You might think a book written in 1941 about Hollywood in the 30s would be too dated to be of interesting to anyone but Hollywood historians. Wrong, bYou might think a book written in 1941 about Hollywood in the 30s would be too dated to be of interesting to anyone but Hollywood historians. Wrong, baby, wrong! This book, a modern classic, is a must-read for anyone who is fascinated by Hollywood, or interested in character studies of incredibly compelling anti-heroes. In the 21st century, What Makes Sammy Run? is essentially a historical novel, but it's still a damn fine character-driven story, and let's face it, Hollywood is surely still crawling with Sammy Glicks.
The title question of the novel, "What makes Sammy run?" is asked by the narrator, Al Manheim, a reporter at a New York City paper who first meets Sammy as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed 15-yeear-old copy boy.
"I'll keep my ear to the ground for you, kid. Maybe in a couple of years I'll have a chance to slip you in as a cub reporter."
That was the first time he ever scared me. Here I was going out of my way to be nice to him and he answered me with a look that was almost contemptuous.
"Thanks, Mr. Manheim," he said, "but don't do me any favors. I know this newspaper racket. Couple of years at cub reporter? Twenty bucks. Then another stretch as district man. Thirty-five. And finally you're a great big reporter and get forty-five for the rest of your life. No, thanks."
I just stood there looking at him, staggered. Then...
"Hey, boy!" And he's off again, breaking the indoor record for the hundred-yard dash.
Sammy runs, runs, runs, and Al Manheim is as obsessed as he is horrified as he watches Sammy shamelessly lie, cheat, and steal (ideas) and promote himself with the unselfaware genius of the truly narcissistic. He stabs his "patron," Al, to get a newspaper column of his own, and when a young writer comes to him with a story idea, Sammy calls up a big-name Hollywood agent, having no idea just how ridiculous the thing he is doing is, and soon is saying goodbye to the Big Apple and hello to Hollywood, leaving behind his friends, his family, his abandoned fiancee, and the guy who wrote the story he's now launching his career with.
Al manages to get snagged into the Hollywood writing gig himself a little later, and soon he's also making more money than he ever did as a reporter, but watching Sammy outstrip everyone. When Sammy becomes a $500-a-week writer (big money in the 30s!), he's seething with dissatisfaction because he knows some writers are making $2500 a week. When he becomes a $2500/week writer, he wants to join the inner circle of $5000/week writers. And when he joins them... well, who the hell wants to be a mere writer, bottom of the Hollywood totem pole, when the big money and power comes from being a supervisor, a producer, a studio head...
Sammy keeps running, and Al is there to witness it. Sammy Glick never writes a word himself or has a single original idea, yet he manages to keep rocketing up into the big time while Al trails behind him, modestly successful, held back by his own basic decency, a trait for which Sammy mocks him contemptuously and yet makes him Sammy's confidant and the closest thing he has to a friend, since whenever Sammy does something lowdown and dirty, it's only Al he can confide in.
Sammy's rise is the epic quest of an anti-hero. He's a louse, a creep, he is... in the immortal words of Daffy Duck: despicable.
Al's obsessive quest to find out what makes Sammy run eventually leads him back to the Jewish New York ghetto where Samuel Glickstein grew up, and then back to Hollywood after being temporarily exiled for his participation in the struggle of the Writers' Guild against the big studios, where he witnesses Sammy's final triumph: marriage to the heiress of one of the Wall Street men who finances the studio, elevation to studio head, being feted and brown-nosed by all, and still, of course, running.
I thought of all the things I might have told him. You never had the first idea of give-and-take, the social intercourse. It had to be you, all the way. You had to make individualism the most frightening ism of all. You act as if the world is just a blindfold free-for-all. Only the first time you get it in the belly you holler brotherhood. But you can't have your brothers and eat them too. You're all alone, pal, all alone. That's the way you wanted it, that's the way you learned it. Sing it, Sammy, sing it deep and sad, all alone and feeling blue, all alone in crowded theaters, company conventions, all alone with twenty of Gladys's girls tying themselves into lewd knots for you. All alone in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, with power and with Harringtons till death parts you from your only friend, your worst enemy, yourself.
Almost as interesting as the story is the historical background behind the novel and the author. Budd Schulberg was a "Hollywood prince," son of B.P. Schulberg, a founding member of the AMPA and a producer for the big Hollywood studios. Budd Schulberg grew up among a Who's Who of Hollywood in the 30s and 40s, so when he wrote What Makes Sammy Run?... it made a splash. A big ugly splash. Louis B. Mayer himself called for Schulberg's exile from Hollywood, and Schulberg heard from his own father those immortal words: "You'll never work in this town again."
