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Book Review – Starswarm by Jerry Pournelle

Kip, the young heir of one of the planet-controlling corporations of a future humanity, has been in hiding on a planet the residents call Purgatory and unaware of his true identity most of his life. His parents, major stockholders of Great Western Enterprises, were killed in what amounts to a VERY hostile corporate takeover attempt over twelve years before. Not sure who was behind the attempt, his guardian, his parents’ former bodyguard, keeps him hidden until he becomes old enough to vote his shares.

This novel intentionally mimics the ‘juvenile’ science fiction stories from the 1950’s through 1970’s, especially the Heinlein juveniles. Today, such books might be called ‘Young Adult.’ It’s an enjoyable enough read, although the plot is predictable and the main characters are fairly cliché. The supporting characters and aliens are imaginative, though. I especially liked Gwen, the AI program Kip’s mother created to watch over him and to whom he communicates via a chip in his head. The genetically modified dogs are great sidekicks — smart but not unbelievably smart. The starswarm alien is quite interesting.

My biggest disappointment with the story was that it wasn’t believably futuristic. There are no speculative leaps in either culture or technology. Essentially this is a contemporary adventure story for kids with some cool aliens and ray guns thrown in. Politically, economically, and culturally, this is mid-Twentieth Century America. They use helicopters, tapes to record data, air conditioning is not ubiquitous, they play Warcraft and reference Star Trek the Motion Picture — well, I suppose I’m okay with the last thing. Star Trek is timeless. But a believable or thought provoking portrayal of a future humanity, this is not.

It’s a fine, light read for a rainy day. I found the one I read at the library, and if you see it at the one you frequent, go ahead and pick it up. It’s not a ‘keeper,’ though.

Book Review – A House Called Awful End by Philip Ardagh

Some of my favorite books have been those ostensibly written for children. This charming little story reminds me of some of the best. The prose style is reminiscent of A.A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh…) and the characters remind me of some of those created by Roald Dahl (James and the Giant Peach / Matilda / Charlie and the Chocolate Factory…) with a little Charles Dickens thrown into the names and the settings. If you think I mean that as high praise, you’re right.

The story is set in a fictional and sillier-than-real Victorian England where twelve-year-old Eddie Dickens, a little gentleman, is being sent off to live with his Mad Great Uncle Jack and even Madder Great Aunt Maud so that he will not catch the terrible disease his parents have contracted, which makes them yellow and crinkly around the edges, and although this is a very long sentence and possibly difficult to grasp all at once, it should also give you some idea of the flavor of this book, which I thoroughly enjoyed. And that’s all I think I’ll say about the book because it’s short, so the review should be as well.

I’d like to thank my Twitter friend Rowan for recommending this. I enjoyed it and I, too, recommend it.

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