Sunday, May 30, 2021

Review of "Tom Swift and His Motorcycle," by Victor Appleton

 Review of

Tom Swift and His Motorcycle, by Victor Appleton

Four out of five stars

Tom as a mechanic rather than an inventor

 This is the first Tom Swift book ever published and fans of the original and subsequent series’ will recognize the evolution of the character over time. In this book featuring the original Tom Swift, he is portrayed as a top-notch mechanic rather than a genius inventor.

 The characters of Eradicate Sampson, Wakefield Damon and housekeeper Mrs. Baggert are introduced as well as some other characters that will appear again in later books. Wakefield Damon enters the story when he is riding a motorcycle, which was a significant machine in 1910, the date of publication. Unable to control the machine, Damon sells it to Tom for a small amount and Tom then tweaks it and begins to ride it all over, as it is much faster than his bicycle.

 Tom’s father, Barton Swift, is portrayed as the genius inventor and Tom helps him in the marketing and patenting, but very little in the development of his latest invention. There is a gang of criminals determined to steal the invention and they attack Tom in order to obtain it. For these reasons, this is more a YA adventure story rather than science fiction.

 Reading this book also requires the reader to suspend a bit of outrage over language and the portrayal of black people. While Eradicate is depicted as an ambitious and enterprising man, some of the language used in the book will offend many people. It is best to put it down to the improvements in literature over time.

Review of "Hard Drive to Short," by Matt Christopher

 Review of

Hard Drive to Short, by Matt Christopher ISBN 0590458515

Five out of five stars

A YA sports novel about life

 Once again, Christopher has written a sports book that is more about life than sports. Sandor (Sandy) Varga is a very good baseball player in the youth league, he excels in the field at shortstop and is a very good hitter. He is also reliable and responsible for his age. When his games are taking place on weekdays, he must leave at a precise time in order to be home to watch his younger siblings. Both his parents work, and he must be home before his mother can leave for her evening job.

 Embarrassed by his need to watch his young siblings, Sandy simply leaves without telling anyone on the team the reason for his abrupt departures. This creates animosity from his teammates, and it begins to affect his relationship with his friends and his play on the field. Finally, he explains the situation to his coach and his friends and rather than making fun of him, they all support him.

 Unlike other YA sports books, this one does not climax with a “big game at the end with heroics.” Yet, there is a happy ending as the revelation of his difficulties increases his bonding with his teammates.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Review of "When the Earth Was Flat, All of the Science We Got Wrong," by Graeme Donald

 Review of

When the Earth Was Flat, All of the Science We Got Wrong, by Graeme Donald ISBN 9781782438335

Five out of five stars

Science corrects and advances, but sometimes much too slowly

 The history of science is one of progress towards the truth that improves the human condition, but there have been times when the scientific consensus was way off. Unfortunately, the statement of the title is not one where science as we knew it got it wrong. The ancient Greeks knew the Earth was round, and that era can be considered the birth of the scientific method.

 Some of what passed for scientific beliefs that is covered in this book would be hilarious if it was not so serious. It took decades before the medical community evolved to the point where they appreciated the value of hand washing. Many patients and some doctors died of infections as a consequence of the hostility of the medical profession to this simple change in behavior.

 There was a time when tobacco smoke enemas were considered a health treatment, the bumps on one’s head were thought to reveal a great deal about you, cocaine and heroin were considered valid treatments for many ills of the human body and the cure for many ailments was to have blood taken from your body. These are some of the more well known absurd notions that were once considered facts that are developed in this book.

Other weird ideas described in this book are the hollow Earth claim and the premise that Neanderthals were simpletons. The most interesting point made was that the Black Death pandemic that wiped out so much of Europe was not the bubonic disease at all. There is solid scientific evidence for this position, which has significant relevance in the days of Covid.

 This book is simultaneously amusing and sobering, for while it is easy to make fun of what used to be facts, the reality is that there remains a strong anti-science movement with unusual beliefs. This could lead to the re-emergence of incorrect science bits. Even when the science against is of the irrefutable kind.

Review of "DC Comics: The New 52! The Poster Collection"

 Review of

DC Comics: The New 52! The Poster Collection

Five out of five stars

Some of the best DC artwork

 This book contains no dialog balloons and only a few words of text written on objects. The only words that are spoken are a set of “Ha, ha, ha’s” uttered by the Joker. The artwork is superb, colorful, well defined and with crisp delineation. The facial expressions of heroes and villains are all intense. The inside of the back cover contains a list of the 40 artistic credits for the images.

 The pages are removal posters, so if you are looking for some quality decorative material of your favorite DC characters, then this book will work for you.

