The Star Beast by Robert A Heinlein – A Science Fiction Book Review

When I got a Newfoundland dog many years ago there was never any doubt that his name would be Lummox.  Because that is the name that Heinlein gave to his star beast.  When we meet Lummox, he’s living in the backyard of John Thomas Stuart XI.  He’s lived there for over a century under the present owner’s father, grandfather and great grandfather.  Over the course of his tenure he’s grown from about the size of a chihuahua to something larger than an elephant.  He’s equipped with eight legs and an appetite for a menu that ranges from rude neighborhood dogs to a Buick automobile.  His personality is friendly, enthusiastic and energetic but his discipline and attention to his master’s orders are decidedly inconsistent.  And for a creature with such an imposing size he has the voice of a baby girl.

Johnnie and Lummox are best friends, almost brothers, and even though his mother doesn’t share his feelings for the beast his girlfriend Betty is on their side.  So, when Lummox gets into trouble for going off reservation and busting up a lot of stuff, Johnnie and Betty do everything in their power to save Lummie from the clutches of the unsympathetic local sheriff who wants to have Lummox terminated as a public menace.

Heinlein weaves together the two threads of Lummox’s past and present to provide a future that wouldn’t have been guessed at the start of the story.  Mixed in with this is the story of Mr. Kiku, the Under Secretary of the Department of Spatial Affairs and his fear of snakes.  Heinlein builds up the little constellation of characters in the Department very nicely and gives us his ideas about how the permanent career bureaucrats in a government department interact with the political appointee that supposedly manages them.

And this is a typical Heinlein trait.  He likes to build up little self-consistent “worlds,” like Westville, the small town where Lummox lives or the Department of Spatial Affairs.  In another book you’ll find that the small-town people act and talk a lot like the people in Westville in this story.  I’m guessing that these small towns were like the small towns in Missouri that Heinlein remembers from his childhood.  And his descriptions of life on a space ship in several of his books comes from his own experience of shipboard life in the U. S. Navy.  Likewise, his ideas of government bureaucracy came from his experience as a government employee.

And throughout we get to know Johnnie and learn about his struggle to weigh loyalty to his friend against fighting insurmountable odds. He is the Heinlein young man character who has been raised to respect authority, is socially conventional, polite and honest.  But he runs smack dab into the injustice of the bureaucratic machine.  In the ensuing turmoil he discovers that a man sometimes has to break the rules to do what’s morally right and protect his own.  And mixed in with this is his relationship with his overprotective and domineering mother and his hyperactive and ambitious girlfriend.  This is another part of his growth as he finally asserts himself against these women jockeying for control of his life.

In this book Heinlein creates a few extraterrestrials types.  And he provides both sympathetic species and other less friendly from a human perspective.  And this lack of empathy allows for a plot device that has since been “borrowed” by the makers of the movie “Men in Black.”  See if you notice it when you read the book.  But the most interesting extraterrestrial is Lummox and Heinlein’s description of Lummox’s internal point of view is highly entertaining.  From my experience as the owner of a Newfoundland I found the beast’s motivations for some of his mistakes extremely familiar and plausible.

I won’t ruin the story by giving away any surprises.  They’re too good.  I would call this one of Heinlein’s most original novels and definitely highly successful as entertainment.  Once again, highly recommended for young and old.

The Rolling Stones by Robert A Heinlein – A Science Fiction Book Review

After rereading Starman Jones and writing a review it occurred to me that the Heinlein juveniles are better than ninety percent of all the Young Adult (YA) science fiction that’s come out since.  So my idea is not to just look at plot but really give a thorough analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of these classic stories.  Let’s look at “The Rolling Stones.”

The Stones are a family of “Loonies.”  That’s what the human inhabitants of Earth’s Moon call themselves.  In his Future History Heinlein has decided that the Moon is officially named Luna.  Roger and Edith are the parents of Meade, Castor, Pollux and Lowell (or as he’s nicknamed Buster).  And Hazel Meade is Roger’s mother.

Roger is an engineer by profession but lately his job has been writing a television (or whatever they call it) serial called Scourge of the Spaceways.  He despises the vapidity of the show but the hefty paycheck has hooked him.

Edith is a medical doctor and housewife who manages to keep the individualistic personalities of her children from wreaking havoc with her husband’s ideas of domestic sanity.

