Finished Cryptonomicon yesterday: one of my favorite books, ever. I can't recommend it highly enough. A long book, but I didn't want it to end. Read it, Travis!
Travis Herrick (Modular Mod) said:
I have had that one for a few years now, but I've never gotten around to reading it. Let me know what you think when you finish
Mark Sullivan (Vertiginous Mod) said:
I'm still working my way through Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, which is definitely historical fiction rather than science fiction. It reminds me of both Underworld (which I've read fairly recently) and Gravity's Rainbow (if memory serves). It's terrific, so much so that I don't mind the length at all. I expect to be sorry when it's over.
Slowly reading through the Lovecraftian stories of Ramsey Campbell (slowly because there aren't really that many of them). Campbell lives in England and I believe he was the first published writer of Lovecraft stories written in a country other than the United States.
I just started reading "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. I read "The Gulag Archipelago" about 25 years ago and I'm finally getting around to his other great works.
Since January I've finished (either read, or listened to via Librivox) the following:
Peter O'Donnell Dead Man's Handle (Modesty Blaise)
-A former priest has become nihilistic and runs a fake religious community that is actually a murder organisation. He has Willie kidnapped and brainwashed to manipulate him into killing Modesty once she is lured to his island. The novel opens with a flashback sequence depicting Willie’s first mission for the Network. This was the last Modesty Blaise novel, but a collection of stories followed later.
Carson Bingham The War of the Cybernauts (Flash Gordon)
-Flash and Zarkov travel to a wandering planet passing the solar system. The two societies on the planet are matriarchal and permanently at war. The war is waged using robots. They manage to end the war by instructing each robot to destroy its neighbour, but a fight breaks out at the peace negotiation and quickly escalates into a resumption of war. Flash and Zarkov manage to get away from the planet. Mildly satirical. Probably based on a newspaper strip story, as other books in this series were.
A.E. van Vogt The Voyage of the Space Beagle
A fix-up novel with the following components:
-“Black Destroyer”: the Space Beagle discovers and takes on board an alien which looks somewhat like a giant cat and is an intelligent, powerful predator. The story is told partly from its point of view.
-a linking chapter: the Nexialist Grosvenor sets about introducing those on board to Nexialism. Kent, the head of Chemistry, is politically ambitious and hostile, and attempts to take over part of his department’s space.
-“War of Nerves”: the Space Beagle experiences an apparent psychic attack that causes a civil war on the ship. It’s actually an attempt at communication by a bird-like race that reproduces by fission.
-“Discord in Scarlet”: a powerful being that has been trapped in the void between galaxies gets aboard the Space Beagle. It can become intangible and kidnaps members of the crew to deposit eggs in them.
-“M33 in Andromeda”: Grosvenor realises the galaxy the Space Beagle is investigating is pervaded by a gas creature that lives on life and may transfer to our galaxy. Acting Director Kent and the department heads are initially unwilling to accept his analysis and his plan to kill it, which will add five years to the voyage, and he is besieged in his department. But with his superior knowledge he easily triumphs.
Carolyn Wells The Man Who Fell Through the Earth (Penny Wise and Zizi)
-Light WWI-era murder mystery with romance elements, set in New York. A quick read. The title refers to an amnesia victim picked up from the East River who has a memory of falling through the Earth.(1)
Anna Katharine Green One of My Sons (Gryce and Sweetwater)
-A lawyer is called in from the street by a dying man, who is trying to give him a message to pass to another person in the house. He dies before he can make it plain whom the message is intended for. It transpires he was poisoned. The message reads “one of my sons he”. His three sons fall under suspicion. Sweetwater, not Gryce, solves the crime.(2) The story involves a morphine addict who exhibits what seems to be manic behaviour.
Sapper Men, Women and Guns
-Stories about WWI. The prologue describes the experience of being shelled. The tales in part one are a mix of stories about the tragedy of war and stories about noble Englishmen besting dirty Huns. My favourite is "Private Meyrick-Company Idiot", for the way it caps a sentimental story with an unsentimental twist end. Part two, "The Land of the Topsy Turvy", is an impressionistic account of the experience of fighting the war.
(1) Solution spoiler warning. It turns out he fell into an open manhole and was swept out to the East River through the sewer. The banker “murder” victim turns out to have been a well-placed spy.
(2) Solution spoiler warning. The butler did it.
