Author Archives: george

THE AFFAIR OF THE MYSTERIOUS LETTER By Alexis Hall


Welcome to another Sherlock Holmes Week! I’m starting out with a wild mash-up Sherlock Holmes pastiche called The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall. The novel is set in a future city of Khelathra-Ven. Chaptain John Wyndham (aka, Watson), after being injured in a war in another Universe, answers an advertisement for a lodger at 221b Martyrs Walk (aka, Baker Street). There Wyndham finds the enigmatic Shaharazad Haas (aka, Sherlock Holmes) and promptly finds himself involved in the adventure of a mysterious blackmail letter aimed at Shaharazad’s former lover.

Alexis Hall poses the questions: What if Sherlock Holmes practiced sorcery…and was a woman. The Affair of the Mysterious Letter answers those questions with a dazzling mix of SF aliens, vampires, powerful gods, and surreal technology. Alexis Hall delivers a rollicking thrill-ride as Haas and Wyndham scramble through Time and Space to solve the puzzling scheme. I can’t wait for the next Shaharazad Has adventure! GRADE: B+

THE BEST SCIENCE FICTION BOOKS OF ALL TIME


I’m always amused by grandiose articles like like Paul Tassi’s “The Best Science Fiction Books of All Time” in FORBES https://www.forbes.com/sites/paultassi/2019/07/31/the-best-science-fiction-books-of-all-time/#65928cbc6896. At best, these articles supply a list of books that the writer likes without representing the entire Science Fiction genre. The books Paul Tassi claims are the “Best” are:
1. The Sprawl Trilogy by William Gibson
Neuromancer (1984)
Count Zero (1986)
Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988)
2. Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons
Hyperion (1989)
The Fall of Hyperion (1990)
Endymion (1996)
The Rise of Endymion (1997)
3. Ender’s Game Quartet by Orson Scott Card
Ender’s Game (1989)
Ender in Exile (1991)
Xenocide (1991)
Children of the Mind (1996)
First Meetings (short stories) (2002)
4. Dune Series by Frank Herbert
Dune (1965)
Dune Messiah (1969)
Children of Dune (1976)
God Emperor of Dune (1981)
Heretics of Dune (1984)
Chapterhouse: Dune (1985)
5. The Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin
The Fifth Season (2015)
The Obelisk Gate (2016)
The Stone Sky (2017)
6. Snow Crash by Neal Stehenson (1992)
7. The Expanse Series by James S. A. Corey (Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck)
Leviathan Wakes (June 15, 2011)
Caliban’s War (June 26, 2012)
Abaddon’s Gate (June 4, 2013)
Cibola Burn (June 5, 2014)
Nemesis Games (June 2, 2015)
Babylon’s Ashes (December 6, 2016)
Persepolis Rising (December 5, 2017)
Tiamat’s Wrath (March 26, 2019)
I find this to be a very odd list, heavily oriented to SF series. What are your favorite SF novels? What do you think of Paul Tassi’s list?

DOUBLE INDEMNITY (75TH ANNIVERSARY)


This is the 75th Anniversary of that great noir movie, Double Indemnity (1944). Directed by Billy Wilder, co-written by Wilder and Raymond Chandler, Double Indemnity ignited a series of noir movies in the Post-World War II era. The screenplay was based on James M. Cain’s 1943 novel of the same name (which originally appeared as an eight-part serial in Liberty magazine, starting with the February 1936 issue).

Fred MacMurray portrays an insurance salesman who fails for the Wrong Woman. Crafty Barbara Stanwyck plays a provocative housewife who wishes her husband were dead (and that she had the insurance money, too). Savvy Edward G. Robinson plays an insurance claims adjuster whose job is to investigate suspicious claims. The term “double indemnity” refers to a clause in life insurance policies that doubles the payout in rare cases when death is caused accidentally.

Double Indemnity was nominated for seven Academy Awards yet did not win any. But today, Double Indemnity is considered a noir classic. Are you a fan of Double Indemnity?