Meade is the oldest, recently graduated from high school and a social butterfly.  Castor and Pollux are identical twins high school juniors.  They are precocious engineering inventors who have made a good amount of money on an invention and are aching to break out on their own and make their fortune out in the far flung reaches of the solar system.  Buster is a four-year-old who is either a chess prodigy or can read his grandmother’s mind.  Finally, Hazel is one of the original “Founding Fathers” of the Luna Revolution (which Heinlein later back filled in his novel “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”).  She is a senior citizen but because of the preservative effects of living on the low gravity Moon she is quite lively and also extremely outspoken on everything from child-raising to larceny.

Heinlein creates a story about a middle-class family leaving their comfortable but boring environment in order to head out into the frontier of the solar system and experience life as a family and a crew.  Roger and Castor (and later Meade) handle the astrogation.  Hazel and Pollux run the engines.  Edith is the ship’s doctor, cook and also Buster’s mom.  Buster is (as his father notes in the crew list) supercargo.

But really what Heinlein is trying to point out is that the family hasn’t fared well under the modern lifestyle and living life together as a team can allow a father to get to know his children.  And allow them to find out more about their parents than just how much they are willing to spend on useless junk.  All the children benefit from the skills, talents and experiences of their parents and grandmother and the adults are enriched by the challenges of the trip and the chance to influence the choices their children make.

Of course, this is an altogether outlandish odyssey that they are on and apparently bankrolled by the amazingly lucrative writing contract for Scourge of the Spaceways.  Perhaps this is in a way a stand-in for Heinlein’s own lifestyle which was made possible by his well-paying books.  And considering the paucity of other money coming in from the commercial enterprises that the Twins attempt you could be excused for thinking the whole trip was a bust.  But it’s the setup we’re supposed to enjoy.  Seeing the Twins through the eyes of their grandmother as she attempts to extricate them from a legal mess that their ingenuity and inexperience combine to create, we see that this family is resourceful and interesting even when they fail.  These are the story elements that give the book its character.  The action, such as it is, is light and only occasionally rises above familial squabbling.  But Heinlein paints an entertaining picture of his Swiss Family Robinson in space.  Despite the futuristic backdrop and the extraordinary qualities of the individuals, the ethos and character of the family is mid-twentieth century American and it is a charming world that Heinlein has reimagined in the unrealizable future of his era.  The children despite their precocity are decidedly normal and compared to today’s versions, decidedly a breath of fresh air.

And whereas he did manage to tie Hazel somewhat into his other books, I had hoped he would have had a follow-on novel of the brothers in their grown-up stage pursuing fame and fortune while trying to avoid execution.  Some more exciting adventures in this frontier environment wouldn’t wear out the welcome for the Stone family among Heinlein readers.  In fact, one day I might write some of those stories, although if the copyright forbids, I’ll have to alter them to the extent of calling them Castor and Pollux Rock or Boulder or Pebble.  Either way the characters are too good to waste.

A remarkable thing about this book is that it introduced the science fiction creature the flat cat that was stolen by Star Trek and turned into the Tribble.  Of course, Heinlein was gracious enough to permit the theft but it just goes to show you how impoverished Hollywood really is.

The Rolling Stones is different from the other Heinlein juveniles in that the adventure is muted.  But I believe it has its own charm that is completely character driven.  The showcasing of a normal functional family is especially enheartening today when they are almost completely missing in books and films.

Highly recommended for children and adults.

Starman Jones by Robert A Heinlein – A Science Fiction Book Review

Starman Jones is one of Heinlein’s juvenile novels (today it would be called a young adult novel).  Many people feel that some of his best work is represented in these books.  I tend to agree with this.  Starman Jones is also one of his best juveniles.  Well, you can see where that puts it in my opinion already.

Max Jones is an Ozarks hillbilly.  He lives on the family farm and dreams of someday following his father’s brother, Uncle Chet, into space as an astrogator.  But the deaths of his father and uncle leave Max trapped on the farm, and duty bound to provide for his step-mother.  Max struggles to keep food on the table and has to forego his dreams of working in outer space.  But when his step-mother remarries and his new step-father sells the family farm and tries to steal the astrogation books that Max got from Uncle Chet, Max decides that his commitment to his step-mother is ended and he runs away to try and claim a berth as a legacy candidate in the hereditary guild of astrogators.

