Worth Reading (Fiction)

  • Mike Resnick: A Club in Montmartre: An Encounter with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
    Something different from this SF great's facile pen: An historical novel about Toulouse-Lautrec and the creation of his famous Moulin Rouge poster, seen from the point of view of a waif sheltered by the troubled artist. One in a series called Art Encounters, aimed at YA's but instructive and entertaining for anyone. (*****)
  • Terry Pratchett: A Hat Full of Sky
    Ostensible children's book that will also appeal to adults. The education of a young witch — far more "realistic" than Harry Potter. (*****)
  • Harry Turtledove: After the Downfall
    Magically plucked from Berlin in 1945, a Nazi soldier finds himself in a parallel world that challenges his cultural assumptions. A well delineated picture of conflict between widely disparate civilizations, with a reminder that backwardness is not the same as stupidity. (****)
  • Connie Willis: All Seated on the Ground
    Connie Willis's annual Christmas story; a comedy about alien visitors who act much like annoyed maiden aunts. Making contact is a twin triumph of civility and true love. The story is also a good test of your knowledge of Christmas carols. 2008 Best Novella Hugo Award nominee. (*****)
  • Iain Pears: An Instance of the Fingerpost
    Mystery set in Restoration England. The murder of an Oxford don is recounted from four widely different viewpoints. Heavy on period detail. Metamorphoses into theological fantasy at the end, which may displease some readers. (****)
  • Neil Gaiman: Anansi Boys
    Calling this comic novel a "sequel" to American Gods conveys the wrong impression. Anansi Boys is smaller in scope, funnier and more humane, though it likewise tells a story of dwindling gods adrift in the contemporary world. Anti-hero "Spider" steals the show and begs to be played by Will Smith in the movie version. (*****)
  • Neal Stephenson: Anathem
    If you have not a smidgen of interest in how Platonic philosophy relates to the "many worlds" version of quantum mechanics, you still may like this novel, though you'll probably wish that the characters talked less. Persevere. After a slow start, the story grows compelling, and the intellectual dialogues turn out not to be digressions. (*****)
  • E. Viollet-Le-Duc: Annals of a Fortress: Twenty-Two Centuries of Siege Warfare
    The history of a fictional French fortress from the 4th Century B.C. through the Napoleonic Wars, featuring detailed accounts of seven sieges. (****)
  • Richard Calder: Babylon
    A teenage girl in an alternative Victorian England, where the cult of Ishtar remains a living force, escapes her unhappy home for the fantastic world of "Babylon". She is to be trained as a sacred whore but is soon caught up in a secret war between the Illuminati, who dominate Earth, and their vicious enemies, the "Black Order". Her ultimate fate is bizarre indeed. (****)
  • Peter Watts: Blindsight
    The exploration of a giant alien artifact twists that familiar subgenre with a plausible, though ultimately unconvincing, argument that human self-awareness is a deleterious evolutionary accident. Characters include a vampire, a linguist with multiple personalities, a couple of cyborgs and a narrator whose special skill is absence of empathy. 2007 Hugo Award nominee (****)
  • James Patrick Kelly: Burn
    In a galaxy-spanning future, the planet Walden is a self-proclaimed "paradise" founded on simplicity and rejection of high technology. It also faces the problems of terrorism and disillusion, recounted through the story of a firefighter with a soul-corroding secret. A well-wrought picture of a distinctly odd society, with a plot whose moral dilemmas evade pat answers. Nominated for the Best Novella Hugo Award for 2006. (*****)
  • Tobias S. Buckell: Crystal Rain
    An inventive tale of a human colony isolated from galactic civilization, split between warring cultures and caught up in a vast conflict between alien races. Characters include an amnesiac ex-hero who wants to spend a peaceful retirement with his family, a quasi-human killing machine, a spy desperate to betray his masters, and a harried female dictator. Deserving of Hugo consideration. (****)
  • Charles L. Harness: Cybele, With Bluebonnets
    A touching, understated fantasy featuring Depression era Texas, youthful romance, chemistry, a ghost and love beyond death. (****)
  • Connie Willis: D.A.
    Connie Willis sends up overfamiliar "space academy" stories with this one about the only girl on Earth who has no desire to enroll. Then she is informed that her "application" has been accepted. Is it a weird mistake? A devious plot? Can she get out? Funny, though the moral is rather pat. (*****)
  • Tim Powers: Declare: A Novel
    An intricate Cold War fantasy that seems so plausible that one wonders whether it is the true story of why the Soviet Union rose and collapsed. (*****)
  • Dan Simmons: Drood: A Novel
