Reading Log: May 2015


Books acquired: “The Record Store Book,” Mike Spitz and Rebecca Villaneda.

Books read: “Martian Time-Slip,” “The Zap Gun,” “Our Friends From Frolix 8,” Philip K. Dick; “The Stars My Destination,” Alfred Bester.

Greetings, fellow readers. Following my April Reading Log, in which I concentrated solely on Ray Bradbury, May saw me concentrating on another classic SF writer, Philip K. Dick, but with a diversion to a third classic SF writer, Alfred Bester. Who says I don’t mix up my book choices?

Dick is becoming one of my favorite writers, and I can understand those who think he’s one of the 20th century’s greatest. His heroes tend to be conflicted middle-class losers, more like the mechanic who works on the rocket ship than the hero who pilots it. “Martian Time-Slip” is about the failing conquest of a parched Mars, but also about autism; “The Zap Gun” is a spoof of the Cold War involving competing weapons designers; and “Frolix 8” takes place in a society divided between telepaths and geniuses, in which the planet’s savior may be a gelatinous, space-faring 20-ton blob.

These are terrible summaries, but Dick is hard to summarize. His outsized imagination, paranoia and freewheeling plotting are for a cult audience, but I’m proud to be part of it. “Time-Slip” was the best of the three.

Bester’s “The Stars My Destination,” from 1956, is sometimes described as SF’s greatest novel, making it all the more surprising that two SF fans who saw me reading it said they’d never heard of it, or him. Maybe it, and Bester, aren’t as well known as I’d thought. Well, it may not be the greatest, but it’s awfully good, and any novel that takes a William Blake quatrain (“Tiger, tiger, burning bright…”) as its starting point clearly has a lot on its mind. It’s a revenge story, an exciting one, and well-told.

I imagine Richard Pietrasz has read it, and maybe a few more of you. Also, do let us know what you’ve been reading. Balance has to come from somewhere and my choices aren’t providing it.

All four of these books have been in my collection, unread, since the early 1980s; that shrinking number of older books has been my focus in 2015 and will continue to be through year’s end, when I hope to have finally read them all. We can only hope.

Next month: Yet more SF, by more authors.


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  • Richard_Pietrasz

    DA’s supposition I’ve read The Stars My Destination is correct. I haven’t read any of those PKD books among the handful I have read.

    I read 12 in May, and for a change, a majority were non-fiction.

    *Cruising the Pomona Valley 1930 Thru 1970, Charles Phoenix, 1999
    *Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII, John Cornwell, 1999
    *The Soloist, Steve Lopez, 2008
    *Zlata’s Diary: a Child’s Life in Sarajevo, Zlata Filipovic, 1993
    *The Spirit Catches You and Then You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures, Anne Fadiman, 1997
    *The HP Way: How Bill Hewlett and I Built Our Company, David Packard, 1995
    *Bully for Brontosarus: Reflections in Natural History, Stephen Jay Gould, 1991

    *Dr. Salaam & Other Stories of India, Padma Hejmadi, Perera, 1978
    *Forrest Gump, Winston Groom, 1986
    *Hellstrom’s Hive, Frank Herbert, 1973
    *Some Buried Caesar, Rex Stout, 1938
    *My Antonia, Willa Cather, 1918

    The books that stood out as excellent were The Soloist (LATimes columnist befriends homeless musician with schizophrenia), The Spirit Catches You (young child in socially isolated immigrant community in Merced suffers epilepsy), and My Antonia (mostly immigrant children come of age in early years of white settlement of Nebraska). Hitler’s Pope was well worth reading, the Rex Stout a good story (but not recommended as the first Nero Wolfe for a reader). The two SF novels were so-so, and the HP Way a disappointment, as it came off as a minimal effort to cash in on the business book market.

    • davidallen909

      Of yours, I’ve read the Lopez and Phoenix books, and likely read the Stout, as I read most of the Nero Wolfe books in boyhood. Now what did you think of Stars, if you recall?

      • Richard_Pietrasz

        I recall Stars as being an enjoyable piece of space opera. I would not pick it as the greatest SF novel of its time, but it certainly belongs on the list of candidates. What gets me now is that I though of it then as an old book when I read it, decades ago, even though it was published in my lifetime.

  • davidallen909

    Wow, seven! And your choices for next month (which is technically this month) sound good too. I’ll be curious what you think of Death in the Afternoon; it’s not one I imagine myself ever reading, especially after slogging through Green Hills, which is about half the length, as I recall.