On the road he meets a hobo named Sam Anderson who shares his dinner with the hungry runaway but steals Max’s astrogation books and identity card before disappearing.  Max hitchhikes a ride with a freight transporter and reaches Earth Port, the main space port in North America.  Upon reaching the guild headquarters Max discovers that Sam had attempted to impersonate him and get a reward for returning the valuable astrogation tables.  Sam managed to escape without getting arrested.  Now Max receives the substantial reward for the books but learns that his Uncle Chet did not list Max as a guild candidate.  Crushed by the news, Max leaves the guild office and immediately bumps into Sam.

Max at first was thinking of turning Sam into the authorities but since their last meeting Sam had come into a windfall (gambling winnings) and was dressed as a prosperous citizen, whereas Max was disheveled and unwashed.  Sam actually ends up saving Max from arrest as a vagrant.  Spotting Max to a good meal, Sam apologizes for stealing Max’s books and lets him know that there is still a way for Max (and Sam) to obtain berths on a star ship.  Sam has connections that can fake identification papers that will indicate that Max and Sam are members of the guilds that work on these commercial space liners.  With this paperwork (paid for with Max’s reward money) and coaching by Sam, Max passes himself off as a Steward’s mate working for the ship’s Purser on the Asgard.  Max was greatly aided in this coaching by the fact that he has an eidetic memory, basically photographic recall of anything he’s seen.

Max and Sam work their way into different roads of advancement on the Asgard.  Sam had been a space marine long ago who had gone AWOL and was still a wanted man so now he uses his service training to become the ship’s Chief Master-at-Arms and uses that office to supplement his income with clandestine gambling operations for the crew.  Max is in charge of the ship’s livestock which includes the passengers’ pets.  An extraterrestrial animal called a spider puppy is the pet of Eldreth (Ellie) Coburn, the daughter of a VIP.  She meets Max because of his kind treatment of the spider puppy and once they become friends, she takes it into her head to use her connections with Captain Blaine to help Max advance into a position on the ship that would give him a high enough status to allow her to be seen with him.  Because his forged papers claimed that he had formerly trained as a chartsman (a lower level member of the astrogation team) he is given the chance to try out for the job on the Asgard.  Here he meets Dr. Hendrix the ship’s Astrogator.  Hendrix had trained under Max’s Uncle Chet and he is interested in seeing if Max has inherited the family’s mathematical skill.  Dr. Hendrix is generally sympathetic toward Max and goes out of his way to teach him the skills he needs.  Max also meets Mr. Simes the Assistant Astrogator.  Simes is an unfriendly, belligerent man who jealously guards his prerogatives as Dr. Hendrix’ assistant.  He resents Max’s presence and once Max’s eidetic memory is demonstrated Simes more than ever goes out of his way to denigrate Max’s skills.

The story proceeds very skillfully and Max is shown to mature and take responsibility for the choices he made that put him on the ship.  And circumstances on the ship lead to excitement from various sources.  The ship is lost during a poorly executed transition, sort of a translation through folded space that sends the ship to a completely uncharted area of the universe.  A planet where they take refuge has hostile lifeforms that threaten the lives of the crew and passengers of the Asgard.  And due to death, suicide and mutiny Max finds himself the only astrogator left on the ship and dependent on his memory to provide astrogation tables need to attempt to return the Asgard to familiar space.

I won’t go into all the details but suffice it to say that Starman Jones is a lively and fascinating story that combines various types of characters interacting in a consistent science fiction plot.  Some of the details of how astrogators do their jobs now would seem quaint and illogical with the advent of powerful computing equipment but this in no way diminishes the interest in the story.  As a naval officer Heinlein paints a very convincing picture of life on a star ship.  His hierarchy among the crew members and their relation to the passengers allows the dynamic of the story to play out.

This book was written in 1953.  Mores and attitudes have changed drastically in the sixty-five plus years since Starman Jones was written but I’ve given this book to a grandson of mine who reads science fiction voraciously and he gave it high marks.  It still maintains a high position among any young adult science fiction books written since then.  Highly recommended.

 

After you’ve read enough sexbot articles on Drudge maybe switch to something interesting

Dave Freer Over at Mad Genius Club Has a Post on Short Stories

Dave Freer over at Mad Genius Club talks about the change in reading habits that has more or less done in the short story (specifically in the Sf&F genres).  As a prospective author I am interested in the state of the publishing world.  Having so little time left for writing, short stories interest me but reading this article was not particularly encouraging.  Well, it’s interesting and comments to the post are good too.

A day short and a dollar late

Dave’s on our side of the political spectrum (part of the Sad Puppy brigade) and my grandson really liked his young adult fantasy book Changeling’s Island  so I read his posts often.