    Mysterious events in the life of Charles Dickens, as told by his friend and rival Wilkie Collins. The plot involves involves mesmerism, violent deaths, an ancient Egyptian cult, specters, brain-eating scarabs, a Wilkie doppelgänger, and a gigantic conflagration beneath the streets of London. Or does it? The opium-addled Collins is the exemplar of the doubtfully reliable narrator. (*****)
  • Michael Flynn: Eifelheim
    A double narrative: the appearance of shipwrecked aliens in a 14th Century German village and the 21st Century discovery of the event. The interaction between a brilliant human theologian and rather ordinary denizens of an advanced civilization challenges chronologically based prejudices. 2007 Hugo Award nominee (*****)
  • John Derbyshire: Fire from the Sun
    Three-decker novel about the contrasting, intersecting lives of a Chinese boy and girl, born in the same mainland village and brought to America by force of circumstances. Romantic and compelling. (****)
  • Terry Pratchett: Going Postal
    A small-time con man must choose between death and the Ankh-Morpork post office - and takes the more dangerous option. Big business, fraud, low-tech hacking, young love and general hilarity. Pratchett's best novel since Pyramids. (*****)
  • Harry Turtledove: Gunpowder Empire
    Debut of a juvenile series set in parallel worlds. 22nd century teen siblings, trapped without adult aid in a besieged city, must cope with the bizarre (to them) customs and prejudices of a never-fallen Roman Empire. [Rating is for 11-17 year olds; adults may find the book too didactic and unsubtle for their tastes.] (*****)
  • Rodney Bolt: History Play : The Lives and Afterlife of Christopher Marlowe
    A pseudo-history springing from the premise that Shakespeare's flashy predecessor survived the famous Deptford brawl and fled to the continent, where he secretly wrote almost all of the Bard's works. A clever, tongue-in-cheek reworking of literary history, with the bonus of vividly recreating the milieu shared by many real Elizabethan exiles. (****)
  • Kathleen Ann Goonan: In War Times
    The author builds this multiple universes story around her father's World War II diary, which is at least as interesting as the energetic, but not wholly coherent, main plot. The ending is a JFK assassination theory with a Ron Paulian(!) twist. Also included is more than I wanted to read about the WWII jazz scene. Overall, a book I would have liked to like better and that others may enjoy vastly. (****)
  • Connie Willis: Inside Job
    The editor of a paranormal-skeptic magazine and his beautiful assistant encounter a most unlikely ghost: ueber-skeptic H. L. Mencken. Connie Willis in her lightest, funniest vein. Nominated for the Best Novella Hugo Award for 2006. (*****)
  • Shauna Roberts: Like Mayflies in a Stream
    The epic of Gilgamesh, retold with the mythical elements kept to a minimum and an emphasis on how unpleasant it can be to live in the vicinity of a legendary hero. The heroine is well done: a woman who shapes her own life without being an anachronistic proto-feminist. The author's attention to historical and archaeological data is commendable. (****)
  • Alfred Duggan: Lord Geoffrey's Fancy
    Perhaps the finest book of one of England's finest historical novelists. The setting is 13th Century Greece, where Crusaders fought each other and the shattered Byzantine Empire. The history is accurate, the writing graceful and the characters not merely modern people in fancy dress. (*****)
  • Joe Haldeman: Marsbound
    Martian colonies are an old subject for SF, and this novel is in some ways an old-fashioned treatment, with the traditional elements of young settler, contact with Martians, and an alien menace. The plot and characters are so well done, however, that the story is fresh. The flavor is Heinleinesque, but the heroine is no Podkayne of Mars. (*****)
  • Terry Pratchett: Nation
    The first non-Discworld Pratchett in decades has the familiar mix of serious plotting and underlying farce, as an iconoclastic Polynesian lad and a properly raised Victorian lass carry on through tsunami, plague, shipwreck, pigs, pantaloon birds, gods, grandparents and cannibals. A tribute to courage in the face of physical and metaphysical ordeals - and funny, too! (*****)
  • Tim Powers: On Stranger Tides
    The classic tale of piracy and the supernatural. What the Pirates of the Caribbean movies should have been. (*****)
  • H. N. Turteltaub [Harry Turtledove]: Over the Wine-Dark Sea
    First in a series of O'Brian-like nautical adventures set in the tumultuous times following the death of Alexander the Great. The Aubrey and Maturin are merchant cousins, devil-may-care Menedemos and intellectual Sostratos, who roam the Mediterranean looking for profit and girls, while avoiding storms, pirates and jealous husbands. Meandering plot but great fun. (*****)
  • Robert Ferrigno: Prayers for the Assassin
    A combination of suspense novel and a plausible vision of America after a Moslem takeover. It loses a star only because defeating the super-villain is just a trifle too easy. Review. (****)
  • Vernor Vinge: Rainbows End: A Novel With One Foot In The Future
