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Beneath the Shadows
Beneath the Shadows
by Sara Foster
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $24.62
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Traditional Gothic done right, August 21, 2012
This review is from: Beneath the Shadows (Hardcover)
Grace agrees to go to a remote Yorkshire cottage with her beloved husband and new baby. The home belonged to Adam's late grandparents and he lived with them for a spell. One day, Adam takes the baby out for a stroll. Millie, safely in her stroller, is found on the cottage doorstep hours later. Adam is not seen again.

Nearly a year later, Grace returns to the cottage to pack things up and see if she can find any traces of Adam. Members of the most established family in the dying village have been taking care of the cottage and invite Grace into their circle. A stranger to town overhears her talk about fixing the place up for sale and she hires him on the spot. Grace's city-wise sister, an old platonic friend, a grandfather clock that seems to stop and start at will and a ghostie who only appears to children in the big house also keep Grace from feeling too lonely out on the moor.

Sara Foster has written an atmospheric, old-fashioned Gothic with homage paid to Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, which the heroine is reading. The challenge in writing such a story is to be true to the formula while keeping the heroine from any obvious "Had I but known" moments or from acting TSTL (Too Stupid to Live). Foster, it is a pleasure to announce, has avoided those pitfalls. The atmosphere and secondary characters add to the enjoyment of sinking back into a story in which tradition in the setting and tradition in the way in which the story is told can be valued.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 7, 2012 2:14 PM PST

Dead Scared (Lacey Flint Novels)
Dead Scared (Lacey Flint Novels)
by S. J. Bolton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.35
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fem jep in the 21st century, July 23, 2012
DC Lacey Flint returns to star, with DI Mark Joesbury of Scotland Yard, in her second thriller by Bolton. This time, she's sent undercover by Joesbury to bring back intelligence about Cambridge students. Their suicide rate is far higher than normal and, unusually, more of them are young women than men.

But before the reader discovers this, the story opens with Lacey on top of a tower, perhaps ready to jump. Before finding out what happens, Bolton goes back in time to the beginning of her assignment. The author then goes back and forth, in very short chapters, among the narratives of Lacey, disabled Dr. Evi Oliver -- the Cambridge psychiatrist who knows Lacey's assignment and who is herself plagued by occurrences that terrify her -- and some of the earlier suicide victims. Plus Joesbury.

The terrors that the various victims suffer are indeed harrowingly portrayed. When Lacey finds herself not knowing if bad things are happening to her, or if she is dreaming, the suspense factor is increased. Bolton is a master at racheting up the suspense.

Add into the mix Lacey not being certain who she can trust, and the suspense tightens even more. For instance, there is the physician of one of the victims. She survived but is a burn victim who still cannot speak. What should Lacey think of his interest in his patient, or in Lacey herself?

As with many thrillers, disbelief must remain suspended for the reader to continue turning the pages. As long as one does not question too closely how believable any of the set-up is, Bolton is masterful at the ever-increasing pace of both danger and revealment in unspooling the story.

The revelation of what's actually going on may or may not appeal to readers, depending on their tolerance for sadism or conspiracy. The story concludes with an abundance of feminine jeopardy and, for professional and educated women, a preponderance of dependance upon their strong menfolk to see them through. Perhaps because of the setting, it's hard to not compare the ending here with that of Gaudy Night and reflect on how Harriet Vane, back in 1935, was her own person and didn't want even Lord Peter to rescue her. It's quite the contrast, and the fact Dead Scared comes nearly a century after that most celebrated Oxbridge novel is not, in the end, cause for celebration.

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone
Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone
by Kat Rosenfield
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.65
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting YA contemporary, July 5, 2012
Becca has always known she isn't meant for her dump of a small town. The last year has been somewhat better because of time with her boyfriend, James, a dropout who grieves for his mother after he watched her die from cancer. On the night she graduates as salutatorian, they have sex in the back of his pickup out on the fields, under the stars. Then he dumps her. But James soon calls, unsure if they've broken up. He knows she's going to leave him at summer's end anyway but he is a lonely, James Dean-type. Maybe they need each other still.

