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Archive for the ‘One Star’ Category

The picture above shows a piece of the demolished Death Star crashed into an ocean on some planet. I always like pictures of crashed space ships (or in this case huge space stations) on some planet, hidden by clouds and mist and off in the distance. Star Trek had a few shots of spaceships sitting on the ground from time to time, and Star Wars does the same. And that shot, and a few of the scenes that come along with it, were the most interesting and enjoyable part of the movie.

This movie is rated only 53% on the Tomatometer. We went to see it because we had seen the other eight Star Wars movies over the last 42 years, and “we just can’t stop now” even though everyone said there isn’t much to go and see. The Star Wars series is an epic, and in such, it shaped my entire life of enjoying science fiction.

So what about The Rise of Skywalker?

  • I don’t know what the title means. I didn’t see any Skywalker rising.
  • There aren’t any decent aliens. All the aliens have only cameo roles in the background, mostly lasting a fraction of a second, not enough to enjoy them. The few aliens that speak are the trite humanoids, as usual. Whatever happened to the classic bar scenes?
  • Sword fights. What’s with the light sabers in every Star Wars movie? I get it. Wars waged by huge fleets of thousands of advanced battle ships miles long in size with weapons that can destroy planets are ultimately solved by two young people and their swords. The sword fights are always boring. Nobody ever gets hurt, they just go on and on, and I simply find myself waiting for them to be over. This is the case in every Star Wars movie. Half of this movie seems to be sword fights.
  • Stealing from the classic theme of Independence Day, where the alien mothership is attacked and defeated by pilot jockeys in fighter jets, the same thing happens in this movie: A thousand ships suddenly materialize in the sky over this planet where the entire battle cruiser fleet is for some reason suspended, and they, by their sheer numbers, eliminate the battle cruisers.
  • Then there is the invincible emperor, who has magical telekinetic powers, that are eventually matched by one Jedi with two swords. Deus ex machina.

There was no story that I cared about. There was no plot that I could follow. There were no characters that I could empathize with. There was no technology or space travel gear that was interesting. The movie makers just packed as much Star Wars legacy and as many characters into two hours and twenty minutes that they could to make a bang ending to the series.

But I think it fizzled.

After all, where was Jar Jar Binks? (backstory here)

 

 

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Ivy is a 37-year-old divorced mother of twin girls of sixteen. She is on her way to visit them, driving down a freeway in rural Virginia when the road suddenly is buckled up and destroyed in front of her. She gets out, along with a few other people in other cars and tries to figure out what might have happened, when she is thrown into a time warp of sorts. Along with Harper, another stranger, a 33-year-old man, she wakes up and finds herself in a primeval forest.

Long story short, they were thrown back in time about 17,000 years to when North America was still full of large fauna, including giant bears and saber tooth tigers. The very first humans had just come from Asia and had made their way across the American continent.

Ivy happens to have a notebook with her and writes a journal of their story of survival in a Paleolithic wilderness. Her journal is the book. Ivy tells the story in the first person present tense.

There is nothing really happening in the story, other than the description of their day to day efforts to survive and possibly thrive. The plot is simple and way too simplistic to be credible. It’s almost like a fairy tale for an 8-year-old audience. The language is stilted and unreal, and the ease with which everything goes smoothly for them just does not ring true.

Reading about that time in history reminded me of The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel which I read many decades ago and remember as a very good book. So reading Pushed Back prompted me to download that book so I could read it again, or at least give it a try.

The language in Pushed Back is juvenile and full of trite expressions. I’ll give you one example. The author likes to use the word “friggen” to create a feeling of astonishment that she apparently can’t impart otherwise.