    In a near future in which every crank can deploy WMD's that make contemporary Islamofascists look like schoolboys, a poet who has lost his talent and his spunky granddaughter find themselves up against a conspiracy to solve the world's problems by eliminating free will. The careful extrapolation is mixed with some silly ideas and burdened with a sentimental Alzheimer's recovery story. 2007 Hugo Award nominee (****)
  • Simon Montefiore: Sashenka: A Novel
    Both grim and funny, this historical novel peers into the inner world of an upper class Russian girl turned loyal Bolshevik, highlighting her youthful fling at revolution-making in Petrograd, her fall from grace under Stalin, and an historian's effort, after the end of communism, to ascertain her fate. (*****)
  • Robert Ferrigno: Sins of the Assassin
    The middle volume of a trilogy about a near-future, Moslem-dominated U.S. Most of the action takes place in the independent "Bible Belt", where resistance to Islamic domination is sometimes heroic and sometimes pathological. More of a pure thriller than its predecessor but good on its own terms (****)
  • Charles W. Chesnutt: Stories, Novels, and Essays (Library of America, 131)
    Fiction and essays by a black American writer who deserves a wider audience. (****)
  • Joe Haldeman: The Accidental Time Machine
    Maybe all the variations on time travel are played out, but Joe Haldeman makes the old tropes enjoyable in this story of a down-on-his-luck grad student who invents a time machine without really trying. The resolution of the ensuing paradoxes comes very near to being credible. (****)
  • David Selbourne: The City of Light
    Supposedly the journal of Jewish merchant who visited China c. 1270, this historical novel uses an encounter between Judaism and medieval China as a springboard for a lightly disguised examination of contemporary political and moral issues. Since Selbourne is a fascinating thinker, his characters' thoughts are fascinating, too. (****)
  • Matthew Pearl: The Dante Club
    Literary mystery involving Boston's post-Civil War intellectual elite in a series of atrocious murders inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy. Weak as a whodunit, strong on atmosphere. (****)
  • H.F.M. Prescott: The Man on a Donkey
    Set during the Pilgrimage of Grace, this is the rare historical novel that captures the mindset of the actors. The hero, Robert Aske, was martyred in a way that makes burning at the stake look merciful. (*****)
  • Harry Turtledove: The Man with the Iron Heart
    Can the U.S. maintain its resolve against a defeated enemy's terrorist campaign? Imagining a post-World War II Nazi insurgency, Harry Turtledove puts this question into a new context. As Reinhard von Heydrich's "werewolves" devastate Germany, war-weary Americans call for withdrawal, regardless of the consequences. (*****)
  • H. N. Turteltaub [Harry Turtledove]: The Sacred Land
    Third volume in a series of seafaring adventures set in the Hellenistic era. Ill-matched merchant cousins Menedemos and Sostratos seek profit in exotic Tyre and Jerusalem. (*****)
  • Steven E. Plaut: The Scout
    Short novel based on the true story of an Arab scout in Israeli service. (****)
  • Jasper Fforde: The Well of Lost Plots
    Thursday Next continues her hectic adventures in a universe where books come alive, literally. Newcomers should start with The Eyre Affair (****)
  • Clark Ashton Smith: The White Sybil and Other Stories
    A slim, representative sampling of Ashton Smith's weird, richly worded fiction. The best pieces are highly readable today; the less good are at least entertaining and will enhance the reader's vocabulary. (****)
  • Tim Powers: Three Days to Never: A Novel
    Time travel, ghosts, Albert Einstein's daughter, ancient conspiracies, a blind assassin, a Mossad agent who will die if he hears the telephone ring: With his customary bravura and skill, Tim Powers fashions a coherent and exciting story out of a strange assortment of materials. (*****)
  • Terry Pratchett: Thud!
    After 30 books, one might fear that Discworld is in danger of fatigue. Au contraire, this witty, vigorous tale of the culmination of an ages-old conflict between dwarfs and trolls, with Sam Vimes and Ankh-Morpork in the middle, is one of the strongest volumes yet. (*****)
  • Jack McDevitt: Time Travelers Never Die
    A pleasant, though insubstantial, addition to an overcrowded subgenre. After inheriting a time machine, an aimless young man and his friend play temporal tourists. Not a whole lot ensues, and there are some silly mistakes (such as Greeks wearing togas). Still, it goes down smoothly, and the inevitable paradoxes are handled quite well. (****)
  • Theodore Odrach: Wave of Terror
    Based on the author's experiences when the Soviet Union occupied his homeland after the Stalin-Hitler Pact, this book melds Chekov and Solzhenitsyn. By stages, the isolated folk of the Pripyet Marshes learn that there are worse masters than their former Polish overlords. (*****)
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Sunday, October 17, 2010


