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My good friend. Mr. E. Book

This past weekend, because I didn't think I was going to be staying at the VAMC for a couple of days, I didn't bring my laptop with me, and so I spent most of my waking hours reading what was loaded into my Kindle. Fortunately, I have a lot of stuff in my Kindle.


Actually, this isn't an e-book but a real dead-tree edition. I bought a used copy of Light's On At Signpost by George MacDonald Fraser through Amazon, but didn't finish it until I was sick this past weekend, and now that I'm done I'm not sure I want to revisit it before carefully marking the parts I want to avoid. About half of Fraser's last nonfiction book is a recollection of odd jobs he's done in the film business and the people he's met while doing them, and those parts are a lot of fun. The other half, in stark contrast, is a bitter tirade about what a mess the UK has become, socially and politically, and Fraser holds nothing back. He has ample scorn for Labour and Tories alike, as he sees them both complicit in the destruction of just about everything that used to be admired about the British as a people: the stiff upper lip, carry on old chap bulldog attitude so famously expressed in Winston Churchill's defiant speeches against the Nazi menace and more recently by Baroness Thatcher against the Argentines. Most of all he hates that England has become just another extension of the EU, with all that that implies. Those parts are worth reading once, and not only because Americans of my stripe will find the criticism of the UK's role in Iraq and Afghanistan hitting a little too close to home; we forget that while we are the Brits' cousins and sometime brothers in arms, that we haven't always been there for them when it was their ox being gored. The Suez and the Troubles in Ulster get mentioned quite a bit in that connection, and rightly so. George MacDonald Fraser was incapable of writing poorly, and Light's On At Signpost has some sparkling turns of phrase in it, but full half the book sounds like it should be read aloud by a half-drunk Borderer who's thinking seriously of giving you a good shot to the face, and that doesn't make for a comfortable read. Recommended, but YMMV; strangely, not available on Kindle.


William Patterson's Learning Curve is a real eye-opener, perhaps especially for someone like myself who thought he had a pretty good idea about the arc of the Grand Master's life. Patterson reveals a lot about Heinlein's Navy career, first two marriages, and private life that I was completely ignorant about - including the irony that what kept Heinlein from being recalled to active duty during World War II was a suspicion of Communist activity. I also admit that it came as quite a shock to me that Heinlein's personal life more closely mirrored his later sex-drenched novels than his earlier "Golden Age" works; the nudism, I'd been aware of, but a lot of the other goings-on read like extracts from Penthouse Forum. (I'm probably the last fan on earth to become aware of this.) Aside from all that stuff, though, the book is an awesome illumination of Heinlein's personal, political, and artistic growth through the first half of his life and first two marriages, and it is worth every penny of the $15 for the Kindle edition. I am sorry, though, that all the footnotes were exiled to the rear of the book, since many of them would have been good and useful at the bottoms of the pages where they could be quickly referred to. I guess this has gone out of fashion. Highly recommended.


This is a nice collection of Steve Stirling's short fiction, mostly from other anthologies; there are, for example, the three excellent stories written for the Bolo anthologies and the closely related "Roachstompers". There are also a couple of side stories from his Dies The Fire and Island In The Sea Of Time series, some alternate history tales that don't fit into anything else I've seen, and some fantasy tales that are...well, every bit as dark as one might expect from Mr. Stirling, though one turns out more pleasantly than one might think. Ice, Iron And Gold is very much worth owning and is Highly Recommended.


My paperback copy of Lucifer's Hammer died somewhere along the line between the time I left Washington in 1983 and the time I retrieved it and other books in 2009 after Mom died, but this is an excellent replacement. Niven and Pournelle's tale of a civilization-destroying comet and its impact on a dozen or so residents of LA has lost nothing over the years, and relative newcomers could learn a lot from the veterans about how to handle large ensembles of characters. (Yeah, Harry Turtledove, I'm looking at you, bubba.) Heroes, villains, spear carriers, all are properly fleshed out with no trace of cardboard about them, given realistic motivations, and sent on their way to advance the plot, which they do in a most wonderful way. I missed this book a lot and am glad to have it back.