When Harper kills a wild pig with his spear, Ivy says:

“Oh my gosh, you are a friggen master hunter!” I crowed in joy.
— Ison, S.A.. Pushed Back: A Time Traveler’s Journal (p. 158). Kindle Edition.
I guess it’s ok to use this word in this context when Ivy quotes herself directly. However, this word is used five more times throughout the book. Here are the other examples:
  • a friggen giant sloth
  • the Paleolithic friggen era
  • after seeing the big friggen sloth
  • that was friggen amazing
  • just as friggen fast
Ok, the author likes “friggen” but to my astonishment, she also likes “fricken” as in the other two examples:
  • I mean really fricken screwed.
  • What? Fricken dandelions.
Maybe you are thinking I am being petty, and maybe I am, but these are just a few examples of the repetitive use of trite expressions and made-up words that may be part of colloquial American life, but it sounds friggen stupid in a book.
Then, of course, there are the numerous punctuation, spelling, grammatical and even tense errors that should have been found by an editor or, if too expensive, a friend, who should have read the book at least once before it was published and sold. But alas, that’s apparently acceptable in modern publishing.

This is listed as Book 1 in the time travel series, but I could not find a Book 2 yet. Checking S. A. Ison’s work, I see she specializes in survival material and post-apocalyptic stories, with several series of books in that general subject matter.

Given the poor presentation, the sloppy editing, the vapid language, the flat plot and the superficial characters of Pushed Back, I think I am done reading S. A. Ison books.

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Humanity has created an empire that spans many stars and planets in the nearer galactic neighborhood. Jeff is the executive officer on a warship with a crew of ten. The ships have faster-than-light travel capability. They emerge near their targets at speeds close to the speed of light, unleash their planet-destroying bombs and then, hopefully, speed up again into hyperspace to escape. But the defenses are just as lethal, and Jeff’s ship is the only one of a squadron of five that survives the attack, albeit seriously damaged.

They manage to find a nearby object they think is an asteroid and perform an emergency landing on it. As they approach, they realize it’s not an asteroid, but a giant alien ship with a diameter of 600 miles. Having no choice, they land on it and are admitted inside.

The ship’s artificial intelligence speaks flawless English. It claims it has been intercepting human media transmissions for centuries and has had the opportunity to learn the languages and the cultures. The ship promises to take them home, but the journey would take six months, due to the limitation of the hyperspace travel capabilities of the vessel. The crew takes this opportunity to explore the ship.

It does not take long before they discover the first of them killed in a most gruesome manner. As they search further, they find ancient secrets of horror that threaten not only them, but all mankind.

The Dark Ship is the second book by Phillip Peterson I have read. The other was Flight 39. Peterson writes originally in German and his books are translated. The translations are good and I see no reason why I’d want to read his books in the original German. Peterson knows how to tell a story.

In the case of The Dark Ship, which is much more of a hard science fiction book than Flight 39 was, I was distracted by the fairly lax application of building a reality. Most of the technology applied seemed magic, and I am not talking about the alien technology.

The human space ships seem to travel at relativistic speeds on their missions between hyperspacial jumps, yet there seems to be no effect of time dilation on human society. The fact that a crew would return home decades after it left for a mission is completely ignored. It’s not necessary for the plot in this case, but it just made the story unreal. When the ships travel near planets and stars at speeds approaching the speed of light, there is no mention of how the ships protect themselves from the space dust and other debris that would be intensely thick near a planetary system, making such speeds impractical or impossible.

On a smaller scale, they use seemingly magical military space suits with apparently endless energy supplies. Since the inside of the dark ship is dark everywhere, they rely on their flashlights or headlamps for light, and those, too, seem to be powered with endless power supplies. I could go on and on with examples like this. None of those examples take away from the story line, but for me they made the experience unreal and there is too much deus ex machina going on for it to seem realistic.

The story itself revolves around the crew finding the truth about the alien ship and its ancient mission. To do that, they go on a journey to the interior of the ship. Remember, at a diameter of 600 miles, it’s a 300 mile journey – on foot. That means there are lengthy passages of corridors and more corridors that the crew has to travel down with not much going on to move to plot forward. That makes the book somewhat of a tedious read.

In summary, The Dark Ship is a reasonably entertaining science fiction story, but not one I would want to read again or one that would entice me to read more books by this author.

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The Diaries of Adam and Eve is a classic by a classic writer. I would never have thought of picking it up had it not been for Wolfgang’s recommendation:

Kennst Du das “Tagebuch von Adam und Eva” von Mark Twain (Diary of Adam and Eve)? Herrlich! Weltklasse! Diesmal keine Übertreibung!