If anyone has seen a study of the current state election officials in each state, with their party affiliation, I'd like to see it. The power of these individuals to steal elections should not be underestimated, as I think Norm Coleman did in Minnesota. The first point in the blog above about winning by more than the margin of fraud is extremely well stated. In any close election with an unscrupulous election officer, the graves/felons/illegal immigrants/unverified ballots will win the day....

The GOP has another potentially big political problem that may yet mess us up on E-day, though I'm reluctant to pointt this out because it's so painful from a conservative POV. Still, it's a fact that we have to deal with, that that is that the Tea Party are themselves conflicted about their own goals.

The Tea Party makes a good case for the necessary reductions in spending to balancce the budget and avoid impoverishing our grandchildren. They recognize the need to avoid crushing the private economy under too heavy a load of taxes and regulations and they understand that raising taxes past a certain point reduces tax revenue by reducing activity and driving business overseas.

And yet, when asked specifically about cutting the big-ticket government expenditures, the Tea Partiers tend to echo the same old refrain. Cut Social Security? No. Cut Medicare? No. Cut defense? No. And that's the Tea Partiers! The general public is less eager.

Some Republican candidates feel confident enough right now to talk about eliminating the minimum wage, which is a terrible political error, whatever its economic pros and cons. The general public still likes and approves of FDR's programs, folks. Like it or not, that's the truth.

A big chunk of Obama's disapproval numbers is based on social issues, national
security issues, and a generalized opposition to deficits and intrusive government that doesn't translate into opposition to specifics. A lot of it just Obama's 'attitude', a revulsion from 'man caused disasters', 'bitter clingers', and a brace of radicals in high places, etc.

The general public is still deeply attached to Social Security, Medicare, etc, and Republicas forget that at our peril.

This election cycle,whether national or local, people
are voting the straight Republican ticket in order to
throw the Socialists out. This is as close as the average Joe can come to having a non- violent revolution. Should the Socialists engage in voter fraud that is obvious, and win seats they shouldn't have,
you may see a for real revolution. Vote,and stay active,
2012 is just around the corner.