FRIDAY’S FORGOTTEN BOOKS #540: THE NEW EDGAR WINNERS Edited by Martin H. Greenberg


I enjoyed reading all the Edgar Short Story winners in The New Edgar Winners but three stories stood out for me. I love Frederick Forsyth’s “There Are No Snakes in Ireland” which gives a new twist on a revenge theme. Also exceptional was “By the Dawn’s Early Light,” a Matt Scudder story first published in Playboy. “Soft Monkey” by Harlan Ellison is basically a chase story about a homeless woman who witnesses a murder and the thugs that hunt her down to silence her. Also intriguing is Donald E. Westlake’s fine “Introduction” that illuminates the short story writing process. GRADE: A
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Introduction by Donald E. Westlake — 9
(1979) Armed and dangerous / Geoffrey Norman — 15
(1980) Horn man / Clark Howard — 43
(1981) The absence of Emily / Jack Ritchie — 59
(1982) There are no snakes in Ireland / Frederick Forsyth — 73
(1983) The new girl friend / Ruth Rendell — 103
(1984) By the dawn’s early light / Lawrence Block — 117
(1985) Ride the lightning / John Lutz — 139
(1986) Rain in Pinton County / Robert Sampson — 165
(1987) Soft monkey / Harlan Ellison — 189
(1988) Flicks / Bill Crenshaw — 207
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS — 237
EDGAR AWARDS: WINNERS AND NOMINEES, FICTION (1945-1988) — 239

ON HUMAN NATURE By Roger Scruton


In this slim book (151 pages), Roger Scruton explores what it is to be human. Scruton examines both scientific and philosophical texts to assist in his analysis. I found the new genetic findings Scruton cites both exciting and scary. With the prospects of genetic manipulation and cloning the definition of what is “human” will evolve.

On Human Nature is a revised version of the Test Memorial Lectures that Roger Scruton delivered at Princeton in 2013. Scruton analyzes topics like personhood, ethics, sexuality, religion, and politics. Since these are short lectures, readers interested in these subjects might turn to Scruton’s excellent An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Philosophy for more information. Do you feel more human, or less? GRADE: B+
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Preface vii
1 Human Kind 1
2 Human Relations 50
3 The Moral Life 79
4 Sacred Obligations 113
Index of Names 145
Index of Subjects 149

THE DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES, ROUND 2


Here we go again. After the faux pas of suggesting the elimination of private health insurance, of “open” borders, and free health care for illegal immigrants, the Democrats need to refocus on their message: health care, health care, health care.

Kamala Harris was the big winner in the first round of debates with her “food fight” line and her crushing critique of Sleepy Joe Biden. Biden needs to step up his game in this round of debates or his support will erode. The standards for participating in the Third Round of debates in September are higher so this is the last chance for some of the candidates to move up…or move out.

Frankly, I’m not seeing any of these candidates beating Trump. Despite his racist attacks, his cruelty to immigrants at the border, and his ridiculous (and costly!) trade war with China, Trump’s support from his base is unwavering. The Democratics look weak and confused. What do you think?

FIRST DATE: THE MUSICAL


First Date presents an actual first date in real time. Aaron, a nerdy guy who works in the financial district, and Casey, a troubled woman who works in an art gallery, meet in a restaurant for their first date. This odd couple interacts in an unpredictable fashion with flashbacks of other people they’ve dated and getting advice from imaginary characters. In Aaron’s case, Gabe–Aaron’s best friend–appears from time to time to give Aaron advice (and then disappears like imaginary characters do). Casey imagines her sister, Lauren–who is happily married–whenever the conversation comes to a boil. Lauren gives Casey advice which Casey frequently ignores.

First Date: The Musical lasts only 90 minutes. The first date proceeds in sometimes surprising directions until the ending. I liked the songs, which were mostly funny, and I liked the chemistry between the two main characters, Aaron and Casey. First Date: The Musical first showed up on Broadway in 2013, but now it’s making its way around the country in local and regional theaters. If you’re looking for a comic look at the dating scene, I recommend First Date: The Musical. Have you experienced a memorable First Date? GRADE: A-
SONG LIST:
“The One” – Company
“First Impressions” – Aaron, Casey
“Bailout Song #1” – Reggie
“The Girl For You” – Company
“The Awkward Pause” – Company
“Allison’s Theme #1” – Allison
“The World Wide Web Is Forever” – Company†
“Total Loser” – Company††
“That’s Why You Love Me” – Edgy Ex-Boyfriends
“Bailout Song #2” – Reggie
“Safer” – Casey
“I’d Order Love” – Waiter
“Allison’s Theme #2” – Aaron, Allison, Gabe
“The Things I Never Said” – Aaron, Aaron’s Mother
“Bailout Song #3” – Reggie
“In Love With You” – Aaron
“The Check!” – Company
“First Impressions (reprise)” – Reggie, Waiter††
“Something That Will Last” – Casey, Aaron, Company

THE CHIEF: THE LIFE AND TURBULENT TIMES OF CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS By Joan Biskupic


The Supreme Court just voted 5-4 to allow Trump to divert Defense Department funds to the construction of his Border Wall. Sneaky Mitch McConnell stole Obama’s Merrick Garland pick and we got conservative Neil Gorsuch instead. Then Trump stuck us with Brett Kavanaugh for the next 20+ years. When swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy retired, it has fallen to Chief Justice John Roberts, a kid who grew up in Buffalo, NY, to keep the Supreme Court from completely becoming a Right-Wing extension of the Republican Party.

