Monday, October 22, 2012

Night Lamp (Science Fiction Novel)

Striving. Amnesia. Revenge. A Secret Past. Clam Muffins. 

Night Lamp, by Jack Vance, is a space opera, with a dusting of mystery and satire. According to Worlds Without End, the novel is listed in the book Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985–2010.

Briefly, two visiting scholars, a married couple, rescue Jaro, a six-year-old boy who is about to be beaten to death by a gang of boys. The doctors who treat Jaro discover that he has recently sustained an emotional trauma so severe that it threatens his life. Their treatment essentially erases his earlier memories. The couple adopts Jaro and takes him back to their home planet, where the culture is focused on social striving. Jaro dreams of becoming a spaceman so he can find out about his past. His well-meaning adopted parents try to keep it a secret from him until he finishes his education. When they are tragically killed, he is left to uncover the mystery for himself. Where did Jaro’s adopted parents find him? What happened in the first six years of his life? Who is the mysterious man in his memories? What is the voice in Jaro’s head?

Night Lamp was not my cup of tea. The characters were likeable enough. The plot was interesting enough and had a number of interesting twists. The world view was fresh. But, I never totally resonated with the novel. I never became fully involved in the plot and wasn’t always sure what was meant to be funny and what was meant to be serious. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Fistful of Collars (Mystery Novel)

A Cold Case. Murders. An Actor with a Secret. A Police Officer with Ulterior Motives. Various Dogs and One Cat.

I am always delighted by a new Chet and Bernie book. A Fistful of Collars, by Spencer Quinn (Peter Abrahams), is the fifth installment in the series. The novel is warm, funny, and a good who-done-it. All my favorite characters, including Iggy the dog, are back, but even a canine-appreciating newbie to the series could enjoy the novel.

Briefly, after deciding the town should get into the movie business, the mayor’s office hires Bernie and Chet to make sure an actor does not get into trouble. Since Bernie and the mayor have an unpleasant history, Bernie suspects something isn’t quite right. Soon Bernie discovers a dead body that might have to do with the actor’s past. While sleuthing, Bernie uncovers an unsolved murder from the past. When one of his sources, one of Chet’s favorite dog treat givers, ends up dead, the case turns personal.

What is not to love? The story kept me guessing to the end. The dog-centered narrative made me laugh. I found Bernie and Chet likeable and tender. Bring on novel number six!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Darker than You Think (Classic Fantasy Novel)

A Box. A Cat. Dogs. Wolves. Genetics. Silver. Dreams. Psychoanalysis.

I can almost see the fog roll out of the pages of Darker than You Think by Jack Williamson. Originally published in 1948, it is vintage horror, combining fantasy, mystery, and just enough science to make it credible. The age of the novel adds to the enjoyment, making it easier for the reader to imagine eerie scenes.

Briefly, Will Barbee is a reporter, who was once a student of the anthropologist Dr. Mondrick. In the opening scene, Barbee is at an airport, waiting for Mondrick’s plane to touch down. There Barbee meets another reporter, a mysterious red head named April Bell. After Mondrick's plane lands, he begins to announce a startling discovery that will change the world the contents of a mysterious box are his proof but, he collapses and dies before he can complete the announcement. His colleagues whisk the box away and risk their lives protecting it. Barbee suspects that April is responsible for Mondrick’s death, but he feels more fascination than fear toward her. Soon, he begins to have strange dreams in which he is transformed and is accompanied by a white, female wolf. When some of the details of the dreams are confirmed in his waking life, he searches for the truth. What is inside the mysterious box, and what does it have to do with him? 

I am not a fan of horror, but I thoroughly enjoyed Darker than You Think. It is fast paced, has interesting characters, and, although I suspected what would happen in the end, kept me guessing. I also have a tremendous respect for Williamson, who helped blaze a trail for modern horror writers.