June 23, 2019

Book review: “The Secret of Hanging Rock” by Joan Lindsay

Well, OK. Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, published in 1967, has sold millions of copies over the past half century.  But it’s not the book she submitted to her publisher. That book had an extra, 18th chapter which, upon the publisher’s urging, Lindsay cut from her manuscript. The shortened Picnic has captivated five decades of readers with its many, complex mysteries over what happened to three teenage girls and their mathematics teacher when they disappeared during a Saint Valentine’s Day, 1900, school excursion to Hanging Rock, a famous geological formation in the Australian state of Victoria. Several days after the disappearance, one of the missing girls was found unconscious but was never able to recall what had gone on during the time she was missing. None of the other three was ever seen again. Did they? Could they? What if? Generations of readers have been left to wonder and speculate over the deliciously vague details of the story — Did the girls plan this?  Did they get away or die?  How was the teacher connected to this? Picnic seems to bring the reader right to the edge of understanding….and then leaves the reader there.  It might be enough to […]
June 23, 2019

Book review: “Picnic at Hanging Rock” by Joan Lindsay

To my mind, the most masterful touch in Joan Lindsay’s very well-crafted novel Picnic at Hanging Rock is the disappearance of the self-contained, seemingly logic-driven mathematics teacher Greta McCraw. Sure, the main focus of the story is on the three senior students from Appleyard College — the highly competent Miranda, the extremely rich Irma Leopold and the very smart Marion Quade — who, during a St. Valentine’s Day picnic at Hanging Rock in the Australian state of Victoria in 1900, go away from the main group on a walking exploration of the famous geological formation. Suddenly, a younger girl Edith Horton comes stumbling back to the picnic site, her dress ripped by branches and brambles, laughing and crying and babbling that she’d left the other three somewhere up on the Rock. In the ensuing chaos of the rest of that day and the days that follow, much happens: An immediate search fails to turn up the three girls. Michael “Mike” Fitzhubert, a 20-year-old English heir, who was captivated by a glimpse of Miranda on the fateful day, goes searching for the girls on his own and nearly dies in the effort. But he’s able to get his coachman friend Albert […]
June 12, 2019

Book review: “The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe published The Right Stuff in 1979, a full 52 years after Charles Lindbergh, the first celebrity flyboy, shocked and captivated the nation with his aerial deering-do, crossing the Atlantic all alone in his single-engine Spirit of St. Louis, from Long Island to Paris in just over a day and a half. His fame opened doors for him, but also led to the kidnapping and murder of his toddler son Charles Jr. For the subjects of Wolfe’s book, the seven astronauts of NASA’s Mercury program, the first U.S. manned space flight venture — Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton — celebrityhood brought great access to “goodies,” such as a social standing that had them outranking just about everyone except the President.  Glenn eventually landed in the U.S. Senate where he served for 25 years.  Grissom, however, was killed in a 1967 capsule test for the Apollo program, along with two post-Mercury astronauts. Rapidly receding By the time Wolfe wrote his book, the Mercury program was rapidly receding in the nation’s rear-view mirror. After all, its five flights had lasted just two years, from May of 1961 to May of 1963.  […]
June 10, 2019

Book review: “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag” by Robert Heinlein

The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag, published in 1959, collects Robert Heinlein’s novella of the same title plus five short stories — all of which exist in Twilight Zone territory. The Rod Serling show, which premiered the same year as this book, specialized in stories that were weird and grotesque, only occasionally having to do with science fiction. It’s not inconceivable that this Heinlein collection was put together to piggyback on the popularity of the Twilight Zone although there’s no indication in the packaging of the issue I read.  It’s also worth noting that, as far as I have been able to determine, Heinlein never wrote for the show in any of its permutations. Only one of the works in this collection, “ ‘All You Zombies’ ” (originally published earlier in 1959), could be described as clearly science fiction.  It has to do with time travel.  In this case, though, Heinlein seems to be layering conundrum upon conundrum upon conundrum in what seemed to me to be a send-up of the whole if-a-man-went-back-in-time-and-killed-his-father subgenre of speculative fiction.  Only in this story, the complications are much more complicated. Twisted The other works in this collection exhibit a range of styles and […]
June 5, 2019

Book review: “Sarah the Priestess: The First Matriarch of Genesis” by Savina J. Tuebal

The book of Genesis in the Bible has a lot of odd stuff, like incest:  Abraham and Sarah aren’t just married, but they’re also brother and sister.  Abraham lets Sarah become a member of the harems of not just one, but two kings.  Jacob is married to two sisters, Rachel and Leah.  Lot’s daughters — whose mother was turned into a pillar of salt outside of Sodom and Gommorrah — get him drunk on two consecutive nights and have sex with him in order to have children.  Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel were each described in the Bible as “barren” for decades, but their husbands did not divorce them as was the practice of that era.  During those decades, Sarah and Rachel told their husbands to have sex with a handmaid to conceive an heir. Also, Abraham is the patriarch, the one who made the initial covenant with God in which, later, the Jewish people saw themselves as God’s chosen.  Yet, Sarah seems to make a lot of decisions that he goes along with, such as banishing her former handmaid Hagar and the teenage boy Ishmael whom Hagar conceived with Abraham, in Genesis 21: The matter distressed Abraham greatly, for it […]
June 2, 2019

Book review: “Alas, Babylon” by Pat Frank

Published in 1959, Alas, Babylon was among the first wave of novels to speculate about how the world, and the United States in particular, would look in the aftermath of a nuclear war. It was not a pretty picture. Actually, for Randy Bragg and his circle of friends in central Florida, life isn’t so bad — at least, in comparison to how it is in the places that took direct H-bomb hits and in the places where the weather isn’t as temperate. They have fresh well water, abundant fish, corn crops, a doctor, a variety of useful skills, a short-wave radio, a location uncontaminated (pretty much) by the nukes and their fallout, a willingness to work together and a leader (Randy). Still…. Grim and grimmer Life after what’s called The Day is lived without electricity, except that which can be supplied by batteries that, pretty soon, die, and without rapidly diminishing supplies of gasoline, liquor, medicine, and with the rise of highwaymen and epidemics and radiation poisoning, and without any official forces of law and order. Alas, Babylon depicts a best-case scenario, circa 60 years ago.  It’s grim. Much grimmer, though, today.  Over the past six decades, nuclear opponents built […]