That same night, their small town is rocked by the discovery of the body of a dead young woman out on the road near the site of where James parked his truck. And the real story of Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone unfolds.

In lyrical, layered writing, Kat Rosenfield writes about Becca's town, her home life, her relationship with James and how the investigation into how the mystery woman died plays out. The ramifications of assumptions and what people think they know about each other are devastating. Becca, in particular, shows both the benefits of knowing so many people in a small locale and the drawbacks to the same. Becca displays both perseverance and folly, wisdom and flightiness. In short chapters spaced out between Becca's story, the reader learns about the dead woman and what led to her death.

This is sophisticated writing replete with lyricism, layers and language. It is not, however, flowery. The first F bomb comes on page 7 in this realistic depiction of teens embarking on adulthood. Becca shares two bottles of wine with her unhappy mother one night and boozes it up the rest of the summer. For older teens and adults, this is a deeply affecting story told well.

The Queen: A Life in Brief
The Queen: A Life in Brief
by Robert Lacey
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.67
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Highlights of an era, July 2, 2012
For years she was mocked as a frumpy housewife with a tiara and diamonds, or headscarf and horses (and those damned Corgis). Then, her family fell apart in a series of embarrassing revelations and antics, and part of one of her favorite homes burned. A decade later, she's the nation's granny.

And having just celebrated her Diamond Jubilee for 50 years on the throne, Queen Elizabeth appears to have weathered it all far better than many would have guessed during the most turbulent years of her reign.

Robert Lacey, who has written two full-length and detailed biographies of the queen, culls some of the interesting tidbits and highlights from both for The Queen. It's a souvenir book with photographs that is portable, rather than coffee-table size. The depth of reporting is to be expected for a book meant to be read in an evening.

But it is a handy reference. The opening section covers the years when Elizabeth was a princess not expected to become a queen. Lacey brings her status in those years into focus by comparing her to Beatrice, the oldest daughter of Prince Andrew. When her uncle abdicated the throne and her beloved father became King George VI, Lillibet apparently was a natural at learning duty. As a teen, she decided Philip was her fellow and, regardless of what he's done in the years since, has remained steadfast. As a young mother and the monarch who denied her sister her first choice in marriage, it's apparent that duty once again was foremost.

Later sections of the book spend more time chronicling the mood swings of the nation regarding the monarchy and the foibles of Elizabeth's children. There is much here for Diana-philes as well as those who have moved on.

The book does cover the years since the queen made her speech just before Diana's funeral, when she seemed to be back in best form and putting her foot right every time. The mood that she had become the nation's grandmother and is respected for having stood by her post all these years is conveyed well. It matches the coverage of the queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations last month.

For those who think back to the princess who learned she had become queen while up in a tree in Kenya, or those who have never known another monarch on the British throne, Lacey's book is an enjoyable exercise in nostalgia.

by Toni Morrison
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.21
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A haven for the forgotten, June 25, 2012
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This review is from: Home (Hardcover)
Frank Money is the only one of three childhood friends to survive their battles in Korea. Back in the States, Frank is battling demons and survivor guilt. He's always been the strong one, taking care of his little sister Cee. Now he needs help from others to try to make it back to her when he hears that she is near death and needs to be rescued.

His journey back to being the kind of man who can rescue his sister is both physical and spiritual. Frank travels a reverse Underground Railroad, finding refuge at a church after waking up in a mental hospital and escaping. As he travels home, the reader learns of how he and Cee grew up, how she got out of a backwoods place smaller than a town and where she ended up. Also revealed is how Frank has been fighting to hold on and not give up, but his war was hardly a good one. He is the only one who survived. And for what?

Morrison's short novel is tightly written, weaving in and out of points along the plot, themes, tropes and characters. It is a marvel to be studied and wondered at. But it also is a moving story of how African-Americans have been treated in their own country and how these individual characters react to what other people do to them. Frank and Cee have been victimized but are not victims.

