice, just to pick up on all the humor and wit. It makes fun of science fiction as a genre, and sci fi writers. It also does a great take-down on insurance companies, their agents, and customer service as well as those people who won’t stop calling and trying to sell you something.

As a side note, we’ve been getting a deluge of calls from a company that comes up on Caller ID as “Burial Insurance” … so maybe they know something we don’t know? Or maybe it’s TOM STRANGER!

TIME TRAVEL DOESN’T WORK – BY TOM CURLEY

So there I was. Thinking. Not quite awake. Not exactly asleep. You know. And it hit me. Fixing all this craziness is simple. The question is WWCKD? Or, to put simply, “WHAT WOULD CAPTAIN KIRK DO?” If you look at the problem like that, the answer is simple. Obvious.

Travel back in time to a point where you can change the present from happening. As any Star Trek fan knows, Kirk did it all the time.

Now that I had the solution, the question became a matter of coördinates. To when and where do I go back to fix this? And the answer came to me as if in a dream …

Go back to 1998. Convince President Clinton to stay the hell away from Monica Lewinsky. There would be no scandal, no impeachment. Bill could campaign for Al Gore — like he was supposed to — and George Bush would never get elected. Everything that happened after that would not happen!

Brilliant!

So as I was drifting off to sleep, I imagined finding a time machine. Going back to 1998. Actually getting an audience with Bill Clinton … in the Oval Office.

How do I do this? Who knows? I’ll let the writers will work out those plot points later. I’m more into the “Big Picture Stuff.” But … this is also where the whole idea fell apart because the conversation would go like this:


President Clinton: “Well for some reason the writers haven’t figured out yet, I believe you are a time traveler from the future with important information for me.”

Me: “Yes Mr. President. You must not have an affair with your intern, Monica Lewinsky.”

President Clinton: “Whoa! How’d you know about that?”

Me: “I’m from the future, remember?”

President Clinton: “Oh yeah right. I guess that makes sense. So, why shouldn’t I do that?”

Me: “Because you will get caught. The public is going to find out about it. The Republicans are going to impeach you because of it.”

President Clinton: “Well, that’s not good.”

Me: “Don’t worry. You don’t get convicted. Your approval ratings go up to over 70%.”

President Clinton: “Well that’s good, right?”

Me: “Not really. Because when Al Gore runs for president, he won’t let you campaign for him. Or let you anywhere near him.”

President Clinton: “Really. Hmm. Who’s he running against?”

Me: “George W. Bush.”

President Clinton: “You gotta be kidding me!”

Me: “Nope. And even though Al runs a terrible campaign, he will only lose the election by 500 votes. Well, actually years later, when a full recount is done, it turns out Al actually won. But in 2000, the Supreme Court steps in and stops the recount. And appoints Bush as President.”

President Clinton: “I don’t think the Supreme Court can do that.”

Me: “Neither did anybody else. Until they did it. So George W. Bush becomes the president. One of the first things he does is ignore all the intelligence agencies warnings that Osama Bin Ladin is going to attack the US.


Because of this al-Qaeda hijacks four 747’s out of Logan in Boston — and La Guardia in New York … using nothing but box cutters as weapons. They crash two planes into the World Trade Center and one into the Pentagon.

The Twin Towers are destroyed, thousands of people die. Now, even though all the hijackers are from Saudi Arabia — and Bin Laden is hiding in Afghanistan — Bush invades Iraq. Totally destabilizing the Middle East.

Wall Street creates a bubble based on the housing market and that causes a world-wide financial crash in 2008 in which trillions of dollars are lost and millions of people around the world lose their jobs.

Therefore, in 2008 America elects a black guy — Barak Hussein Obama — as president, then in 2010 a bunch of billionaires help create something called the Tea Party. And the Republican Party swings so far to the right, Barry Goldwater would be considered a Communist.

By 2016, it seems likely your wife is going to be running for President against … wait for it …

Donald Trump.”


At this point, the Secret Service enters the Oval Office and drags me away. As I’m being carried out, I see The Truth.

Wow. When you actually say all that out loud? I don’t believe it either.

Then I fell asleep.

READY TO LAUNCH?

LAUNCH THE SHUTTLECRAFT!


“Captain,” as Tuvok stood tall and saluted Janeway. The tips of his pointy ears twitched slightly, one of the few tells of how intense his feelings were at this moment in time.

“Are the rest of the crew ready?” she asked him. She was asking him again, probably the dozenth time in the past hour, part of the reason Tuvok was getting … twitchy.

“Everyone is ready,” he assured her and wondered if she was really listening. He could see that she was more than a little excited. Her breathing was irregular and he could swear she was sweating right through her Starfleet uniform.

“I spoke to Paris and Tuvok. They think we can launch the shuttle craft and be on the surface in …” and she looked at her watch … “Under an hour.”

Chakotay had approached while they spoke and nodded his agreement. “I had Neelix pack special Voyager lunch packs for everyone. We added one of those purple “People Eater” drinks … with umbrellas. Let’s make this a real celebration.”

The planet below was big and blue and so earth-like as to bring tears to the eyes of many of the long-stranded crew. Not that any of them were willing to give up their endless trek through the Delta Quadrant to read Earth … but what could be the harm of a month … maybe two … on the rich surface of this beautiful planet. The air was right. It was bigger than earth, though the gravity wasn’t much different. Maybe a little bit, but no one cared.

It was a puzzle that no one lived on its surface. For any human-type species, it was ideal. Forests and oceans and mountains — and a sky as blue as a Robin’s Egg.

And thus, nearly the entire crew of voyager boarded their Shuttlecraft, lightly dressed in Starfleet’s casual best. They hit the surface with a quiet hissing sound and the party began. They spread their tepees in a spiral circle and built a fire at the heart. Twenty-fourth century technology made bathrooms and laundry facilities simple and efficient and these were located conveniently out of the way, but near enough in case too many people were drinking an over-abundance of tall purple drinks. With umbrellas.

They didn’t know about the radiation.

It wasn’t the type of radiation their sensors could ever register being half magical. Indeed, it was an ancient form of wizard technology, an effective version of pre-modern total destruction which had sunk Atlantis long before Earth’s modern “technical” revolution would again nearly accomplish the same task.

Humans are nothing if not inventive.

It would take more than a month before the crew realized that they had found their final resting place. But first, they were going to have one Hell of a party.

“Ready to launch?” asked Janeway.

“Ready!” announced Tuvok.

“Ready!” said Chakotay.

“Ready,” said they all announced with merriment they sailed forth to meet their doom.

With umbrella drinks.