View from Another Shore and Three More: Book Reviews

'sbeen a while since I last wrote a book review. Not for lack of reading on my part, but for lack of time to write reviews! And, well, okay, I read a couple of lackluster graphic novels that I'd gotten from PBS (thank goodness I hadn't paid for them!) and that I will be reposting soon.

Well, they weren't exactly lackluster - I have some strong feelings about them. The first one, Semantic Lace (I never did figure out the title) had great art, and a good story, but every so often there was a huge gap in the storyline that left me wondering what on earth was going on. It ended quite abruptly, too, leaving too many unanswered questions. Maybe I just like things neat & tidy - I'm more of a Batman sort of person, I guess; I don't like to be left hanging.
Cool that it was set in Israel and dealt with tough issues, and the more I think back on it, the more I loved the art. But it definitely still needs work.

Then I read The Gift by Raven Gregory. Excessively, gratuitously violent. I hated it, but I kept reading it, hoping it was going somewhere.

Nope. Nowhere at all.
The art was unremarkable, too. Did I mention that I hated it? Yuk. It was trash. I hated it. Oh yeah, sorry, I already said that.

So why was I reading graphic novels? Because I was too tired at night to concentrate on anything else. I finally caught up with my sleep and then started on the last story in View from Another Shore, an anthology of (mostly Eastern) European science fiction my brother-in-law S gave me for Christmas. I began with the last story because that was the reason he gave me the book - it is his favorite short story ever.

It's "A Modest Genius," by Vadim Shefner, and it's a lovely little fairy tale. I can see why he loves it so much - it's pure delight, and - not to spoil it for you, but the good guys come up roses in the end. What a sweet person Shefner must have been, I thought! So I googled him.

Shefner began as a poet, and the wikipedia entry offers two awkwardly-translated poems that, nevertheless, give us an intriguing glimpse of his approach to life. The only other pieces of information I found in my quick search were that he was Russian, and that he died in 2002. And I'll bet you anything that he was Jewish.

Then I turned to the first story in the book, "In Hot Pursuit of Happiness," by Stanislaw Lem. I think it has become one of my all-time favorite short stories! Both very funny and very wise. I kept backtracking and rereading parts of it because it was so wonderful. And yet feeling a bit sad because I'm not sure there's anyone else I know who would find it quite as funny as I do, somehow. I was delighted to discover that the story has been enlarged upon in Lem's novel The Cyberiad, and I look forward to reading that as well.

I wonder if Douglas Adams read "In Hot Pursuit," as the notion of these intelligent robots, building other robots in the attempt to create an answer to the question "what is absolute happiness?" reminds me so much of his Ultimate Question.

So then I looked up Lem, because I was sure I'd read something by him before, and now I think it must have been short stories. Do, do, DO click on the title link and if you read nothing else, read the obituary link on his webpage. What a horrible and wonderful child he must have been to parent! Now I very much want to read the autobiography from which those passages were taken!

And guess what?!?!? PBS actually has it, and I ordered it! I can't wait to get my hands on that book!

Anyway, those two stories alone are worth the price of the book (which, to me, was nothing as it was a gift, but you know what I mean), but the rest of the stories are of equally great merit. I don't often read collections of stories, so to persevere through an entire collection without skipping to other books between stories, I need to have my attention grabbed pretty effectively. The editor (Franz Rottensteiner) selected just the stories to do that.

Great gift, S! Many thanks!

To get myself completely caught up with reviews - I just finished reading Andrew Fox's first novel, Fat White Vampire Blues. I picked it up at the AAUW Used Book Sale in Oct. & got around to reading it last week. It's a cute book, rather humorous in a gentle, southern way. The premise here is that vampires' health is affected by the diets of the humans whose blood they consume. Jules Duchon, the protagonist, has ballooned to 450 lbs. by drinking the blood of people who take in way too many calories. He's tried to lose weight by snacking only on joggers and weightlifters, but he just can't stand their thin, tasteless blood, so back again to the fatties he goes.

I enjoyed it, and I will pass it along to my nephew C just because some of the vampire ideas in it are new & interesting. But it wasn't one of the more exciting books I've read recently.

Next on my list: Mandala: Journey to the Center, which I have already started. (That's sort of for work.) And Breath, Eyes, Memory (that's for fun).


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