After serving his country, Frank doesn't have anything except a medal. It's the only thing that keeps him from being arrested for the crime of being on the street and black. Cee thinks she has found the most wonderful employer in the world, but the white doctor she works for is killing her with his eugenics study. That the horror of what this "big-hearted doctor" named Beauregard is doing to Cee is not spelled out does not make it any less terrifying. The realization that the kind of thinking demonstrated by this ultimately cowardly man flourishes still today is even more terrifying, just as knowing the casual bigotry Frank encounters from white cops is seen is today's "stop and frisk" is, at best, disheartening.

Frank drank and found a strong woman to use as an anchor for a time. She is both similar to and the opposite of the grandmother who took in Frank, Cee, their parents and an uncle when they were forced to flee Texas (Cee was born on the road).

That grandmother, Lenore, is cold and cruel. Her active dislike of Cee is one of the reasons they both fled Lotus, Georgia, as soon as they could -- Frank to the Army and Cee running off with the first half-way grown man who wanted her. Lenore is like Miss Havisham without an Estrella to control and mentally abuse. She resents that she was able to use the money raised from selling her late husband's filling station (he was murdered, guilty of the crime of being black) but, instead of enjoying her life, she had to open her home to the family of her second husband. In contrast, Frank seeks shelter for a spell with Lily, a woman who has scrimped and saved enough to dream of owning a home and a business. When Frank leaves, she doesn't regret his going but there is not the sense that she resented the time she spent opening her heart and home to him. She just has other, better things to do now.

Many small actions reveal the true nature of the characters involved in the lives of Frank and Cee. These moments are powerful, and far more revealing, than the work of many authors who take pages and pages of tell, not show, to portray characters. The portraits work as individual portrayals, but they also combine to show the scope of what people can be capable of doing.

And, as with much of Morrison's work, there are ghosts. The first is one Frank sees on the train while trying to get home to Cee. It's a man in a zoot suit. A later appearance tells the reader that Frank is truly starting to heal. His physical journey has ended, but there is the implication his spiritual journey will continue. The quiet healing that takes place after the climax of the plot's action may leave some readers expecting more. But I thought it wasn't needed. Morrison was interviewed by Charlie Rose on the CBS morning program earlier this year and acknowledged she is stripping her fiction down as much as she can. A revelation late in the novel, and the way the last sections fit in tightly with the beginning, make more unnecessary.

Another ghostly figure that appears is Frank himself. Most of the novel is told in third-person omniscient. Frank at one point addresses that narrator. So when the revelation occurs, it's could be considered a surprise or, instead, the harvest of a seed planted in that passage. Frank, addressing the narrator, puts a different spin on an event that happened when the train stopped. A couple got off the train and came back bloodied. According to the narrative, the woman will be beat up by the man later because she shamed him for coming to his rescue. But Frank says differently:

"Earlier you wrote about how sure I was that the beat-up man on the train to Chicago would turn around when they got home and whip the wife who tried to help him. Not true. I didn't think any such thing. What I thought was how he was proud of her but didn't want to show how proud he was to the other men on the train. I don't think you know much about love.

"Or me."

As an example of how Morrison weaves so many things together, at another stage of his train journey Frank gets off the train for a walk and sees two women fighting while a man, presumably a pimp, watches them. He attacks the man and the women are angry about that. A person in power forcing others to fight comes up again in the story, and is tied to the way that Frank has always tried to protect Cee.

Throughout this tight story, Morrison remembers the forgotten. There are vets like Frank, himself a decorated veteran of that most forgotten of wars, Korea. There are victims of eugenics and other experiments undertaken on African-Americans without their knowledge or informed consent. There are domestic workers. There are ignored children. There are women alone. There are tiny, tiny towns where work is the only thing that matters. Morrison gives all of them a voice. And it's one that often is poetic. Frank's description of Lotus (a name with its own conotations of time spent outside regular time), does more in two pages to bring to life the dull hopelessness of a dead-end existence.

The contrast in attitude about work between Frank as a young boy and the women of Lotus is markedly different.

