Sunday, May 31, 2009

Space, Time & Crime (1964)

Just take a little look at this cover. Is there any way in the universe that I could possibly resist this book? It also was only fifty cents, so there was really no way I could lose.

In this anthology, Miriam Allen deFord (who led a pretty interesting life beyond the editing of this book) brings together a group of science fiction stories, including one of her own, that combine the science fiction genre with its brother on the pulp racks, the crime/detective story. As she states in her introduction: "The interest in the unknown, but knowable, which moves the mystery story writer moves the science fiction writer as well. In consequence, both writers often turn out to be the same person." With contributions from Isaac Asimov, Poul and Karen Anderson, Fritz Leiber, and many others, this is no throw-away anthology. The stories are carefully selected, expertly written, and really do a nice job of combining the two genres. Super excellent.

[The far out back cover, including a list of all the authors and stories in the book, is available here.]

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Borderliners (1993)

A copy of Peter Høeg's Borderliners (1993) recently came into my hands, and since I'd read his book The Woman and the Ape years ago and liked it, I thought I should give this one a chance. Plus he is Danish and I am half-Danish, so I like to think that will give me a little genetic insight into the sensibilities of his novels. I also like to think that this forges a connection between me and Lars von Trier, and actually I could easily see the story of Borderliners working as a von Trier film.

Borderliners is told from the perspective of an orphan named Peter Høeg who is reflecting back on his youth as an adult. He had been shifted around from institution to institution all his life and became adept at doing what he needed to do to survive the bullying, neglect and privation of the orphanages and detention centers. After a particularly brutal incident, he is transferred to a private school full of children from good homes where he and several other "borderliners" (that is children who are not expected to succeed) are integrated in with the other children.

Peter continues to keep his head down and work through this new situation but suddenly finds himself unable to sleep at night -- making him very tired in the morning and consistently late for class, something that is not tolerated at the school. The administration puts him in charge of a new student, August, a boy who is extremely troubled and often dangerous to himself and others, and then they meet Katarina, a previously "normal" student at the school who has recently lost both her parents and also finds herself unstuck from the routines of the school. The three children work together to look after one another and discover the secret plan behind the institution.

This book takes some work to get into. Not all that much happens (although what does happen is often very exciting), and the book delves into philosophical questions of time, education, youth, and individuality that might bore some readers. However: if you have a little patience, it really really pays off. I loved this book, and I still find myself thinking through some of the ideas about time and revisiting the images and characters of the book.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Thumbs up for Shreveport!

I had a really lovely visit to Shreveport for a conference. I knew it would be fun because of my road trip / roommate partner, and interesting because of the conference presentations, but I wasn't sure if Shreveport would be the most exciting road trip destination. I am happy to report that I would totally go back to Shreveport in a minute, and not just because I won $50 on the penny slots.

Three highlights of the trip for me were the boring sounding Louisiana State Exhibit Museum (with beeswax dioramas!!), the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium (which is apparently haunted), and the Noble Savage Tavern (the only bar I've been to that has a daily wild game special, delicious pizza, cheap beer, and a great atmosphere).

Want to meet up in Shreveport sometime? I'm feeling lucky...

[my full photo documentation available here, and check out Angela's pictures here.]

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I am off for three days of archival fun in beautiful Shreveport. See you jerks later!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Little Brother (2008)

Cory Doctorow's science-fictiony young adult novel Little Brother (2008) was my most recent read from dailylit (a site which emails me an easily digestible chunk of the book every day, and is actually a totally fun way to read something like this).

The book takes us through a not-so-distant future / alternate reality where Marcus Yallow and his group of friends geek out on computers, outwit the monitors at school, and have unrequited crushes on each other. Most of the fun futuristic technology stuff is in this section, and I thought that was the most entertaining and intriguing part of the book. All that changes, though, when Marcus and his friends are ditching school right as terrorists blow up the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge and they get picked up as suspects when they flag down a van to try to get medical help for their injured friend. The DHS has taken over San Francisco, and they don't believe Marcus when he tells them he is just a high school kid and he has nothing to do with the attacks. Eventually (after some very harsh treatment) they let him go. First he is scared. Then he is mad. Then he starts fighting back.

This book is pretty heavy-handed, and some of the sections read like instructional boing boing posts on Cory Doctorow's interests (encryption, freegans, wireless signals, etc.). I didn't love it, but I think a junior high kid might. There is definitely some suspense and romance, and the narrative is quickly paced. Worth picking up if you have a hankering for some young adult science fiction, if you like the underdog, if you want to know what the fuss is about, or if you just feel like hating on the modern police state.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger (1997)

Books about musicians are sometimes nicely written histories with insightful commentaries and logical structures. But more often they are written by superfans with more enthusiasm than writing ability and an insatiable appetite for every mundane detail about the object of their affection. When Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger by Dan Matovina (1997) came up on my random reading list, I suspected it might be in the later category. And I was pretty spot on with that assumption.