Much of the acrimony was over the character of Sammy Glick, whom Schulberg insisted was not based on any one person but a composite of Hollywood personalities and anecdotes he had heard over the years. Yet apparently most of Hollywood thought they knew who Sammy "really" was. However, a lot of it was over what's really just a subplot in the novel, the attempted unionization of the Hollywood writers' guild. Schulberg was called a Red, because of his sympathetic portrayal of an event that was still remembered bitterly by the major studios decades later.
The edition of the book I read included an afterword by the author, written in 1989, 50 years after the original publication of his novel. Besides containing more amusing anecdotes and name-dropping (apparently John Wayne himself was one of those who never forgave Schulberg for siding with the unions, and the two of them nearly had a fistfight in Mexico), Schulberg observes that when the novel first came out, and over the next couple of decades, Sammy was viewed with fear and loathing, a sleazy anti-hero who is the personification of Hollywood's id. Yet in the 80s, young film and writing students started coming up to him and praising Sammy as an inspiration, a role model for ambitious career advancement! Schulberg, still a liberal after all these years, was appalled.
And thus Sammy Glick is not only a fascinating anti-hero, a brilliant portrayal of a rags-to-riches narcissist, but also a textbook case of an author's creation who runs out of control, taking on a meaning and significance his creator never intended.
This Audible freebie is a nice way to hear the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. It's not a particularly thrilling fable - boys meets girl,This Audible freebie is a nice way to hear the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. It's not a particularly thrilling fable - boys meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back - though really, it's the girl who does the getting.
The story starts with an evil hobgoblin (also referred to as a demon) who goes to magic school (why did Rowling not find a way to hook this into her mythology?) and creates a magic mirror which shows "reality" in the harshest, ugliest way possible. It is shattered into a million pieces, and spread around the world, where it becomes smaller mirrors, spectacles, or tiny specks of glass getting caught in peoples' eyes, creating mischief and cold-hearted misunderstanding.
One such shard gets in the eye of a little boy named Kai, who then spurns his childhood sweetheart, Gerda. One day he goes wandering in the woods and is picked up by the Snow Queen. Gerda, convinced that he is not dead, goes on a quest to find him.
There are talking flowers, talking crows, and a not-really-evil witch, and of course, the Snow Queen herself.
A cute story with perhaps a few too many elements thrown in for the fantasy-minded modern reader, but it would certainly entertain children. Anderson does wrap this tale up with a rather saccharine Christian moral, but it's a story to please those in search of adventuresome girls and magical talking animals.
Now that I've read my first collection of Maupassant stories, I can say that he is indeed a great writer, though being as prolific as he apparently waNow that I've read my first collection of Maupassant stories, I can say that he is indeed a great writer, though being as prolific as he apparently was, I think you probably need to read a lot more to really be familiar with his work. He was a student of Flaubert, the French "realist" school, hence all these short stories being basically slice-of-life stories about (mostly) provincial French life. There are morals, sometimes, but rarely made explicit - in fact, often the stories just end, like one of those writing exercises in which the reader is asked to decide what happens next. The more moralistic tales among this collection include The Necklace, about a French housewife who borrows a friend's expensive diamond necklace for a ball and then loses it. The ending has the sort of twist that O. Henry later became famous imitating. Then there is Boule De Suif, about a group of wealthy French townspeople fleeing Prussian-occupied Rouen, when a Prussian officer takes a fancy to the courtesan in their midst. When she refuses his advances, her countrymen initially praise her patriotism, but when the officer refuses to let anyone travel onwards until he gets his way, they end up cajoling her into sacrificing herself, and then hypocritically turn on her.
All the other stories were likewise enjoyable and interesting, ranging from fireside tales about hunting and farming and jilted lovers and poor peasants and debauched soldiers, to a few, like The Inn, that take the form of a ghost story even if no actual supernatural apparitions appear.
Definitely worth reading these, and I wouldn't hesitate to try some more Maupassant.
The moist, lumpy earthen floor looked greasy, and, at the back of the room, the bed made an indistinct white spot. A harsh, regular noise, a difficult, hoarse, wheezing breathing, like the gurgling of water from a broken pump, came from the darkened couch where an old man, the father of the peasant woman, was dying.
An old friend, known to all of us, M. Boniface, a great sportsman and a connoisseur of wine, a man of wonderful physique, witty and gay, and endowed with an ironical and resigned philosophy, which manifested itself in caustic humor, and never in melancholy, suddenly exclaimed:
"I know a story, or rather a tragedy, which is somewhat peculiar. It is not at all like those which one hears of usually, and I have never told it, thinking that it would interest no one.
"What do you want?" he then asked her. And with clenched teeth, and trembling with anger, she replied: "I want--I want you to marry me, as you promised." But he only laughed and replied: "Oh! if a man were to marry all the girls with whom he has made a slip, he would have more than enough to do."