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The late Peter O'Donnell had an article at his website called "Best Opening To A Novel I Have Read". His choice? The start of Jeffrey Farnol's Black Bartlemy's Treasure:
The Frenchman beside me had been dead since dawn. His scarred and shackled body swayed limply back and forth with every sweep of the great oar as we, his less fortunate bench-fellows, tugged and strained to keep time to the stroke.
O'Donnell called these sentences "a masterclass in themselves. They convey so much, so simply."
Well, I'm just starting Deep Lake Mystery by Carolyn Wells. I was listening to the LibriVox version, but I think I'll read it instead. Here's the opening:
As I look back on my life, eventful enough in spots, but placid, even monotonous in the long stretches between spots, I think the greatest thrill I ever experienced was when I saw the dead body of Sampson Tracy.
Imagine to yourself a man, dead in his own bed, with no sign of violence or maltreatment. Eyes partly closed, as he might be peacefully thinking, with no expression of fear or horror on his calm face.
Now add to your mental picture the fact that he had round his brow a few flowers arranged as a wreath. More flowers diagonally across his breast, like a garland. Clasped in his right hand, against his heart, an ivory crucifix, and in his left hand an orange.
Sticking up from behind his head showed the plume of a red feather duster!
And draped round all this, like a frame, was a red chiffon scarf, a filmy but voluminous affair, deftly tucked in here and there, and encircling all the strange and bizarre details I have enumerated.
On the pillow, near the dead face, lay two small crackers and a clean, folded handkerchief.
I've no idea if the solution will prove satisfactory; but I'm definitely intrigued. An orange? Two small crackers?
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An Outlaw's Diary, by Cecile Tormay. She was a Hungarian noblewoman and she writes in the closing days of WW1. It's a diary of the day by day disintegration of her world and the woman had a gift for language. A lot of the names are unfamiliar to me but you don't have to be familiar with that time period to hear the pain in her voice.
The solution to Deep Lake Mystery turned out to be unsatisfactory. The solution has several implausibilities, and the explanation of the murder scene (spoiler warning) is that the murderer is mad.
The odd thing is the book has the ingredients of a better solution, and even flags it: the murder was committed by one person, the scene arranged by another to confuse what happened. I can't decide if this was Wells's original intention, with the heroine being the person who arranged the crime scene, or if her idea was to write a book where it looks like the heroine is guilty but isn't.
Ms Wells has a comics connection. She also wrote early newspaper comics, including Adventures of Lovely Lilly.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, by John Locke.
Since last posting I've mostly been reading/listening to mysteries.
Carolyn Wells Ptomaine Street
Odd satire/romance. A plump waitress marries a rich doctor, and feels out of place in his fashionable community, which is stuffed with phonies.
Carolyn Wells The Gold Bag
A businessman is murdered, and circumstantial evidence implicates his niece. There’s an early showpiece bit of Sherlock Holmes-style deduction - the detective hero describes a date from a pair of shoes – but it’s unconvincing. There’s also a parody of such bits: the police detective narrator tries the same trick on the train and can’t manage it.
Carolyn Wells The Mystery Girl
Locked room mystery with an unsatisfactory solution. Murder is committed in a college town, and suspicion falls on a mysterious young woman. This features the same detective hero as The Gold Bag, Fleming Stone, but there’s no Sherlock Holmesery and it’s actually his boy assistant who solves the case.
Edgar Wallace The Secret House
Spoilers. A blackmail gang gets information for blackmail by running a gossip newspaper. Its base is an electric house with its own power plant and moving rooms. The novel wastes these interesting ideas.
Edgar Wallace The Daffodil Mystery
The owner of a large store is found murdered. Suspicion falls on a woman he recently dismissed. The case is cracked by a Shanghai-based detective and his Chinese assistant. It’s the assistant who does the important stuff in the final act. I listened to this in 2010 and didn’t recognise it at all. I don’t like forgetting books. It makes me feel it was a waste of time reading them. (I did recognise an element of the solution, but I thought Wallace must have reused it.)
Maurice Leblanc The Woman of Mystery
WWI spy novel with a mystery plot. A woman and her new husband open a sealed room to view her mother’s portrait, and the man recognises her as the agent of the Kaiser who murdered his father. The French title is L’Éclat d’obus, “The Shell Shard”. I liked the book’s WWI adventure aspect more than its mystery aspect. The solution is weak. The novel was revised in the 20s to insert Arsène Lupin, but he’s absent from the Project Gutenberg/Librivox version.
