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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Recently read: "The Barsoom Project" by Larry Niven and Steve Barnes

The Barsoom Project

The Barsoom Project

After re reading Dream Park, I debated whether I should re read the sequel, since I didn't find it memorable when I first read it.  I finally decided to take a chance.  It's a mixed bag, I think.  The first book's game depended on the South Pacific, particularly Cargo Cults, which had just enough "science" to make it feel less like a fantasy game (slightly less, I admit).  With the focus here being on Inuit mythology, this felt much more like a fantasy D&D game, which made the game itself less interesting to me.

As with the first book, in general the characters aren't that memorable (I still don't have a feeling on who Gwen and Ollie are, and they appear in both games).  The mystery, again, isn't quite played fair, since I don't see how you could figure out who was responsible for the initial murders (though it's pretty clear from the beginning who the ultimate villain is).  I sort of like the Alex Griffin characters, though again, outside of his job have we really gotten to know him?

The beanstalk/Barsoom stuff feels like it's tacked on in a way.  I suppose that Niven was fascinated by the idea at the time (we saw it later in Rainbow Mars) but here it's not even a McGuffin, really.

I do like the cover art for this release better than the initial, though since I read it as a Kindle version maybe that's not important.

I'm going to wait a while (a few weeks probably) before I tackle The California Voodoo Game (with a terrible Kindle cover!) in preparation for The Moon Maze Game later this year.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Recently read: "The Leagcy of Heorot" by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Steve Barnes

The Leagcy of Heorot

The Legacy of Heorot

Niven and Pournelle, writing as a team, gave us one of the definitive "First Contact" novels (The Mote in God's Eye, one of my favorite novels of all time), an excellent disaster novel (Lucifer's Hammer) and what I think is possibly the best alien invasion novel (Footfall).  Here, writing with Steve Barnes in 1987, they gave us a very good colonization novel.

After a century of travel in hibernation, the crew of the National Geographic is beginning the settlement of Avalon, an Eath like planet orbiting Tau Ceti IV.  Picking an island for the first settlement, the location seems almost idea, with no major predators.  Cadman Weyland, the only military man among the colonists, feels almost useless, until cattle and dogs start disappearing.

The predator is a marvelous killing machine, with turbo charged blood that gives it incredible speed in bursts.  Ignoring Weyland's warnings, the first attack on the colony is devastating and Weyland retreats to a home on a bluff above the colony (where he is joined by one of the female colonist in love with him).

Roused to action after they are attacked by a second "Grendel", the colonist (lead by Weyland) take action to wipe out the entire population.  This results in the colony feeling like the problem is solved, but the colonist later realize that they have upset the ecology of the island.  There's a desparate battle, with human weapons (lasers, electric fences, rifles) against an army of Grendels, with a final stand at "Cadamn's Bluff".

This is primarily an action novel, with man against alien beast.  The Grendel, with a life cycle based somewhat on an odd African frog (the frog, like the Grendels, are female and feed upon they children during famine), is an interesting alien (possibly as smart as a gorilla).  There's the added issue of "hibernation instability" which results in many of the colonist having various levels of brain damage (and even the ones that don't are prone to wonder if they are missing things).  There's also a heavy dose of "being prepared" (Heinlein's "if you would have peace, prepare for war").

Recently read: "Butcher's Moon" by Richard Stark

Butcher's Moon

Butcher's Moon: A Parker Novel

This is the sixteenth "Parker" novel that Westlake (using the Stark pseudonym) wrote, and it was the longest at the time (about twice as long as most of the earlier ones).  Parker, tired of his run of bad luck, goes back to the town where Slayground was set.  There, with the help of Alan Grofield, he is intent on recovering the heist money he was forced to leave behind, hidden in an amusement park.  Once in town, with the money missing, he gets involved in the local mob, and realizes that his money was used to help finance an upcoming coup.

Given the run around, and with Grofield wounded and captured by the mob (Parker is delivered one of Grofield's fingers), he calls in a group of fellow thieves (not friends, since Parker has none), and we see a reunion of sorts with many of the cast members from the previous books (including Handy Mckay, coming out of retirement after the interstate bypasses his diner).  Parker decides to hit most of the money making operations that the mob controls in one night, letting his fellow crooks spilt all the money in exchange for their help in hitting the new mob boss and rescue Grofield.

When read after it was first published (1974) it must have felt like the explosive climax to the series, and for a long time it was.  Westlake would not return to the character for almost 25 years.  I've not read the newer books (I'm reading them in order, as we get these new University of Chicago Press editions), but leaving the character here would have been fine with me.