Last Update 12/18/19

Where Eagles Dare by Alistair MacLean, Crest, 1967  

A team of commandoes is sent inside Germany to supposedly rescue a capture American general before he can reveal details about the D-Day invasion. Naturally one of their number is a spy, a subplot I have grown very tired of over the years. In fact, three of them are spies and it is all an elaborate plan to get them to reveal their contacts inside the Allied military. The plot is a bit overly convoluted, but there is plenty of action as well as a few surprises. The closing chapters are a bit rushed, but their ultimate escape was really not a major part of the plot. The movie version expands the escape into a lengthy and exciting series of adventures not in the book. 12/18/19

When Eight Bells Toll by Alistair MacLean, Crest, 1966 

One of MacLean’s better books concerns itself with a band of criminals who hijack ships carrying valuable cargoes through the North Sea. The ships are sunk and the treasure taken off by divers. Various local people are forced to cooperate when their loved ones are taken hostage. The protagonist is a British agent who is investigating and who becomes personally involved when three of his friends are murdered. The scale of the operation suggests that something would have gone wrong much sooner, but in any case the story is fast moving, exciting, and has some surprise twists in the closing chapters.  12/16/19

The Black Shrike by Alistair MacLean, Popular Library, 1961 

There is a good deal of chauvinism in this spy novel, originally published as by Ian Stuart “in the tradition of Alistair MacLean.”  Two agents posing as a married couple are abducted while investigating the disappearance of several prominent scientists and their wives in the vicinity of Australia. The story is so filled with contradictions and nonsensical situations that it is impossible to take it seriously. I put this down several times to read something else because I was so disgusted. Spy stories were definitely not something MacLean should have attempted. Also published as The Dark Crusader. 12/15/9

Night Without End by Alistair MacLean, Perma, 1960 

An airliner crashes near a remote scientific station in Greenland. There are only ten survivors, but there is not enough food for them all and someone has sabotaged the station’s radio. The scientist manning the station discovers that two of the people aboard the plane were shot to death and most of the rest were drugged, but he does not know who is responsible. Some of the mystery results from the author playing awkward tricks, and it could have been any of several combinations by the time we find out the truth. An average thriller. 12/13/19

The Abortion: An Historical Romance by Richard Brautigan, Simon & Schuster, 1970 

This could very easily be classed as a fantasy. The protagonist is the librarian for a library that never checks anything out, just accepts unpublished manuscripts from children and adults. He has not left the building in years, but a visitor becomes his girlfriend and she gets pregnant, so the two of them have to venture into the outside world to visit Mexico for an abortion. The trip has unexpected consequences. Not exactly surreal, but clearly distanced from reality. 12/12/19

Ice Station Zebra by Alistair MacLean, Doubleday, 1963   

A British weather station on an Arctic iceflow has had a disastrous fire. There only hope is an American submarine, which might be able to travel under the ice and reach their position. But the British doctor who catches a ride on the submarine lies about the station’s purpose, adding an element of mystery to an adventure story about survival in sub-freezing conditions as three men trek across the ice to try to find the beleaguered survivors. There is a murder mystery to be solved, a saboteur to be identified, and some valuable intelligence to be kept out of the hands of the Russians. One of MacLean’s better novels. 12/6/19

In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan, Vintage, 1968 

This novella could be interpreted as SF although it is written in Brautigan’s usual whimsical style. Most of the characters live in a community surrounding a kind of common kitchen where they indulge in various familiar social rituals. A handful of others live near a shunned zone where no life grows and where technology and books from the distant past can be found and traded, although the books are used mostly for fuel. There’s a romantic triangle, a mass suicide, and bits of surrealism all mixed in, but there is a coherent narrative, though it is not always clear why people act as they do.12/5/19

The Missile Lords by Jeff Sutton, Dell, 1963    

Although this is often listed among the author’s SF, it is not. It is rather a novel about the aerospace industry. Politicians, rival technologies and rival companies, and other distractions all threaten to shape, or misshape, American space policy. In the midst of all this, a top man quits at the company we are closely following, and the battle over his succession is the focus of the plot. There is an important missile test at the end but this is as close as it comes to being SF. 12/3/19

A Confederate General from Big Sur by Richard Brautigan, Grove, 1964 

As is the case with most of Brautigan’s novels, this is pretty hard to describe. The protagonist and his friend, Lee Mellon – who might be related to a confederate general – have an oddball relationship as they struggle to survive with no jobs and no money and attitudes conducive to neither. It is mostly anecdotal, sometimes bizarrely funny, and generally fresh and surprising. Not for people who like their storytelling to be straightforward and conventional but great for those who enjoy inventiveness and clarity of language. 11/26/19

Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan, Four Seasons, 1967 

I read this when it first came out, having run into an excerpt in Evergreen Review. I’m not sure one can really call it a novel. It’s a collection of vignettes, many of them autobiographical, providing glimpses of American life, frequently involving fishing. The title is a somewhat fluid term sometimes referring to a character, some times to an act, and sometimes in a vague metaphysical sense. It’s quite short and quite enjoyable but I can see why many readers would be confused. 11/21/19

The Mansion by William Faulkner, Vintage, 1959 

The final volume in the Snopes trilogy brings the family conflict to a head. There are a couple of murders in this one, although it’s not remotely a mystery novel. It is cathartic to see the end of Flem Snopes, would be autocrat. Not quite as good as the previous volume but still one of his more entertaining works. I think my enduring problem with Faulkner is that so many of his characters are actively repellent. 11/19/19

The Town by William Faulkner, Vintage, 1957

Second in the Snopes trilogy. This one is largely about the interaction of the family with the small town where they live, and it’s less experimental and more realistic than its predecessor in the series. Flem Snopes attempts to gain virtually autocratic power over the town of Jefferson. Serious themes mixed with wry humor. I found this to be one of his more enjoyable novels even though I despised most of the characters. 11/19/19

Requiem for a Nun by William Faulkner, Random House, 1950  

The sequel to Sanctuary involves charges of murder against a woman employed as a nursemaid. She is convicted but shortly before she is to be executed, her lawyer discovers that the mother was also involved in the crime. Despite efforts to have the sentence commuted, it is to be carried out and the mother will suffer no legal consequences despite her confession. I found this one very depressing. 11/14/19

Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner, Signet, 1948

An elderly black man is accused of murdering a white man. Racial prejudice becomes the major issue as it appears the community at large has already reached a verdict. A smart lawyer, some black teenagers, and an elderly white woman prove instrumental in proving him innocent and finding the real killer. This was as close as Faulkner came to writing a detective novel. It was made into a successful motion picture. This was the first  Faulkner I ever read, way back in the early 1960s, and I liked it then and now.  11/1/19

South by Java Head by Alistair MacLean, Perma, 1958

Another war time adventure story. A group of people escape the Japanese conquest of Singapore on a merchant ship. It is attacked by aircraft and the survivors make it to an English owned oil freighter, which is attacked by aircraft. The survivors have to battle a disguised torpedo boat, a submarine, more aircraft, and other adventures - including enemy agents among their number - and are captured multiple times before finally reaching safety on a British destroyer. There are a couple of unconvincing coincidences and the Japanese are rather less competent than one might expect, but it's a rousing story and some people die whom we expect will survive. 10/26/19

Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner, Modern Library, 1948 

This is what SF writers would call a fix up, a series of short stories arranged to constitute a novel. The common theme is the relationship between whites and blacks in the South. Far and away the best story is “The Bear,” in which a legendary bear becomes a symbol in the life of a young man.  I also liked “The Fire and the Hearth” and the title story. The only one I did not like was “Was.” 10/21/19

H.M.S. Ulysses by Alistair MacLean, Perma, 1956 

This was the author’s first novel, based in part on his experiences during the war. A cruiser whose crew has already dabbled in mutiny because of the harsh conditions in the North Sea is sent to guard another convoy. Accidents, malice, and storms take their toll, not to mention bombers, surface vessels, u-boats, and mines. Only one of the named characters lives to the end of the book and the ship is destroyed. Rather grim, but it sold very well and launched the author’s subsequent career. 10/20/19

The Guns of Navarone byAlistair MacLean, Perma, 1957 

A team of commandos is sent to a fictional Turkish island to silence Nazi artillery that menaces Allied naval operations. They have to survive an encounter with a German patrol boat, a border post, a supposedly unscalable cliff, the serious injury of one of their group, pursuit by specially trained mountain troops, capture, and finally the penetration of a well guarded fortress. The movie version is a classic and only changed a few things – notably dropping one of the five characters and replacing him with a guerilla and changing the partisans from two men to two women, one of whom is a traitor. This was long enough after the war that MacLean was able to portray some of the Germans as honorable. 10/20/19

Far Wandering Men by John Russell, Norton, 1929 

This is a collection of adventure stories by a writer whose only memorable work was "The Lost God," which is not in this collection. The stories are all readable and quite varied - desert islands, nefarious Oriental locations, etc.- but none of them is remotely memorable. Russell appears to have been completely forgotten although he was mildly popular during his lifetime. This has never had a paperback edition. 10/1/19

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