Saturday, July 31, 2021

Foundation: Isaac Asimov

I am intimidated by writing a review of a classic of science fiction like this one, when I am not that knowledgeable of science fiction in general. But I will do my best, and I welcome comments and corrections.

As the Foundation series begins, Hari Seldon is predicting the fall of the Galactic Empire. an extremely large group of planets settled by humans. He also predicts that the breakup of the Galactic Empire will cause 30,000 years of turmoil. He proposes to set up a group of men to write an encyclopedia that will include all human knowledge and preserve it, and claims that the effort will reduce the years of turmoil to 1,000.

The Commission of Public Safety accuses Seldon of treason, but they allow him to carry out his project of developing an encyclopedia. They force him to move this group to a remote planet, Terminus. The rest of the book follows the events on Terminus and adjoining planets over a period of about 200 years.

This book was not what I expected. What did I expect? Maybe more of a space opera, maybe more action. That is not to say that there is no space travel or action. The society is futuristic to a point. This novel is more about society and interactions in society. And a lot of talk. People arguing about ideas, people convincing others to do things.

The book was divided into five sections:

  • The Psychohistorians
  • The Encyclopedists
  • The Mayors
  • The Traders
  • The Merchant Princes

It took me a while to get into the book, especially while reading the first two sections. The writing was sort of dry, and I could not get interested in any of the characters. Each section is about a new set of characters although some characters carry from one section to the next. But with each part the story improves, although I remained confused through at least the third section. There was humor in the fourth section, The Traders. That section read like a good short story, and only later did I realize why. In the end, overall, I thought Foundation was an exceptional story.

After I finished reading Foundation, I read Asimov's introduction to that edition (written in 1982) which explained that he had put each book in the trilogy together from previously written stories. That did explain a lot about the structure and some confusion I had. The introduction was fascinating and I was amazed that doing that worked out so well.

One complaint I had is the lack of women in the story. No women characters at all until the fifth part, which is over 2/3 of the book. And the only woman in that section has no significant role. I know the stories were written in the 1940's and the book was published in 1951, but I found it irritating, regardless.

Also see FictionFan's review.

Foundation was first published as part 1 of a trilogy. The second book is Foundation and Empire and the third part is Second Foundation. Later, more books were added to the series. I will be reading further in the trilogy, and more books by Asimov outside of the Foundation series.


Publisher:  Del Rey Books, 1986. Orig. pub. 1951.
Length:     285 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Foundation, #1
Setting:     The Galactic Empire
Genre:      Science Fiction
Source:     Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2017.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: Edward D. Hoch collections

Last week for Short Story Wednesday, George Kelley featured a collection of stories by Edward D. Hoch, Funeral in the Fog, which contains 16 Simon Ark mysteries. George's post has an overview of the book and Hoch's short stories, and lists the Table of Contents. The book has an introduction by Gigi Pandian, who describes Simon Ark as an occult detective, "drawn to mysteries that seem to have a supernatural explanation."

On the same day, after reading George's post, I ordered a copy of Funeral in the Fog and another collection of Hoch's stories, Hoch's Ladies, both published by Crippen & Landru. Hoch's Ladies includes stories about three female sleuths: Susan Holt, a department store manager; Libby Knowles, a professional bodyguard; and Annie Sears, a police detective. If you are interested in more information, there are reviews at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel and George Kelly's blog.

I have not read the stories in either of these books yet but I will be sampling from both of them soon.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

All Systems Red: Martha Wells

This first novella in the Murderbot Diaries series is set in a far future where exploratory research groups venture out to distant planets. There is a company that oversees these expeditions and it requires that a security robot accompanies each team (at a price, of course).  

The main character, Murderbot, is partly robotic and partly human. To me it seems closest to an android, with a lot of human parts. Murderbot is the SecBot assigned to a research team headed by Dr. Mensah. As the story begins, it is monitoring the activities of small team sent to investigate a specific area when a very scary large "hostile" explodes out of the bottom of a crater and attacks one member of the team. Murderbot assesses the situation, deals with the hostile, and gets them back to safety, but the SecBot has also been damaged in the incident. It can repair itself during rest but this takes a while.

