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John M. Ford "johnDC" (near DC, MD USA)
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Double Star (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
Double Star (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
Price: £4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Role of a Lifetime, 25 Dec. 2013
Lawrence Smith is an unknown, untalented actor who gets a lucky break. He looks just like a prominent politician and is offered a job to pose as his look-a-like while the politician is off on a secret errand. Initially reluctant, Smith is pressed into service by a crisis. And then he becomes trapped in the role indefinitely.

The twin-of-somebody-famous plot is as old as The Man in the Iron Mask and has been explored by practically every television sitcom at some point. Robert Heinlein pulls it off reasonably well. The book explores the limits of what people actually know about each other, long-term consequences of living as an impostor, and how alliances based on deception can evolve over time. It tells a pretty good story, too. The plot trajectory is often predictable, but it was probably less so when the story was originally published.

Read this one if you are a diehard Heinlein fan who has not yet experienced it. Or if you want to think a bit about issues of identity and pretense.


The Door into Summer (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
The Door into Summer (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
by Robert A. Heinlein
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Past His Prime, 25 Dec. 2013
Dan invents some very clever and marketable mechanical devices that ease the burden of housework. A stereotypical engineer, he has no business sense and leaves all of the financial arranging to his partner. Who, of course, betrays him. Depressed and destitute, Dan decides to delay decisions and drop out.* He goes into suspended animation for thirty years and emerges to face a changed world. Changed in some ways he had not anticipated. Dan learns that time travel is now possible and vows to return to the past and make things right. We wonder how he can succeed and whether he will finally get the girl.

It's a good Robert Heinlein story with interesting characters and a signature reverence for science and technical details. The characters are uncomplicated--you can always tell the good guys from the bad guys even when poor Dan cannot. Heinlein introduces the vocabulary and paradoxes of time travel with minimal pain. This may not be the very best first experience with Heinlein or time travel, but it will do.

The book is recommended to anyone who enjoys a good story and doesn't mind invented technology that now seems dated. Readers hungry for more of Heinlein's views on time travel should pick up a copy of his "All You Zombies-". It will make your head spin. Those preferring a more comprehensive exposure will enjoy Harry Turtledove's The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century.
_____
*Sorry about the alliterative excess. Just couldn't help myself.


Methuselah's Children
Methuselah's Children

5.0 out of 5 stars Heinlein's Long Life, 24 Dec. 2013
It's the future. And some people have twice the normal lifespan. This carefully guarded secret becomes known to the general public who demand access to life-extending medical treatments. Unfortunately there aren't any. The longevity enjoyed by members of the "Howard Families" results from naturally-occurring genes and selective breeding. The public is disbelieving, envious, and angry. Efforts are commenced to extract the secrets of extended life through force.

Most members of the Howard Families go into hiding. In the middle of this crisis Lazarus Long, the oldest living Howard, reappears. Long presumed dead*, Lazarus has mastered the skills of secrecy and survival. He leads the Families in a bold attempt to leave Earth and colonize planets around other stars. The story follows Lazarus and his co-conspirators in their quest for a new home.

This is the prototypical Robert Heinlein science fiction novel. It ties together earlier works in his Future History series and links it to the following series (beginning with Time Enough for Love) that focuses on Long and his family. Lazarus is clearly another version of the author's recurring "Grouchy Wise Old Man" character. He is quick-tempered, opinionated, and peppers his dialogue with useful nuggets of knowledge. He is also a dirty old man, which Heinlein goes to great pains to justify. How-to science is center stage as Long delivers extended descriptions of spaceship piloting, exobiology, and so on.

This book may also be the best "read it first" Heinlein work. If you are a science fiction fan and haven't read it, do so. If you don't have it in your library of science fiction classics, you should. If like me, you are moving your library onto your Kindle, go ahead and buy it a second time. It shouldn't be left behind as you move into your own future history.
_____
*Sorry about that.