Are Republicans stupid? I would rather see the Dems remain in control for the next 2 years. Elect some strong conservatives now and then elect a strong conservative president along with the house and senate in 2012. This will give us a better chance of actually changing something. If the Republicans win now, the electorate will blame the Republicans in 2012.

Republicans are socialists too. They just don't realize it.

So which party would you prefer?
a) The party that is openly socialist, or
b) The party that gets duped into going along with socialism all the time?

Republicans, at best, only postpone socialism. They never reverse socialism.

I can't get very excited about this election.

Countries come and go..... no need to weep about it.

More reasons to not get cocky:

6. Democrats have what will be a huge rally with very popular stars just before the election. The media will use this to whip up enthusiasm for the left and demotivate the right. It will work to some degree. How much is the question.

7. Democrats are ALREADY cheating like never before. They have already "accidentally" forgotten to send out military ballots in a number of important areas. They have already refused to purge voter rolls -- making ballot box stuffing that much easier. They have already been caught trading votes for food in South Dakota, running spoiler candidates, and you can bet this is just scratching the surface.

8. October surprises wont come until late next week and right up until a few days before the election. There will be many. Some true, some complete lies. It wont matter, they will all be reported as truth.

9. Democrats undermined our nation's own war efforts to get back in power, and blocked reform that experts warned would cause a financial crisis if it was not passed to get back in power after being out of power for 12 years. There is NOTHING they wont do to retain power now that they have it.

I fully expect fraud on a scale our country has never seen before.

Reason #6: historically, the most accurate predictor of election outcomes is incumbency. In most modern-era elections incumbents win 96-98% of the time. The powers of incumbancy are immense, and will not be easily cast away, even for one election.

I do not deny Democratic fraud, whether in WA, MN, Philadelphia, wherever. I only question its impact on anything other than a very close race. 5% is way off. That can mean tens of thousands of votes - even ACORN ain't that good! If the post had emphasized that I would have agreed.
As for Defcon One, i admit to being somewhat perplexed by the meaning of that in the original post. OK - Obama can use the veto, but how damaging can this be over two years? Put the US out of business? What does that mean?
I despise Obama and the Pelosi-Reid Democrats as much as anyone, but exaggerating their threat isn't helpful. And, contrary to Walt, I would argue that ballyhooing the GOP lead helps excite people - especially people (like me) who live in recently solid Democratic districts/states that just might go Red this cycle. Anyway, all the Democratic ballyhooing in 2006 and 2008 didn't seem to hurt them too much. Why is that? Because, to go back to a point in my earlier comment, of the enthusiasm gap. Isn't it possible that the excitement amongst Republicans further dispirits Democrats? I don't pretend to understand mass psychology, but the fact that I am typing this (and that you are reading it) is proof that we are not typical voters. I'll vote no matter what - I've never missed an election of any kind in 25 years - but I don't know how less committed voters respond to ballyhooing.
Besides, I would say Republicans and the Tea Parties are fighting, and will continue to after Nov 2. I have no fear about that. In fact, I think the ballyhooing is helping turn up the heat - keeps people enthused.
One last point - the optimism is based on reality. We have plenty of evidence that something big is happening - plenty. The ballyhooing is hardly just wishful thinking. Americans are angry and fretful, and eager to send a message. Again, there is plenty of evidence to support optimism

have my doubts about whether the rather unimaginative and timid Republican Congressional leadership can devise a deterrent.

Fine, I'll create it for them:

Promise Federal workers that, if there's a government shutdown, no Federal Worker who is put on furlough will ever get paid so much as one penny from the time he or she is on furlough / the government is "shut down". No vacation pay, no comp time, nothing. Pass that in every budget that is passed, and watch the Dems run for the hills.

The Democrats in the House and Senate are owned by the SEIU. If the SEIU leadership wants to remain in place, Obama won't get his 1/3.

The larger the pool of republicans winning seats in congress, the more likely there will be democrats who will be willing to meet them "halfway." That means, in the senate: Brown, Collins, Snowe, Sanders, Lieberman, Ms. Lindsay Graham, and perhaps? Mitch McConnell. And, Michael Steele. Will all look for some moderate position that means nothing. But creates legislation. Heck, even John McCain will flash his name around, if he is given "banner headline status."

