Ken DeVries’s book reviews
This appears to be an entire book denouncing the Encyclopedia Britannica as a biased, unreliable and unsuitable source of information for Americans. I never would have thought such a thing existed. You have to give the guy credit for fully developing the idea into more than 200 pages of material.
It is important to understand that this book is less a speculation on the future than an expression of the cultural standards of the day in which it was written. Simply put, it was written by a White Man for White Men. These are the ideas the author espouses and expresses: Women are the weaker sex and any sign of "manly" virtues like bravery or competence are cause for astonishment and admiration. The protagonist's instantaneous response upon seeing the primitive peoples of the distant future is to kill them - shoot them, blow them up with explosives. Without the ennobling influence of the White Race, the dusky remnants of humanity must inevitably degrade to a subhuman state, and should a White Man reappear, the immediate reaction of the hideous apelike remnants must be to worship him as a god. The duty of the White Man is to re-establish True (White) Humanity once more and wipe the subhuman races from the face of the earth. To any reasonably intelligent person this is annoying and embarrassing to read, and stretches the "willing suspension of disbelief" to its limit. Other reviewers have politely stated that one should not look too deeply at the story's flaws. The book is appallingly racist and sexist. It must be clearly stated. Appallingly racist and sexist. I think those flaws are the significant feature of the book, and should be looked upon very closely indeed, to understand exactly the commonly accepted and admired ideas of that day, and see how that culture and society gave us the huge social and moral dilemmas we are faced with today.
Written in 1904, a meandering and slightly incoherent mystery thriller. They sometimes speak of a "slow third act," well the third act of this drama is composed mostly of irrelevant digressions which the author states in so many words have nothing whatever to do with the plot, including a discourse on how to carry on a stage presentation of Uncle Tom's Cabin with an insufficient number of actors which is one of the damnedest things I have ever read. In fact, the majority of the book is irrelevant to the actual solving of the mystery which really only begins to progress three quarters of the way through the book. It is almost as if he simply needed to get the manuscript up to size and so inserts a couple of poems and some extra stuff he had just been pondering on to fill it out. The author is excessively verbose and often seems to intentionally lessen the impact of potentially exciting events by preliminary overexplanation. There were times I wanted to say, "Good God man, will you JUST GET ON WITH IT!" If you are looking for a straightforward easy-reading vintage mystery thriller, this is not it. This is more on the Ed Wood side of things, seemingly the work of an enthusiastic but untalented amateur. It is a unique production and an unusual experience but in my opinion not very good reading at all. Two stars only because it is so crazy it does not merely stink.
A very readable and entertaining look at the British Highwayman of the 18th century, with digressions on social conditions and customs, the origin of place names, etc. A very good book for reading a bit at a time and returning to at your convenience, as the chapters pretty much stand alone. Quite a good read and highly informative.
A dramatic farce dealing with the consequences of technology, featuring a mechanical man (android) which so closely resembles its creator that they are mistaken for each other. Leading to consequences meant to be humorous, but it may have been more amusing to view onstage than to read. Rather silly, but an interesting document of an early take on the robot problem.
While many of the examinations of low life in London in the 19th century provide an overview of the criminal or indigent classes, and anecdotes of personalities or crimes, this focuses on a single evening in a "common lodging house," essentially a crash pad for beggars and bums. It describes the characters and events briefly and clearly, and gives a unique view of life in the lowest strata of society, with its riotous drunkenness, fisticuffs, celebration, and eventual collapse into intoxicated oblivion. A short, interesting and easy read.
Reminiscences of a police detective from Edinburgh Scotland in the early to mid 19th century. The author waxes more poetical and philosophical than one might expect from a policeman, and reflects upon society and the roles of it inhabitants on the production of conditions which create crime. That said, he then rips into fascinating descriptions of characters, locales and events beyond our present day experience, replete with both criminal jargon and fascinating local dialect. A fascinating window into the past, both entertaining and educational. Four stars out of five because the philosophizing does get a bit dense at times and the uncommon terminology and dialect might be challenging for some readers.
A collection of short short stories which, as the author acknowledges, sometimes work and sometimes don't. Some are more the idea for a story, not fully developed, but all the ideas are interesting and unusual. Sometimes a quick, strange little story is just the thing. Fun and interesting, but probably not really memorable.
To gain an inheritance he believes is rightfully his, a man masquerades as the anointed prophet of a mystical religious cult. This is more a novelette than a novel and as such is perhaps somewhat less rewarding for the reader than it might have been. Reduced to twenty pages it could have made a good magazine story, or expanded to twice its length with the addition of plot elements, the elaboration of characters and situations, or a look at his ten years of preparation which were passed over here without a word, it might have made a decent full length novel. As it stands, it is an interesting look at what the author considered plausible circumstances and situations in a time when traditional religion was losing its grip on Western society with the introduction of eastern mysticism and the rise of a middle class searching for meaning in the slightly aimless years preceding the Great War. Mostly harmless and a mild, easy reading experience.
What at first appears to be a stiff and archaic romance soon becomes a roaring melodrama of schemes, ploys and vengeance. It is written in an archaic and sometimes stilted style, but if you can appreciate an extremely compound sentence describing souls brimming over with complex emotions, this can be quite enjoyable. The protagonist is no fainting flower (once she overcomes that uniquely 19th century affliction which appears to be a mere swoon but threatens to become a "brain fever" which endangers her very life!!) but a fierce fighter bent on avenging the memory of her sainted mother and bringing justice down upon the heads of an ever-expanding coterie of scoundrels. This is a pocket universe containing only a dozen or so people, whose lives are intermeshed in the most remarkably coincidental ways, most of them having some dire hold upon each other. I found I had zipped through 90 pages before I was compelled to retire for the evening, and am writing this now while still in the midst of appreciating this highly unrealistic but thoroughly enjoyable bit of fluff. There is no way to justify its enjoyment as educational or socially redeeming - it's just for fun. I am sure that in its day it set many a delicate heart aflutter with sympathy and excitement, as it has mine.