MURDER AT THE ART & CRAFT FAIR by Steve Demaree

Another one of the series of chubby Lt. Cy Dekker cozy mysteries. Number 6, in fact.  This one was even cozier than usual.  Kind of Extreme Cozy, if you follow.

Lt. Dekker has seen his doctor, who has insisted our boy lose weight or face dire health consequences, so he has taken up exercise by Wii, and is cutting calories.

Lots of light banter, boring detailed descriptions of the days and the food and the non-mystery related activities.   Lt. Dekker has found a lady friend, and it would seem that the heaviest romantic stuff are long kisses.  Improbable, but definitely not offensive to the prim and proper readers.

Actually, it was almost halfway through the book before we got to the mystery, and what a lame one this was.  As seems the usual case with the Dekker series, you can never guess the perpetrator because it is always someone not part of the story, some peripheral character that we never get to hear about until the last 15 pages.  So kind of like cheating.

In the series, Dekker’s partner, Lou, always has a ‘clue’ that pops into his head, some quote, or meaningless phrase, that usually has to be stretched beyond belief to have anything to do with the investigation in any way.  The clues in this volume were worse than usual.

Anyway, a vendor at the fair is murdered by being bopped on the head in his tent after everyone else went home.  And for the stupidest reason that didn’t even make any sense.

I have one more in the series to read, and I think I will pass on it.  Looks like Dekker is going to lose weight and get married to his chaste lady love whose sole attraction seems to be her tendency to one-liners.

So many books, so little lifetime.

 

 

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THE MOTE IN GOD’S EYE by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

What a great sci fi book, and yet, not.  It’s one of those books that you really enjoy while you are reading it, while at the same time thinking, ‘Things that make you go hmmmmm.’

Official blurb:  “In 3016, the 2nd Empire of Man spans hundreds of star systems, thanks to faster-than-light Alderson Drive. Intelligent beings are finally found from the Mote, an isolated star in a thick dust cloud. The bottled-up ancient civilization, at least one million years old, are welcoming, kind, yet evasive, with a dark problem they have not solved in over a million years.”

It was written in 1974, so that might account for some of its hmmmm issues. I am going to give you a link to a review by somebody who can really write and think, and has described all my issues with the book so much better than me.   It is HERE.  Why can’t I write and think like that?  Oh, well, to each of us is given our small talent to husband. My.  That sounded almost biblical, didn’t it.

I read sci fi for the nifty ideas that people have, for their imaginations in creating new worlds, and for how they express their moral and ethical concerns.  I am less disturbed by the (lack of) literary value a work might have, by it’s sometimes flat characters, or its sometimes less elegant writing, or by its sometimes truly implausible themes, its plots that occasionally contain holes large enough to drive a space ship through.   The review above which I referenced, has a wider approach to the book.  It considers it all as a whole.

Me?  I am more forgiving, and I liked the idea of conquest not by war, or attack or super advanced technology which the earth does not yet have, but by population explosion.  Conquest via the Cockroach Approach.  Breed often, breed quickly, and take over the galaxy.  See what I mean?  Now THERE’S an idea.

I liked it.  There.  I said it and I’m glad.  Now to acquire some more of the work of the collaboration of these two guys.

 

 

UNDER THE SKIN by Michel Faber

Isserley is a female driver who cruises the Scottish Highlands picking up young male hitchhikers. Scarred and awkward, yet strangely erotic and threatening, she listens to her hitchhikers as they open up to her, revealing clues about who might miss them if they should disappear. 

This was a wonderfully creepy, serious, funny tale.  Why does Isserley do this?  When she finds an appropriate one, she takes him back to the farm.  Where they are fattened up and then butchered for their meat.  To be sent to another planet, whose residents look someone like dogs with oddly jointed limbs, but who consider humans to be animals, and are surprised that the humans have a language, etc.

It’s a bizarre tale, and really all about how we view ‘others’, and what makes up humanity and compassion.

Yeah, it’s aliens, but not the kind you might expect.

Allegory?  Sort of.  Morality tale?  I guess so?  Weird fiction genre?  Darn right.  One reviewer calls it literary science fiction that is compulsively creepy and disturbing in all the right ways.  Yep.  That about sums it up. Another reviewer says it is all about the reveal, and I suppose that is true, too, although the reveal slowly impinges upon our consciousness little by little as the story goes on.

It is a difficult book to describe, so go read it yourself.  Oh, yeah, it was made into a movie in 2013.