Along the way the crew and the SecBot discover that there is a third group on the planet, unbeknownst to them. They knew of the existence of a second group and they had been briefly in contact with that group, but the third group could be dangerous to them. When they cannot make contact with the other authorized group on the planet, they realize there may be a big problem.

What made this book such a good read is the narration by Murderbot. That character has an unusual and entertaining personality. It is painfully shy around people, and keeps its distance when possible. The job of a SecBot is not usually too demanding, and this one would rather be watching video that it has downloaded than interacting with people. It has made alterations to itself so that it cannot be remotely controlled by "the company" from afar, but this is a secret it has to conceal from the others. 

Since we only get the story from Murderbot's perspective and the story is novella length, we don't get a lot of character development of team members other than Dr. Mensah. The other team members have varying degrees of sympathy for and trust in the SecBot after the rescue, and they all have to get used to changing relationships.

All Systems Red has good pacing, a lot of action, and is entertaining throughout. It ends with a cliff hanger of a sort, but that was fine with me. Even before reading the book, I expected that I would want to continue the series. I am looking forward to learning more of Murderbot's story.


Publisher:    Tor, 2019 (orig. pub. 2017)
Length:        149 pages
Format:        Hardcover
Series:         Murderbot Diaries, #1
Genre:         Science fiction thriller
Source:        Purchased in June 2020.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Short Story Wednesday -- Perchance to Dream: Selected Stories by Charles Beaumont

After reading Patti Abbott's post featuring "Black Country" by Charles Beaumont, I was motivated to read some of Beaumont's stories in the collection, Perchance to Dream: Selected Stories. From reading articles on his work, it seems he wrote mostly short stories in the horror, fantasy, and science fiction subgenres.

I initially bought the book more for the cover than its contents. In 2017, I bought several classics in the Penguin Classics series, and this was one I came upon by chance. The cover illustration is by William Sweeney.

The book starts with a very enthusiastic and complimentary Foreward by Ray Bradbury. There are 23 of Beaumont's short stories included and an Afterward by William Shatner. At this point I have only read the Foreward and the first six stories.

The title story, "Perchance to Dream", is about a man having the same dream over and over. There is a twist ending and it did surprise me. This one was made into a Twilight Zone episode.

In "The Jungle", a man roams the city he lives in and has designed, looking for the solution to a disease that is killing people. It has themes of development taking over cultures and the assumption that technology always improves things. An interesting story, but not one I enjoyed reading. Also adapted for a Twilight Zone episode, with significant changes in the story.

"Sorcerer's Moon" was a very short story about two warlocks trying to kill each other. Entertaining, with an interesting ending. It was first published in Playboy.

In "You Can't Have Them All", a doctor visits a man who is wasting away. The man's goal in life is to have sex with every woman within his chosen parameters before he dies. It is a long story and goes on and on. I liked the ending, but the premise was so disgusting that I could not enjoy the story. The story was written in 1956, and maybe it was written for its shock effect?

"Fritzchen" was also not a favorite. It was about a man who owns a pet store, and a very unusual animal that his son finds. Not appealing and I did not like the ending. 

The story I liked the best, so far, was was "Father, Dear Father". This very short story (about 5 pages) was panned in another review, at Greenwich Library, saying that the ending was obvious. I guess so, but I enjoyed it anyway. Maybe because I like time travel. 

It may be that Beaumont's stories are too weird for me. The stories with horror elements did not appeal at all. But, I still have seventeen more to go in the collection, and I am sure I will find more that I like. So far I like the shorter stories more than the longer ones.

As noted above, some of Beaumont's short stories were later adapted for Twilight Zone episodes. Although I did watch that show when I was younger, I don't remember having seen the episodes mentioned here. 

Friday, July 16, 2021

A Killing Spring: Gail Bowen

A Killing Spring is the 5th book in a mystery series about Joanne Kilbourn, a political analyst and university professor who gets involved in criminal investigations. The setting is Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Family and relationships play a large part in these mysteries. There are now 19 books in the series, published between 1990 and 2020. The twentieth book will come out in September of 2021.

