One-Minute Book Reviews

July 8, 2008

Thomas Disch (1940–2008), Author of ‘The Brave Little Toaster’

Filed under: Fantasy,News,Science Fiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:18 pm
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‘One of the finest writers of literary SF ever to emerge from America’ dies at 68

Thomas Disch, author of The Brave Little Toaster and other books, died Friday in Manhattan. Douglas Martin reported in the New York Times that he shot himself after a series of personal setbacks www.nytimes.com/2008/07/08/books/08disch.html.

“Mr. Disch’s work was voluminous and included many forms and genres,” Martin wrote. “In addition to writing speculative fiction (his preferred term for science fiction), he wrote poetry from light to lyric to dramatic; realist fiction, children’s fiction and historical fiction; opera librettos and plays; criticism of theater, films and art; and even a video game.

“One of Mr. Disch’s best-known works is The Brave Little Toaster: A Bedtime Story for Small Appliances (1986), in which a toaster, a clock radio and an electric blanket come to life. In the New York Times Book Review, Anna Quindlen said the book was more sophisticated than it seemed: ‘Buy it for your children; read it for yourself,’ she advised.”

Disch tomsdisch.livejournal.com/ also wrote The Genocides, which Stephen E. Andrews and Nick Rennison named one of the “100 must-read science fiction novels” in a recent guide to the genre. The book centers on aliens who sow the Earth with seeds that grow into giant plants, which begin to destroy the planet’s ecological balance and undermine civilization.

The Genocides is an invasion story with a difference: what chance can humanity have against beings who consider us to be nothing more than garden pests?” Andrews and Rennison say in 100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels (A & C Black, 2007). They add:

The Genocides is packed with black wit, mordant observation of characters and the kind of self-consciousness present in the very best contemporary art. This was the start of a glittering career for Disch, whose novels, poetry and criticism have won him considerable acclaim … Despite his occasional remoteness of tone, Disch is nevertheless a humane author whose highly accomplished and often very funny work marks him as one of the finest writers of literary SF ever to emerge from America.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

June 17, 2008

The Two ‘Must-Read’ Science Fiction Novels Published Since 2000 Are ‘Super-Cannes’ and ‘Altered Carbon,’ Editors Say

Filed under: Fantasy,Science Fiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:16 pm
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Except for a few books by H. G. Wells and others, most science-fiction classics were published in the 20th century. How many essential novels in the genre have appeared since 2000?

Stephen E. Andrews and Nick Rennison name only two in their 100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels (A & C Black, 294 pp., $8.95, paperback) www.acblack.com, part of the Bloomsbury Good Reading Guides series. Here are their choices and part of their explanation for them:

Super-Cannes (Picador, 400 pp., $15, paperback) by J. G. Ballard: In the near future or maybe the present, publisher Paul Sinclair visits an emerging corporate utopia on the French Riviera and finds that “a new kind of cathartic brutality is arising from a most unexpected source.” Andrews and Rennison say that although Ballard has written only one pure science fiction novel, Hello America, since the late 1960s: “Super-Cannes is masterful speculation in social science that can arguably be claimed for the genre.” First published in 2000. Foreword by Christopher Priest. us.macmillan.com/supercannes

Altered Carbon: A Takeshi Kovacs Novel (Del Rey, 544 pp., $7.99, paperback) by Richard K. Morgan: Andrews and Rennison call Altered Carbon “authentic cyberbpunk” that envisions a future in which only the poor die: “the majority of people have their personality backed up regularly and recorded in microstacks embedded in the flesh at the back of the neck, ready to be retrieved and ‘resleeved’ in a new body” that had belonged to someone else. “Much has been made of the book’s debt to noir fiction, but a contemporary hard-boiled writer like James Crumley would be a more fitting comparison than the more chivalric Raymond Chandler, given Morgan’s penchant for extreme violence, explicit sex and Gordian-knot plotting,” the authors say. First published 2002. www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780345457691

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

December 7, 2007

Remembering Pearl Harbor in Books, Movies and Music

The day that Franklin D. Roosevelt called “a date which will live in infamy” also lives in libraries, bookstores and on the Web

By Janice Harayda

The English language goes down with the USS Arizona in Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen’s Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8th (St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne, $25.95), a novel that offers a Japanese view of (and an alternate ending to) the attack that brought the U.S. into World War II. So if you’re interested in this one, you may want to head for the library or wait for the paperback due out on April 15.

I haven’t read the classic Pearl Harbor novel, James Jones’s From Here to Eternity, but it’s been praised by tough critics, including Joan Didion (and I enjoyed Frank Sinatra’a Academy Award-winning performance in the movie version, which also won the Oscar for “Best Picture”). Jones saw the attack on Pearl Harbor while serving as an infantryman in Hawaii and drew on his war experiences in the book.