This underlying belief is the foundation of what will heal Frank and Cee.
The search for home in this novel shows there is the potential to do some good in the world, even by those who have been broken and who have been ignored or forgotten. Morrison does not have to spell out what that good will be, but showing the first steps Cee and Frank take toward doing their good as they heal makes for a strong argument that the wise woman of Lotus is right.

Gods Without Men
Gods Without Men
by Hari Kunzru
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.35
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Individual parts greater than the sum, June 22, 2012
This review is from: Gods Without Men (Hardcover)
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"Only connect," as E.M. Forster wrote in Howards End, to "live in fragments no more" is a wish that's appears to be a plea against the fractured, chaotic and constantly in motion life in the 21st century First World. Hari Kunzru's fourth novel, Gods Without Men, is written in fragments of different times and places, but there are slender threads connecting them to each other. Whether the reader makes those connections and feels the fabric of a novel depends on the reader. And we all know we readers are not cut from the same cloth.

The novel is about both the trickster known as Coyote and the world of humans, those foible-filled creatures. In a way, Gods Without Men is as much a myth as novel, in that Coyote has set up and been caught in a trap in which humans are involved. During diferent eras, there is the inference that if one creature escapes, another must take its place (there is a similar story in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell that ended up being surprisingly poignant).

But that is the underpinning of the various stories contained within Kunzru's book. The main narratives are of a modern New York couple whose autistic son disappears for a few months while they are out West strolling around the Three Pinnacles rock formation out in the midst of the desert, a group in the late 1950s who seek wisdom from an alien race and a commune seeking wisdom from drugs as much as the aliens. There are connections between these stories, and a few others, that are not forced but which give few hints of how it all might tie together.

The main characters in all of these narratives are well-rounded portraits with compelling storylines. Jaz Matharu is a second-generation American who has given up Sikh ways and used his mad math skills to help develop a financial market software program, Walter, that would recognize 2001: A Space Odyssey's Hal as kin. His wife, Lisa, is a lapsed Jew who gives up her publishing job after it's apparent their son, Raj, suffers from serious autism. Kunzru is adept at letting the reader see how they both got to the ratty desert motel where they stay just before Raj disappears. Kunzru also does both characters the service of letting the reader see their lives from their individual points of view. Neither is the villian. Neither is without fault. And it would be fascinating to discover what happens to them after the novel closes. The sections where they are in limbo when Raj disappears are haunting.

Another child goes missing in the late 1950s. Joanie is searching for life to mean something when she discovers the writings of a scientific crackpot who thinks he is communicating with more intelligent beings from outer space. She becomes part of a group following him, living out in the desert near the Three Pinnacles. Joanie, an innocent, loses track of her young daughter, Judy.

Years later, in the late 1960s and early 70s, Joanie, Judy (with definite ties to Raj's story) and Dawn, a girl from town, all end up at the commune near Three Pinnacles which took the place of the earlier group seeking wisdom from the stars. They've got a wild man, Coyote, who may or may not be the trickster. But he's definitely a snake in the garden figure. As with the other narratives, Dawn's story would make a complete novel on its own. Seeing her at different stages of her life only reinforces this feeling.

Another story is woven into the narrative of how Raj comes back that does not quite have the feel of a complete story but one that is among the most moving in the novel. Laila is a young woman who has come from Iraq to California and then to the Three Pinnacles area to live in a constructed village. It was built by the military to be a fake Iraq for troops on their way over. Laila's story has everything -- a haven of childhood bliss, fear, secrecy, war, tragic loss and escape without the sense of a fresh, new beginning. But within the narrative, she has a role to play that puts her own story in the background. On the surface, there is enough about Laila that her tale holds together.

However, Kunzru weaves hints into her story that show it could have been a sprawling epic on its own, telling the stories of Iraquis in various parts of society back home and here, as well as their life in a strange land and the people they encounter. When a soldier lets Laila wear night goggles to watch an evening training, the reality of what most of us have only seen on the news comes into clear focus.