[Do you know the “Diaries of Adam and Eve” by Mark Twain? Glorious! Worldclass! This time no hyperbole!]

So I picked up the book. It’s a very short book and a quick read.

Adam comes back from a tracking trip near Niagara Falls and is baffled by the presence of another creature that suddenly appeared in his life and won’t stop chattering – Eve. Then eventually, we get to read Eve’s point of view, which is entirely different than that from Adam’s. When they get expelled from paradise, they end up in Tonawanda – or something like that. Then the first baby comes along, and Adam thinks it’s a fish at first, then a bear, and it takes him a very long time to figure out Cain is a little human.

This book is a classic, written by a master. I love Mark Twain’s writing. But I could not make sense of The Diaries. I absolutely do not know what to do with it. The story is puerile. Perhaps he wrote it for youth and their amusement. I can’t tell if the whole thing is supposed to be a fable, or sarcasm, a parody, or just pure fun. To me, it’s none of the above. To me, it was just silly.

I have a hard time rating a book by one of America’s great writers poorly, but honestly, I don’t know what to do with The Diaries of Adam and Eve. I can’t, in good conscience, recommend that anyone bother to read it.

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Two and a half hours of action scenes and a plot no human could possibly follow. About half-way through I was ready to be done. If you want action thrillers, I guess that’s your movie. Rotten Tomatoes gave it 97%.

All I can remember the day after is: long, endless motorcycle chases, Paris cops, helicopters, mountains, and badass anarchists with stolen plutonium and nuclear weapons. And, ah, CIA and spies and double agents and triple agents.

Here is my review:

 

Don’t bother!

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Portal to the Forgotten: A time travel story

Tyler and Grace, a young couple in rural Arkansas, are out for a walk in the Ozarks, when Grace suddenly disappears into thin air on the trail right in front of Tyler. When Tyler tries to explain this to the authorities later he is arrested for suspected murder of his girlfriend.

Luke is Tyler’s cousin. His hobby is building primitive weapons, hunting with primitive weapons and tools, and playing survivalist in the woods of Arkansas. When he hears about Grace’s disappearance, the believes Tyler, and he goes on a quest to figure out what happened. On this way, a mystery woman who claims to be a writer, befriends him and they retrace the steps of Tyler and Grace.

Sure enough, there seems to be a “portal” in the woods. They traverse the portal and end up in “another dimension.” But they don’t have much time to reflect. Luke finds himself in a net, trapped like game in the woods by tribal savages.

Portal to the Forgotten is sold as a time travel story, and that’s how I stumbled upon it. But it really has little to do with time travel. The protagonists are simply tossed into a world that is completely different from their own, with seemingly no way back.

The author romanticizes his characters. Luke, for instance, happens to be a primitive hunter. He drives his pickup truck into the wilderness, parks the truck, walks away, sort of like they do in Naked and Afraid, and builds tools, hunts animals, and lives off the land. That’s his hobby. Supposedly he is REALLY good at that. Now what are the odds of such a person ending up jumping through a portal into a primitive prehistoric world, without any weapons or tools? Yes, the plot in this story is too contrived.

Luke is the perfect primitive hunter, better than any of the tribal adversaries. Moon turns out to be a one-man army – think of Rambo. Grace, a martial artist, is also a fighter in her own right. So the people stumbling into the “other dimension” are all super heroes with super hero skills.

The land where they end up is not quite the past, or perhaps the deep past, but a prehistoric world full of different tribes, some more advanced than others, but who all are killing each other. The world is so savage, that every time two human males of different tribes cross paths, one of them dies. Of course, our super hero crew always wins, and the savages fall like leaves. Still, a society where human males always kill each other on contact would not survive very long, but that seems to be the world they are thrown into. And let’s not forget, there is the obligatory Nazi named Karl who time traveled to the same world in an effort to steal ancient technology, kind of like in Indiana Jones. True to expectation, it’s the Nazi and his mission who makes everyone’s lives complicated.