As he was looking for a place to climb up I showed him the easiest way, and gave him a hand. He climbed up. Then we helped up the three girls, who had now quite recovered their composure. They were charming, especially the oldest, a blonde of eighteen, fresh as a flower, and very dainty and pretty! Ah, yes! the pretty Englishwomen have indeed the look of tender sea fruit. One would have said of this one that she had just risen out of the sands and that her hair had kept their tint. They all, with their exquisite freshness, make you think of the delicate colors of pink sea-shells and of shining pearls hidden in the unknown depths of the ocean.
Sabot (Theodule), a master carpenter, represented liberal thought in Martinville. He was a tall, thin, man, with gray, cunning eyes, and thin lips, and wore his hair plastered down on his temples. When he said: "Our holy father, the pope" in a certain manner, everyone laughed. He made a point of working on Sunday during the hour of mass. He killed his pig each year on Monday in Holy Week in order to have enough black pudding to last till Easter, and when the priest passed by, he always said by way of a joke: "There goes one who has just swallowed his God off a salver."
She was one of those pretty and charming girls, born by a blunder of destiny in a family of employees. She had no dowry, no expectations, no means of being known, understood, loved, married by a man rich and distinguished; and she let them make a match for her with a little clerk in the Department of Education.
She was simple since she could not be adorned; but she was unhappy as though kept out of her own class; for women have no caste and no descent, their beauty, their grace, and their charm serving them instead of birth and fortune. Their native keenness, their instinctive elegance, their flexibility of mind, are their only hierarchy; and these make the daughters of the people the equals of the most lofty dames.
Quartermaster Varajou had obtained a week's leave to go and visit his sister, Madame Padoie. Varajou, who was in garrison at Rennes and was leading a pretty gay life, finding himself high and dry, wrote to his sister saying that he would devote a week to her. It was not that he cared particularly for Mme. Padoie, a little moralist, a devotee, and always cross; but he needed money, needed it very badly, and he remembered that, of all his relations, the Padoies were the only ones whom he had never approached on the subject.
“We were at dinner when a letter was brought in and my father opened it. You know my father, who thinks that he is king of France ad interim. I call him Don Quixote, because for twelve years he has been running a tilt against the windmill of the Republic, without quite knowing whether it was in the name of the Bourbons or of the Orleans. At present he is holding the lance in the name of the Orleans alone, because there is nobody else but them left. In any case, he thinks himself the first gentleman in France, the best known, the most influential, the head of the party; and as he is an irremovable senator, he thinks that the neighboring kings’ thrones are very insecure.
Nothing is more amusing, more delicate, more interesting than the manoeuvring of a balloon. It is an enormous toy, free and docile, which obeys with surprising sensitiveness, but it is also, and before all, the slave of the wind, which we cannot control. A pinch of sand, half a sheet of paper, one or two drops of water, the bones of a chicken which we had just eaten, thrown overboard, makes it go up quickly.
"Very few stand the test of the bath. It is there that they can be judged, from the ankle to the throat. Especially on leaving the water are the defects revealed, although water is a powerful aid to flabby skin.
"The first time that I saw this young woman in the water, I was delighted, entranced. She stood the test well. There are faces whose charms appeal to you at first glance and delight you instantly. You seem to have found the woman whom you were born to love. I had that feeling and that shock.
And soon a rumor began to circulate. People talked of a colossal wolf with gray fur, almost white, who had eaten two children, gnawed off a woman's arm, strangled all the watch dogs in the district, and even come without fear into the farmyards. The people in the houses affirmed that they had felt his breath, and that it made the flame of the lights flicker. And soon a panic ran through all the province. No one dared go out any more after nightfall. The darkness seemed haunted by the image of the beast.
He slept for a long time, for a very long time, the unconquerable sleep of exhaustion. But suddenly a voice, a cry, a name: "Ulrich," aroused him from his profound slumber, and made him sit up in bed. Had he been dreaming? Was it one of those strange appeals which cross the dreams of disquieted minds? No, he heard it still, that reverberating cry,--which had entered at his ears and remained in his brain,--thrilling him to the tips of his sinewy fingers. Certainly, somebody had cried out, and called: "Ulrich!" There was somebody there, near the house, there could be no doubt of that, and he opened the door and shouted: "Is it you, Gaspard?" with all the strength of his lungs. But there was no reply, no murmur, no groan, nothing. It was quite dark, and the snow looked wan.