Reading this section was like a sucker punch, especially with the pressures Laila also faces from her older relatives that have taken in her and her brother. They're strangers here in ways that not even the white men trying to fit in with the tribes they encounter in other parts of the book are. Jaz has something of the same problem. He doesn't feel he fits in anywhere any longer, certainly not with his traditional-bound family and not with Lisa, even though both feel grief and guilt over their son's disappearance.

The individual pieces in the novel, and the connection of various characters either looking beyond themselves for wisdom or having a search forced on them as they weave in and out of time, is worth reading. But the stories of strangers not at home in their worlds could have been an even stronger tale, one not relying on tricks or the trickster.

A Greyhound of a Girl
A Greyhound of a Girl
by Roddy Doyle
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $13.47
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4.0 out of 5 stars Lovely, fanciful tale, June 22, 2012
This review is from: A Greyhound of a Girl (Hardcover)
Mary O'Hara is finding out that at 12 years, life doesn't go the way it should. Her best friend has moved away to another part of Dublin, her mother ends every sentence with an exclamation point, her beloved granny is ill and she's met a strange woman who seems to know who she is.

In the hands of Booker winner Roddy Doyle, Mary is about to undertake a journey of wonder, wrapped up in love. Because that strange woman, Tansy, is the great-grandmother that she never met, that her mother never met and who her granny lost when she was much younger than Mary is now.

Doyle breaks the book up into separate stories about their different lives. They're all quite different and show the different ways women were expected to help their families in their own eras. But the stories also show how strong women who love their families can do that and remain themselves as well.

The final sections of the book depict a fanciful way that they can discover each other's strengths and loves in a way that perhaps could only happen in Ireland. It's a wild ride of a finish that is sweet without being maudlin. Best of all, Doyle shows a way that generations can remember and honor those they loved, and who loved them. This way shows how the novel got its title.

Although marketed as a children's novel, this is a grand little story that would be a delight to any woman who cares about the women who helped make her who she is, and who likes the idea of carrying on a legacy of love.

Ragnarok: The End of the Gods (Myths)
Ragnarok: The End of the Gods (Myths)
by A. S. Byatt
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.25
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Myth and the real world, June 9, 2012
When A.S. Byatt was a young child, she spent hours reading about the bloody fate that befell the Norse gods. Since she was reading while WWII was raging, it's no wonder the myth and the war drew sparks off each other in her imagination.

In Ragnarok, part of the Canongate series on myths, Byatt does not merge the stories or force their comparison. Nor does what happens to a thin child evacuated to the British countryside, who is certain she will never see her father again, overshadow the mythical world. Instead, Byatt presents two entwined, long setpieces -- one of the evacuated thin child, who is nameless, and the other a retelling of the destruction of the gods with just a touch of meta commentary. She ends with a comparison of the destruction of the gods to the destructive acts of foolish mankind today. Again, Byatt is not forcing a comparison but noting that today, people are trying to destroy the world as surely as the gods' fate was a foregone conclusion.

Like Loki, the thin child likes to see and learn about things. And like the gods and modern human despoilers, she can be callously destructive.

In one of the interesting asides, Byatt muses on whether anything the gods could have done could have changed their fate. No matter what they did, however, there is the certainty that things would still turn out this way. This is not a fairy tale where there are heroes who win fair maidens and fair maidens who are rescued, nor is this fiction purportedly under the control of an author (the notion that characters speak to an author is not addressed). This is myth. This is going to end badly.

For a book that is only 171 pages, Byatt densely packs in setting the stage to display the breadth, width and depth of both the world of the gods and the sphere of the thin child, reveals the acts that will culminate in Ragnarok itself -- especially the death of golden god Baldur and Loki's subsequent flight and capture -- and the end of that world as the gods are destroyed.

After the end of the gods, the thin child's wartime ends. Her story is not one of heroic acts and brave deeds, but is instead the very essence of quiet drabness and the realization that there are no great dreams to be dreamt. The thin child, living in what Byatt calls a thin world, has been a framing device to get the reader into wondering how the acts of the gods matter to the way the reader considers the real world outside the covers of a book.