Galaxy’s Edge (Volume 9) – Retribution – A Science Fiction Book Review

This review is of the concluding volume of Jason Anspach’s and Nick Cole’s Galaxy’s Edge series.  But to be totally accurate it is the last volume of “Season 1.”  That’s right folks, science fiction series never die, they merely turn another page.

This episode carries forward where the previous volume, Message for the Dead,” left off.  Goth Sullus has defeated the Republic, been declared Emperor by the House of Reason, captured the entities controlling the Cybar army and looks to be ready to consolidate his empire.

But things have changed by the beginning of this book.  Because Sullus has thrown in with the House of Reason, the loyal and valuable core of his Black Fleet and Shock Troopers are disillusioned with him and are leaving in droves to join up with the small remnant of the Legion that has escaped destruction.  The book has all the remaining cast of characters from the earlier books and centers on the activities of now General Chhun and Kill Team victory and Aeson Keel and his crew as they team up to stop Sullus before he can consolidate his hold on the galaxy.

A separate story line sets up the arc of the future Season 2.  Prisma Maydoon is sheltering on a refuge planet supposedly safe from the war blanketing the rest of the galaxy.  But danger finds her and she must save herself from a deadly attack.  During this trail she decides that her fate is to find out what Goth Sullus is in order to destroy him.  This leads her to escape from her refuge and head out of the galaxy to advance to the next stage in her development and face her destiny.

The war and battle scenes live up to the excellent past of the series.  The characters are engaging.  The Prisma Maydoon story is a little too adolescent girl with magical powers for me.  I guess Buffy the Vampire Slayer, River Tam and all their spiritual sisters have used up all of my empathy for four foot ten inch super girls.  But that is just a small part of the book and the story is great.  There is plenty of revenge to enjoy and lots of action to relish.  And the story is faithfully completed (for the most part).  Highly recommended.

31DEC2018 – Best of 2018 List

Here’s my retrospective on 2018, completely subjective of course and whenever I can’t make up my mind or I don’t want to leave something out I’ll cheat and provide more than one choice.  And that’s one of the wonderful things about being the boss, you get to break the rules and do what you want.

 

Best Quotes of the Day

Some are political, some philosophical and some just human nature.  The order is just chronological of their appearance on the site.

 

“In the many forms of government which have sprung up there has always been an acknowledgement of justice and proportionate equality, although mankind fail in attaining them, as indeed I have already explained. Democracy, for example, arises out of the notion that those who are equal in any respect are equal in all respects; because men are equally free, they claim to be absolutely equal.”

Aristotle

 

“No state will be well administered unless the middle class holds sway.”

Aristotle

 

“When there aren’t any smart decisions, I suppose you just have to pick the stupid decision you like best.”

Orson Scott Card

 

“No one likes the fellow who is all rogue, but we’ll forgive him almost anything if there is warmth of human sympathy underneath his rogueries. The immortal types of comedy are just such men.”

W. C. Fields

 

“Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”

H.L. Mencken

 

Carpe diem!  Seize the day!  Rejoice while you are alive; enjoy the day; live life to the fullest; make the most of what you have. It is later than you think.

Horace

 

“And this is the simple truth – that to live is to feel oneself lost. He who accepts it has already begun to find himself, to be on firm ground. Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, he will look around for something to which to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sincere, because it is a question of his salvation, will cause him to bring order into the chaos of his life. These are the only genuine ideas; the ideas of the shipwrecked. All the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce.”

Soren Kierkegaard

 

If civilization had been left in female hands we would still be living in grass huts.

Camille Paglia

 

Best Books Reviewed

Fiction

I’ll have to go with the Galaxy’s Edge series:

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/01/18/legionnaire-galaxys-edge-volume-1-by-jason-anspach-nick-cole-a-science-fiction-book-review/

Over the course of 2018 I read and reviewed all eight of the volumes in the main series (first volume linked above) and they only got better as the series went along.  It was good old mil-sci-fi space opera.  I assume I won’t live long enough to see the end of the series but so far that isn’t a problem.  I look forward to the next installment soon and am in no way tired of this particular universe.  Kudos to Anspach and Cole.  Long may they stoke their dumpster fire at the Edge of the Galaxy!

 Fiction Runners Up:

“The Hidden Truth” by Hans G. Schantz

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/10/30/the-brave-and-the-bold-book-3-of-the-hidden-truth-by-hans-g-schantz-a-science-fiction-book-review/

Schantz has also upped his game as his series progresses and the “The Brave and the Bold,” the third volume, is the best so far.  Kudos to him.