Review of "Superman in Action Comics: The Engagement is Off!" DC Comics

 Review of

Superman in Action Comics: The Engagement is Off!

Two out of five stars

A bad scene with a whiny Lois

 I found this comic difficult to read. The premise is that Lois Lane and Clark (Superman) Kent are engaged. Furthermore, Lois knows that Clark and Superman are the same entity. In other stories involving these two characters, Lois is depicted as a strong, enterprising woman in pursuit of stories, even at the risk of her life.

 However, in this one, she is depicted as whiny and self-centered. The low point is when the two of them are having a serious discussion at Clark’s residence after a previous one was stopped because it was too public. When Superman detects a major crisis and says, “Good Lord! Helicopter gunboats, coast guard vessels, converging on the Bakerline docks! Looks like a war’s about to break out! I’ve got to--” Lois’ response is, “No! We need to finish this! It’s our future Clark! This second! Now! “It could well be the most important moment in our lives together, ever!”

 Lois is depicted as a woman that demands attention, even if it costs other people their lives. Not the intelligent Lois that would pursue a story whatever the cost and is capable of standing up to dangerous situations.

Review of "The Classics Reclassified," by Richard Armour

 Review of

The Classics Reclassified, by Richard Armour

Three out of five stars

If you appreciate the classics, you may not like this book

As someone that has read many of the classics, including five of the seven mentioned here, I appreciate the role they have played in the human literary experience. Therefore, there were many times when I found the spoof-like jokes disconcerting.

 The seven classics modified and occasionally mangled in this book are: The Iliad, Julius Caesar, Ivanhoe, The Scarlet Letter, Moby Dick, Silas Marner and David Copperfield. While some of the wordplay is humorous, for example there is the “question:” “In Shakespeare’s plays have you noticed how soothsayers always say the sooth, the whole sooth and nothing but the sooth?” Others are nonsensical: “Would Brutus have been quite so casual about seeing the ghost of Caesar if he had read ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Macbeth?’”

 I will concede that spoofing classic literature is a hard task. What is done here reaches only to the lowest rungs of that particular ladder.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Review of "A Glimpse Into the Mind of Charles Swan III," DVD

 Review of

A Glimpse Into the Mind of Charles Swan III, DVD

Three out of five stars

Whacky artist with an old-style problem

 Charlie Sheen plays Charles Swan III, the head of a creative arts company. He is a whacky personality with a great deal of imagination, there are times when it takes control of the narrative. He is also a man going through a bad breakup (for him). His girlfriend found pictures of other women in a drawer and she refused to accept his explanation that they were of former clients.

 Charles goes on a downward spiral as he is desperate to find a way to win her back. Unfortunately, he alternates between extremely bitter tirades and whining, withdrawn sympathy. His work at his creative arts company suffers as he has clients that are waiting for Charles to come up with something good.

 Charles is at times a very unsympathetic figure in that his self-absorbed whining and attempts at a sympathetic reuniting with his girlfriend are difficult to watch. Although Charles is a brilliant artistic talent, he is very mediocre at recovering from emotional setbacks. Yet, at the end he manages to solve a major problem after bringing himself out of his depths of despair.

 Charlie Sheen is probably the best actor to play the role of Charles Swan III, in many ways it mirrors his somewhat unstable persona. Fans of the television show “Two and a Half Men” will recognize many of the personality traits of Charlie Harper. The movie has its moments, but the mind of Charles Swan tends to infect and drag down the minds of the viewers.

Review of "Robert B. Parker’s Fool Me Twice: A Jesse Stone Novel," by Michael Brandman

 Review of

Robert B. Parker’s Fool Me Twice: A Jesse Stone Novel, by Michael Brandman ISBN 9780399159497

Five out of five stars

The Parker brand lives on in good form

 While no one can truly match the Parker style in the creation of dialog in his main characters, Brandman comes very close to recreating the classic Jesse Stone. In this case, there are several threads running through this story. The main one is about a movie being produced in Paradise, with the female lead being stalked by her also ran actor husband. It is a major production, so Paradise is close to being overwhelmed by all the production people.

 One of the secondary plots involves discrepancies in water bills, where some citizens complain to Jesse that even though their usage has remained constant, their bills have gone way up. There has also been no official notification of a rate hike. The third plot involves the privileged daughter of wealthy parents that thinks the rules do not apply to her. The book opens with her on her phone, not stopping at an intersection and ramming another car, causing serious injuries to the driver.