Citizen of the Galaxy
Citizen of the Galaxy
by Robert A. Heinlein
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Seasons of a Boy's Life, 22 Dec. 2013
This review is from: Citizen of the Galaxy (Paperback)
Readers follow Thorby through several distinct phases of his young life. We first encounter him being sold as a slave on the planet Sargon. He is bought by an old beggar, Baslim, who feeds, protects, and educates him. It soon becomes clear that Baslim is an intelligence agent, tracking the movements of the interplanetary slave trade. When Baslim's activities are discovered, Thorby barely escapes from Sargon with his life.

Thorby next finds a home on the Free Trader ship Sisu, where he learns the skills of spaceship life and lives by the unusual customs of Free Trader families. There are interesting comparisons made between life as a slave and the obligations and structured roles of the Free Traders. Thorby soon transfers to a military ship of the Earth-based Hegemonic Empire. On the way to Earth, Thorby adjust to a new culture, learning the customs and constrains of military shipboard service. Investigations finally reveal Thorby's true identity and family connections. He takes up the reigns of a new set of obligations on Earth. Ultimately he must make some decisions about what kind of life he wants to live.

This book is yet another book of successful Robert Heinlein "juvenile" science fiction. Written in an age of technology focus, this work points the way to a sociological emphasis more typical of late 60's and early 70's genre writing. Not only does Thorby encounter and compare several distinct cultures, but even has the help of an anthropologist at one point to guide his growth in perspective. Heinlein has written something far beyond the clichéd space opera typical of his time.

This is classic, old-school science fiction by one of the Grand Masters. Definitely worth reading.


Starship Troopers
Starship Troopers
by Robert A. Heinlein
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Johnny Goes Marching, 22 Dec. 2013
This review is from: Starship Troopers (Paperback)
Juan Rico graduates from high school and goes off to war, where he learns how to fight, sees some of his friends get killed, and finds out that his high school history teacher was right about life and responsibility. Sounds like a cliché WWII movie, doesn't it? Many of the ideas came from that war and the author's experiences in the U.S. Navy. But he used those experiences to write science fiction instead of historical fiction.

The enemy in this book are the Bugs, ferocious aliens from outside of our solar system who open hostilities by nuking a few of Earth's major cities. (Including Juan's home town.) Learning to fight requires operating a highly automated and nearly autonomous spacesuit and numerous beam, projectile, and hand weapons. Juan's reflections on the lessons of his teacher, a combat veteran, provide a forum for Heinlein to lecture the reader about self-reliance, responsibility, and citizenship.

This is a representative Heinlein juvenile science fiction novel. Everything from the action to the politics fits the bill. The technology has aged well and the politics... well, readers will have to decide that issue for themselves. It's worth reading.

Do NOT confuse this book with the very shallow and stupid movie of the same name. Don't see that movie, either. Read the book instea.


Farmer in the Sky
Farmer in the Sky
by Robert A. Heinlein
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £6.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Satellite Scout, 18 Dec. 2013
Teenager Bill Lermer travels to Ganymede with his father, and his new step-mother and step-sister. Readers get a Bill's-eye view of a future resource-depleted Earth; life on board an interplanetary colony ship; dirt-level terraforming of Ganymede; and the challenges of adolescence. The latter include adjusting to his blended family, conflicts with others his age, and finding the right distance to maintain from girls.

This novel originally appeared as a serial in Boy's Life magazine. There is a strong Boy Scout influence in the story which blends well with the frontier setting and skills needed to survive in it. This is classic Robert Heinlein science fiction from the 1950s. The science is dated, but charmingly so. The adventure of space colonization nicely parallels the main character's coming of age.

One disappointed observation--the story could have gone on longer or easily supported a sequel. It's odd that a prolific writer like Heinlein did not follow up with one. Perhaps some detail of the licensing arrangement with Boy's Life explains this.


Tunnel in the Sky (Heinlein's Juveniles Book 9)
Tunnel in the Sky (Heinlein's Juveniles Book 9)
Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Away From Home, 17 Dec. 2013
This is one of Robert Heinlein's science fiction books for young people, although it can be enjoyed by adults as well. Unlike many of the author's older books, the future portrayed in this one has not "aged" quite so much. The society and technology still create a believable background for the story to play out.