 

“Southern Dust” by Caspar Vega

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/08/25/southern-dust-by-caspar-vega-a-science-fiction-and-fantasy-book-review/

Vega is an acquired taste for me and as I’ve written about him, “It’s for those who like gritty crime dramas with a staccato, post-modern, minimalist writing style.”  Even though my tastes are a little more conventional I appreciate that there is an audience for the more unusual so I look around for interesting stuff.  As I’ve said before, your call.

 

Non-Fiction

The two books listed below provide two different takes on the way to interpret the results of ancient DNA analysis.

“The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution” by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending

“Who We Are and How We Got Here; Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Past” by David Reich

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/05/24/the-10000-year-explosion-a-book-review/

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/06/18/who-we-are-and-how-we-got-here-ancient-dna-and-the-new-science-of-the-past-by-david-reich-a-book-review/

 

David Reich being an academic embedded in the politically correct culture of the university system treads ever so gently around the edges of how the science of human genetic history should be interpreted.  Cochran and Harpending are much more direct and sometimes possibly presumptuous in the conclusions they draw from the evidence.  Both books together tell a fascinating story of how much we now know about the complex and diverse origins of the various human populations.

 

Best Movie

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Incredibles 2

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/07/08/the-incredibles-2-a-science-fiction-fantasy-movie-review/

This is a kids’ movie but it far exceeds any of the other “superhero” movies for just plain entertainment value.  I won’t say it was as original as the first installment but it mostly kept to the spirit of the original and provided a fun vehicle for parents (or grandparents) to enjoy a movie with their kids.

 

Older Movies

True Grit

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2016/12/07/true-grit-the-duke-the-dude-and-the-dutiful-daughter-part-i/

 

This is a twofer.  For younger folks I’ll only recommend the new version by the Coen Brothers.  For people who grew up on the John Wayne movies of old I recommend they view both movies back to back in chronological order.  They each have facets to its advantage.  Each differs slightly from the source material.  But each is a fine movie.  And I’ll also recommend the novel that is the source for the movies.  It also has facets that aren’t available in either movie.

 

Music

Country Music

Album of the Year

Colter Wall by Colter Wall

Song of the Year

Pan Bowl by Sturgill Simpson

My music choices are very idiosyncratic so I won’t try to justify them.  To paraphrase a recent annoying politician, they just reflect who I am  Pan Bowl is an older song from Simpson’s 2014 album.

 

TV

The only truly notable television I watched in 2018 was the State of the Union address by the president.  Everything else was at best just okay.

 

On – Line Articles

 

Here are the articles that I thought were informative on our political situation.  There were many others that were intersting but these seem to encapsulate the developments in the political thinking this year.  Basically it’s the red-pilling of the normies.

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/03/23/american-greatness-pick-of-the-day-total-political-war-by-matthew-j-peterson/

 

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/04/15/a-different-kind-of-red-shift/

 

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/05/29/john-derbyshire-post-electoral-gold-for-the-stupid-party-the-anti-anti-white-vote/

 

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/10/25/our-revolutions-logic-angelo-codevilla-an-on-line-article-review/

 

Humor

Trump vs

These are of course the most subjective things to judge.  I just kind of liked these a lot.  I admit they are absurd but such is life.

Trump vs the Hell Storm (Part 1)

Trump vs the Hell Storm (Part 2)

Search hell Trump vs the Hell Storm (Part 3)

 

Photos

Here are my favorite photos of the year.

Landscape

 

 

Nature

American Museum of Natural History, New York City, Sony NEX 5N, Sony 24mm F\1.8 APSC lens
macrophotography with Sony A7 III, Minolta 200mm f\4 macro lens and extension tubes, long horned beetle
Monotropa uniflora, Indian pipe, ghost plant, corpse plant, Sony A7 III with Minolta 200mm f\4 Macro lens
Sony A7 III with the Sigma MC-11 Adapter and the Sigma 180mm f\2.8 APO Macro EX DG HSM OS for Canon

 

Who Can Replace a Man? – by Brian W. Aldiss – An OCF Science Fiction Book Review

Aldiss was a British science fiction author and “Who Can Replace A Man” is the name of a short story collection published in 1965.  From my exposure to the English films and theater from that time period they seemed like a thoroughly unhappy bunch.  A lot of that shows up in Aldiss’s stories.  There’s a dreariness and an almost claustrophobic atmosphere to some of his work which I can’t enjoy.  But mixed in with these will be a gem.  Out of the fourteen stories in this collection two of them are excellent and highly recommended.