Alistair MacLean River of Death
In the last days of WWII members of the SS steal a treasure horde from a Greek monastery. In the present day an expedition sets out to find a lost city in the Amazon. Members of the party have secret motives. As jungle adventure novels go, this is a Curate’s Egg. The novel reads like it was finished hastily to meet a deadline.
Jeanette Lee The Green Jacket
Suspicion attached to the disappearance of a necklace has wrecked a once-happy family, and a compassionate lady detective agrees to investigate. This isn’t all that hot as a mystery, but the lady detective, Millicent Newberry, is an interesting character and returned in two books.
Anna Katharine Green The Sword of Damocles
Long romance novel with elements of mystery. A New York concert pianist gives up his profession to become a banker so he can win the girl he’s fallen in love with. His speculator-turned-banker uncle is unhappily married and takes his wife’s young cousin into his house with the intention of adopting her. (He ultimately marries her, after his first wife’s death in a riding accident.) Many years ago a woman from the same village eloped with a married man and the housekeeper is still waiting for her to come back. There is a theft from the bank. Green’s detective hero Gryce appears, but the case is solved by the bank’s janitor, who used to be a policeman and has bulging eyes.
Herbert George Jenkins Malcolm Sage, Detective
Mystery collection with a few linking chapters. Sage had earlier appeared in Jenkins’s WWI novel John Dene of Toronto: A Comedy of Whitehall, where he’s an intelligence officer in Department Z. In the opening chapter of Malcolm Sage, Detective Sir Dene’s wife suggests he set Sage up as a detective now that Department Z is being demobbed. The book presents seven of his cases, each broken into two chapters. One of the stories (“The Surrey Cattle-Maiming Mystery”) is a clunker, but it’s otherwise a decent collection of mystery stories, similar to Agatha Christie’s stories from the same period in approach. Sage has a “conical bald head and gold spectacles” and doodles as he listens to witnesses, but he’s a capable detective hero, not a comic one. His staff include comic supporting characters.
Mike Grost notes the work as a model for Christie’s Partners in Crime, in which Tommy and Tuppence take over a detective bureau at the behest of their spymaster friend. Sage’s office boy William is very similar to Tommy’s and Tuppence’s Albert.
Margaret Ann Hubbard Murder Takes the Veil
Decent mystery set in a Catholic college for young women. The nun who runs the college hires three new instructors. One of her pupils realises that one of them is the man who killed her father, but she doesn’t know which. The murderer stalks her disguised as a nun. The author turned the novel into a play.
William Le Queux Stolen Souls
Collection of stories involving romance, mystery, amazing experiences and exotic locations, from before WWI. The solutions to the mysteries either come to light or are explained by someone in the know. Several of the stories involve Russian revolutionaries. They’re portrayed as ruthless extremists, but the author shows sympathy for them. The opening story (“The Soul of Princess Tchikhatzoff”) has a fantastic element - a psychic link created by hypnotism - and is not the strongest. “The City in the Sky” is an exotic story with a wholly Muslim cast, and “A Child of the Sun” involves the French in North Africa. I can’t say there’s an outstanding story in the collection, but I’ll look for more collections by this author.
A.E.W. Mason The House of the Arrow
Mason’s second Inspector Hanaud novel, from 1924. An old woman is killed by an untraceable poison scraped off an African arrowhead. But who did the deed? A good early Golden Age mystery, much like an Agatha Christie novel. Hanaud, a top French detective, is similar to Poirot, who was established in print by this point but long post-dates Hanaud’s 1910 debut.
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I just finished Cote Smith's Hurt People. It's about two brothers who are left at home while their divorced parents work in Leavenworth, Kansas. They visit the pool daily against their mother's orders, and that leads to some pretty grim results. This is not a picker-upper, but it's one that was really hard for me to put down.
Right now I'm reading Perfidia by James Ellroy. I found a few weeks ago at a used book store, and I moved it right to the top of my to-read pile. Ellroy isn't quickest writer, so it was nice to find this relatively new one by him (it came out in 2014), It was neat to find out that his LA Quartet series and American Underworld series take place in the same world. This book is predates all of those books and we some characters from both. It begins the day before the bombing of Pearl Harbor and deals with some of those ramifications for the Japanese in LA, and trying to find Fifth Columnists. A good read so far.