This story begins as the head of the School of Journalism at the university where Joanne Kilbourn teaches is found dead, in embarrassing circumstances. Further misfortunes occur in Joanne's life, including a student who complained of sexual harassment and then stops coming to class. Joanne looks into the student's disappearance.

As in the earlier books in the series, the story is told in first person and Joanne is not really doing any sleuthing. The first death occurs early and appears to be accidental. There are questions about the death throughout the book but there is no evidence to point in the direction of murder.

My thoughts:

All the Joanne Kilbourn mysteries that I have read feature death and intrigue within Joanne's circle of close friends or even family members. It seems that it is dangerous to know Joanne. This is one of the problems I have with amateur sleuths. Yet her close involvement with the victims does lend validity to her decision to strike out on her own to find out more about the victims and the crimes. When Gail determines that her take on the sexual harassment accusation was mistaken, she ventures out into dangerous territory, unknowingly, of course.

The stories are well written, gripping, and keep me turning the page. I like getting to know Joanne's family. She is a widow with four children between the ages of six and twenty five. The youngest was adopted. Setting is very important in Bowen's books. The descriptions and use of the Saskatchewan locations are interesting and important to the story.

Links to my reviews of the Joanne Kilbourn series, so far:

  1. Deadly Appearances (1990)
  2. Murder at the Mendel (1991)
  3. The Wandering Soul Murders (1992)
  4. A Colder Kind of Death (1995)


Publisher:   McClelland & Stewart, 2011 (orig. pub. 1996)
Length:       257 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:       Joanne Kilbourn #5
Setting:      Saskatchewan, Canada
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: More Stories from Cosmic Corsairs

I have been reading more stories in Cosmic Corsairs this week. My favorite was “The Night Captain” by Christopher Ruocchio. 

Roderick Halford is the Night Captain of the Tamerlane, a spaceship which is ferrying over 90,000 officers and combat personnel to the front lines in a war which has been going on for years. The destination is 25 years away and the personnel of Lord Hadrian Marlowe's Red Company are in icy stasis for the voyage. During a short layover at a refueling station, the ship is attacked by pirates. Only a few men on the night crew are awake and minding the ship, and Halford has lost communications with them, but he gets unexpected help during his fight to regain control of the ship.

I enjoyed the Night Captain's backstory especially.

Cosmic Corsairs was edited by Hank Davis and Christopher Ruocchio. There are a total of 15 stories. Seven were published for the first time after 2000, some of those published for the first time in this book. The other eight stories were published in the 1950's, 1960's, and 1980's. Thus, a lot of variety.

The  other stories I read this week were:

  • “Pirate Chance” by Carysa Locke
  • “Redeemer” by Gregory Benford (first published in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, April 1980)
  • “Trading Up” by Sarah A. Hoyt and Robert A. Hoyt 

Except for “Redeemer”, the stories I read this week were published in 2020 in this anthology for the first time. They were all fun to read and clever. 

I must be a sucker for pirates in space, because I have enjoyed every story I have read in this book so far.

Rick Robinson at Tip the Wink introduced me to this book, and sent me his copy to read. My first post on this anthology discusses briefly three other stories from the book. Also see George Kelley's review of Cosmic Corsairs for comments on more of the stories and a list of the stories.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Classics Club Spin #27

The latest Classics Club Spin has been announced. I have chosen twenty books from my classics list. I did make some changes from the previous spin, to have more short books on the list. Since I am currently reading books from my 20 Books of Summer list, it could be hard to work another book in, but I do need to read a book from my Classics List, so I am going to take part if possible.

On Sunday 18th July, 2021, the Classics Club will post a number from 1 through 20. The goal is to read whatever book falls under that number on my Spin List by 22nd August, 2021.

So, here is my list of 20 books for the spin.