“Old Hundredth” is the story of a megatherium (giant sloth) riding on a baluchitherium (sort of like a prehistoric giant rhinoceros) in search of transubstantiation into a musicolumn.  This piece of insane storytelling is remarkably enjoyable and feels like some kind of impressionistic water color of a beautiful landscape rather than a science fiction story.  I’ve always greatly enjoyed rereading it.

The story “Who Can Replace a Man?” is more prosaic and recognizably science fiction in its content but it provides a self-consistent and believable vision of what a world of robots would be like after humans disappear.  It’s fun even when it’s bleak.

After these two stories recommendations become qualified.

“Poor Little Warrior!” is the story of a time travelling brontosaurus big game hunt.  It follows in the footsteps of Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder,” but outdoes it in grimness.  It has that British mid-century dreariness but has some cheerful horror at the end.  To each his own on this one.

“The Impossible Star” is equally grim but does include and interesting imagining of how proximity to a black hole might affect the human animal.  I’ll give it a passing grade.

Finally, “The New Father Christmas” is dreary enough but so odd that it gets points for holding my interest.  I’ll give it a D+.

The rest of the stories, although they have interesting facets are just too downbeat for me to enjoy or recommend.  If you do decide to read the New Father Christmas and enjoy it then maybe you can find value in the rest of the collection.  Once again, to each his own.

The Inside Baseball of Film Versions of “A Christmas Carol” – Part 1

Anyone who has been reading my posts on this site for more than a year knows that I am a Christmas Carol fanatic.  So as a fair warning I’ll just say that this post is only for true Christmas Carol devotees.  Every word of it is subjective and dedicated to minutiae.  I have four versions of the film that I like and each has an aspect in which it excels the other three.  Every year I re-evaluate the films and debate with myself on trivial points that would have exactly zero importance to the overwhelming majority of the human inhabitants of planet earth.  Here goes.

Material that wasn’t in the book

A Christmas Carol was a novella.  It is brief and in places lacks details about the characters and events.

For instance, the book never says why Scrooge’s father treated him so poorly.  In the 1951 version it is stated that his father held it against him that his mother died in his childbirth.  And in the same version a similar grudge exists as the reason why Scrooge dislikes his nephew Fred.  It is shown that his sister Fan died giving birth to Fred.  In the 1984 version the same reason for his father’s dislike for Scrooge is presented.  But the death of Fan during Fred’s birth is not added.  What is interesting about these additions is that based on the original story they would be impossible.  In the book Fan is quite a bit younger than her brother Ebenezer.  Therefore, their mother couldn’t have died at the birth of her older child.  I suppose Fan could have been Ebenezer’s half-sister but I don’t imagine that a twice married man would still be holding his first wife’s death as a grudge against his son.  So, this addition is spurious.  But it is extremely dramatic and provides a timely reason for both father’s and son’s misanthropic behavior that could be somewhat excused and so leave room for deserved forgiveness.  And it has a highly effective scene where the older Scrooge hears his dying sister ask for his promise to take care of her infant son Fred.  We see that the younger Scrooge never heard the dying plea and the older Scrooge gets to belatedly beg his beloved deceased sister’s forgiveness for his heartless treatment of her only child.

And notice that the 1984 version borrows both the discrepancy of Fan’s age and the spurious grudge of Scrooge’s father but neglects the equally spurious grudge of Scrooge for his nephew.  I guess they thought those additions gave resonance to the story.

In both the 1951 and 1984 versions Scrooge’s fiancée is introduced during the Fezziwig party scene and give a name (Alice in the earlier version, Belle in the later).  Neither this early link to Scrooge’s life or the name show up in the book.  In addition, in the 1951 version it skips the scene introducing this woman’s later life with husband and large family but instead substitutes a scene during the Ghost of Christmas Present section where Belle is volunteering at a shelter for the poor.  Now whereas tying Scrooge’s love to the Fezziwig era of his life is fine and in fact better than the way the book presents it, I do not particularly favor the poor shelter addition.  It seems unwarranted.  I think the scene where she is surrounded by her family is dramatic enough in that it illustrates what happiness Scrooge has lost.

