Geoffrey Jenkins’ mind-bending plot has a beautiful scientist who’s passionate about beetles, a super-secret Nazi nuclear powered U-boat, a Luger toting Bad Guy, a military court martial, a gripping submarine duel, and a mystery involving an enigmatic section of the African coast. Written in 1959, Jenkins’ high adventure novel hits a couple of sour notes with a lame romantic subplot and jarring references to black Africans. But, if you can overlook these minor flaws, you’ll find A Twist of Sand delivers a satisfying high adventure that just isn’t being written anymore.
Sandra Bullock is getting a little too old to play the ingenue role, but she carries off her part as a Dragon Lady editor for a large publishing firm. Bullock’s character is about to be deported unless she can become a U.S. citizen through a quickie marriage to her administrative assistant, played by Ryan Reynolds. Of course, plenty of screwball romantic entanglements test our couple. Betty White shows she still can inject humor into a tired plot with her role as a 90-year old grandmother of the groom. The Proposal was not as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, it was mildly entertaining. GRADE: B
Robert Silverberg has been a prolific writer for 60 years. The 25-page double-columned bibliography included in Other Spaces, Other Times of just Silverberg’s science fiction publications prove that. Silverberg’s soft-core novels, non-fiction, and mysteries aren’t included in this bibliography. But what is included are Silverberg’s reminiscences of the people he met during his long career as a writer. Harlan Ellison pops up several times, Fredrick Pohl, John W. Campbell, Larry Shaw, Isaac Asimov, Ed Emshwiller, all make appearances. There are plenty of photos of Silverberg interacting with editors, writers, and fans. Dozens of color reproductions of the book jackets and paperback covers of Silverberg’s works are fun to look at. Silverberg’s narrative captures a magic time in publishing that is just about extinct. GRADE: A
As you know, this blog likes to be ahead of the curve. But yesterday, I jumped the gun on Bill Crider’s Birthday. Today is really, really, really Bill’s Birthday. Hope the Market hits 10,000 to celebrate his Special Day!
Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (aka, The Boomerang Clue) was first published in 1934. It is not a Miss Marple so the folks at PBS will have to do another retrofit to turn this novel into a Miss Marple mystery. The original novel features likable Bobby Jones, just mustered out of the British Navy, who during a round of golf discovers a body. The dying man says, “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” and then expires. Shortly thereafter, an attempt is made on Bobby’s life. The fetching Lady Frances Derwent becomes Bobby’s partner in investigating the strange happenings. I found the plot outlandish. Christie seemed to be more in the romantic mode than the mystery mode in this one. It will be interesting to see how the presence of Miss Marple changes this conspiratorial mess. GRADE: C
One of Judy Collins’ early hits was “Suzanne” back in 1966. The arrangement sounds a bit shallow to me today. Another hit from 1967, “Sisters of Mercy,” holds up a bit better. The best sounding Leonard Cohen song Judy Collins sang from that era is “Bird On the Wire” from 1968. Record companies are repackaging music and marketing it to Baby Boomers who still buy CD’s. You can buy Judy Collins Sings Lennon & McCartney, too. If you like Judy Collins’ crystal clear voice, you can buy this CD from Daedalus (salebooks.com) for $7.98.
Thanks to Bill Crider’s generosity, I was able to get my hands on Robert van Gulik’s rare, contemporary novel: The Given Day. Robert van Gulik is best known for his Judge Dee series of mysteries featuring a clever Chinese magistrate and his amazing staff operating in the T’ang Dynasty (618-907). But in 1964, van Gulik published this mystery which completely abandons the style he used in the Judge Dee books. In his fascinating “Postscript,” Janwillem Van de Wetering argues this book was van Gulik’s attempt to reconcile his “Dutchness” with the Eastern attitudes and philosophies that attracted him during his time in the Far East. Dennis McMillan published a paperback edition of this novel that you might be able to find on the Internet at a reasonable price. The hardcover edition goes for about $1,200.
Gregory Clark begins his book with an provocative question: why was the average person in 1800 no better off economically than the average person in 100,000 B.C.? The answer is technology (or lack thereof). Until 1800, social structures did not encourage explorations of technology. In fact, they discouraged it by burning scientists and thinkers at the stake. After thousands of years of poverty, starvation, and brutality, Gregory Clark believes that starting in 1800, a confluence of forces came together to actually support scientific inquiry and its development into technology. And technology leads to better living standards. Clark provides plenty of interesting examples and persuaded me. Despite the cutesy reference to Hemingway’s classic novel, if you read this book I’ll bet Gregory Clark convinces you, too.
Subterranean Press won’t win any prizes for the cover of this fine volume of short stories. The previous three collections had the same bland covers. But it’s what’s inside that counts, and what’s inside this book is some of Robert Silverberg’s best writing. “A Sea of Faces,” “The Dybbuk of Mazel Tov IV,” “Capricorn Games,” “Ship-Sister, Star-Sister,” “Trips,” “Born With the Dead,” “Schwartz Between the Galaxies,” and my personal favorite, “In the House of the Double Minds” are all here to delight you. Silverberg provides informative introductions to each story capturing the spirit of the times and how the story got published. There are over 400 pages of top quality story-telling here. Silverberg was at the top of his game in the Seventies. This volume shows why. GRADE: A