Portal to the Forgotten is a somewhat clumsy story with an unlikely plot. It starts out interesting, but as it evolves, it gets boring. There is a lot of editing needed. Sometimes the author uses wrong words or poor grammar. The book could use some professional editing. There is a lot of exposition, where the author tells us what the protagonists are thinking. So we are constantly in the heads of the protagonists, and their thoughts are often just puerile.

For instance, at one point in the story, still back in the Ozarks, Moon had passed out drunk and naked and Luke had brought her into the cabin and put her into bed. So it’s established that Luke had seen Moon naked before.

But later, in savage land, there is the following passage:

“While you are whittling on that, I’m going to bathe.” She stood. “I trust you won’t look.” Luke immediately turned red. He hated himself for it. “That is so cute.” He turned redder and scraped harder and faster, wished she would just go bathe. He heard her behind him taking her clothes off. He was tempted to look, but he was too embarrassed to say anything, much less turn around.

Gschwend, John. Portal to the Forgotten: A time travel story (p. 55). UNKNOWN. Kindle Edition.

The passage continues for a while where Moon is all prissy about standing in front of the fire to dry off and making Luke close his eyes. So these two adult super heroes are stranded in a wild country and they are worried about seeing each other naked? The book is full of descriptions of such unlikely and inconsistent behavior, it makes the characters unreal and incongruent.

Portal to the Forgotten has too much crammed into the story that does not belong there or add to the plot. The science is babble-science. I like my science fiction to the SCIENCE fiction. The plot is contrived and the characters are just not very interesting.

There is a sequel, but I won’t read it.


 

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Two brothers live together in their boring, unsatisfying lives. One day a package arrives in the mail which contains a video message that eventually inspires them to go back to a cult where they were born and raised many years ago. They drive down to San Diego – I can tell because they pass the San Onofre nuclear power plant in our neighborhood – and then up into the hills in the Julian area. The entire movie plays in a camp in the highlands in eastern San Diego County – an area that I call home and where I have spent much time hiking. There are also a few scenes that were shot in the Borrego Springs area.

In the camp there are a couple of dozen goofy characters living odd lives. Strange things happen. Slowly, ever so subtly, the brothers are pulled back into the community. They stay an extra day, then another one, and soon it becomes clear they might not leave at all.

The Endless is an impossibly boring movie with no plot whatsoever, that goes on – well – endlessly. It’s also a very low-budget movie. They needed one car, access to a mountain camp, some twenty actors, most of them without any speaking roles, and very few props or costumes of any type. Even the special effects are cheesy and cheap. The story makes no sense. There really isn’t an end, and the moral is supposed to be that we’re all trapped in our lives, in endless loops, longer or shorter, repeating day after day, or week after week, or minute after minute.

Good grief! How this got 96% on the Tomatometer is beyond me!

Save yourself the endless, pointless, listless agony and don’t bother with this movie.

Half a star for the movie, and another half a one for the soundtrack – typical horror-suspense but at least somewhat enjoyable.


 

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As I have done for pretty much all my life, when a new Star Wars movie comes out, I go see it within the first few days. It is a ritual, a rite, something I do, and I know it’s the same for many of my contemporaries.

As usual with Star Wars, I can’t really follow the plot. There are always people who are on far-away planets who are needed for help with some impossible task and emissaries go to find those people. Then there are the mysterious telepathic connections between the Jedi and his disciples, which transcend time and space. Luke, who is the protagonist of this movie, is not very satisfying as a character. He is the last Jedi, but a burned-out one, a reluctant one, and a lot of the movie’s energy is spent on making Luke just do the right thing. To me, that is not much of a plot.

My favorite and repeated complaint with Star Wars is about its disregard for physics. Spaceships don’t fly, they just wink in and out of ordinary space when they go into lightspeed seemingly without acceleration. Except when it’s the old Millennium Falcon, which seems to have superpowers and always flies like a fighter plane in the atmosphere, pulling tight curves, whether it’s in space or not. Fighters continue to fly like there is air, and orbital dynamics is completely ignored.