Byatt concludes with thoughts on myths. These include her choices for not including an aftermath of Ragnarok, called Gimle, that is sometimes likened to a Christian second coming, and that she did not build characterizations and motivations for the gods beyond the basics -- they are not full-fledged characters on purpose. These choices well serve Byatt's belief that myths are porous. The way they are told always says something about the teller, and usually about the world of the teller. Perhaps fittingly for a retelling that incorporates WWII, Wagner's Norse gods are wrested away from their Nazi admirer. She compares and contrasts aspects of the story with Christian mythology and anchors the Norse gods with a larger framework of Western civilization.

For a retelling of the Ragnarok myth that spares nothing but which is filled with gorgeous language, Byatt stands with the best who influenced her.

An Unmarked Grave (Bess Crawford)
An Unmarked Grave (Bess Crawford)
by Charles Todd
Edition: Paperback
Price: $20.34
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Genuine historical fiction, June 8, 2012
Intrepid Bess Crawford is just behind the trenches in wartorn France, tending to the wounded, when the Spanish Influenza strikes in the spring of 1918. In the mdist of the chaos, an orderly notices something wrong with one of the many bodies. He didn't die of war wounds or the flu. His neck was broken.

The orderly informs Bess as someone he trusts. She promises to alert the proper people. She promises not only because she trusts the kindly older man who is the orderly and sees for herself that the dead man was murdered, but also because the victim was a family friend who served in her father's regiment.

But before she can get anywhere, the flu strikes her as well. In the near-fairytale atmosphere in which Bess Crawford exists, she is spirited out of France and convalesces back home as strings are pulled. For Bess Crawford has connections, most importantly her father, the Colonel Sahib.

This imposing figure and dearest family friend Simon are full-fledged confidants as she pieces together bits of information and visits various figures connected to the victim. These figures are representative of various strata in Britain's WWI class system, and as such provide a fascinating picture of people carrying on while the Great War goes on and on and on. Although Bess initially isn't quite believed, it's soon evident that the orderly, who died soon after she was taken ill, showed her something important.

Before long, more people connected with the investigation die. Bess knows the killer will target her, but her sense of duty demands that she continue. And if that means she has to take along with her a brash American officer recovering from his war wounds, that's what she will do. Even if he and Simon don't exactly take to each other. The killer gets closer and closer to Bess and her inner circle before the end, which is a classic case of the sleuth figuring it all out in the nick of time.

The world for Bess that the Todds have created is a genuine homage to the World War I era. The violence is off-screen, the characters do not directly express their feelings for each other (really, how thick are Bess and Simon to not have figured that out?) and duty reigns supreme, the plot unfolds in true tricky Agatha Christie style. The series also has other aspects of the historical era it depicts. There is no irony or nod to modern sensibility in Bess calling her father the Colonel Sahib. Women and lower class folk are expected to know their place. In one of the poignant stories told during the unveiling of the plot, a widower father who has lost several sons to the war doesn't understand why the widow of one of them won't come work the farm. Her son would grow up in fresh air but the workload would obviously kill her.

Downton Abbey fans would be well served by reading the Bess Crawford novels while waiting for a new season. Fans of Inspector Rutledge, the first series character brought to life by the Todds, will find a lighter version of the tone in that post-war series.

Star Trek FAQ (Unofficial and Unauthorized): Everything Left to Know About the First Voyages of the Starship Enterprise (Faq Series)
Star Trek FAQ (Unofficial and Unauthorized): Everything Left to Know About the First Voyages of the Starship Enterprise (Faq Series)
by Mark Clark
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.13
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4.0 out of 5 stars Wide-ranging compendium, June 2, 2012
A long time ago in our galaxy, not one far away, network television found itself hoodwinked when writer/producer Gene Roddenberry promised NBC "Wagon Train to the stars" and instead delivered the beginning of a new part of our culture, Star Trek.