 The three plots are handled very well, even when there seems to be no reason why they all have to be included. In many ways it seems that the writer wanted to maintain the backdrop of a small town, even though there is now a major Hollywood production that is making Paradise famous.

 Brandman recreates Jesse in his finest mode, the drinking is down, and it appears that Jenn is finally gone from his life. Jesse is able to establish a relationship with a woman without the specter of Jenn as a mystical backdrop. That significantly improves the story.

 This is a quick and satisfying read, one that I stayed up late to complete. Well worth the next morning grogginess.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Review of "The Barnyard Epithet and Other Obscenities," by J. Anthony Lukas

 Review of

The Barnyard Epithet and Other Obscenities, by J. Anthony Lukas

Five out of five stars

An account of a political show trial in the U. S.

 When the Democratic presidential nominating convention was held in Chicago in 1968, it was truly “wild in the streets.” The most significant questions in the aftermath revolved around who started what and who was responsible for the carnage in the streets. Many in the media called it a “police riot,” while others blamed a core group of people as organizers of the protests with plans to turn them violent. In one of the most sensational trials of the twentieth century, seven men known as the “Chicago Seven” faced charges of crossing state lines in order to plan and incite a riot. This book was written by a journalist that covered the trial for “The New York Times.”

 The trial was definitely a political show trial in the most theatrical of senses. The defendants took every opportunity to make their cases that they were innocent of the crime and turn the focus to the discussion of what they felt to be an illegal and immoral war that the United States was conducting in Vietnam. Passions were high over the war, so the Chicago Seven were treading in familiar territory regarding the war. It was a time when public opinion in the United States was rapidly turning against the war. The Tet Offensive had taken place earlier in the year and it had demonstrated that the bright and happy scenarios being put forward by American political and military figures were wrong.

 This account of the trial explains the glamour, hostility, grandstanding and other embellishments that went on in the courtroom. Even the judge seemed to get involved in the theatrics, so much so that an Appellate court reversed the convictions of the Chicago Seven, largely based on the conduct of the presiding judge.

 The fundamental conclusion that can be reached from reading this book is that the government and the court failed to truly appreciate the significance of the show trial aspects of the event. The Chicago Seven and their legal counsel clearly understood the social and political ramifications and played it very well. The presiding judge comes across as a bit of a reactionary buffoon. It was an interesting and challenging time in America, the trial explained in this book was a small, but significant aspect of those times.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Review of "Tom Swift and His Giant Robot," by Victor Appleton II

 Review of

Tom Swift and His Giant Robot, by Victor Appleton II

Five out of five stars

Excellent mid-fifties science fiction for adolescents

 The Tom Swift books of the second iteration “authored” by Victor Appleton II inspired an entire generation of scientists and engineers. The two teenage main characters were role models for many readers to fantasize their roles in creating new scientific and technical marvels. Most of the devices were logical extensions of the technical development of the time and this book is no exception.

 The robots that Tom Swift Junior is building in this book are designed to work in dangerous environments, specifically nuclear reactors. This book was written in 1954 and the first commercial nuclear reactor was commissioned in 1956, so that concept was a logical look ahead. The protagonist is a bit of a mad scientist, thereby checking another box in the genre.

 The action is largely routine and typical of the TSJ books, nothing is a surprise or original. Since this book was written in 1954 and the comic book legend Stan Lee was already active in writing stories for Atlas Comics, it is possible that the use of that name for a robot in the book is not coincidental. Whatever, the reason, it was an appropriate name assignment.

 This is a book that is fun to read, both as a look back at adolescent science fiction of the fifties and as an examination of how science fiction writers applied current trends into intelligent and logical extrapolations.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Review of "The Great Raid," DVD

 Review of

The Great Raid, DVD

Five out of five stars

Based on a true story with little embellishment

 On April 9, 1942, somewhere between 60 and 80 thousand American and Filipino soldiers surrendered on the Bataan peninsula in the Philippines. At the time of their surrender, they had undergone a siege where they were on short rations for some time and had few medical supplies. Therefore, the men were already suffering from malnutrition and disease. After a brutal transport to POW camps where many died along the way, some of the soldiers ended up in a camp at Cabanatuan, where  discipline was brutal and the Japanese executed prisoners for minor offenses.

 In 1945, American forces were advancing and defeating the Japanese in the Philippines. Orders came down from the Japanese High Command that the POWs were to be killed. Hearing of this, the US military decided to carry out a daring raid behind the lines in order to free the Americans at Cabanatuan. To be successful, the men would have to infiltrate on foot for many miles and engage and outfight a superior force of Japanese soldiers. That mission was successful and all of the Americans still alive were rescued and brought back to U.S. held territory. This movie describes that operation and the context within which the action took place.

