Book Review: Eighty Days

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History Making Race Around the World
Matthew Goodman
Ballantine Books, New York
(c) 2013 by the author

You may have heard (at least I hope it’s somewhere in the dustier corners of your memory) that after the publication of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, people started seriously considering the possibility of such a circumnavigation. At the offices of Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, crusading reporter Nellie Bly was put up to the task. She departed from Hoboken NJ on November 14, 1889, heading across the Atlantic.

What I did not know was that later the same day, Elizabeth Bisland, a reporter and columnist for the monthly magazine The Cosmopolitan boarded a train leaving Grand Central heading west, with the same goal in mind.

The two women were not just racing the calendar, hoping that the uncertainties of long-distance travel (weather delays, equipment failures, et al.) would be minimal, but also each other.

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Book Review: How to Invent Everything

How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler
by Ryan North
Riverhead Books
(c) 2018 by the author

It’s a fun conceit. Your rental time travel machine broke down, leaving you stranded in the distant past. And your FC3000(tm) personal time machine has no user serviceable parts. What do you need to know in order to not just survive or thrive, but start things moving towards an advanced technological civilization?

The book assumes you can manage to make a fire and build some sort of shelter (if your time machine has been damaged to the point where it won’t serve in that capacity, that is). As far as food goes, it gives the standard technique for safely determining if a plant is inedible or poisonous, and the helpful information that virtually all mammals and birds are safe to eat once cooked.

But then what?

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Book Review: The Field of Blood

The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to the Civil War
Joanne B. Freeman
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
(c) 2018 by the author

You might recall from your American History classes in school that in the few decades before the Civil War, Congress was filled with great orators like Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun. Continuing in the fine tradition of our Founding Fathers, they and other congressmen would passionately debate the issues of the day, letting their words carry the force of their arguments….

Well, maybe in the Senate. In the House of Representatives, it was another story.

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Movie Review: SLIPSTREAM (UK, 1989)

There are many things that can make a movie bad. Lack of talent either in front of or behind the camera, overreaching by the director / producer, a budget totally incapable of bringing the story to life, a stupid story idea to begin with…

Then there are things unconnected with the movie itself that can have an effect.

Producer Gary Kurtz (who had also worked in that role on Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back) was going through an ugly divorce at the time. The money he spent / lost in the divorce led to a cascade of problems with Slipstream, culminating in the movie never getting a US theatrical release. Which is probably why you haven’t heard of it.

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Movie Review: The Changeling (1980)

The Old Haunted House movie has changed quite a bit over the recent decades. One cannot have a simple haunting by a lone spirit who needs to have his (or her) soul put to rest anymore; one has to have a portal to hell on the property, some sort of demonic possession, or the scene of some horrible atrocity with dozens of victims in order to attract an audience.

Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with a movie like that, but it’s too easy for a filmmaker to fall into the trap of using blood and gore as a replacement for a good, honest scare. For an “old school” spooky haunting, you’ve got to go back quite a ways.

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Book Review: The Year of the Pitcher

The Year of the Pitcher: Bob Gibson, Denny McLain, and the End of Baseball’s Golden Age
by Sridhar Pappu
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
(c) 2017 by the author

1.12 and 31.

The two numbers that essentially defined the 1968 baseball season.

The former is Bob Gibson’s earned run average for the season (basically, he only gave up one run for every eight innings he pitched); the latter is the number of games won by Denny McLain – the most in over thirty years. These stats epitomize the low-scoring environment of baseball in the 1960s. But rather than focus on the actual games of that season, Pappu takes a much broader look.

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Book Review – The Laundry Files

The Laundry Files series

by Charles Stross

The Atrocity Archives (2004)
The Jennifer Morgue (2006)
The Fuller Memorandum (2010)
The Apocalypse Codex (2012)
The Rhesus Chart (2014)
The Annihilation Score (2015)
The Nightmare Stacks (2016)
The Delirium Brief (2017)
The Labyrinth Index (to be published 2018)

It’s a mixed blessing for a fan of an author when that author has a really good series of stories that happens to be rather open-ended. There’s always the chance for another entry in the series, but you feel compelled to read them all. And there’s the problem that the stories might have a specific order in which they should be read. Miss one, and you lose a lot of background information in the next. Or the author has to keep adding annoying infodumps to fill the reader in.

With his “Laundry Files” stories (the above-mentioned novels, plus a handful of shorter works), Stross has managed to avoid those problems for the most part. While the order given is both the order of publication and the order in which the stories take place, they can be read and enjoyed separately. A couple of the later entries (Score, Stacks, Index) even center on side characters.

Speaking of which, the main character is Bob Howard, an office flunky in Britain’s secret government agency that deals with the “occult”. Thanks to being in the right place at the right time (though to Bob, it’s the wrong place and wrong time), he rises quickly through the ranks to become the de facto head of the agency.

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Movie Review: The Paradise Makers (2017)

The Enterprise is at an unspecified starbase for a little R&R, and to pick up a few new crewmembers. The character development and backstory comes to a halt when new orders come in. The USS Bowfin, a scout ship, was sent off to do an anthropological survey, and they are well past their reporting deadline. Kirk and crew are dispatched to find out what happened.

The briefing en route fills in the details of the Bowfin’s mission. The planet they went to was pretty much uninhabited, except for a large tropical archipelago. Rather uninteresting, except for some oddities that warranted a closer look.

Looks like it’s pretty much a case of Mutiny on the Bowfin. But if that’s all there is, we wouldn’t have much of a story, would we.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Taking of K-129

The Taking of K-129
Josh Dean
Dutton Books
Copyright 2017 by the author

Those of you old enough to have lived through Ancient History may recall hearing stuff in the early 1970s about mining manganese nodules from the ocean floor. One of Howard Hughes’ companies contracted the building of a huge ship, the Glomar Explorer, to see if these nodules could actually be scooped up in any way that could possibly be practical and profitable.

Years later, it came to light that the mining operation was actually the cover story for collecting something even more valuable and outrageous: a sunken Soviet ballistic missile submarine.

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MOVIE REVIEW: 13 Ghosts (US, 1960)

The Zorba family is in a rather bad state. That day, the repo men came and collected all their furniture. There’s no indication as to the source of their financial troubles, but it doesn’t really matter. That night, while eating dinner on the floor (the repo men didn’t take their dishes or kitchenware), a telegram arrives. The father, Cyrus (Donald Woods), is being instructed to show up at the offices of attorney Benjamin Rush (Martin Milner, in his pre “Adam-12” days).

It doesn’t look good at all.

However, once Cyrus gets there, he’s informed that his eccentric uncle Plato Zorba has died recently, and has left Cyrus and his family his house and all its contents. This is a pleasant surprise to Cyrus; he’d though Plato had died years ago. The family quickly relocates to the old mansion (conveniently furnished, and with a live-in housekeeper (played with suitable creepiness by Margaret Hamilton).

There, they find out that Uncle Plato’s eccentricities concerned the supernatural, and he had developed a method that he claimed would make ghosts visible. That would explain the weird glasses that were the only non-house item left by the will. Uncle Plato also happened to “collect” ghosts – and they shared the house with him….

Haunted or no, the Zorbas really don’t have much choice at the moment….

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