My most enjoyable experience with Star Wars is usually its depiction of aliens in ordinary settings. I can think of the classic bar scenes that seem to be customary in all episodes. This time, there is only a short sequence in a casino, where there are a few aliens, but they are all humanoids. It seems the entire Star Wars galaxy has devolved into humans with head masks. I am sure that’s to make production cheap, but it’s trite and uninspiring to me. Why isn’t there ever a real alien that is part of the mainline plot? No, I don’t mean another Jar Jar Binks, who himself was nothing but a human in an amphibious suit.

This episode does not tell much of a story and seems to exist only to set the stage for the sunsetting of the two characters most intimately associated with Star Wars: Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill, of course) and Princess Lea (played for the last time by the late Carrie Fisher). We say our good byes to both of them, amid a story of fireballs of exploding ships, spaceships racing in tight spaces, comical droids, rubber-mask aliens, desert rust-bucket floater-ship races and a Wookie.

There is nothing new in this episode. The franchise has run out of original ideas and every movie is just a collection of old concepts and special effects, rendered on a new stage, in a slightly different story between good and evil.

True to Star Wars legacy, every conflict in the galaxy is eventually resolved by a swordfight between two humans. All the action stops, high-tech weaponry goes silent, armies of star troopers vanish, spaceships float inactively, the crescendo of the music rises, and the light sabers zap out of their handles. Plot resolved. Deus ex machina.

Will I go see the next episode in a year or so?

Probably.

 

 

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Movie Review: Kingsman

Kingsman

Watching Kingsman was like watching a cartoon. And, I guess, it’s not surprising. The story is based on a comic book.

Kingsman: The Secret Service tells the story of a super-secret spy organization that recruits a street kid (Taron Egerton) through one of its agents (Colin Firth).

A tech tycoon (Samuel L. Jackson) creates a global threat, and the street kid, with his innocence and gusto, saves the world.

The movie got a surprising 75% rating on the Tomatometer. That just goes to show you that movies are now made for slapstick humor, lots of bang-bang-bang and you don’t really need to think.

It’s only been a few days since I watched Kingsman, and I have basically forgotten about it already.

Please don’t bother going.

Rating - One Star

 

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John Wick

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is an ex-hitman who lives a quiet life in New York City. He mourns the recent death of his wife. He gets hassled at a gas station by a young punk in a hoodie who acts like he wants to buy his car, but he gets away. But the punk persists and somehow figures out where John Wick lives and shows up at night in the house with a few other thugs, beating him, killing his dog and stealing his car.

It turns out the punk is the hapless son of a Russian mafia boss (what is it with me and Russian mafia movies these days – see here for The Equalizer, which tells a somewhat similar story). To make things worse, Daddy knows who John Wick is. He is visibly afraid of him and wants to work it out. But John doesn’t buy it. If you kill John Wick’s dog, a present from the beloved late wife, there will be no mercy.

John Wick starts a one-man war against the entire Russian mafia in New York City. This is reminiscent of McCall in The Equalizer or Rambo in First Blood.

The movie is one hour and 36 minutes long, but seems much longer. With minor interludes, it consists of John shooting Russians by the dozens, by the hundreds. At the beginning of the movie, hoodie overpowers and beats John in his house. But then John gets mad and overcomes 10 killers all at once in the same room, all movie long.

I don’t understand how this got 83% on the Tomatometer.

The movie seems like a video game where the main character just wanders around the city in all sorts of different locales and keeps shooting people in the head. Nobody seems to ever hit him. It goes on and on.

And on.

And on.

There is nothing else.

Rating - One Star

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From_Time_to_Time

It was late in the evening on a weekend. I was up alone. My mind was fried. I had no initiative for creative work of any kind.

I flipped through the Netflix pages and found From Time to Time, where the description talked about time travel.

Time Travel! I am always ready for a good time travel story. So I watched it.

Tolly, a British teenager returns to his ancestral home for a long vacation in 1944, towards the end of World War II. His grandmother thinks that his father had died in the war, but the boy does not believe it. He senses his father is still alive.

