Reviews by Leah A. Zeldes

Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede

by Bradley Denton

Bradley Denton's best-known novel likely resonates more with Baby Boomers who than it will with younger readers, but for our generation, the 1991 John W. Campbell Memorial Award winner is a rockin' and rollin' masterpiece.

Oliver Vale, born in 1959 to a teenaged single mother obsessed with Buddy Holly and UFOs, leads a humdrum if stressful life in Topeka, Kansas, until a few years after his increasingly zany mother's death. Everything changes one day in 1989 when all TV stations, everywhere in the world, become preempted by a continuous broadcast depicting the long-dead singer, who claims to be imprisoned in a glass bubble on Ganymede. A sign there reads, "For assistance, contact Oliver Vale, 10146 Southwest 163rd Street, Topeka, Kansas, U.S.A.," Holly says, pleading, "So would someone out there please get in touch with that fellow for me?"

Vale is forced to flee his home, pursued by the law, a renegade federal agent, his psychologist, a cyborg Doberman, a pair of reanimated otherworldly spirits and a populace maddened by the signal blocking their favorite sitcoms. Meanwhile, he recounts growing up amid the music and events of the 1960s and '70s.

This fond and funny romp through the history of rock and roll feels more skin to a Carl Hiaasen novel than typical science fiction hard-sf lovers may find it too lightweight, but if you like the works of writers such as Mel Gilden and Christopher Moore, you'll enjoy this one.

Reviewed on 2015.01.25

The Man Who Rocked the Earth

by Arthur Train

A remarkable work of hard science fiction from 1915, a collaboration between Arthur Train, a lawyer and popular author, and Robert W. Wood, a celebrated physicist and inventor. Train was acclaimed for his humorous stories about the fictional lawyer Ephraim Tutt, "the best-known lawyer in America." Among Wood's other honors, he received the Henry Draper Medal of the National Academy of Sciences for his contributions to astrophysics in 1940, and the lunar crater Wood was named for him.) It's as if John Grisham and Stephen Hawking wrote a novel together.

While much pre-"Golden Age" sf seems all but unreadable today, the prose in this book, like the works of H.G. Wells (who is mentioned within, and whom I suspect was an inspiration) flows smoothly, with a plot that doesn't feel dated.

The world is at war when a message comes that fighting must stop, or he'll tilt the earth on its axis. It's dismissed as a hoax, but then it happens. There's too much exposition and some loose ends never quite get tied up, but it's still a very interesting novel.

There is a sequel, "The Moon Maker," from 1916, but unfortunately it does not seem to be online anywhere. Search turns up only used copies of a 1958 edition and e-editions from for-profit publishers available.

Reviewed on 2015.01.21

The Best Made Plans

by Everett B. Cole

This novelette seems perfectly calculated to appeal to the teenaged-boy readers of Astounding Stories in 1959. An intelligent young man with special powers practically singlehandedly foils the elaborate, long-term plot of a usurper to the planetary throne, aiding his schoolfellow, the rightful claimant. Pure space opera.

Reviewed on 2015.01.21

Parlous Times

by David Dwight Wells

Nicely written 1901 novel of romantic intrigue: A young diplomat from South America, attached to his country's British legation, more or less accidentally becomes entangled with three women a lovely, now unhappily married woman out of his past; a prim, titled and wealthy young English lady; and a pretty Irish lass of uncertain repute amid a treasonous plot to bribe national officials. He's honorable but very naive, and his refusal to believe any ill of the Irishwoman, with whom he fancies himself in love, draws him deeper into the mess.

While it's easy reading, enjoyment of the novel requires understanding of period societal standards and sensibilities no longer valid today. Some other aspects, such as the government's reluctance to prosecute the plotters, seem a trifle unbelievable. Beyond that, it's a good read.

Reviewed on 2015.01.20

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