[The way the obesity levels are rising world wide, they wouldn’t have to fatten up a great number of guys these days.  The book was written in 2000.  I think we were all skinnier back then.]

One of a series of four sculptures by Liu-Xue entitled We Are the World.

 

 

THE FORGE OF GOD by Greg Bear

Alien attack!  Alien attack!

Some geologists were hiking in the American far west desert when they notice a cone shaped geological formation.  Hmmmm, said Geologist #1.  That’s new.  That wasn’t there before.  Coming closer, they find ….. gasp ….. an actual alien who seems to have crawled away from the … uh… thing…. and seems to be dying.  They haul it to a local gas station/convenience store, call the feds, and you can guess what happens from there.  The alien does tell everyone that it is here to warn the earth that another alien entity which basically eats planets in order to have more material to grow in order to go around eating more planets, etc., is on the way.  Woe is us.

Meanwhile, in Australia, another artifact has appeared, along with floating aliens who claim they come in peace and have much wonderful stuff to teach humankind.  Hot diggity dog.  Wait just a UFO minute.  Which is correct?  Good stuff for all or total annihilation of the planet?

Turns out that Door Number 1 is correct – total annihilation of the planet, coming right up.

So we follow a couple of scientists, a journalist, some government folks, as they try to deal with the Big Boom that is coming.

Implausible alert <<<<beep beep beep>>>> they are helped by the helpful aliens who send hand size metal spider-like creatures all over the place who bite certain selected people thereby transferring all kinds of knowledge and info and instructions on where to go to get on a generation ship that will get them the heck out of Dodge before the Big Boom.  Why should the idea of metallic spiders biting people in order to share info bother me more than the idea  of high density masses hitting the earth and burrowing straight into the core, going round and round eventually to collide and create a black hole?  But there it is,  a sour note in the symphony of destruction.

As a reviewer Rose said, “All I kept thinking while reading this was that it felt like an Arthur C Clarke story. You know, complicated science, great concept, crappy two-dimensional characters. I didn’t like or dislike one character. They were there only to showcase the idea and the science.”  Gee she is smart.  My opinion?  What she said.  Didn’t keep me, though, from turning pages all the way to the bitter end, including the somewhat superfluous epilogue.

The title?  (I love to know where author’s get their titles. Just a little quirk of mine.)   Here’s a couple of quotes which might explain it.

God, a superior intelligence, sculpts us all, finds us wanting, and sends our material back into the forge to be reshaped.  That thing out there.  The Furnace.  That’s the forge of God.

And

He has sent mighty machines, mighty forces which could begin, at any moment, to heat this Earth in God’s forge, and beat it to pieces on a heavenly anvil.

It will not surprise you to learn that the next book in the series is Anvil of Stars.

Lots of fun science stuff in this 1987 book.  Like a von Neumann probe, which is, in theory, a self-replicating spacecraft which could be sent to a neighboring planetary system, where it would seek out raw materials (extracted from asteroids, moon, gas giants, etc.) to create replicas of itself. These replicas would then be sent out to other planetary systems. The original “parent” probe could then pursue its primary purpose within the star system. This mission varies widely depending on the variant of self-replicating starship proposed.  And we have the Molokai Fracture, which is a fault zone in the ocean and lies between Molokai Island, Hawaii and Baja California. Who knew, right?

LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA by Gabriel Garcia Márquez

Written in 1985, and set in 1931 Cartagena, Colombia, Márquez gives us the slightly strange story of a couple of adolescents who fall in love, are separated, and meet up again in old age.  The end.

Well, of course not. It’s boy wants to meet girl but is not permitted due to the customs of the time and place, boy loses girl, boy regains girl at a more appropriate age but girl dumps boy, girl marries a doctor, girl has and up and down marriage, boy meanwhile stays true in his heart to girl while chasing every skirt in town for the next 50 years, girl loses doctor to death, boy remeets girl who by this time is something like 80 years old, and they live happily every after for the few remaining breaths left to them.

As girl says, when faced with the disapproval of her family on remeeting him:  “First we were told we were too young. Now we are told we are too old.”

I liked it for its perky attitude toward geriatric sex.  However, there was a lot of minutiae to get through before we get to the geriatric sex.  The story is curiously appealing.  Maybe it is because I now at my advancing age feel more affinity with the dailiness of life and less with the sky diving and bungee jumping adventures, because as the caterpillar said to his buddy while watching a butterfly, “You’ll never get me up in one of those things.”

