Health, Wealth, Love

According To Hoyt

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When I was little, our unsophisticated New Year’s toasts “Health” or for reasons unknown to me “Chinchin” were raised to another level by visiting relatives.  I assume they were from Venezuela, because we did them in Spanish forever more.

And you’ll forgive me because I can’t write in Spanish, and it’s be so long I might not remember the right words, but I think it was “Salud, Dinero y amor.”

Health, wealth and love.

I used to think older people were strange and stodgy because when you asked them what they wanted in the new year, they said “health.”  Even as a very sickly child, I didn’t understand the point of that.  Okay, a part of it is that I didn’t understand why anyone would ask for health.  It either came or it didn’t and in my case it seemed a hopeless business.  But more importantly, ill-health didn’t affect anything. …

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First To The Stars by Rex Gordon

First To The Stars by Rex Gordon is a classic science fiction novel with ideas that would be used by others in later works.
I suppose many younger readers will find fault with chapter two, which contains some passages & ideas that may seem either politically incorrect or laughably corny to different readers. Here’s an example:

“You see it isn’t as easy as that,” I gently told her. “The reason you don’t get raped in situations like this is that the participants go home after a while. It isn’t that your virtue is triumphant but only that he would have to face the music. Or do I get you wrong? Is it just that you look on three years in a rocket with a man in quite another way?”
“I can see your aim is not to make it easy for me to think of it in any way.”

It is better in context, and not at all an indication of the quality of the rest of the novel. In fact by the end the daughter of the woman in this scene is a brilliant protagonist.
From the third chapter to about a third of the way through First To The Stars is similar to Poul Anderson’s brilliant Tau Zero, with the out-of-control spaceship approaching speeds that have relativistic effects on the crew. How the rocket headed for Mars achieves such a speed is explained rather vaguely with the author’s unconventional interpretation of relativity; my interpretation of his vague explanation is that there’s some sort of relativistic positive feedback: The faster they go, the difference in mass & time dilation allow even faster acceleration and so on — or something like that. At any rate the author’s descriptions of the views forward, aft, and abeam are better thought-out and more realistic than the stars flying by in Star Trek et al, allowing for blue-shift, red-shift, variations in density.
The next section of the novel concerns the crash and survival on an alien world, and is as interesting as most variations on that theme.
The last half of the novel is an excellent take on first. The scenes with the protagonist trying to communicate with aliens in their laboratory reminded me the scene in Planet of the Apes with Charlton Heston trying to communicate with ape scientist, though these are full-fledged aliens, not apes. Again, better thought out than the typical Star Trek scene where everybody speaks English.
Most of the writing is quite good, certainly better than the near hack-writing of some of the author’s contemporaries, with some philosophy mixed in reminiscent of Heinlein. Here are a few lines:

“A man isn’t just solid matter, and the Kara people know it. He’s a temporal construction, a pattern of function and behavior that exists in the four dimensions of space-time. Neither you, when you look at a man physically and spatially,or the Kara, when they look at living things as movement in time, ever see the whole truth.” Another:
“They were afraid, and because they were afraid they looked around to see some object they could be afraid of.”

My recommendation is don’t judge a book by the second chapter.

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The Conspiracy Club by Jonathan Kellerman

The Conspiracy Club
by Jonathan Kellerman

The suspense builds up gradually in this psychological drama set in a hospital with a serial killer loose in the background and a mysterious old pathologist and his club of eccentric friends possibly behind anonymous mailings — clues….or taunts?….or something — to the protagonist, a psychologist who’s lover was a victim. Kept me guessing and became more and more of a page-turner up to the suspenseful conclusion. One of the best psychological thrillers I’ve read.
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The Killer Thing

The Killer Thing by Kate Wilhem is ostensibly a suspense adventure about a future space soldier trying to evade a killer robot on a harsh desert planet.
But flashbacks of both the soldier’s and the robot’s past, training, and development comprise the bulk of the novel, with an effective anti-war theme (or at least anti-{the pro-war future civilization depicted}). Normally I dislike flashbacks (and dream sequences; a couple dream sequences would have gotten tedious for me if any longer), but most of these were interesting and included some of the most original and thought-provoking scenes, save for the ending which was very good.
I think The Killer Thing is the first novel by Kate Wilhem I’ve read — I’ll read more — and I can give it a measured recommendation to fans of science fiction by Robert Heinlein and Harry Harrison.