For several days in succession fragments of a defeated army had passed through the town. They were mere disorganized bands, not disciplined forces. The men wore long, dirty beards and tattered uniforms; they advanced in listless fashion, without a flag, without a leader. All seemed exhausted, worn out, incapable of thought or resolve, marching onward merely by force of habit, and dropping to the ground with fatigue the moment they halted. One saw, in particular, many enlisted men, peaceful citizens, men who lived quietly on their income, bending beneath the weight of their rifles; and little active volunteers, easily frightened but full of enthusiasm, as eager to attack as they were ready to take to flight; and amid these, a sprinkling of red-breeched soldiers, the pitiful remnant of a division cut down in a great battle; somber artillerymen, side by side with nondescript foot-soldiers; and, here and there, the gleaming helmet of a heavy-footed dragoon who had difficulty in keeping up with the quicker pace of the soldiers of the line. Legions of irregulars with high-sounding names "Avengers of Defeat," "Citizens of the Tomb," "Brethren in Death"--passed in their turn, looking like banditti. Their leaders, former drapers or grain merchants, or tallow or soap chandlers--warriors by force of circumstances, officers by reason of their mustachios or their money--covered with weapons, flannel and gold lace, spoke in an impressive manner, discussed plans of campaign, and behaved as though they alone bore the fortunes of dying France on their braggart shoulders; though, in truth, they frequently were afraid of their own men--scoundrels often brave beyond measure, but pillagers and debauchees.
Did you know that Jack London wrote a post-apocalyptic novel? I didn't!
"The Scarlet Death broke out in San Francisco. The first death came on a Monda
Did you know that Jack London wrote a post-apocalyptic novel? I didn't!
"The Scarlet Death broke out in San Francisco. The first death came on a Monday morning. By Thursday they were dying like flies in Oakland and San Francisco. They died everywhere—in their beds, at their work, walking along the street. It was on Tuesday that I saw my first death—Miss Collbran, one of my students, sitting right there before my eyes, in my lecture-room. I noticed her face while I was talking. It had suddenly turned scarlet. I ceased speaking and could only look at her, for the first fear of the plague was already on all of us and we knew that it had come. The young women screamed and ran out of the room. So did the young men run out, all but two. Miss Collbran's convulsions were very mild and lasted less than a minute. One of the young men fetched her a glass of water. She drank only a little of it, and cried out: "'My feet! All sensation has left them.' "After a minute she said, 'I have no feet. I am unaware that I have any feet. And my knees are cold. I can scarcely feel that I have knees.'
I was expecting a nifty adventure in the tradition of H.G. Wells or Edgar Rice Burroughs after reading The Call of the Wild, but The Scarlet Plague, written in 1912, seems to be from a later stage in Jack London's career when, according to Wikipedia, he was often just churning out stories to pay for upgrades on his ranch. It rather shows - that dialog, above, is hardly realistic, and London's imagined plague, striking in 2013, shows little imagination, and his futuristic world even less.
This wasn't a bad story, it just wasn't particularly exciting or original, and I doubt it was very original even in 1912. There isn't much tension, because it's all narrated by an old man, once a Professor of English Literature at UC Berkeley, telling his savage grandchildren how the plague came over 60 years earlier. His incurious grandsons rudely complain and call him names whenever he uses words they're not familiar with.
It is an interesting early entry in the post-apocalyptic sub-genre, and while I could compare it to any number of later global plague novels, if I had to guess which modern author was most heavily influenced by it, I'd say Cormac McCarthy, with his surprisingly similar (and equally tedious) novel The Road, which like The Scarlet Plague shows little concern about the science of the disease that ended civilization or the details of the world, but is centered on one survivor trying to keep the fire alive. The fact that both novels end on the California coast also seems an interesting coincidence.
That said, you might want to read this for historical reasons if you are into post-apocalyptic novels, but I don't think it was one of London's best....more
A King of Infinite Space is the last book in Allen Steele's Near-Space series. It's a stand-alone novel that does not require reading any of the previA King of Infinite Space is the last book in Allen Steele's Near-Space series. It's a stand-alone novel that does not require reading any of the previous stories, though Working for Mister Chicago and The Death of Captain Future introduce several characters who reappear here.
William Alec Tucker III is, to put it bluntly, a douchebag. He's the son of a status-seeking, desperately-clinging-to-her-dessicating-youth mother and a rich CEO daddy, neither of whom actually want to have much to do with him, so he grows up like most such young men: rich, spoiled, aimless, and self-centered. In 1995, he and his girlfriend, Erin, are riding home from a concert in a car driven by Alec's best friend, Shemp. Shemp is tripping the light fantastic on three hits of LSD, and they meet a truck.
About a hundred years later, Alec wakes up in a white room, with no memory of who he is. In fact, at first he can't even remember how to eat or use the toilet.
Gradually, his memories come back, and he discovers that his father had signed him up for one of those cryogenic suspension schemes back in the 90s. When he died, his head was surgically removed, frozen, and kept in storage for some future date when the technology would exist to revive him. To the surprise of those who are revived, that date actually comes.