Matovina's title doesn't lie: The story of Badfinger, a band that was chained to the Beatles in the press, repeatedly and ridiculously screwed over by its management, and which lost two of its members to suicide, is definitely a tragic one. Matovina worked for decades on this book -- interviewing the surviving band members (to the extent that they let him), their families, girlfriends, roadies, producers, engineers, and anyone else connected with the band. The strength of the book lies in these interviews, and for the most part Matovina does a nice job of piecing together the chronology of the band. The book is also liberally sprinkled with personal and professional pictures of the band and their friends and family, and this really helps break up the sometimes dense details and give some life to the narrative.

The author is at his worst when trying to describe what the music sounds like. Like really pretty bad. It's not an easy task to talk about music, and I think that task is made even harder when you are such a superfan. If Matovina could have cut down on those sections, and gotten an editor that could shape up his sometimes runaway sentences, he would have ended up with a much more readable book.

I learned more than a few things (actually, maybe everything?) about the band while reading this book, and if you are interested in Badfinger or the shitty nature of the music business in general -- and you have a little patience -- then this might be the book for you.

Now we should probably watch a little Badfinger:

Here is a little "Baby Blue" (one of my favorites):

A little "Without You":

And a jammy and awesome live version of "Suitcase".

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Five Minute Ice Cream

Mmmmmmmmm. You must make it.


Update: I have just verified that this is even better (or at least a more traditional ice cream texture) if you put it in the freezer for awhile. Yum!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Fatal Light (1988)

I received a copy of the 20th anniversary edition of Richard Currey's Fatal Light through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. I had never heard of it, even though it was widely acclaimed after its initial release as one of the highlights of Vietnam War inspired literature.

The novel follows the experiences of an 18 year old who is drafted into service in Vietnam in 1968. We start as he is just graduating from high school, falling in love, going to the draft board, watching his mother cry, and silently freaking out. We move to boot camp, the jungle, death, killing, boredom, and fear. And eventually we get back to the States where everything is the same and nothing is familiar.

It is certainly not a new story, but Currey's poetic voice and gliding narrative of small vignettes in the life of an ordinary soldier are moving and engrossing in a way that a more straightforward and action-filled story would miss. Currey is a Vietnam vet himself, and while the novel is not directly based on his own experiences, his feelings and observations of life as a drafted soldier permeate the book. Before writing this novel, Currey was a published poet and short story writer and the brevity and care for word choice that he learned in those genres serve him well here.

[On an unrelated note, this is my 900th post on Spacebeer. Whoa. Want a cheap thrill? Click on the link on my sidebar for a random Spacebeer moment from history.]

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Killing of Sharon Tate (1970)

I got this copy of Lawrence Schiller's The Killing of Sharon Tate (1970) at a book sale at the library where I work. The selection at our semi-annual book sale is generally pretty theological, which isn't really my thing, but this guy snuck in somehow so I took a chance on it. Plus it was only 25 cents.

This book was published in January 1970 -- the killings happened in August of 1969 and the case hadn't even gone to trial yet. Lawrence Schiller (who went on to a lucrative career in true crime books, movies, and TV shows, as well as a friendship with Norman Mailer) somehow landed an exclusive interview with Susan Atkins before her access to the press was limited by a judge's order. This book, obviously rushed to press to cash in on the Manson Family excitement, consists of two long sections by Schiller (one introducing the reader to the Hippie movement, the drug scene -- much of which seems to come from Schiller's first book, LSD (1966), -- and San Francisco; the other giving some background on the Manson Family and the killings), and then a long section in Atkins' "own words" (which are probably based on the interviews with her but are so so so obviously the author's, and not her own words at all).

This book is not good as a cultural, legal, forensic, or psychological overview of the Manson Family killings. It is not very well written, and it is obviously playing to the curiosity, fascination, and fear people felt about these killings at the time. That being said, it is a great document of the contemporary reaction to the murders, a good example of grocery store true crime journalism, and it takes about two seconds to read, so it is worth looking at if you have an interest in this sort of thing.

The copy I got appears to never have been read before I got to it. It does have a former owner's name written on the first page, along with "March 1970 / $1.00." I guess he didn't feel like he needed to hang on to it for very long... A quick search of the internets show that good copies of this book are going for $50-$60 bucks, so cross your fingers and let's see if I can recoup my initial investment.

[Back cover available here.]