  1. Things Fall Apart (1958) by Chinua Achebe   [209 pages]
  2. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955) by Patricia Highsmith
  3. Rebecca (1938) by Daphne du Maurier  [410 pages]
  4. The Sign of Four (1890) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 
  5. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes  (1892) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  6. Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) by Zora Neale Hurston 
  7. The Quiet American (1958) by Graham Greene   [180 pages]
  8. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940) by Carson McCullers
  9. The Wind in the Willows (1908) by Kenneth Grahame 
  10. A Wrinkle in Time (1962) by Madeleine L'Engle
  11. Beast In View (1955) by Margaret Millar
  12. The Moviegoer (1961) by Walker Percy   [200 pages]
  13. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) by Roald Dahl
  14. My Ántonia (1918) by Willa Cather
  15. Goodbye to Berlin (1939) by Christopher Isherwood
  16. Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker    [420 pages]
  17. Fahrenheit 451 (1953) by Ray Bradbury
  18. The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) by James Cain
  19. The Invisible Man (1897) by H.G. Wells
  20. We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) by Shirley Jackson

Friday, July 9, 2021

Reading Summary for June 2021

I had a great month of reading in June. I loved all of the books I read, in different ways. The books were from my 20 Books of Summer list. And I read two books that were not mysteries.

I did travel to many different places in my reading this month... an unnamed South American country, Germany, Bosnia, Russia, and the UK of course. In addition, in The Travelers, I visited France, Argentina, Italy, and Iceland.

General Fiction

Bel Canto (2001) by Ann Patchett

This was a beautifully written book about a very interesting subject: the people attending a banquet for a Japanese businessman at an embassy in a South American country are taken hostage by insurgents. My review here.

Science Fiction

All Systems Red (2017) by Martha Wells

This is the first novella in the Murderbot Diaries series.  The protagonist is a SecBot (Security robot) that has both human and robotic parts. I was very impressed with this book, especially since it is a novella. It does end with a cliff hanger of a sort, but that was fine with me. Even before reading the book, I expected that I would want to continue the series.

Crime Fiction

The Birdwatcher (2016) by William Shaw

This book is a character-driven police procedural featuring Sergeant William South. He is working on a murder team with a new Detective Sergeant, Alexandra Cupidi, since she is unfamiliar with the area and the body was discovered in his neighborhood. The victim is his next door neighbor, Bob Rayner. Both men were birdwatchers. My review here.

The Small Boat of Great Sorrows (2003) by Dan Fesperman

This is the second book in a short series about Vlado Petric from Bosnia. In the first book he was a homicide detective in Sarajevo, who escaped during the siege of Sarajevo. In this book, he is living in Berlin with his family, and is given the opportunity to return to Bosnia. Both books are very good, but this can be read as a standalone. My review here.

The Travelers (2016) by Chris Pavone

The Washington Post describes The Travelers as a Hitchcockian thriller, and points to similar elements in two of Hitchcock's films, Notorious and North by Northwest. My review here.

Three Stations (2010) by Martin Cruz Smith 

This is the 7th book in the Arkady Renko series by Martin Cruz Smith. In this book, Arkady is a prosecutor's investigator in Moscow but does not have any current cases because he always causes problems, no matter what he investigates. He decides to help his friend and former partner, Victor Orlov, with his current case, the death of a prostitute by drug overdose. My review here.

She Came Back (1945) by Patricia Wentworth

Lady Anne Jocelyn was thought to have died over three years before, but one day she shows up at the door of her husband's home and announces her return. Sir Phillip Jocelyn, her husband, claims that she is an impostor. This is a book in the Miss Silver series, but she doesn't show up until midway in the book, as usual. My review here.

Booked for a Hanging (1992) by Bill Crider

From the dust jacket: "The versatile mystery novelist Bill Crider has created a pantheon of marvelous characters, but none is more real, warm, and thoroughly delightful than Sheriff Dan Rhodes of Claflin County, Texas. In his sixth adventure, Rhodes is confronted with what seems at first to be a suicide: the body of a man newly arrived in the county is found hanged in the dilapidated building he has taken over for his business. Simon Graham was a rare-book dealer." Another wonderful entry in the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series.


I am currently reading H.M.S. Surprise by Patrick O'Brian and A Killing Spring by Gail Bowen. 