Unfortunately, Alec soon finds that in the intervening century, during which mankind has expanded throughout the solar system, and the politics and economics of 20th century Earth have faded into history, a sinister, wealthy and powerful individual known as "Mister Chicago" acquired the "deadheads" once cared for by the Immortality Partnership, and for reasons of his own, had them brought to his lair to be revived. And upon revival, he puts them all to work - cleaning floors, scrubbing toilets, dusting shelves, changing sheets. These wealthy, elite optimists of the 20th century, hoping to be brought back to life to experience the wonders of the future, find themselves enslaved as house-servants.
It turns out that Alec's friend Shemp also died in that accident and was brought back to life with him. As Alec begins trying to scope out his new surroundings, the world in which he finds himself, and the goals of their mysterious "benefactor," Mister Chicago, he discovers that he and Shemp have changed, and not for the better. Alec wants to find out what happened to Erin, and this, and the betrayal of his friend and the increasingly sinister behavior of Mister Chicago, convinces him to plot an escape.
The rest of the book is a space adventure worthy of Heinlein: Alec has to reach the Clarke County space station parked at a Lagrange point, and eventually, the moon, all while trying to dodge Mister Chicago's minions and the dangerous intelligence service of the Pax Astra.
As a space adventure, this book was great. I really enjoyed Steele's other Near-Space stories, and this novel-length coda to those stories presents a daring, heroic protagonist who survives with a combination of cleverness, courage, and stupid blind luck.
The daring, heroic, protagonist is, however, still a douchebag. Which is a complaint that comes up in a lot of other reviews: Alec grows up a bit over the course of the novel, gradually realizing what a shitty little spoiled brat he was and how badly he treated everyone from the hired help to his own friends, but right up until the very end he's still kind of a dick. It's hard to outgrow an upbringing like his.
Since I thought this was the point of the novel - the former trust-fund kiddie has to man up and figure out how to survive in a universe that no longer cares about his daddy's money - I found it entertaining, especially when Alec got a number of well-deserved ass-kickings.
The twists at the very end, however, threw me a bit, as several characters who've been built up as sadistic villains do a heel-face turn, and I wasn't entirely satisfied by the way everything wraps up in the last few chapters (even if I did guess early on what Mister Chicago was really up to).
That wasn't enough to diminish my enjoyment of the book, though, and I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes Heinleinesque space adventures....more
Damocles is not an action-packed novel. Most of the book is talking, describing the laborious task of humans and aliens trying to establish communicatDamocles is not an action-packed novel. Most of the book is talking, describing the laborious task of humans and aliens trying to establish communications when they share no culture or language in common. The linguistics are not described in detail, but the process of constructing a bridge to translation is realistic.
This is also a "humans are the aliens" novel, in which it's the Earthers who come from outer space, to the shock and awe and terror of a less advanced civilization.
The setting the Earthers come from is barely fleshed out — humans have expanded to other colonies, but the message from an older alien race giving Earthers the secret of FTL travel and telling them that there are other races seeded from the same DNA as humanity is never described in more detail than that. It's a MacGuffin to send the crew of the Damocles out into space.
Damocles is told in alternating chapters from the viewpoints of Meg Dupris, the linguist aboard the Damocles, and Loul Pell, a socially awkward nerd in a dead-end government job when the Earthers arrive.
Besides the realistic communications problems, the best part of Damocles is the realistic aliens, the Didetos. They are close enough to human that their psychology and physiology is understandable, but different enough that they're clearly not human. Their culture constantly throws the Earthers off-balance with its similarities and differences - Didetos don't sleep, and although they have an industrial society that has begun launching satellites, they have never in their history undertaken to explore their oceans. Yet, they have press conferences, a military-industrial complex, and comic book nerds.
Loul Pell is one of the latter. A disgraced scientist, now working as a cubicle drone because he once presented a paper speculating about alien contact, he suddenly finds himself whisked away by Dideto Men In Black when aliens actually appear, pretty much where and how he said they would. And so he accidentally takes the role of speaker-to-aliens, and befriends a strange, willowy, extraterrestrial named "Meg."
Although there are some misunderstandings and tension over miscommunications, and questions about whether the Earthers will be able to return home, there is no dramatic action in this book. It's a novel about inter-cultural communications, and if aliens ever do visit Earth, I can see Men In Black whisking S.G. Redling off to advise our first contact team on how to communicate with them.
A thoughtful, intelligent sci-fi novel that explores linguistics and alien cultures in a realistic way. Damocles is not a particularly exciting book, but it's a fine work of genuine speculative fiction. 3.5 stars, rounding up to 4, because I just read Fluency, which sucked, so I'm glad to see a SF novel about a linguist making contact with aliens that doesn't suck....more
Wow! I don't know if I've ever actually read a Jack London story before. I suppose I must have in elementary school. But The Call of the Wild, a shortWow! I don't know if I've ever actually read a Jack London story before. I suppose I must have in elementary school. But The Call of the Wild, a short novel of 84 pages, is really an excellent adventure - simple, straightforward, but with crisp prose, rousing adventure, and who doesn't love a dog story? And no sentimental tail-wagging doggie here, but a metaphor for the ancient struggle between civilization and nature, the blessings and disadvantages of giving up our ancestral survival instincts and attunement to the natural world for the comforts of hearthfires and permanent shelter.
