Rex Stout created two of the great characters in the genre of mystery, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Nero Wolfe is fat (one-seventh of a ton!), mostly immovable, a gourmet, and an orchidist. Archie is the man of action, Wolfe’s eyes, ears, and leg man who can be relied on to bring back anyone Wolfe needs to talk to. The Wolfe novels frequently are inspired by events contemporaneous to their writing, and in this case it is about FBI.
Rachel Bruner has a problem with the FBI. She has been sending out copies of a very critical book, The FBI Nobody Knows. She is a wealthy widow and has sent out 10,000 copies to various influential people around the country. Now she believes she is being tailed, wire-tapped, and otherwise harassed by that same FBI. She hires Wolfe to take on the job of making them leave her alone. He agrees to take on the job, but then things get increasingly complicated.
This is one of the best Wolfe novels, so if you like mysteries you should pick this up. If you get hooked on Wolfe as a result, well, join the club. I’ve read all of them.
I imagine most people are familiar with this work, either from reading the original novel or from the recent film series. This book was written as a children’s fantasy by Tolkien back in the 1930s, and set the stage for the later Lord of the Rings. The plot is about a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins who is invited to join a company of dwarves who wish to recover their treasure from the dragon Smaug. Bilbo, who had been a pretty simple home-bound soul changes dramatically through the events he experiences and becomes someone much different.
This book was lauded on its publication and deservedly so.
This is perfectly enjoyable, but neither his best nor his worst. As he tended to do later in life, this novel ties back to earlier work of his. Kettle Nelly Baldwin from the short story Gulf reappears as Friday’s “Boss”, for instance. As for Friday herself, she is an Artificial Person, created by genetic engineering, and the genes involved include those from “Mr. and Mrs. Joe Greene”, also from Gulf. She has enhanced abilities, and has been working for Baldwin’s organization as a “combat courier”. The setting is a Balkanized future North America where the nations we know have been broken apart into smaller splinters. One of the big themes of this book is the prejudice against Artificial People (APs), which Friday faces in various ways. She is attacked, goes on the run, and eventually makes it back to her organization, only to have The Boss die and the organization disband. But she has been given a bequest in his will which is specifically to finance her moving off-planet, which she eventually does.
Heinlein is kind of writer who provokes strong reactions, both for and against, in both readers and other writers. For example, see:
This is probably the best known of all Heinlein’s novels as it reached an audience far beyond the science fiction fans who normally picked up his books. It became so influential that in 2012, the US Library of Congress named it one of 88 “Books that Shaped America”. Set in a universe related to the one in his juvenile Red Planet (the Martians are clearly the same), it tells the story of Michael Valentine Smith, a child of two of the astronauts on a Mars expedition. He was born on the spacecraft, and is the only survivor of the expedition. Raised by Martians, he eventually is picked up by another expedition. Since he knows nothing of Earth, it gives Heinlein a chance to see our culture from the outside to some degree. Published in 1961, it became a text for hippies a few years later (some of whom made a “pilgrimage” to Heinlein’s home, which he did not encourage) because of its emphasis on free love and critique of religion. Other ideas include the notion of “water brothers”, and the introduction to the language of the verb “grok”, a supposedly Martian word Heinlein made up. It won the Hugo award, and was the first science fiction novel to enter the New York Times Book Review’s best seller list.
The real protagonist of the book is the older man Jubal Harshaw, and most people think this is Heinlein portraying himself to a significant degree. Harshaw is knowledgable guide for Smith, a loco parentis, and allows Heinlein to deliver pronouncements on the state of society, something he became more prone to do as he got older. I think this is a transitional novel, therefore, that takes us from the more hard science fictional writings of the early Heinlein to the more preachy works of the end of his career. That does not mean there is no science fiction in this work, or that there was no preachiness in earlier works. It is more a matter of emphasis. This is also the first of his novels where sex becomes a preoccupation, as it would remain for the rest of his career. Some people have said this is the beginning of Heinlein’s “dirty old man” phase, therefore. But in any case, Heinlein is always a great writer, and I have read all of his works multiple times.
I have seen some reviews that slammed this book for not being the last word on RVing, but in fact that was never the authors’ intent. They always said it was what they wished they had read before they got started. The ideal reader of a book like this is the kind of person who watches those Cable TV shows where people find the RV of their dreams in 20 minutes, then cut to them sitting on a perfect beach as the credits roll. If you watched that show, and got the thought that you wanted to do the same because it looked so good, this book is a very good first word, not a last word. All of the basics are covered, and pointers to more in depth material are given. So if you have been RVing for a while you won’t find much that is new here, but if you are just planning to start this is well worth picking up.
Harari is an historian, which is the lens he uses here to think about the future. What he attempts to do is to use the trajectory of human development in the past as a guide to how the future will go. For example, how people have related to animals in the past is taken as a forecast of how future “super-humans” will relate to us. On this point he is fairly comfortable that we have nothing to worry about. This is a book that is great at stimulating thought and throwing out questions, but not in providing answers. Whether that is a good or a bad thing you would have to decide, but in the course of reading I often stopped to just think about what he said, and about related ideas that came to mind because of what he said.
In the last chapter he goes in a direction somewhat similar to Kevin Kelly in What Technology Wants when Harari discusses what he calls “The Data Religion”, and this quote can give you an idea of what he is thinking here:
“1. Science is converging on an all-encompassing dogma, which says that organisms are algorithms and life is data processing. 2. Intelligence is decoupling from consciousness. 3. Non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms may soon know us better than we know ourselves.”
This is definitely thought-provoking stuff, but I found this last chapter the least convincing part of the book.
This is the first in the classic Andre Norton Fantasy series, and it sets up the series pretty well. Simon Tregarth is a soldier who got into trouble with the army because of black market activities, and is now being chased by some criminals who are trying to kill him. He knows his time is running out when he is offered an escape via the Siege Perilous, which transports him to another time and space, Witch World. There he joins a faction that is fighting against another group that seems to be somehow getting assistance from another world as well. Are they getting this from Nazis from Earth? I don’t think it is ever clear, but they are definitely baddies.
The Robert Goldsborough books continuing the Nero Wolfe stories of Rex Stout are undoubtedly controversial among fans of Wolfe, but I find them enjoyable enough even if they don’t measure up to the master. Call them a guilty pleasure if you must. In this book, Goldsborough takes some clues from what Stout wrote about Archie’s coming to New York and how he meets up with Nero Wolfe and becomes his assistant. And since Stout never got around to writing this, I had the pleasure of reading it on my Kindle while on a cruise.
This is a classic collection of stories written by a variety of authors in the early part of the twentieth century. Some of the authors are famous (like Mark Twain), others might be known only to mystery afficianados and a few you might never of heard of. But they were the beginning of the industry that has grown up of Sherlock Holmes parodies and pastiches. If you are not a Sherlockian there is very little point in reading this, but to Sherlockians this should be on your list of “must reads”. My rating is therefore given only for my fellow Sherlockians.
Douglas Adams is one of the best writers of humorous Science Fiction (which is how I am classifying this, though you could, I suppose, call it Fantasy). The interesting thing is that Dirk Gently does not appear until about the mid-point of the book, though he is mentioned in passing a few times earlier. And what Adams does here is to take a number of bizarre threads and tie them all together into a story that makes a weird kind of sense when it is all done. And Dirk ends up being smarter than you first think. I plan to read the follow-up, Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul.