"I was told I was on the road to hell, but I had no idea it was
just a mile down the road with a Dome on it."
by Richard Karsmakers
It is said that men of letters can't ever stop reading. This is
a lie, of course, and I am quite sure that whoever concocted that
theory knew it, too. Fact is, however, that I am not particularly
a man of letters but that I read quite a bit anyway (in other
words, that the first few sentences of this introduction were a
load of cobblers). I've been frightfully busy over the last half
year so, actually, I didn't get to read too many books at all.
I've written down a few notes on these books nonetheless, in case
any of you might have developed (or could be developing) a
potential interest in purchasing any of these fine titles. This
time I've succeeded in giving some attention to non-fiction as
The Odd Index (The Ultimate Compendium of Bizarre and Unusual
Facts) - Stephen J. Spignesi
I don't recall the exact occasion, but somehow or other I felt I
could give myself a treat. So I went to the bookshop where Karin
works part-time and, for the hell of having to buy something and
pay it at her till, bought two books. Stephen Spignesi's "The Odd
Index" was one of the two; "Leonard Maltin's Music Encyclopedia"
was the other (which, to your considerable relief no doubt, is
commented upon below).
"The Odd Index" has a name which sortof covers it pretty aptly.
It might also have been called "Stupidly Insane Book of Zany and
Utterly Unimportant Facts", which would have covered it every bit
as well but might have caused it to sell rather less. The 400
pages between its covers have actually been read in full by me
within a few days of its purchase. Which goes to say a lot, as
this is, basically, a reference kind of book and not a novel.
To tell you about this book, all that needs to be done, really,
is summarize some of the items that appealed to me particularly.
On the sideline, of course, you'll find out a lot about why I am
mentally warped, at what factor, and where exactly.
OK, here we go. Some of them are really morbid, by the way, so
you would not want to go out and buy this book for your kid
"The 10 Biggest Garbage-producing Countries on the Planet."
"Celebrity UFO Sightings."
"The Contents of the 9 Envelopes in a Sealed Police Rape Kit."
"16 Creationist Claims and Why Both The Creationists Themselves
and Their Spurious Pseudoscientific Claims Are Unequivocally
"The 921 Expletives Eddie Murphy Utters in His Two Concert
Films, Delirious and Raw."
"149 Popular Songs of the Past 75 Years Names After Girls."
"329 Real Strange Real Names."
"A 119-Entry Wayne's World Dictionary."
"16 Devices, Tools, Artifacts and Practices Used for Sexual
Enhancement and Diversity."
"8 Distressing and Unexpected Facts About the Pentagon."
"5 Early Movie Roles Big Stars Would Probably Like to Forget."
"6 Forms of Penis Modification."
"195 Euphemisms for the Penis."
"25 Horrific Tortures and Punishments Through the Ages."
"7 Freakish and Odd Physical Things That Can Go Wrong with the
"The 11 Steps of Embalming a Body and Preparing It for Open-
"19 Things You're Not Supposed to Do with the U.S. Flag."
"14 Methods of Execution Through the Ages."
"99 Odd Books Sold by Loompanics."
"21 Truly Odd Fan Clubs or Organizations."
"19 'Paul is Dead' Clues." (Paul being Paul McCartney, of
"31 Peculiar Tourist Attractions."
"36 Really Long Movies."
"14 Ridiculous U.S. Sex Laws."
"18 Scenes of Violence from Bret Easton Ellis's Almost-Banned
Novel American Psycho."
"The 26 Stages of Deterioration a Corpse Goes Through from the
Moment of Death On."
Did this sparkle your interest? Yes? Well, happy hunting!
Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia - edited by Leonard Maltin
For those of you who are into dates of birth (such as I), this
book is virtually indispensable. It contains accurate
biographical and filmographical information on just about any
famous TV/film star, a total of over 2,000 between Bud Abbott and
Daphne Zuniga, right from the old stars of the silver screen to
today's heroes and heriones. Not a single picture, no padding, no
hot air, just contents. I checked Whoopi Goldberg's date of
birth, which a lot of sources get wrong - and it was correct. So
to me it's the bible. I use it to cross-reference the huge celeb
data file I am continuously working on (for the "Brain
Replacement Utility", which will eventually make it onto the PC
under "Windows" or something, I guess).
The only sad thing is that, not too long after I got the book, I
got the impressive "Cinemania '96" CD ROM which, incidentally,
also has all data contained in this book on it. Oh yes, and it
doesn't contain a date of birth that I am particularly looking
out for: That of Emmanuelle Seigner (wife of Roman Polanski, and
luscious actress in "Bitter Moon"). Nor did "Cinemania '96",
Interesting Times - Terry Pratchett
What is there left to say about literally any Terry Pratchett
book? Not a whole lot other than that they're wonderfully
entertaining and witty, no doubt, because that is the feeling
I've had with just about all of the Discworld novels with the
exclusion of the first two or three books. "Interesting Times" is
the 16th Discworld novel, and it was recently released in
paperback form. I have this thing about hardcovers, you see,
insofar that I refuse to buy them. So "Maskerade" (17th
Discworld novel, indeed) will be read eventually, but I'll wait
patiently until it's released in £4.99 from (as opposed to, say,
what, like, around £10, I guess).