Buck, our furry protagonist, is half-Saint Bernard, half-German Shepard. He starts life as the lazy pet of a wealthy California judge, but during the Klondike gold rush of 1897, big dogs like Buck are in high demand as sled dogs, so he is kidnapped and sold up the coast to begin a new life. He soon learns the way of fang and club, as this formerly gentle giant proves to be a sort of Conan among canines. Not just in brute strength and capacity for violence, but also in cunning.
He was beaten (he knew that); but he was not broken. He saw, once for all, that he stood no chance against a man with a club. He had learned the lesson, and in all his after life he never forgot it. That club was a revelation. It was his introduction to the reign of primitive law, and he met the introduction halfway. The facts of life took on a fiercer aspect; and while he faced that aspect uncowed, he faced it with all the latent cunning of his nature aroused. As the days went by, other dogs came, in crates and at the ends of ropes, some docilely, and some raging and roaring as he had come; and, one and all, he watched them pass under the dominion of the man in the red sweater. Again and again, as he looked at each brutal performance, the lesson was driven home to Buck: a man with a club was a lawgiver, a master to be obeyed, though not necessarily conciliated. Of this last Buck was never guilty, though he did see beaten dogs that fawned upon the man, and wagged their tails, and licked his hand. Also he saw one dog, that would neither conciliate nor obey, finally killed in the struggle for mastery.
Jack London made Buck a compelling protagonist — while the dogs are anthropomorphized just a little, depicted as having greater understanding and self-awareness than real dogs probably do, they do not speak, or behave in any other way unrealistically. (Well, towards the end, Buck becomes something of a super-dog, capable of heroic feats like pulling a thousand-pound sled and defeating black bears, wolverines, Indian tribes, and wolf packs by himself. But let's give Jack London some artistic license.) Buck's gradual awakening to his true primitive nature evolves from his understanding of men with clubs, to his fatal duel with a rival huskie, to his penultimate stage of life, at last, with a man he truly loves, and then his final trek into the wilderness.
This is a very masculine, adventuresome book and I can see why it's popular with kids, especially boys. Jack London clearly idealized the wilderness and the life of a primitive, though it may have contributed to his own early demise. In reality, of course, the life of a dog turned loose in the wild is likely to be brutal and short, but you can read The Call of the Wild and imagine Buck running free in the Alaskan Yukon, howling with his wolf-brothers.
It's a great little story, not all that deep, but it does resonate with clear and powerful themes, and Jack London's prose goes down surprisingly well....more
This is a set of four interlinked short stories in post-zombie apocalypse Los Angeles.
The first story is about one woman, traveling alone, who is suppThis is a set of four interlinked short stories in post-zombie apocalypse Los Angeles.
The first story is about one woman, traveling alone, who is supposedly immune to the virus that creates "Junkies" (so-named because they eat literally anything they can stuff into their mouths). She acquires a traveling companion, another woman. Trouble ensues.
The second story is about a biological researcher who is brought to a research facility that is trying to develop a cure. He uncovers the Horrible Truth.
The third story is about a band of professional scavengers in the post-apocalyptic city who run into something more dangerous than Junkies.
The fourth story is about a mercenary/assassin who's still doing his thing after the apocalypse.
There is some cleverness in the way each story feeds into the next, but there is nothing really new here for zombie fans. Peter Clines's Ex-Heroes series is more interesting, as he mixes superheroes with his zombies. This is a fun, short read, but it's nothing you haven't seen before....more
A short story in the Old Man's War universe, originally a freebie on Audible. Jane Sagan, the genetically engineered supersoldier who we first met inA short story in the Old Man's War universe, originally a freebie on Audible. Jane Sagan, the genetically engineered supersoldier who we first met in Old Man's War, is the narrator of The Sagan Diary, and she refers to events in that book, so it won't make a lot of sense unless you've read OMW.
Basically, this was a literary experiment by John Scalzi, trying to write from a female POV - albeit not a normal woman. Jane is chronologically only nine years old, but she was born "adult" and is now sorting through what it means to be in love and desire a normal life. There is some musing about life and death and killing aliens and being a supergenius who has to deal with slooooooow moving and thinking and talking normal humans, and then the obligatory love and sex bits which were well written, but not as interesting as Jane talking about how she decided to become a xenoanthropologist, studying the cultures of the aliens they've been sent to exterminate.