Now, if Christine O'Donnell wins in Delaware, Mitch McConnell could give her office keys to a broom closet! (If she loses in Delaware? She writes a book ... and terrifies Mitch McConnell!)

The anger level among the People will not dissipate, disappear, or recede. You can't fool me. Just like Pearl Harbor was the "day that shall live in infamy," so, too, will be the reality of having WOKEN THE SLEEPING GIANT ... once referred to as "fly over" country. All the players in the media; and all the players in hollywood, are aging. Wave after wave of changes are ahead.

Better to be pessimistic and wrong than optimistic and wrong. If Republicans and the tea party don't fight, fight, fight, they could still lose big. Some of these fears might be overblown, some not, but we should take them all seriously. I also think the margin of fraud is quite accurate--especially when considering Al Franken. In fact in Illinois that margin may be low; it's not just an open secret but widely known that the state is synonymous with election fraud.

And your last paragraph somewhat contradicts itself, Mike. Whether Obama uses the veto because he's deliberately putting a second term on the line or because he is oblivious to the will of the people, it's still a veto, which is the original point. The man's motives are meaningless if the result is the same either way. I personally think Obama is such an ideologue that he believes that if he pushes his agenda as hard as he can then the public will come around to his way of thinking and reelect him. The one-term comment was meaningful only in the sense that it opens a window into his psyche, that he sees himself as a man doing the right thing against all odds and wants to go down in history as the man who pushed through the great big progressive agenda that will surely lead to utopia. But whatever I think, we won't see a repeal of Obamacare until 2013. Until then however, a Republican Congress could probably gut significant portions of it with his grudging approval, like that idiotic 1099 requirement.

Mike S, take a look at the record of the 2004 Governor's Race in the State of Washington.

Every time a recount showed the Democrat behind, new ballots were mysteriously "found" somewhere, somehow, and miraculously, they always narrowed the lead! For example, see this post and this one from the very thorough Sound Politics coverage of that particular race. Wander through their archives of November and December 2004 to see how crazy that race became.

Never, I say again, never underestimate Democrat fraud potential.

I agree the reasoning is weak but the message is sound. Nonetheless, the 5th point is way off base. If the Federal Gov't did absolutely nothing for the next two years, it would be an improvement over the last two.

How is "putting the country at Defcon One" not failing his oath of office? The President is promising to take it to the mat, and he might not be happy with the people who are not happy with him.

Oh, come on. I don't want Republicans to get cocky, either, but your reasons are weak. Fraud? I don't believe for a second that it's worth 5% of the vote - that's just paranoia. Enthusiasm gap? Sure an unenthusiastic vote counts as much as an enthusiastic one, but there are far more of the latter cast! That's the point. There will be far more Democratic inclined voters this year who decide to sit it out than Republican - a reverse of 2008 (and 2006). As for lying, yeah it works, unfortunately. But this time around people are paying far more attention, as your example of foreign money makes clear. That attack - that lie - failed, and actually seems to have harmed the Democrats in the process. Grayson's lies aren't working, nor have Reid's. Lies work when the average voter is apathetic. Not the case this year.
And I would argue the same is true, to some extent, about money. The money advantage will lessen Democratic losses - you are correct. It means that some races that might otherwise be competitive, won't be. But again, money matters less when an electorate is fired up and paying attention. Besides, Democratic money is being spent on an empty platform. People want to vote FOR something - not just against something. By voting Republican people accomplish both - against Democrats, and for repeal of their measures.
Finally, your post-election comments are irrelevant to the post, but you're wrong there, too. Do you really believe Obama doesn't care about a second term? Come on - did someone slip you the Kool-AId? Of course he wants a second term! But who cares? The question is whether he has the political savvy to compromise. He doesn't.

What possible good can it do to ballyhoo the GOP lead in poles. If it keeps one conservative home or one tin foil baby to vote its a mistake

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Books by Tom Veal

Worth Reading (Non-Fiction)