But anyway, it has Márquez’ signature touch of surrealism, which may account for its appeal, and the setting in his natal country of Colombia.  You DO know that he is the One Hundred Years of Solitude author, right?  That book is said to have had a strong effect on the politics of his country.  Aren’t familiar with the book?  Go here.

 

THE CITY AND THE CITY by China Miélville

This is a tale of two cities, overlaid on top of each other.  There are areas where you can see the other city, and places where the two intersect but you are not allowed to see the other city, or to acknowledge it, so sometimes, in the crosshatched places, you have to walk around pedestrians from the other city without actually seeing them, drive around other cars, , so you have to learn to unsee.  It’s illegal to see them.  This is monitored by Breach, which is what happens when you either walk or drive into the alter city, or openly look at the other city.  Then Breach comes and disappears you.

The two cities are not simply copies of the other.  Each is distinct and different.  Beszel is the city of the narration, and Ul Qoma is the other.  They seem to be set in Europe somewhere, possibly in the Balkins, or some such, but it is never explicitly explained where.  It is a somewhat alternate/fantasy reality story, with some historically accurate facts and other stuff just made up.  Beszel is more worn out, less tech, and Ul Qoma is more modern, with better infrastructure, and also home of some pretty wonderful archeological artifacts.  There are organizations in each city that are pushing for unification of the cities, and while a few of the more mild groups are permitted to exist opening, there are a couple of really rabid extremists who will do all in their power to make unification happen.  They are countered by their extreme opposite numbers, the nationalists, and the governments of the two cities support the nationalists while trying to stamp out the unificationists.

The way to enter the other city is through a central building, and you need papers and documents and permission and all kinds of bureaucratic kabooble.   Say your house or apartment building is right next to an alter of the other city.  Say you have a friend who lives in that building.  You cannot just way at each other or call across to each other, or meet halfway.  One of you has to get permission to enter the other city, through the central checkpoint,  and then once in the opposite city, you turn around and walk THE SAME STREETS to your street, which in the opposite city looks pretty different, and then enter that building next door to your own.

I remember reading that Miélville wants to write a book in every genre, and this is his version of noir detective fiction.  A woman is found murdered in an empty lot in Beszel.  It is first thought that she was a prostitute, but investigation proves her to be a Ph.d candidate who had been working on an archeological dig in El Qoma.   How did she get from El Qoma into Beszel?   Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad finds deadly conspiracies beneath a seemingly routine murder. From the decaying Beszel, he joins detective Qussim Dhatt in rich vibrant Ul Qoma, and both are enmeshed in a sordid underworld. Rabid nationalists on each side are intent on destroying their neighboring city, and unificationists dream of dissolving the two into one.

Great story, right up my unseen alley, combining as it does detective mystery with sci fi weirdness.

OVER TUMBLED GRAVES by Jess Walter

“In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing over the tumbled graves. ”  — T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland

A while ago, I read the second volume in this Caroline Mabry detective series, (Land of the Blind),  and I liked it sooo much that I acquired the first book.

Over Tumbled Graves has a different feel to it – more detective-y and less novel-y.  In it, in the unlikely venue of Spokane, Washington,  we meet Caroline Mabry, 36, single, skirting around an affair with her former mentor Detective Dupree, who is married,  without having actually committed to it.  This dance started six years ago after she shot a drunk wife abuser at a domestic call, and Dupree came to ‘fix’ the scene so it would be sure to be a good shoot.

Now, she botches a drug sting in the local park, chases the two perps to the narrow walkway over the falls, one of the perps pushes the other off the bridge into the roiling water, and stands there giving Caroline the choice of shooting him or trying to rescue the fallen man.  She choses rescue, and although she is unsuccessful, and the pushed guy disappears downriver, she is now caught up in a complicated serial killer situation, in which the guy who pushed that other guy seems to be killing prostitutes and leaving their bodies to be found in various locations along the banks of the river.

When it becomes apparent that the first body found was not simply a ‘one-off’ after another was found, with the same arrangement, a task force is convened, and FBI profilers called in to help.  As we might suspect, those of us who have watched with skepticism shows like Criminal Minds, much as profilers would like us to believe there is a science to this, it is clear there is not.  We watch in fascination as the FBI guy, a media attention whore if there ever was one, dukes it out with a retired FBI profiler from New Orleans, who is frankly, somewhat creepy.

The crimes evolve from two threads.  One is a small time criminal who wants to avenge the death of his prostitute girl friend, and the other involves, as so often happens, commercial property interests.

Great plot, with the requisite flawed detective.  This time, not a divorced alcoholic, but an emotionally challenged young woman trying to figure out the morals and ethics of her life.