This was an okay short story, but there's not much story to it and it doesn't expand the OMW universe much. It's a decent internal monologue of an unusual soldier, but pretty much only worth listening to if you want some OMW extras....more
This is clearly a bit of filler between trilogies, and a contrived excuse for Larry Correia to write a battle between a giant robot and Godzilla intoThis is clearly a bit of filler between trilogies, and a contrived excuse for Larry Correia to write a battle between a giant robot and Godzilla into his Grimnoir trilogy, but like the rest of his magical-superhero alternate universe stories, it's fun and action packed pulp adventure that just doesn't bear too much thinking about.
Taking place about twenty years after the end of Warbound, Tokyo Raider stars Joe Sullivan Jr., a chip off the old block. Having joined the Marines, just like that he is whisked off to Japan at the direct request of the President (who is not a historical figure but instead a familiar face from the previous books). Even though the US and the Imperium are clearly headed for war, at the moment the Imperium is at war with their mutual enemy, the USSR. Stalin's sorcerers have summoned a giant monster that's devastating Japan, and Imperium scientists and mages have built a giant robot that, conveniently, none of their own magically-gifted warriors can operate. Somehow our old friend Toru, now in charge of the Imperium, figures his old frenemy Jake's son is the man they need.
This doesn't really make sense, but like I said, it's just an excuse for a battle between a giant robot blazoned with a rising sun pumping the Star Spangled Banner from its speakers, and a Godzilla-sized demon with the Soviet hammer & sickle burned into its chest. Fix that image in your head and have fun. It does make me look forward to the next Grimnoir series....more
I found book one in the Destroyermen series to be fun and entertaining, if a bit flat and cheesy, style-wise. Book two, though, actually had me wantinI found book one in the Destroyermen series to be fun and entertaining, if a bit flat and cheesy, style-wise. Book two, though, actually had me wanting to stand up and cheer. Not that it's any less flat and cheesy, but there are some quintessential qualities that Taylor Anderson brings to this series that I've been missing in sci-fi and military fiction lately.
Duty, honor, bravery, sacrifice, and heroism. Men acting like men. (Yes, the women - both human and Lemurian - are pretty brave too.) A war that feels like a war.
This book is very similar to an old WWII movie - the ones made before we got cynical and stopped presenting Americans as the good guys. The USS Walker and its sister ship the USS Mahan have allied with the Lemurians, a civilized race descended from lemurs in the alternate Earth in which the two destroyers find themselves. They face the Grik, an almost mindlessly violent race descended from reptiles or dinosaurs. In Crusade, we learn that the Japanese battleship Amagi, which chased the two American destroyers into the storm that brought it to this world, followed them, and is now allied with the Grik.
This makes the two sides pretty starkly black and white: Americans and friendly lemur-people vs. Japanese and evil crocodile-people.
But, the Americans and Lemurians are not universally good, and the Japanese are not universally evil. There is in-fighting among the various land-dwelling and sea-going tribes of Lemurians, some of the Americans get themselves into trouble with bad behavior, while in addition to Lieutenant Shinya, the captured Japanese officer who has now become effectively a part of the Walker's crew, Anderson also writes some scenes from the point of view of the Amagi's crew, and specifically, its unfortunate executive officer. The Japanese are Imperial Japanese. They have a duty, and an enemy. But while their captain is evidently going mad, the rest of the crew is starting to have doubts about whether they'd really rather be allied to cannibalistic lizard men than Americans.
Crusade is a series of battles, political alliances, and chases, with the tension ramping up as they discover that the Grik are invading the home of the Lemurians in a massive swarm, and worse, accompanied by a Japanese battlecruiser. The climax, in which the Walker faces a vastly more powerful ship it can't possibly defeat, is worthy of the most rocking naval adventure. As they are trying to evacuate thousands of Lemurians in the face of the Grik invasion, and no matter what they do, they must cope with the inevitable losses of thousands more, the tragedy and heroism of both humans and Lemurians is rousing, inspiring, a real edge-of-your-seat adventure.
Removed from the geopolitical considerations of Earth, the Americans in this world are a little pocket of America all their own, and it's what they make of it. And so far, they are what you'd expect from a red-blooded US Navy crew - sailors, heroes, not untarnished with the occasional scoundrel, but good men worthy of respect and admiration without the author doing a lot of jingoistic chest-beating.
The technical details all seem to be authentic and well-researched, from the advantages and disadvantages of the two American "four-stackers" vs. the huge, ultra-modern Amagi (which is struggling with damage of its own and the difficulties of getting repairs and fuel from its Grik "allies") to the aerial duel between a salvaged seaplane and a Japanese spotting biplane, to problems with American torpedoes. Throw sailing ships and the Lemurians' giant seagoing "homes" into the mix, and you've got a blend of Horatio Hornblower, Battlestar Galactica, and Midway.
I'm giving this book 5 stars because it was exciting all the way through, and I was worried about the heroes at every step of the way - when the Amagi shows up, you really feel the "Oh, shit" moment as Captain Reddy realizes how badly they are screwed. This book improved the last by adding depth to Lemurian culture (including more, ah, relations between humans and Lemurians - some good, some very much not), and even a little bit to the Grik, although so far they're still pretty much just a mindless horde of barely sentient monsters led by evil overlords.