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The Forrestal Diaries

With only a casual interest in history, I found this book fascinating; not quite a “can’t put it down” page-turner, but compelling enough to pick up and keep reading every day.
Most sections touch on the end of World War Two and the beginning of the cold war, at least mentioning and often quoting such characters as FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Stalin, Molotov, Chiang Kai-shek, Churchill, Tito, John Foster Dulles, Gen. Marshall, Gen. MacArthur, Gen. Bradley, Vandenburg, Admirals Nimitz, King, Leahy, Yamamoto, Averell Harriman, Bedell Smith, Vannevar Bush, Charles E. Wilson, Republicans Dewey, Taft, Stassen, Democrats Henry Wallace, Vinson, Pepper, Byrd and many more, in personal meetings, cabinet meetings, and elsewhere. If you recognize many of these names but don’t know too much about them, reading the Forrestal Diaries is an entertaining way to learn more (as I did).
Much of Forrestal’s worries centered around developing a unified service and an adequate military budget while watching hot spots around the world like China, Israel, Greece, Turkey, Korea, etc., as well as the Berlin blockade, European aide (Marshall plan), dealing with the Atomic bomb and whether/how to plan for it’s use in war, and politics.
(Not quite a spoiler, but: It comes to a moving conclusion.) The only reason I didn’t give it 5 stars: Heavy editing with many long editorial notes, which on the one hand makes it more readable than a bunch of diary entries often jumping between topics of different context, but on the other, leaves me wondering if the editors put their own spin on things or left out something interesting. Still very glad I read it.

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Dances With Demons

According To Hoyt

I was going to write about something completely different. Or perhaps not. I was going to write about understanding people from completely different backgrounds; about putting yourself in other people’s shoes.

Particularly in the age of the internet — and yes, particularly on the left, but we do it too — it’s very easy to judge someone for something stupid and build a whole picture of what people are like that has nothing to do with reality.  (Take for instance all the assumptions made about my beliefs and preferences because I prefer less authoritarian government.  Or less preachy fiction, for that matter.)

Before you defend on “we do it too”, I’ll remind you I’ve been called a communist and/or an atheist for … not being a conservative, but a libertarian.  When I disagree with socon stuff I quickly get called names.  As for libertarians, they’ve been known to call me…

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Venus on The Half-Shell by Kilgore Trout

Venus on The Half-Shell by Kilgore Trout (actually written by Philip Jose Farmer from characters and ideas by Kurt Vonnegut) is a mixed bag of imaginative ideas, pulp sci-fi parody, and sophomoric humor (part of the parody I presume). Reminiscent of Hitchiker’s Guide to The Galaxy (which was written later), it follows the lone survivor of an Earth-wide deluge, as he explores the universe in a Chinese spaceship with a faithful dog and owl he rescued from the flood.

VenusHalfShellWhat I liked about the book is that they touch on several different alien worlds with very creative, imaginative aliens and cultures. In one place Farmer seems to pay homage my favorite author Robert Heinlein’s “Coventry:”
“The Free Land, it turned out, was a territory about the size of Texas. It consists mostly of mountains and heavy forests, wild animals and wilder humans. Felons, instead of being put in jail, were sent into it and told not to come back. Also, any citizen who didn’t like his government or the society he lived in was free to go there. Sometimes he was asked, not very politely, to emigrate there.”
On the other hand, gratuitous raunchy humor, phallic symbols, or descriptions of alien sexuality every few pages might annoy or offend many readers; apparently this was Farmer’s characterization of the fictional author Kilgore Trout.
On balance I enjoyed it because it was imaginative, sometimes funny, and readable (action and dialog flow).