For those who grew up on TOS (The Original Series), whether as teens waiting for 10 p.m. on Friday nights that final season or the syndication every weekday that endlessly recycled the original 79 episodes, Star Trek had it all and promised it all. We didn't kill ourselves during the Cold War. We ended Vietnam. We became an integrated society. We fulfilled President Kennedy's promise of space exploration. We could dream of becoming astronauts and our dreams could come true. We didn't have to be the popular kids to find a place to fit in, as David Gerrold eloquently explains in his foreward to a new compilation of behind-the-scene facts, background material and episode highlights, Star Trek FAQ.

Clark's compendium has many strengths, whether the reader is a first-generation Trekker or wondering what that big 2009 movie was based on. Clark provides a concise, highly readable, rundown of the original influences and executives in various companies who contributed to what became Trek. Although Trek was Roddenberry's baby, he had to run the gauntlet of studio and network approval to get that baby on the air.

The ins and outs not only show how difficult it is for any show to get on the air with any vestige of its original intent intact, it also chronicles how the Trek universe was refined and designed to become what ultimately became beloved. For example, the FAQ has excellent point-by-point notations of the contrasts between the original pilot -- "The Cage" -- and the final program that aired. Spock originally was meant to be more curious than logical. Jeffrey Hunter's Pike is closer to Roddenberry's version of Horatio Hornblower than that swashbuckler James Tiberius Kirk ended up being.

The episode guide is not "full service" because, as Clark notes, "there are plenty of those available elsewhere". However, all are included with thumbnail plot sketches and notes about other aspects such as broadcast history, guests and even such details as changes in scores and opening credits.

Worthwhile ideas to consider abound. In noting how Trek differed because it posits that mankind has survived and improved, there is a quick roundup of SF antecedents. It's about as cheery as The Hunger Games and other current examples of the popular YA genre of dystopian fiction. The chapter itself admirably brings together the examples of how mankind shows its better nature by rejecting killing and slavery through the run of TOS. Another Trek theme of a better civilization with cool gadgets that is still run by the people who made the gadgets, and not the gadgets themselves, is detailed in a thoughtful manner.

Religion and other social issues also are dealt with as part of Roddenberry's overall philosophy, refracted through the lens of the individual Trek episodes. A philosophy can be determined from the show: Hatred hurts and kills. Humanity is better than that. Religion is one way people have tried to control others over the years. Technology is a tool for humanity but not more important than its creators. IDIC (Infinite Diversitiy in Infinite Combinations) may have originated with the logical Vulcans, but it is a philosophy of empathy and acceptance, not mere tolerance.

The book also addresses, with specific examples, how TOS reflects the 1960s and the attitudes of men born in the 1920s who didn't quite get how their view of women didn't mesh with their intent to portray a future of equality and non-prejudice.

Subsequent Trek series are woven into the various accounts when necessary. That this is done without having the whole Trek universe take over the book, which remains focused on TOS, is an achievement worthy of praise.

Clark is not afraid to let his opinion show. The author really does not like Nimoy's singing and really likes Shatner's acting (even while acknowledging the bombasts). A lengthy chapter points out nearly every facial expression and line delivery that Shatner made. He does write about acting highlights of the other actors as well, devoting roughly same amount of space to each actor in relation to the importance of their characters.

At its weak points, the tone is total fan boy. At one point, Clark notes that when one considers how the other actors felt about Shatner, perhaps their characters beating up Kirk in one episode wasn't a stretch at acting. For the thumbnail of "The City on the Edge of Forever", Clark writes: "Come on, you don't really need a plot summary for this one, do you? OK, here goes:..." Oh, indulge us. This is a FAQ. Also, the availability of buying gadgets seen on Trek goes full geek. Then again, since some people are still waiting for their jet packs, why worry about buying a transporter?

And, unlike the author, it's possible to see that Next Generation's backing of Commander Data as a sentient being expands and fulfills the promise of equality for living beings, and does not, as he contends, soften the stance of humanity's superiority to any technology. Actually, including Data as a sentient being is nothing more than a logical extension of IDIC. All right. The very fact these idea come up in a review shows a strength in the overall presentation of information throughout the book.

Star Trek FAQ is an excellent addition to any Trek collection, for novice or expert. Based on the strength of this book, the upcoming edition dealing with later programs and the movies also will be worthwhile.

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