The Story: Rod Walker is preparing to take the final examination in his survival course. He and his classmates will be dropped, one-by-one, onto a hostile planet where they must survive for several days using their wits and whatever small cache of supplies each has decided to bring. Whether they cooperate, compete, or just avoid the others is up to each individual. After some discussion with his sister and "wise old man" teacher, Rod assembles his supplies and sets out.

What follows is almost a retelling of [lord of the flies]. At the end of the testing period, the survivors are not picked up. They must continue surviving and face the possibility that they will *never* be picked up. As they work out how to do this, there is much discussion about group dynamics, the proper role of government, and strategies for long-term survival. Rod has frequent flashback to lessons from his teacher.

Heinlein makes his oft-repeated points about self-reliance, responsibility, and good citizenship. He does a good job getting all of this across as part of an engaging and suspenseful adventure story. Readers who enjoy this style should also read the author's Starship Troopers. (Read the book; don't see the very stupid movie based on it.)


Walter The Farting Dog 8" Plush
Walter The Farting Dog 8" Plush

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars He's a Blast!, 16 Dec. 2013
This huggable, overstuffed dog is the title character of the infamous [walter the farting dog] series of children's books. He looks like Walter, he is soft and cuddly like Walter, and if you hug him tightly, he will sound like Walter. It doesn't get better than that.

Give Walter a chance. An atmosphere of fun will result.


Walter the Farting Dog
Walter the Farting Dog
by William Kotzwinkle
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's a Blast!, 16 Dec. 2013
This review is from: Walter the Farting Dog (Hardcover)
Walter the Dog farts constantly. He can't stop. As a result, he is misunderstood, avoided, and disparaged. He faces his life's difficulties stoically, at times even heroically. And he makes a difference to those around him. A positive difference, I mean. You will love him like one of your own.

The theme of this book will provoke gales of laughter from ten-year-olds of all ages. That would be enough to expect from it. But there is more. An important underlying message about embarrassment, courage, and tolerance slowly makes its presence clear. And lingers after the laughter has become silent.

This is a good book. Really, it is.


GOgroove FlexSMART X2 Bluetooth FM Transmitter Hands-free Car Kit with Built-In Wireless Mic , USB Phone Charger Adapter & Music Controls - Works with Motorola Moto G , HTC One M9 , Sony Xperia Z3+ & More
GOgroove FlexSMART X2 Bluetooth FM Transmitter Hands-free Car Kit with Built-In Wireless Mic , USB Phone Charger Adapter & Music Controls - Works with Motorola Moto G , HTC One M9 , Sony Xperia Z3+ & More
Offered by Techccessorize UK
Price: £45.09

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Audio Book Commuter Solution, 16 Dec. 2013
My wife's Hyundai Tucson has a Bluetooth device integrated into the stereo. It can be configured to connect to five smartphones and is perfect for listening to albums or audio books on long trips. The Hyundai Elantra that I inherited from my wife when we bought the Tucson is older and does not have the Bluetooth capability. And using earphones while driving is illegal here in Maryland.

Bummer. Until I bought this.

This nifty little device plugs into my cigarette lighter and the flexible neck positions its controls right near my hand when it's on the wheel. After the initial configuration, it pairs with my iPhone soon after I start the car. And just like that, I can play albums and audio books in my own car using the iPhone's apps and controls.

The iPhone communicates with the device through Bluetooth and then to the car stereo through close-range FM radio. An easy-to-use autofind function minimizes the work of finding an "open" spot in the FM airwaves for the second connection. I like the mini control panel, which allows pausing, rewinding, and forwarding audio as well as answering and ending phone calls.

Now I can listen to audio books during my commute, pausing to order drive-up breakfast and exchange loud opinions with other drivers. If you don't have a Bluetooth connection in your car, this is a good, relatively low-cost solution.


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