In the book the Ghost of Christmas Present visits the house of Scrooge’s nephew Fred.  The dinner guests are presented enjoying games such as blindman buff and forfeits which I take to be word games such as twenty questions.  One of the rounds determined that it was a disagreeable animal that growled and lived in London.  And, of course, it turns out to be Uncle Scrooge.  In the 1984 version the story is adapted so the dinner guests are playing a game called similes where they need to guess the end of a simile.  When Fred asks his wife to complete “as tight as,” she replies “your Uncle Scrooge’s purse strings.”  Scrooge hears this while in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Present.  After his repentance and on the actual Christmas Day he meets his niece and discussing the game of similes he advises her that the simile, in case it came up, was “as tight as a drum.”  Nicely played.

From the book we know that Jacob Marley died seven years earlier on Christmas Eve.  And we are informed that Scrooge inherited his house.  What the 1951 version does is tie these facts together in a scene.  We have Jacob Marley’s charwoman come to the office and interact with Bob Cratchit and Scrooge.  Then we have Scrooge being warned by a dying Marley that their misanthropy would endanger their immortal souls.  And this then links both the charwoman’s stealing of his bed curtains and bed clothing and her later spurious appearance after the last of the spirits depart and Scrooge wakes up on actual Christmas morning.  In this scene the charwoman (identified incorrectly as Mrs. Dilber) is bringing in Scrooge’s breakfast and witnesses his reformation into a caring human being.  His manic happiness frightens her and when he gives her a gold sovereign coin as a present, she assumes it’s a bribe to keep her quiet about his strange behavior.  When he tells her it’s a Christmas present and he is quintupling her salary she is overcome with happiness and rushes off with her own characteristic version of a Merry Christmas greeting.  I find this addition to the story especially apt.  In the story the charwoman selling Scrooge’s bed curtains comes off very negatively.  But humanizing her by including her positively in the scene about Marley’s death and allowing a rapprochement with a penitent Scrooge on Christmas morning improves the story and ties these aspects of the story together in a way that gives the story more depth.  It reinforces that Scrooge’s repentance touches every aspect of the world we have been shown in a positive way.

Overall I’d say that the film additions to the plot have been acceptable and true to the spirit of the story.

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. – A Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review

One time I mentioned on the site that I wondered what a combination of science fiction and fantasy would be like.  TomD, whose opinions on matters political, photographic and literary are always enlightening, immediately volunteered two examples, The Majipoor Cycle and the Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.  I have previously reviewed the Majipoor books.  Here I will address D.O.D.O. and just to get it out of the way the acronym stands for Department of Diachronic Operatives, a government issue time travel story.

Neal Stephenson wrote this book with Nicole Galland.  I’ve heard of Stephenson but never read him before.  I’d never heard of Galland before this book.  So, the book finally got to the top of the pile and I just finished it on Thursday past.  The first thing I can say is that this is a hybrid creation.  The outline of the story is a time-travel science fiction story of the giant government project category.  On that framework is a story that combines historical fiction, fantasy and a satiric contemporary novel about day to day life in a government bureaucracy.  The other fact about the story is that most of it is a first-person narrative by a modern female character.  And this particular character is a college teaching assistant with expertise in linguistics.  And I am intimately familiar with this subspecies.  And I’m not greatly sympathetic to its idiosyncrasies.  Also, the story takes place in Cambridge, MA.  And I am also intimately familiar with the habits and foibles of the people who live there.  And I am also not greatly sympathetic to their idiosyncrasies either.  So, this starts me out in the wrong place as a reader and reviewer.

Moving on from there, the story ingeniously constructs a scenario where the present-day American military becomes worried about losing a global arms race in magic.  Military intelligence has somehow detected anomalies in the present that lead them to believe that someone has figured out how to travel back in time.  And based on a thorough computerized analysis of historical documents, they believe the method involves witchcraft.  And since witchcraft doesn’t seem to exist anymore, they need to figure out how to revive it.  And reviving it hinges on manipulating quantum states of matter and invokes Schrodinger’s Cat who literally shows up in the story (the cat, not the Schrodinger).

From there we meet a Japanese scientist/Mayflower descendant, husband/wife team, which is a category that believe it or not, I’m also personally familiar with.  He’s a quantum physicist who has been investigating the mechanism that the story needs to restore magic and she is the descendant of a burned Salem witch.  Mix in a surviving one hundred and eighty-year-old Hungarian witch, a dashing young army lieutenant colonel, a plucky and annoying female linguist (these last two being the love interests in the story) and assorted scientists, generals, computer geeks and bureaucrats both academic and military and you have the cast that becomes project D.O.D.O.  Once they succeed, we add into the stew, witches from colonial Massachusetts, Elizabethan London, thirteenth century Constantinople and various times and places in medieval northern Europe.  And the non-witch historical characters include Byzantine emperors and empresses, Varangian guards, Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, Richard Burbage and a raiding party of Vikings in a Walmart.