Yes, you are quite correct when assuming that I am not actually
spending a word on the interesting bits in "Interesting Times" at
all. But it was a book as excellent as any other Pratchett ones,
and therefore a must-buy.
Nightmares and Dreamscapes - Stephen King
In the previous issue of ST NEWS I seem to recall writing some
stuff about "Four After Midnight". This was a collection of four
semi-long stories, really quite good, with some good ideas and
plots. One of those stories, "The Langoliers", has in the mean
time made it into a 2-cassette video film...
"Nightmares and Dreamscapes" is Stephen King's latest short-
stories collection ("Different Seasons" and "Four Past Midnight"
came before). The short stories are really a lot shorter this
time, as the 850-odd pages contain 24 stories. Some of them are
really quite cool, such as "Dolan's Cadillac", "The Night Flier"
(a vampyre story with a twist), "Chattery Teeth" and "The Ten
O'Clock People". Some of the other stories, such as "The Moving
Finger" and "My Pretty Pony" didn't appeal to me at all. King's
power is to suck you in with his verbosity and depth of
imagination, and short stories simply can't, not even with him.
But even the less appealing stories show his extraordinary
perception, his wit and the fact that he knows about human
relationships. Well, at least as far as I can judge.
If this book is available cheap, second hand or something, get
it. But don't shell out too much for it.
Tommyknockers, The - Stephen King
Stephen King will probably always remain my favourite author, at
least as far as leisure reading is concerned. He truly does have
a way with words; they truly are his power.
"Nightmares and Dreamscapes" had been too versatily for my
taste, to I wanted to get back into a bigger book. "The Stand",
"Needful Things" and "It" had impressed me because they sketched
such an extensive new world in which to be sucked, a new world in
which I could but look around and marvel at the interesting
characters, the friendship, the love, and the horror of course.
Next in line was "The Tommyknockers" - though not as extensive as
those other three, still a hefty 692 pages.
It started off really odd. For starters, this book requires
suspension of disbelief to go a long, long way. It's about an UFO
that goes on to do really weird things to the town of Haven,
Maine. Stephen King knows how to handle it quite well, though,
especially because of the really interesting characters that get
involved in the plot. OK, they're rather one-dimensional, but
have that hint of depth needed to understand them and even feel
some degree of compassion with them.
Usually, Stephen King has me sucked into a book within 10 pages,
20 at the most. But this time it took quite a bit longer. And
when I finally put down the book, having finished it, I can't say
that it left me with the flabbergasted admiration that "The
Stand", "Needful Things" and "It" did. Still, a good book. But
not absolutely necessary to read if you've already read those
other three. Well, granted, anything seems a bit meagre in
comparison to those.
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency - Douglas Adams
Of course I'd already read this book years ago, somewhere in
1988 to be more precise, during the heyday of ST NEWS and
Adamsian zaniness. But the sun was shining and I needed something
light to read after "The Tommyknockers". As a matter of fact,
this time it only took me two afternoons to read the whole book.
And every page I marvelled at the way Douglas Adams juggles with
words. I rediscovered all the things I'd long forgotten, and
reading this book made me vow to read "The Long Dark Teatime of
the Soul" one day soon as well (this is, as you probably all
know, the 'sequel'). And the amazing thing is that some of the
literary depth (there is a load of "Kubla Khan" parallels and
stuff) was now glimpsed by me for the first time; had I
previously just seen it as an entertaining book, now I really
looked at it differently. And I enjoyed it all the more for it.
To catch the true spirit of holisticity, I think no person
should have spent his (or her) life without these books by
Douglas Adams. "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" is
excellent, of course, but the Dirk Gently books are ever so much
more refined, and hopelessly cult of course.
The English Language - Robert Burchfield
OK, OK, I am a bit of an Anglophile. I am a reference book
nutter when it comes to the English language. I've got strange
dictionaries, the "OED" on CD ROM, "Tricky Words" dictionaries,
the works. Another such book is "The English Language", a book
covering the history of the English language, by Robert
Burchfield. He's connected to the people who make the 20-volume
"Oxford English Dictionary", and it shows. He takes the reader on
an eerie and surprising tour through the history of English. To
the eras where the language was influenced by Latin, Celtic,
French, Norse, even Dutch. Burchfield draws on an impressive
scala of examples, all of which no doubt arose during his hours
working on the "OED". When I bought it I was afraid it might be a
bit "dry" to read, but quite the opposite is in fact the case.
"The English Language" is a fairly easy read, taking you right
through syntax and dialects and all kinds of other things. One of
the most readable and enlightening books I've ever read on the
subject. Not too long either, at under 200 pages.
The Many-Coloured Land - Julian May
Roy Stead, author of "The Bloodless Coup" which is concluded in
this issue of ST NEWS, has been writing to me for years now. He
already got me to check out a few books, and one of these is "The
Many-Coloured Land" by Julian May. And I have to say I was very
glad that he recommended it, for it is an excellent book indeed.
