Reviews by Carlo

The Devil's Paw

by E. Phillips Oppenheim

This is a very uneven effort from the author, who does an excellent job setting the stage in the first part of the book with an interesting sprinkle of main characters - a sophisticated, slightly black sheep of a younger aristocratic son, a Labour MP, and a beautiful half-Russian woman. The initial espionage and mystery elements are enough to seize the reader's attention. However, the propagandistic and bombastic elements begin to grow and by the end almost completely dominate the book. The story in the end comes across as a patronizing attempt to win over the "toiler" class to finish off the war effort, with some truly awful soliloquies in the last part. Not entirely a waste of time, but I'd have given it a pass if I'd known in advance what I'd be getting in the end.

Reviewed on 2012.09.18

The Ethical Engineer

by Harry Harrison

This is a sequel to "Deathworld" and was published as "Deathworld 2" at some point; not sure if it was slightly expanded or not in that incarnation.

I read the original Deathworld trilogy a number of years back and had a good, strong impression from the first novel; the reviews here of it I think are fair. This one was entirely forgettable (and I had in fact forgotten it), however. The unique world-building, character tension and relatively sophisticated look at psychological dynamics featured in the first are all missing here. Instead, we get a retread of the engineer-among-primitives story with farcical interactions between the main characters. The characters also seem to be mostly acting in accordance with sending a hamfisted message about moral relativism and religion, to the point of spouting extended monologues on the topics. Regardless of where you fall out on the philosophical debate, it makes for a disappointing read.

My recommendation would be to stop reading with the original Deathworld - the ending there was satisfying enough - and skip this, which features some of the original characters acting like cardboard cutouts or complete idiots. About the fourth time Jason dinAlt saves his captor/tormentor for no particular reason other than to have a convenient foil, it gets old.

I don't rate it a complete loss because the author knows how to tell a good adventure story, but the interesting parts are still not worth the investment in time.

Reviewed on 2012.05.07

Mystery and Confidence Vol. 1

by Elizabeth Pinchard

I admittedly couldn't finish this, so things might have picked up after the first third. The time spent describing and dealing with period practices regarding the education of girls (i.e. most men and women felt they shouldn't receive any beyond household tasks) and other repressive 19th century attitudes got to be too much for an enjoyable read. The core romantic story isn't bad, although probably best suited for younger girls (who may also raise their awareness of past gender issues) rather than a general audience.

Reviewed on 2011.12.30

Sense of Obligation

by Harry Harrison

"Planet of the Damned" is the book version of this and already has some comments, FYI.

The author does his usual good job of introducing sympathetic heroes, fast-paced action, tough opposition, and a few interesting minor characters thrown into the mix. The man vs. world theme is repeated a lot in Harrison's works (cf "Deathworld" and the Stainless Steel Rat series), but there are enough differences in plot and setting to not make this story routine or predictable. I thought the introductory scenes were fascinating in and of themselves.

The only hiccups I ran across were some hand-waving regarding the organization the protagonist ends up working for, along a bit of dated male-female interaction. This story also appears to have been a setup for a series that never continued, which made the very end feel a little shoehorned into the rest of it. However, well worth the read.

Reviewed on 2011.12.30

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