Joan Biskupic’s analysis of the life and times of John Roberts presents a compelling picture of a deeply conservative judge. Yet, Roberts’s career is rooted in traditional legal precedents. Roberts attempts to keep the Supreme Court somewhat balanced. But, what if Ruth Bader Ginsburg retires and Trump puts another arch conservative on the Court? What if the conservative wing of the Supreme Court repeals Roe v. Wade and the marriage-equality cases? If Trump wins another four years, he could pack the Supreme Court with right-wingers. Then, not even John Roberts could mitigate the damage. What do you think will happen to the Supreme Court? GRADE: B+

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD


Like Deb, I find Quentin Tarantino’s films “problematic.” Once Upon a Time in Hollywood celebrates TV programs and movie-making in the late 1960s. Leonardo DiCaprio brilliantly plays an actor on the downside of his career. DiCaprio’s character, Rick Dalton, had a successful TV series called Bounty Law, but now Dalton can only manage “Guest Star” roles on other series, mostly playing the “Heavy.” Brad Pitt, who radiates Star Power, plays Rick Dalton’s stunt double, Cliff Booth. Cliff is more than a stunt man: he’s Rick’s driver and fixer. Together, both men confront their changing life-styles. Margot Robbie plays a convincing Sharon Tate. The plot slowly brings the three characters together in an ending people will either love…or hate.

My favorite part of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood revolves around the scenes Rick Dalton shares with 8-year-old actress (Julia Butters) where Dalton reveals his greatest fears. My least favorite parts of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood center on all the driving scenes (which seem only there to provide a visual background to the song that’s being played on the car radio) and all the walking scenes. Walking around the Western soundstage, walking around George Spahn’s ranch in rural Chatsworth, walking around Benedict Canyon. Too much walking! At 161 minutes, this movie could be edited down to a 2-hour movie without losing much. I enjoyed Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but I’m not in any hurry to watch it again. I hope Tarantino and SONY make back the $100 million it took to make this film. Do you remember these songs from the 1960s? GRADE: B-

SOUNDTRACK SONG LIST:
1. Treat Her Right – Roy Head & The Traits
2. Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man – The Bob Seger System
Boss Radio feat. Humble Harve:
3. Hush – Deep Purple
4. Mug Root Beer Advertisement
5. Hector – The Village Callers
6. Son of a Lovin’ Man – Buchanan Brothers
7. Paxton Quigley’s Had the Course (from the MGM film Three in the Attic) – Chad & Jeremy
8. Tanya Tanning Butter Advertisement
9. Good Thing – Paul Revere & The Raiders
10. Hungry – Paul Revere & the Raiders
11. Choo Choo Train – The Box Tops
12. Jenny Take a Ride – Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels
13. Kentucky Woman – Deep Purple
14. The Circle Game – Buffy Sainte-Marie
Boss Radio feat. The Real Don Steele:
15. Mrs. Robinson – Simon & Garfunkel
16. Numero Uno Advertisement
17. Bring a Little Lovin’ – Los Bravos
18. Suddenly / Heaven Sent Advertisement
19. Vagabond High School Reunion
20. KHJ Los Angeles Weather Report
21. The Illustrated Man Advertisement / Ready For Action
22. Hey Little Girl – Dee Clark
23. Summer Blonde Advertisement
24. Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show – Neil Diamond
25. Don’t Chase Me Around (from the MGM film GAS-S-S-S) – Robert Corff
26. Mr. Sun, Mr. Moon – Paul Revere & the Raiders (feat. Mark Lindsay)
27. California Dreamin’ – Jose Feliciano
28. Dinamite Jim (English Version) – I Cantori Moderni di Alessandroni
29. You Keep Me Hangin’ On (Quentin Tarantino Edit) – Vanilla Fudge
30. Miss Lily Langtry (cue from The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean) – Maurice Jarre
31. KHJ Batman Promotion