"The Many-Coloured Land" is a tale of the future yet of the
distant past. Somewhere in the 22nd century, a scientist has
devised a one-way time machine. You can get back in time but
there's no way to turn back. Hence the name: Exile. And,
similarly, there is only one leap that can be made back: All
leaps are back 6 million years, into the geological era known as
the Pliocene. Julian May leads the reader into a country that is
at once fascinating and enchanting, where man is enslaved by
another master race. The book chronicles the introduction to
which the second volume, "The Golden Torc" forms the following
episode. Haven't read that second part yet, but rest assured that
I will once I get my hands on it (as well as on the third and
fourth volumes, "The Non-Born King" and "The Adversary")! I am
not aware of a fifth volume, but I'll find out I guess...
The sleeve claims it will eventually rival "Lord of the Rings"
and Asimov's "Foundation Trilogy", but I am not sure about that
myself. Maybe after reading part two.
The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul - Douglas Adams
Yes, I read the "Dirk Gently" sequel as well, on two rather
ordinary afternoons. I have to admit I still didn't get half of
whatever literary depths there are (if indeed these exist), but
it made me yearn back to those late eighties when Stefan and me
had our "golden eagles suddenly soaring from the skies" period,
which was obviously inspired by this. Another hilariously crazy
story, this time also involving the mythology of our favourites,
Good stuff, cult stuff, that should be read by anyone. Some
classic characters too, such as the guy who always says whatever
Dustin Hoffman is saying at the moment, halfway across the world
(something like this also appeared in many of our Crazy Letters
at the time, I recall).
'Salem's Lot - Stephen King
The longer Stephen King's books are, the better. "'Salem's Lot"
does not fall in the 'long' category of "The Stand" and the rest,
but is definitely the best 'shorter' novel I've read by him so
far with its 440 pages. The limited amount of space does not
prevent King from elaborating about Jerusalem's Lot history and
the quaint people that live in it, as well as, eventually, the
horrible fate that befalls it. I noticed some almost
philosophical bits in here, which were really intelligently
written. My esteem for him just rose and rose. I realise that he
could have deepened the characters more by extending the story,
but his editors probably didn't allow for it.
This is actually the most horroresque story I've read by King,
involving, in this case, the classic vampire ordeal. Pretty
bloody at times, a lot more so than "It" (at least for as far as
I seem to recall). An excellent book!
Last Human - Doug Naylor
This is odd. Doug Naylor is, together with Rob Grant, the
gestalt entity Doug Naylor that writes the "Red Dwarf" stuff. Rob
wanted to write a book on his own, and so Doug did too. But the
stupid thing is that "Last Human" makes constant references to a
time in Lister's life when time was running backwards, which
cannot but refer to Rob Grant's "Backwards", released later (and
now still only available in hardcover). That was just plain odd.
However, something else is wrong with the book. The plot lacks
even the tiniest inkling of credibility, with the luck virus
being used whenever coming in handy, and there being too many
jumps between alternate universes to throw sticks at. The plot is
far too complex and flies off the edges at many an instant. Also,
it is plainly not funny. Well, there are plenty of funny bits but
they are all taken practically ad verbatim from the TV series. I
had expected some more originality here, and was sadly
disappointed. I read the book in one day, so at least I didn't
spoil too much time. The bits involving Rimmer's son (although
perhaps modelled too much after Ace Rimmer) were good fun.
I wonder what Rob Grant's "Backward" will be like. Will it also
lack the humorous chemistry that occurs when the both of them are
writing together? I wonder. I won't find out until it's available
in paperback, though :-).
Raptor Red - Robert T. Bakker
Robert T. Bakker is, you might say, an old acquaintance of mine.
Back in the years before 1984, when I didn't even have my
Commodore 64, I was interested only in submarines (my dad had
been in the navy before he got married, in a submarine) and
dinosaurs. The latter was way before the "Jurassic Park" craze,
as a matter of fact I was quite an expert on the field, certainly
for my age, and I'd been interested in dinosaurs ever since I was
Anyway, in those pre-computer days I wrote to a lot of the
world's paleontologists - dino diggers - and asked all kinds of
stuff. One of them was Robert T. Bakker, the guy who proposed
dinosaurs were actually hot-blooded and whom I admired back then
for having discovered and described the fascinating carnivorous
Robert has written several books. "The Dinosaur Heresies" is one
of them, a non-fiction book that tackles some of the most popular
misconceptions about dinosaurs. And while I am finishing this
issue of ST NEWS I have started reading "Raptor Red", a piece of
fiction written from the perspective of a female Utahraptor, the
dinosaur species after which the Raptors in "Jurassic Park" were
modelled. Although Bakker is clearly not a novelist and he
sometimes puts a tad too much emphasis on dinosaur anatomy, it
does offer an entertaining and even educational glimpse into what
life in the Cretaceous era (that's the geological era right after
the Jurassic) may have been like in Utah. A nice read, for as far
as I've been able to ascertain.
Although I'll be reading many more books, no doubt, these were
the final ST NEWS book reviews.
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.