As he explores the old house, he finds that he can mysteriously travel between the present and the 1700s, or the people that lived in the house in the 1700s overlap the present like ghosts that only Tolly can see. He communicates with the ghosts and actually interacts with them. This helps him unlock family secrets that have been sleeping for centuries.

From Time to Time is a dry and slow ghost story, just interesting enough that I kept watching, but not good enough that it mattered that I didn’t quite follow the full plot. When it was done I realized that I’d hang on to the memories just long enough to write this review.

And that would be that.

Rating - One Star

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TIMET.I.M.E is a time travel novel that deals with United States history. T.I.M.E. stands for Temporal Intervention and Management of Events. This is a agency whose apparent mission is to fix up American history so it comes out better. Agents are sent back in time to pivotal events, like the assassination attempt on Reagan, to make minor corrections  and manipulate the outcome. When the agents return back to their home time, they are the only ones that remember history the way it used to be – since they changed it and  in the world they return to it’s the only history everyone knows.

When you ponder this it does not take long before paradoxes arise and things get quite complicated. But such is the nature of time travel stories, and that’s probably why I enjoy them so much.

This premise is a good one, and the book’s first chapter does a nice job in its execution. It lured me in.

As  I went further into the book, however, I found a myriad of problems with it, and I would summarize it now as a clumsy work at best.

To begin with, there is no one protagonist, but there are three agents who sort of serve as the “lead character,” while none of them is well rounded enough to be able to keep them apart. It’s Peter, Jon and Sabrina. All three are cardboard characters. Sabrina, being the girl, is supposed to be really sexy, but the author does not show us, he tells us awkwardly by describing how Peter looks at her. Since none of the  characters are noteworthy in any way, I didn’t find any reason to empathize with any one of them, or care about how things would go. It made for shallow reading.

The structure of the novel was odd. The first few chapters describe how the agents go back in time to “fix” history. There is never any explanation of how they get into the past  and then back. They just seem to wake up in hotel rooms  in the past. Then, later in the book the entire structure seems to change and at the end, the story unravels so it does not really end, but just kind of fizzles. It’s almost like the author got tired of it himself.

The book is littered with spelling errors, grammatical errors, missed words, fragmented sentences and strange constructs. I felt like I was the first person to ever read the book. Does Richard Wood not have any editor? If not,  does he not have a friend who could at least read the book ONCE to get rid of the worst editing errors? At the beginning I started keeping track by making bookmarks, but there were so many errors, hundreds, I lost interest in doing that. After all, I am not the author’s editor, I am a paying reader. It’s not my job to correct his errors.

This lack of attention to detail annoyed me and distracted from the story. The author didn’t even care enough to proof-read his own book – but he expects us, the readers, to pay him money for the privilege.

Some Amazon reviewers expressed they were hoping for a sequel. For me,  there was nothing in this story that would want me to read any more.

Rating: *

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Phases of GravityI read this book because I found it in one of my many boxes. This is the first book by Dan Simmons I have read, and probably the last one.

First published in 1989, a few years after the space shuttle Challenger catastrophe, Phases of Gravity is a speculative fiction novel – not science fiction, like the book cover and jacket text might suggest.

Richard Baedecker is a former Apollo astronaut who walked on the moon 16 years before the story unfolds. His crewmates were Dan Muldorff and Tom Gavin, two more fictional astronauts. It’s not clear which mission they were on, but it sounds like Apollo 14 or 15, thereabouts. There is mention of real astronauts, like Armstrong, Aldrin and many others that we remember from the Apollo program.

Dan Simmons must know astronauts since he can describe their lifestyles and attitudes quite well. His descriptions work and paint a fairly clear picture of what is happening. But that’s the only good thing about this book.

Baedecker is clearly in a mid-life crisis, and the story is full of stereotypical behavior of a 50-year-old man whose glory days are 16 years in the past. What do you do for an encore after you walk on the moon?