Next I might read On Her Majesty's Secret Service by Ian Fleming or Lockdown by  Peter May or The Art of Violence by S. J. Rozan.

This photo shows plants in containers in our back yard. The photo at the top of the post was taken at the plant nursery we use. Photos were taken by my husband.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: Stories from Crime Time 2.3

This week I read three short stories in Crime Time 2.3, published in February 1999. I have had this magazine for years and I don't remember how and why I bought it. I have read some of the articles and reviews, but none of the short stories, until now.

"The Dark Path" by Jason Starr 

I think this is the first work of fiction I have read by Jason Starr. He has written novels (including some co-written with Ken Bruen), short stories, comics and graphic novels. 


This was more a character study than a crime investigation, and I enjoyed it very much. There definitely was a crime, but the focus is on the discovery of the crime by a couple and how it affects their relationship. 

I like that it kept me guessing about where the story was going.

"Murder at Suicide Oak" by O'Neil De Noux

I have heard of O'Neil De Noux. He posts at SleuthSayers, he worked as a policeman for many years, and I have read one of his stories in New Orleans Noir. I enjoyed that story and I hope to read more that he has written.


In this story, two police officers, Detective Dino LaStanza and his rookie partner Detective Jodie Kintyre, investigate the death of two women in New Orleans' City Park. The bodies were both found near Suicide Oak. The younger woman, about 20 years old, was positioned under the tree; the other one, about 40, was in an automobile nearby. Murder, or murder–suicide?

Reading this got me interested in trying a novel by De Noux.

"Two Dead Detectives" by Simon Clark 

Simon Clark is new to me, but he has published a lot of novels and short stories. I think most of his work is in the horror genre. 


This story is not exactly a mystery; it is mostly a supernatural story. Two detectives are investigating a death; both detectives are dead. In other words, they are ghosts. One has been dead for many years, one is newer to the situation. 

I don't read ghost stories and not much supernatural fiction, so the idea of ghosts knowing that they are dead and philosophizing about it was new to me. I thought the story was clever but not compelling.

I would love to hear any information you have about these authors, or any experience you have with reading their work.

Monday, July 5, 2021

She Came Back: Patricia Wentworth

Although I read some books in the Miss Silver mystery series when I was much younger, I returned to the series in 2017, first reading The Clock Strikes Twelve. Since then I have read six more books in that series, and I am a confirmed fan of the Miss Silver books. 

Maud Silver is an elderly sleuth who is featured in over 30 books written by Patricia Wentworth. Miss Marple, Agatha Christie's sleuth, and Miss Silver are often compared, but one big difference is that Miss Silver is a private detective. She often works with the police, and some of them appreciate her help.

In She Came Back, a wife returns from the dead. Lady Anne Jocelyn was thought to have died over three years earlier, but one day she shows up at the door of her husband's home and announces her return. Sir Phillip Jocelyn and Anne are second cousins, and got married partially because they could combine her money with his estate. At the time they thought they were in love although the marriage was having problems before her death. Now that Anne has returned, Phillip claims that she is an impostor. He has good reasons to think that, but he is finally convinced that she is really Anne. 

Even with the proof she has provided, Anne seems like a stranger to Phillip. And there is a suspicious death soon after her return. In this book, Miss Silver does not show up at all until after a third of the story has taken place. From that point on, she ends up having connections to several characters, although she is never directly asked to investigate any part of the case. She is able to help the police unravel the puzzle at the end. I enjoyed her interactions with Sergeant Frank Abbott and his superior, Chief Inspector Lamb.

The story takes place towards the end of World War II, and Anne had died in France at the time the Germans were invading. The complicated backstory related to that event was especially interesting. The plot is intricate but not confusing, even though there are very many characters. The story is engaging, and there are many well-defined secondary characters. 

The UK title for this book is The Traveller Returns. Cover illustration for this edition is by John Jinks.


Publisher:   Harper & Row, 1990 (orig. publ. 1945)
Length:       309 pages
Format:       Paperback
Series:        Miss Silver #9
Setting:       UK
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       On my TBR shelves for many years.