It's not literary, it's just the modern version of a pulp adventure, but damn, I like it, even if I am looking at the length of the series (9 books and counting now?) and reviews of later books in the series that seem to indicate that the author is no hurry to wrap it up....more
This short story, set after Correia's Grimnoir trilogy, was an Audible freebie, and will be quite enjoyable to anyone who enjoyed the previous GrimnoiThis short story, set after Correia's Grimnoir trilogy, was an Audible freebie, and will be quite enjoyable to anyone who enjoyed the previous Grimnoir books. Jake Sullivan is back, and by fairly arbitrary plot manipulation, he's hanging around in Casablanca doing a bad Bogie impersonation when his old "friend" Dr. Wells, the sociopathic mastermind who's now running China's organized crime syndicates, asks if Sullivan wouldn't mind hopping a ride on his expensive new zeppelin full of international high-rollers and figuring out who's brought a bomb on board before it blows up.
Sullivan agrees, with the sort of reasoning that makes sense when the GM is telling you, "Look, if you say no, we're just gonna have to play Munchkin or something tonight instead." Thus semi-railroaded into the plot, the Player Character proceeds to sniff out the villains, of whom there are plenty to choose from, since Wells's zeppelin is carrying Imperium agents, NKVD spies, a mysterious German working for a more mysterious organization which is apparently being set up as a future nemesis for the Grimnoir Society, and various other rich, powerful scoundrels.
Correia enjoys inserting historical figures into his alternate history: here, Lavrenti Beria (one of the original Soviet secret police chiefs) makes an appearance. The story is short but of course ends with a super-powered battle and hints of future conflict with the real Big Bad (or rather, the minion of the real Big Bad) getting away. Nice to see that the Grimnoir series will continue....more
One of the things that surprised me about this 1938 Hugo-winner was its conformity to modern science. I am not enough of a historian to always remembeOne of the things that surprised me about this 1938 Hugo-winner was its conformity to modern science. I am not enough of a historian to always remember at what point people knew what facts, so I was a little surprised at the references to atomic power, and fairly advanced discussions of biochemistry. Physicists or biologists would probably find some fault with the technical details in this novella, but it reads as quite a plausible, relatively "hard" SF story given that the premise is a shapeshifting alien being thawed after spending 20 million years frozen in Antarctica.
This novella is better known, of course, by the movie based on it, John Carpenter's The Thing, which was a remake of 1951's The Thing from Another World.
Characterization is sparse, as is typical of 1930s sci-fi. The team of scientists and research camp staff are not much more than names and roles — which isn't much of a fault in a story where most of the characters are expendable. What's notable is how much Campbell does convey in his sparse descriptions.
Vance Norris moved angrily. He was comparatively short in this gathering of big men, some five feet eight, and his stocky, powerful build tended to make him seem shorter. His black hair was crisp and hard, like short, steel wires, and his eyes were the gray of fractured steel. If McReady was a man of bronze, Norris was all steel. His movements, his thoughts, his whole bearing had the quick, hard impulse of a steel spring. His nerves were steel—hard, quick acting—swift corroding.
After finding an alien spaceship that was generating a magnetic field strong enough to distort their compasses from miles away, they bring back a frozen thing in a block of ice. Obviously, such a remarkable scientific discovery cannot just be left alone - they make plans to bring it back to New York. Which means thawing it out.
"How the hell can these birds tell what they are voting on? They haven't seen those three red eyes and that blue hair like crawling worms. Crawling—damn, it's crawling there in the ice right now!
"Nothing Earth ever spawned had the unutterable sublimation of devastating wrath that thing let loose in its face when it looked around its frozen desolation twenty million years ago. Mad? It was mad clear through—searing, blistering mad!
"Hell, I've had bad dreams ever since I looked at those three red eyes. Nightmares. Dreaming the thing thawed out and came to life—that it wasn't dead, or even wholly unconscious all those twenty million years, but just slowed, waiting—waiting. You'll dream, too, while that damned thing that Earth wouldn't own is dripping, dripping in the Cosmos House tonight.
Obviously, this is not going to end well. Despite the biologist's confident assurances that the thing couldn't possibly still be alive after being frozen for 20 million years, they are soon playing a game of "Monster, monster, who's the monster?"
This story reminded me quite a bit of H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness — not just because of the Antarctic setting, but also the stark terror of ordinary, rationalist-minded men facing alien, cosmic horror. Campbell did a lot more with psychological suspense, though, as the survivors eye one another knowing that one or more of them is actually an alien.
A classic for good reason, and the remote, Antarctic setting, not changed all that much in the decades since, means it hasn't aged too badly....more