He comes home and drifts. He gives speeches, but he doesn’t care about the content or the audiences. He wants a Corvette. He travels to India to visit his son in an ashram. He tried to repair the relationship with his son that has suffered a lifetime of neglect. He has a tryst with a long-legged girl half his age that does not like to wear a bra. He visits a fellow astronaut who also never got a grip on his life and became a born-again Christian evangelist to escape the void. He goes on road trips to nowhere. He chases the girl and we wonder what she sees in him. He flies an old helicopter even though he hates flying helicopters.

All this is told without any discernible plot. Nothing really happens in this book. The timeline is messy. The story flashes back to the time when he trained for the Apollo mission. We are on the Apollo mission. We are in the present. We are a few years back. There is no good pattern to how the timeline flows, and I found myself often confused as the reader when I had to figure out, from one paragraph to the next, where and when Baedecker was now in this scene.

The structure of the novel does not work. The protagonist is a washed out middle-aged guy with nothing to live for and nothing interesting going for himself, trying to live off the four days on the moon a long time ago. Perhaps this is the plight of the moonwalkers. I don’t know.

But even if it’s real, even if Apollo astronauts didn’t know what to do with their lives after they returned, it does not a story make.

Rating: *

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Dean Koontz published his first novel at the age of 23. He was so prolific that he used more than ten pseudonyms, writing as many as eight books a year, in different genres. Early on his books were science fiction, but soon he went into supernatural and horror fiction. Today Koontz is the 5th highest paid writer in the world, tied with Grisham, making over $25 million a year from writing.

I read a number of Koontz books some twenty years ago. He is a master story-teller and suspense builder. All his books start out with a bang on the first page, something bad starts happening to the protagonist right away, and it just gets worse, page after page. Koontz does not give the reader a break. The villains are relentless, brutal, creepy, eerie or scary. The protagonists are always regular guys, living in suburban Orange County, California, and weird stuff happens to them.

The warning I have about Koontz books: Beware of picking one up, because you can’t put it down.

However, I broke my Koontz habit a long time ago after maybe a dozen of his books, none of which I can remember now. There is never any redeeming literary value or philosophical message. Koontz writes to entertain, captivate and – to make money. He does that very well.

After reading any Koontz book, I found myself putting down the book, convinced that I had a good time, I was entertained, but I learned absolutely nothing. There really was no reason for reading the book other than pure, mindless entertainment.

Which brings me to Time Thieves. Copyright 1972 tells me it’s one of Koontz’ early books. It’s no longer in print and you probably won’t be able to find it anywhere but in used bookstores. The title caught my eye. The cover is completely silly, has nothing to do with the story, at least from what I can tell, but reminds me of vintage science fiction of the 1960 and 1970 decades.

The protagonist  is Pete Mullion, a photographer and design man by profession who is working on fixing up his cabin in the woods in his spare time.  One time he disappears for twelve days and doesn’t remember anything about what happened to him during the “black out.” The story tells about how he and his wife try to figure out what happened to him. As he struggles to put things together, he figures out that he is being followed and watched. As the story winds on, there are robotic humanoids that try to catch him, and alien minds who attack him telepathically.

Remember what I said above: Common, normal guys experience really weird stuff in Koontz books, and there is more and more action in every paragraph as you turn the pages. That’s going on in Time Thieves.

I must admit, I had a hard time reading this, despite Koontz’ skill of drawing the reader in. I kept going because it was very obvious I was reading the oldest, earliest Koontz book I had ever got my hands on, long before his breakout book Whispers, and I wanted to see how he wrote early on.

Fortunately is was not too long.

Rating: *

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This is a short-story sized novella I was able to read in a few days  in short sessions over breakfast mostly. The Frozen Sky is a science fiction story that plays on Europa, the Jupiter moon that is covered with ice and presumably has a liquid ocean deep beneath the ice. The story speculates about what might happen when humanity encounters the first intelligent extraterrestrial species. Hint: A lot can go very wrong.

The Frozen Sky, for being such a story story, was very fractured and too difficult to follow. Carlson could have easily worked this to be three of four times as long, put more care into a structure that was easier to follow and less confusing. There was also much he could have elaborated on.

To put it into art or painting terms: The Frozen Sky might be a sketch with pencil of paper of a painting that is yet to be. Not enough for me.

Rating: *

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