 The location shots move from the resistance forces in Japanese held territory to the Cabanatuan camp itself to the forces engaged in the planning and moving forward to the attack. The Filipino guerilla forces are given due credit for their role in the operation and there appears to be little in the way of embellishment of what was a daring, dynamic raid that helped even the score of the appearance of U. S. abandonment of Bataan.

 It is a great war movie because the emphasis is on the planning, emotional states of the main players and the importance of the operation. There were no super soldier moments. The surrender of the U. S. forces on Bataan was the numerically largest surrender in the history of the U. S. military. This movie is about the U. S. coming back so that they could prove that the men were not forgotten.

Review of "The Night Before Christmas, In Texas That Is," by Leon A. Harris

 Review of

The Night Before Christmas, In Texas That Is, by Leon A. Harris ISBN 0882891758

Five out of five stars

Amusing alteration of a classic poem

 One of the most well-known poems is “The Night Before Christmas,” by Clement Clarke Moore. This is a modification of that poem, altered to reflect the culture and climate of Texas. In general, a sleigh is useless in the arid regions of the state and there is very little snow. Reindeer are nonexistent, except in zoos.

 Therefore, in this poem, Santa arrives on a buckboard pulled by four horses. He is wearing a ten gallon Stetson and cowboy jeans and walks through the front door. The children have hung boots rather than stockings and the last line is “Merry Christmas, you-all!”

 The text is rhyming in a cadence very similar to that of the poem by Moore. Those who have heard the classic will recognize much of the cadence. There are also background features in the images that set the context of Texas. For example, the post of the top bunk has a lariat wound around it. It is a fun book to read, and children will love it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Review of "Aetheric Mechanics: A Graphic Novella," by Warren Ellis

 Review of

Aetheric Mechanics: A Graphic Novella, by Warren Ellis, ISBN 1592910483

Five out of five stars

 Alternate history and science fiction combined

 The opening page looks like a scene from England in or at the end of World War One. The caption reads, “March 1907 Royal Albert Docks London,” and the ship is a troopship. The uniforms the men are wearing are standard British army and navy of the time.

 However, the context is dramatically altered on page 4, when a few men get on a circular platform and it flies away. Britain is at war with a country called Ruritania and the planes of that country routinely fly over British skies. Humanity has also left Earth and traveled to other planets, there is the statement, “American privateers spotted around Mars.” However, despite the unusual context, this story is basically a modification of the Sherlock Holmes tales.

 The main character in the opening captions is Doctor Richard Watcham, returning from a tour of duty at the front. He comes back to familiar territory, Dilke Street in London, where he rooms with his old friend Sax Raker. Raker is the greatest amateur detective, often called in to solve the toughest cases.

 A man is found dead in the street and Raker is called to investigate. Watcham goes with him and the case revolves around people skilled in the area of aetheric mechanics, the science behind flight. Raker smokes a curved pipe and has the same detached manner to most of the world that Holmes had.

 The mystery is a deep one and involves a scientific cabal as well as the ongoing war with Ruritania. It is an odd story, one that fans of Sherlock Holmes will appreciate. However, readers unfamiliar with the fundamentals of the Holmes character may not be able to appreciate the similarities. The sight of gentlemen of London at the turn of the century getting into a cab that hovers over the street was quite amusing.

Review of "A Communese-English Dictionary," by Roy Colby

 Review of

A Communese-English Dictionary, by Roy Colby

Two out of five stars

A Cold War propaganda book

 This is not a true dictionary, the phrases that are “translated” are presented in a derisive, propagandistic manner that is anti-Communism. Some examples are:

“Criminal – opposing Soviet or Communist aims.”

“Cruelty – forcefully effective anti-Communist measures.”

“Genocide – the systematic rout of Communist troops in battle.”

“Massacre the people – to defeat decisively the Communist-backed army.”

 History now demonstrates that the west won the Cold War because it had a fundamentally better system than Communism. It is unlikely that simple-minded propaganda like this book advanced that particular cause.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Review of "Casino Jack," DVD starring Kevin Spacey

 Review of

Casino Jack, DVD starring Kevin Spacey

The epitome of sleaze in a very sleazy business

 The “industry” of congressional lobbyist is one of the darkest and dirtiest in the land. It is all about influence and face time and is a case of the greenest wheel greases the members of Congress. Jack Abramoff was not structurally any different from other lobbyists, he just was more extreme in his methods and bribes of members of Congress and other government officials.