The text is a collection of Victorian era journal entries, Elizabethan era letters, some medieval vellum codices, U.S. military documents and a copious collection of e-mail messages from a variety of bureaucratic organizations.  The story is in several voices modern and antique but as mentioned above is primarily the journal of the young woman linguist who is the protagonist and the focal point of several of the original plot elements.

Despite my obvious lack of sympathy for the protagonist and several other of the main characters, the story works on its own terms.  The characters are self-consistent and wherever I am competent to compare them to their real-life exemplars highly accurate.  Because of the details of the time travel mechanism, the action is of necessity episodic and sometimes repetitive.  This situation is written pretty well and only results in a little slowness in the action at the beginning of the book.  Toward the end the pacing picks up quite a bit and the book ends by resolving the latest crisis but the finish requires that there will be sequels.

My opinion on the book is that if you are like me and rather dislike bureaucrats and modern women then you will have limited sympathy for the protagonist and several of the main characters.  There is a good amount of swashbuckling action by the military officer who is a main character and likable.  The story line is extremely clever as a science fiction plot.  So, I recommend it as a story with the proviso that men of my generation will be tempted occasionally to toss the book at the wall when modern New England feminist empowerment rears its ugly head.

The Dresden Files – A Fantasy Book Review

Technically I guess this is a book series review.  Jim Butcher has produced fifteen books in his Dresden Files series of urban fantasy novels.  Starting in 2000 he published about one a year.  The series follows the career of Harry Dresden, a Chicago wizard who consults with the Chicago PD whenever a vampire, werewolf or other evil magical being invades his territory.  Butcher provides back story on Harry’s relation to the various hierarchies of supernatural beings starting in the first novel Storm Front but one of the very impressive aspects of the series is just how complex the interrelation between the various fantasy elements of Harry’s environment becomes.  In addition to the wizards that he is nominally a member of, he has varied bad relations with the Three (Black, White and Red) Houses of vampires, the Summer and Winter Queen’s faerie realms, an assortment of demi-gods, several types of lycanthropes, zombies, ghosts, Christian Knights a Chicago Mafioso and any number of demons and devils.

And in addition to the growth of the fantasy landscape, Harry himself grows in the telling.  He starts out as an almost ridiculous figure of fun who barely survives only because he heals very well.  But across the series of stories he takes on the characteristics of a hero.  He loses those he loves and sacrifices his own well being to protect his neighbors and innocents who are often thrust into the jaws of death by proximity to Harry’s homicidal enemies.  And we see Harry’s relationship with Lieutenant Karrin Murphy of the Chicago PD evolve.  They start out as uneasy allies.  But owing to the impossibility of reconciling the requirements of human law enforcement with the reality of battling supernatural monsters they often found themselves as adversaries.  Over time they become as close as family and Karrin ends up as probably Harry’s closest friend on earth.

We meet members of Harry’s bizarre extended family including a half brother who is part vampire and his god-mother who is a powerful faerie in the Winter Queen’s Court.  And Harry even becomes a father although under very tragic circumstances.

This is all just a rambling miscellany of some of the elements of this series that come to mind.  No new volume has come out since 2014 so my memory of it isn’t crystal clear.  But what is certain is that this is a fantastic series of urban fantasy books that entertains on multiple levels.  The story telling is compelling.  The characters are memorable and interesting, the evil ones no less than the good, and Harry most of all.  And Harry Dresden becomes a familiar and likable friend whose acquaintance you look forward to renewing in each book.  The whole series is a first-person account in Harry’s voice.  You laugh as his crappy Volkswagon Beetle gets smashed for the hundredth time by some monster and has to be repaired on the cheap again because Harry is always broke.  You recoil in shock when Harry’s pathetic unheated basement apartment, so often attacked by supernatural forces, is finally burned to the ground.

I’ll cut this short here.  I highly recommend the Dresden Files novels.  I haven’t read any of the independent short stories that have been added to the corpus recently so I won’t vouch for those.  I’m hoping someday Jim Butcher will give us more of the series.  They are excellent.