The most memorable quote I’ve read about the attack came from Winston Churchill, who said that after the bombing, he “slept like a baby” for the first time in months because he knew that U.S. had entered the war at last. Alas, I’ve read so many biographies of Churchill that I can’t remember where it appeared. But a related quote appears Winston Churchill: Penguin Lives Series (Penguin, $19.95), a good short life of Britian’s wartime prime minister by John Keegan, the distinguished military historian. Keegan quotes Churchill as saying after Pearl Harbor, “So we had won after all!”

To listen to the Navy Hymn played at the funerals of the sailors who died at Pearl Harbor (and also at that of FDR), click here www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/e/t/eternalf.htm. Put on your headphones if you’re in a library, because you’ll hear the music as soon as you click.

Other links: To read the review of Pearl Harbor posted on this site on July 30, 2007, click here www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/07/30/. You’ll find praise for Gingrich’s novel on the publisher’s site www.thomasdunnebooks.com. You can read about James Jones at www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Jones and about From Here to Eternity at www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/From_Here_to_Eternity. You can learn about the movie version of Jones’s novel and watch the trailer at the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) at www.imdb.com/title/tt0045793/. And there’s more on Keegan’s life of Churchill at http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Theme/ThemePage/0,,634125,00.html

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

July 30, 2007

The English Language Goes Down With the USS Arizona in Newt Gingrich’s ‘Pearl Harbor’

Characters “chuckle” all the way to disaster in an alternate version of history

Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8th. By Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen. Contributing Editor: Albert S. Hanser. St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne, 366 pp., $25.95.

By Janice Harayda

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich writes fiction about as well as Danielle Steel could draft legislation. But I wouldn’t be too hard on his alternate version of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, changed by the presence of one man who decides to take part at the last minute.

It’s true that if people stereotyped men’s novels as they do women’s, critics might call this book “dick lit” without the sex. But Pearl Harbor isn’t as bad as, say, Tom Clancy’s novels. For one thing, it moves faster. And if Gingrich and co-author William Forstchen give you plenty of descriptions of weapons and strategy, you’re never drowning in an alphabet-soup of acronyms as in Clancy’s lumbering behemoths.

Pearl Harbor also provides many moments of unintended comedy. Some of these occur when the novel takes us inside the minds of world leaders. At the Atlantic Conference, Winston Churchill looks gravely at Franklin D. Roosevelt and says, “Mr. President, I feel that despite all our problems in Russia, North Africa, and the Atlantic, I also have to remind you that we could face a very nasty situation in the Pacific.”

William Manchester was never like this, and neither was his English. Lynne Truss might have written Eats, Shoots and Leaves for Gingrich and Forstchen, who pile on run-on sentences and other forms of mangled grammar. “No time to replace the wires, splice, and tape,” they write after an American plane takes a hit at Hickam Field, leaving you wondering whether they intended “splice” and “tape” as verbs or nouns.

Even so, Pearl Harbor shows that the Americans, British, and Japanese had more in common than you might imagine. One is they all “chuckled” a lot when faced with world-shattering events. Gingrich and Forstchen and tell us Churchill “chuckled” as the German bombs rattled his bunker. Admiral Yamamoto “chuckled” over naiveté of the U.S. and “chuckled derisively” when he thought of its diplomats. And Commander James Watson of the U.S. Navy, the closest the book has to a hero, “chuckled” when asked by a British correspondent how many aircraft carriers were near Pearl Harbor. “You know I can’t tell you that.”

Gingrich and Forstchen say that this novels is the first in a series that will show how World War II might have turned out if the events of Pearl Harbor had taken place. On the evidence of this book, some characters will be chuckling all the way to V-J Day.

Best line: Many details of wartime life would be more memorable if they didn’t appear in grammatical train wrecks. The authors write of No. 10 Downing Street during the Blitz: “The windows, of course were all cross-hatched with tape, inside, blackout curtains darkened the room.” It’s interesting that air-raid precautions against air-raids were so primitive even in the British prime minister’s residence. But that fact appears in the kind of run-on sentence known as a comma splice (in which two independent clauses are joined with a comma instead of a conjunction, such as an “and” before “inside”). The sentence is also missing a comma after “course.”

Worst line (tie): No. 1: “James nodded his thanks, opened the wax paper and looked at bit suspiciously at the offering, it looked to be a day or two old and suddenly he had a real longing for the faculty dining room on campus, always a good selection of Western and Asian food to choose from, darn good conversation to be found, and here he now sat with a disheveled captain who, with the added realization, due to the direction of the wind, was in serious need of a good shower.” No. 2: “To withdraw backward was impossible.” So withdrawing forward was still an option?

Editor: Pete Wolverton

Published: May 2007 www.newt.org/pacificwarseries/

Conflict alert: A different imprint of St. Martin’s published my first novel. I almost never review books by my publishers but have made an exception in this case because Gingrich is talking about running for president in 2008. And this novel has had fewer reviews than you might expect for someone who may have his eye on the White House.

For more on the alarming number of characters in Pearl Harbor who “chuckled” on the way to diaster, see the Newt Gingrich Chuckle Meter, posted earlier today on One-Minute Book Reviews www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/07/30/.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

Janice Harayda is has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer, and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle.

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