 This film stays fairly close to Abramoff’s history of lobbying for Native American casinos, lobbying for businesses in the Northern Marianas Islands and directly or indirectly bribing members of the American government of both parties. Kevin Spacey plays the part of Abramoff very well and the supporting cast fill their roles admirably.

 It is a look into the dark side of how Washington actually works, men and women with no real moral or ethical scruples will go where they are allowed to go. What is amusing in the dark sense is how close the ties were between Abramoff and people in the religious right and those that espouse “traditional values.” Those connections are part of this movie.

 Even though he was convicted of felonies and spent four years in prison, Abramoff was convicted more for being excessive in what he did rather than for the actions themselves. A total of 24 people associated with Abramoff were also found or pled guilty to crimes. As Abramoff himself admitted, he was involved in a system of legalized bribery, one that has not really been changed by the massive scandal depicted in this movie.

Review of "Classics Illustrated Sea Wolf," by Jack London

 Review of

Classics Illustrated Sea Wolf, by Jack London

Four out of five stars

A bit of Jules Verne and some of the renowned pirates

 Jack London is best known for his stories of the Klondike gold rush, but he wrote about many other things. London was very much a man of the world, he joined a vagabond “army,” served aboard a sailing ship, worked in a cannery, covered the Russo-Japanese war as a correspondent and made a fortune from his writing. The book “Sea Wolf” is based on his experiences with Captain Alexander McLean. known for his cruel discipline while at sea.

 This comic captures the essence of the book, where the men are constantly on the edge of mutiny. Even though Captain Wolf Larsen is cruel, he has a deep philosophical aspect of his disposition and is clearly a learned man. The ship is a seal hunter, they are captured and skinned. It is a brutal and rough business, and the men spend months out at sea in very close quarters.

 I am a firm believer that any path to learning is acceptable and to be encouraged, even the use of comic books. This comic book could be used as a primer to the work of London, a writer that in my opinion is very much underappreciated.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Review of "Invincible Ike," by Don Russell

 Review of

Invincible Ike, by Don Russell

Five out of five stars

Reads like a publicity pamphlet for a presidential campaign

 This biography of Dwight David Eisenhower, (known as Ike), was published in 1952. It covers his life up to the point where others were placing his name in the slates of candidates running in presidential primaries on the Republican side. At the time, Eisenhower was still on active duty in the military, so was forbidden from campaigning.

 There is no question that Eisenhower was an exceptional military man. His work as the Allied commander in Europe held together a tight alliance where there was a lot of potential for friction and fracture. He somehow had to both reign in and let loose dynamic and arrogant men such as Bernard Montgomery and George Patton.

 This biography is not one of great depth, in many ways it reads like what it probably is, a book about a person that is in the process of mounting a major campaign for the presidency. In that respect it is well written. It gives the essence of the man up to the early months of 1952 yet does not embellish his exploits or engage in overt hero worship.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Review of "Little Pictures of Japan," edited by Olive Beaupre Miller

 Review of

Little Pictures of Japan, edited by Olive Beaupre Miller

Five out of five stars

Classic Japanese literature republished in the interwar period

 Classic Japanese poetry is characterized by the short verse form that often refers to nature. It is generally soft in tone and will teach you a great deal about the culture. This book is a collection of short segments of verse where each is accompanied by a color illustration. The images depict scenes of Japanese people of all ages.

 Some of the segments of prose were originally published over a thousand years ago. For example, on page 35 there is the text where the title is “Hours Well Spent.”

“Months and days I’ve wasted
 Doing some useless thing -
 How few the hours that have been well spent,
 Viewing the flowers in spring!”

 Fuijiwara no Okikaze (about 910 A.D.)

 The images have been drawn in traditional Japanese style and are very expressive. While this book is an easy read, understanding it takes some deep and lengthy thought.

Review of "Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland #1," comic

 Review of

Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland #1, comic

Five out of five stars

Recurrent dreams similar to “Alice in Wonderland”

 This is a delightful story of a set of recurrent dreams of a young boy called Nemo. He is selected by the officials of Slumberland to take a series of journeys to that wonderful and bizarre kingdom. There is magic, quirky characters and semi-nonsensical dialog.

 For example, when Nemo and his Slumberland escort are walking on a bridge across a river of flowing chocolate a monster that looks like a dragon in a Chinese parade pops up. The escort says, “ It’s the triple-tongued Binthromium!”

 Readers exposed to literature will recognize strong hints of the classic works of Lewis Carroll and L. Frank Baum. The captions are extremely colorful and combined with the very high quality coloration, remind you of the film “The Wizard of Oz.” It is a comic for children that adults will love to read to them.