March 14th, 2020

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Heaps of Reviews


Hi,

  More books.  More reviews.

  First up:  The Heap by Sean Adams.  In the near future Los Verticales, was a soaring city in a skyscraper.  Then it all came tumbling down and now a group of Dig Hands works out of a makeshift camp in the desert to clear away the debris and salvage anything they can.  Orville Anders is a long-time dig hand.  He's here because his brother Bernard was a DJ inside of Los Verticales and even though the building has collapsed, Bernard is still doing his radio show trapped under tons of debris.  

  Orville is approached by the owners of the radio station Bernard is broadcasting from.  Bernard has a call-in show and Orville makes regular calls that are the highest rated part of the program.  The studio asks Orville to drop in a few product plugs here and there.  Orville refuses and his access to Bernard is cut off.  But the show keeps going on and Orville suddenly hears his voice on the radio, talking to Bernard and doing the product pitches.  Orville determines to find out just what's going on setting off a spiral of chaos exposing the secrets of Los Verticales and the Heap it's become.

  I rather liked this book.  It's very much in the Thomas Pynchon vein with secret societies and odd conspiracies and your enjoyment of such weirdness is probably going to impact how much you like this book.  The main plot is broken up with little vignettes of life in Los Verticales written by the survivors of the disaster that paint a window into what life was like in the city skyscraper and are a fun complement.  Overall a fun read.

  Next up:  The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez.  Nia is a starship captain piloting her ship on a trading route between major planets and their outlying colony worlds.  Travel between the stars is fast, but not that fast -- Nia spends decades in suspended animation plying her ship.  She's asked to help return a boy found at the site of a starship crash to the main world in hopes that he can be reunited with his people.  Nia and the boy grow close and she's reluctant to turn him over to the authorities at the end of her trip.

  Fumiko Nakajima is the genius who opened the stars to mankind.  Thanks to suspended animation and other advances in medicine, she's kept pace with her expanding civilization but she's not entirely happy with the results of her work.  She's working on another project and thinks the boy might have the keys she needs, but for now, she needs to keep Nia and the boy away from civilized space because a lot of people have a vested interest in the system as it is and the boy could upset that.

  Another pretty good read.  The plot clips along nicely, but it's really a much more character driven book with Nia and Fumiko pondering their decisions in the past and how they might make amends or change direction.  The boy, too, has his own moments of growing into a person.  If you're a fan of Becky Chambers's books, this will be right up your alley.  A warm, humanistic sci-fi story.

 Itinerant lesbian librarian-revolutionaries roaming the American Southwest -- I mean, it's a pretty good hook for a book.  Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey is a fun short story with a neat fusion of old west and post-apocalypse...well, maybe not apocalypse.  The US is still around, just worn down into a tired fascism where most people eke out a miserable living and try to keep the war effort alive.   Esther is a young woman who's just lost her best friend (and illicit lover) and is now slated to marry her dead friend's ex fiance.  So she hides in the book wagon of the Librarians, a group of women delivering the approved books, pamphlets, and literature to the isolated towns and farms of America.

  Esther quickly discovers that the librarians are not exactly the models of a patriotic citizens, but they might offer her a chance to make a better life for herself.  So, it's a fairly short book and clips along, but c'mon, secret agents for an antifascist resistance movement posing as government-sanction librarians?  A delightful read.

  I'm sure at some point everyone has tried to learn a magic trick.  Most of the time, it either takes a lot more work than we have the patience for or the trick is so obviously gimmicky that it's hard to impress anyone above the 4th grade.  Some people have a bit more determination and interest in the art though and the last several years have seen a new generation of magicians bring new ideas to the table.  Delving into modern magicians and how they view their work is the subject of Magic is Dead by Ian Frisch.  Mr. Frisch fell in with one of the more popular internet magicians and through him, discovered a secret society of magicians and magic-adjacent people, and becomes something of a magician himself, even inventing a new trick.  

  The book is just as much about Mr. Frisch's history as well as that of the other major magicians he interacts with and while it shows how magic is often a method of working through personal tragedy, it does break up the narrative a bit, a weird focus on the author and not his subject.  Perhaps influenced by a topic that thrives on deception, the book itself feels a little manipulative -- there's a lot of focus on the business of magic and how many modern magicians are using the internet to hawk their wares.  That Mr. Frisch makes it into the mysterious 52 Society as something of a chronicler of the group comes across as perhaps a bit deceptive, an acceptable way for the magicians to sort of toot their own horn.  I will say it's caused me to watch a few more magic trick videos online and there's always a bit of a subtle hustle for merch going on in all of these.

  Again, the book is full of people who make a living by tricking you so it's hard to take the book at face value.  I think a lot of the underlying ideas/principles behind modern magic is interesting, but rather than a manifesto for a new kind of magic, it feels a bit more like hagiography.  Not the worst book in the world, but unless you're fairly into magic, probably not a must-read.

  I also struggled through Mazes of Power by Juliette Wade, but teenagers who are somehow more adept at political situations than their elders just doesn't work right and the main antagonist isn't that compelling.  I also skimmed through A Child's Garden of Grass -- Reloaded by Richard Clorfene and Jack Margolis.  This is a reprint of a book from the late 60's talking about, well, weed.  While there is some genuinely interesting information in the book (some of which is only interesting because it's info from the 60's), this is a humor book and...

  Dear reader, the humor is dreadful.  Do yourself a favor and don't bother.  If you're really curious, drop me a line.

Anyway, that's what I've been reading lately
Tom