Last Update 5/21/20

Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley, 1922 

I found this thoroughly amusing, but of the small smile rather than loud guffaw variety. A varied group from the upper class gathers at a country estate where each of them in short order demonstrates his or her insecurity. All of them attempt to cover things up with various masks Ė the aura of the artist, disdain, condescension, bluster, exaggeration, contrived falsehoods, bombast, and other ploys. I think I enjoyed this more than any of the other Huxleys I have so far reread. 5/21/20

Screen Cinema by Barry Malzberg, Stark House, 2020, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-951473-11-2 

This is a reprint of two novels, Screen and Cinema, both of which I actually read a long time ago. They are quasi-pornographic, or were at the time they appeared. Todayís standards are different.  Cinema has previously appeared as The Masochist Ė which is where I read it - and as Everything Happened to Susan. The first title was a spoof of the pornography industry, which has changed a great deal since the book was written, although most of the satire is still reasonably valid. It is at times quite funny but at other times rather serious. The second is considerably more grim and actually ages a bit better. The protagonist is determined to make good in her career, even if that means enduring a series of sexual adventures. Neither is for the easily offended reader. 5/13/20

Santorini by Alistair MacLean, Crest, 1986  

The last of the ghost written novels to appear under MacLeanís name isnít bad. A plane carrying nuclear weapons crashes into the Mediterranean Sea not far from where a yacht catches fire and sinks. A NATO ship picks up the survivors from the yacht and it is immediately obvious that their presence is not a coincidence. And there is reason to believe that one of the nuclear weapons might have activated and the site is near a major fault line. The speculation that this could end all life on Earth is not very convincing, but the story is pretty good, not as talky as usual, although several of the characters are virtually interchangeable. Spoiler. The world does not get destroyed. 5/10/20

San Andreas by Alistair MacLean, Crest, 1985 

This ghost written thriller is a pretty good war time adventure. A hospital ship survives multiple attacks by German aircraft and submarines, although it is obvious that they want to capture rather than sink the ship. Something is aboard that the captain does not know about. And there are saboteurs as well, inevitably, although it is not clear for whom they are working. Much better paced than the other ghostwritten MacLean novels and with some interesting action sequences. I'm not a big fan of wartime fiction but this one held my attention. 4/24/20

Floodgate by Alistair MacLean, Crest, 1983    

Another ghost written thriller, this one not awful although occasional tedious and not very original. A gang of terrorists plans to hold the entire Netherlands at risk by blowing holes in the dikes at strategic places. Several agents go undercover to try to identify the leaders of the terrorist group, but they are hampered by the fact that there is an informer privy to their highest security meetings. The climax is a bit perfunctory and holds few surprises. It does not feel like a MacLean novel at all. 4/22/20

Collected Short Stories by Aldous Huxley, Elephant, 1957

Huxley's short fiction was generally about upper class English people, most of them wealthy, most of them with inflated opinions of their own self worth. The prose is a bit heavy by contemporary standards but his better shorts are still quite readable. "The Gioconda Smile," a kind of murder mystery, was easily my favorite. I also liked "The Monocle," "The Bookshop," "Happily Ever After," and "The Portrait." There were only a couple that I was impatient to finish. I am tempted to say that his shorts are better than his novels. 4/20/20

Partisans by Alistair MacLean, Crest, 1982 

The second ghostwritten MacLean novel. This is partly a retread of Force 10 from Navarone. A spy and mercenary working for the Germans is ordered to smuggle two radio operators into Yugoslavia to help in a major campaign against the partisan army. It is obvious from the outset that the protagonist is a double agent, and there are more hidden motives among the other characters. Mostly, however, they just sit around and talk to one another, sometimes quite tensely. But very little actually happens and I was bored for most of the story. 5/17/20

River of Death by Alistair MacLean, Crest, 1961   

This was the first of the ghostwritten MacLean novels. I donít believe the real authorís name has ever been revealed. The story is very boring. Nazi hunters, Mossad, a vengeful widower, two different Nazi groups, Greek foreign agents, and others all converge on a lost city in Brazil. The actual journey starts on page 120 of 210, much of it is in a helicopter, and the river really isnít significant at all. The confrontation at the end takes place partly off stage and the surprise revelations are mostly not at all surprising. Made into a boring movie. 4/13/20

Athabasca by Alistair MacLean, Crest, 1980 

This is a surprisingly dull and predictable thriller, probably the last novel that MacLean wrote himself, hiring ghostwriters for the last few to appear under his name. Someone is threatening to interfere with oilfields and pipelines in Alaska, and commit a handful of murders along the way, unless they are paid off. An outside security firm is brought in and they determined that it is an inside job. More attacks follow, mostly aimed at the investigators. The police are almost completely absent from the story. Some of the plot elements make no sense. The investigators begin checking fingerprints, which panics the bad guys. But fingerprinting was an absolute certainty from the outset, so this makes no sense. The bad guys retaliate by kidnapping the wife and daughter of the head investigator, but that makes no sense because this would have had no impact on the investigation. Not awful, just dumb.4/5/10

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