    Someday I may read 11/22/63. I’ve never read any Stephen King, but that one seems more up my alley, even if it’s overly long.

    • Doug Evans

      Re. “11/22/63”: A minimum of gruesome deaths, a lot of interesting characters (King’s strong point, in my opinion, though they do tend to talk alike), and a section in the middle which serves as a sort-of sequel to his 1980s magnum opus “It,” which, in the humble opinion of yours truly, could have been cut completely out of the book. (You don’t need to have read “It” to understand what’s happening, but you might ask: “Um… why, exactly, is all this happening?”) Recommended!

      Re. “Death in the Afternoon”… I was nervous about this one after reading “Green Hills of Africa” (I bought “Death” first, knowing I was heading to Spain this summer), but I looked at it again just last week, and the last third of the book is photographs and an extensive glossary, so it’s probably about the same length as “Hills.” Also, the first page captured my interest right away, which “Hills” never quite did, so maybe I’m in for a good read? Here’s hoping!

  • John Clifford

    Well, this past month was not as prolific as last. I only read 2, but also read most of one that I just finished (a fairly dry biography) and started another biography that I just couldn’t seem to get into although it might be on for next month (this month).

    The first is a novel by a friend of mine, Steven Paul Leiva which is described on the cover as “A Comic Novel”, called “By the Sea.” It takes place at a seaside residence hotel and is the stories that revolve around the various residents and workers at the hotel. Because Steve has a Hollywood background (he was animation producer of “Space Jam” among other credits) there is even a Hollywood side story involved. Quite enjoyable and I recommend it. Although I have a signed copy of the novel, I actually also downloaded it and read it on my e-reader.

    The second was a novel that was a Christmas gift that I finally got to, Anne Rice’s return to the vampire chronicles, “Prince Lestat.” I started reading the hard-bound version that was the gift but found that it would be too heavy to carry in my already overloaded bag to read on my train trips, so I also purchased the Kindle version and read it on my e-reader. It was good to have another Lestat adventure after her long hiatus. More history of the blood sucker and (spoiler alert?) Lestat becomes the ultimate vampire leader.

    Also on tap for next month, at least one mindless summer novel, at least one biography, and a non-fiction philosophy overview. I’ll have a two week break at the end of the month where I won’t have the train rides for reading, but hopefully I’ll still get some additional time.

    I believe I’ve read the Bester book (yes, I know who he is) as the plotline sounds very familiar.

  • Richard_Pietrasz

    I read both Little Sister and Once There was a War. The first was quite good, the second not bad but nothing special.

    I doubt I read the Galaxy collection per se. Galaxy was one of the top SF magazines of the time, and some of these stories may have been published in the same issue as a part of the original publication of The Stars My Destination. I did recognize one title, Or All the Seas With Oysters, by Avram Davidson, which I’ve read at least twice over the years in other anthologies, and is certainly considered a classic by many, and I think I’ve read at least one other. A number of the other story authors are very prominent: Fred Pohl, Fritz Leiber, Robert Sheckley, Michael Shaara turns out to be the same one who wrote The Killer Angels about the battle of Gettysburg, Thomas N. Scortia is the co-author (with Frank M. Robinson) of the Glass Inferno which was made into the movie The Towering Inferno, and several other names are familiar to me. I’m guessing 1950s SF short fiction is outside your SF mainstream.

    • Doug Evans

      Hello Richard! Yes… To be clear, I was too glib in my description of The Fourth Galaxy Reader above. Chalk it up to trying to fit a description of seven books into one reading log comment! The book was very enjoyable and I have heard of/read several of the authors, though I had to google Michael Shaara to see why his name was so familiar. I’m also very familiar with the late, lamented Galaxy Science Fiction magazine… My grandfather had a subscription, back in the day, and I inherited all of those magazines (along with Astounding/Analog, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Galaxy’s sister magazine If, and so on)… They’re all in a box in my garage waiting for me to retire (so they have a long wait) so I can peruse them at my leisure. In fact, I collected my allowance and subscribed to Galaxy back in the sixth grade! And never got an issue. Years later, I realized that that’s because that year (1980) was the year that Galaxy went out of business. Someone somewhere owes me $8.96.

      I’m done with the book and would be happy to pass it on to someone else who would enjoy it. (Sharing a book with someone with similar interests always helps me feel like I got my money’s worth out of the book!) If you like, send your snail mail address to devans1701 (at) and I’ll be glad to send it along (postage on me!).

      • davidallen909

        “Someone somewhere owes me $8.96” — ha! Poor sixth-grade Doug.