Random Selections, Part I
book reviews of the damned

July 23 2000

"There is no past, as long as book shall live!"

Sometimes I just get it into my head that I'm spending way too much time in front of a computer screen and want to hold something tangible in my hands. There's something to be said about having a nice solid piece of paper in your hands, and the anticipation of the turning of a page which, somehow, doesn't feel quite the same as scrolling down or a mouse click. That's why I don't own a Rocketbook, and I gave up reading Gutenberg on my Palm, but am looking forward to digital ink. But I digress.

Anyway, went a little nuts on the book-buying front recently because of the above impulse - and having only resurfaced after spending most of my days buried between the printed page (mmmm, the printed page) - so I thought I'd update you a bit on some of what I've been reading these days.

A Man On The Moon: Andrew Chaikin's work was part inspiration, part basis, for the Tom Hanks/Ron Howard produced HBO mini-series "From The Earth To The Moon" which I've been raving about to whoever I've had the chance to these last couple of months since I bought the DVD set. Chaikin took 8 years for this project - interviewing the astronauts of the Apollo program and getting their stories about each individual mission in their own words.

Now if you liked "The Right Stuff", you're going to like this one - Chaikin's prose isn't as gosh-yeah-ray as Tom Wolfe's, but he manages to paint the tapestry of the drama of each individual mission as Apollo took us step by step closer to the moon, and beyond. It's one of those books that I started reading and just kept on going until I reached the end, and left me gasping for more. Or maybe it's just because I'm a space geek.

The Abduction Enigma: Now, I consider myself, when it comes to the paranormal, as one of those "I writes abouts 'em, I don'ts believes 'em" kind of guys. Or, more properly put, "I want to believe, but give me proof I can't reasonably deny". Which is why I kind of face tales of advanced intergalactic civilizations traversing light years of space only to kidnap rednecks and stick things up their asses with skepticism. I know, I know. I'm such a cynic.

But it also surprised me that within the UFO community, there are those who share such concerns, even when they accept the reality of the Extra-Terrestrial Hypothesis. Kevin Randle, who's written such classics as "UFO Crash At Roswell", and "Scientific Ufology" (which I've got on the back burner), has put together, along with William Cone and Russ Estes, a pretty good summation of the alien abduction phenomenon along with the researchers that help abductees recover their memories about their experiences. Randle and company deal with the subject intelligently, and sensitively, showing the parallels between abduction experiences and those allegedly suffering satanic ritual abuse and the dangers in recovered memories. If "Scientific Ufology" is as well done, I'm going to come away with a sizeable amount of respect for Randle, and think there may be hope for the UFO research community after all.

Return To Mars: Ben Bova's sequel to his really excellent "Mars" is a bit of a disappointment, primarily because it doesn't really cover anything new. Jamie Waterman, the hero of the first book, returns to Mars to discover if the Martian village he saw on the first expedition is real, or just a hallucination. So it's a new crew, with pretty much the same ego problems and clashes, so that becomes singularly uninteresting. Jamie competes with fellow alpha male on crew. Seen that before. Jamie falls in love with and boinks crew-mate. Seen that before. Jamie fights racial prejudice. Seen that before.

Ultimately, the revelation that the Martian village is real (but the Martians are long dead) doesn't then send the same thrills up my spine that their discovery of lichen in the first book did. There's some jeopardy here, from a psycho crew-mate, but that isn't nearly as compelling as the actual danger of Mars itself - dealing with an alien environment - that was, again, in the first book. Don't get me wrong, Bova's prose is as expert as ever and his solution to how to stop exploitation of Mars is cute, but I went away feeling as if this would have done better as a novella or a short story. The rabbit Jamie pulls out of his hat is something Sam Gunn (Bova's rogue hero) might have done. It's an okay read, but not a great follow-up.

In the book queue: Father Ernetti's Chronovisor, an ostensibly non-fiction book about how this Benedictine monk invented the world's first time-viewer. The Montauk Project: Experiments In Time, a conspiracy/paranormal theory so audacious in its scope that it fairly boggles the mind. Sex and Rockets: The Occult Life Of Jack Parsons, about Jack Parsons, rocket scientist and magician - it has an intro by Robert Anton Wilson, so it can't really go wrong. And of course, Scientific Ufology, as I mentioned above. I'll let you guys know when I surface again.


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