Clarke - Book Reviews

***** - Excellent
**** - Good
*** - Okay
** - Bad
* - Terrible
+ - Half-star

Childhood's End
Arthur C. Clarke
Del Rey
Fiction, Sci-Fi

DESCRIPTION: In the 1980's, the Cold War between East and West is abrubtly halted by the arrival of visitors from beyond, great silver ships arriving over Earth. Mankind's many squabbling nations find themselves abruptly and inarguably under new management as the Overlords initiate a new era, one that could see the species flower - or see its extinction.

REVIEW: Like many older sci-fi classics, this book presents some interesting ideas that are inevitably (and likely unconsciously) tainted by the era in which it was written. Here, the Western world and its science (not to mention distinctly Christian symbols) are the great gifts to the rest of the savage world, even as the story relies on metaphysical ideas that seem more in line with ancient Eastern tradition... and, naturally, it all comes down to Homo sapiens and our brilliant minds being such divinely blessed and potentially powerful things that our future is a magnet for interstellar oversight and/or meddling. On the smaller scale, men are the doers and darers, while women are just there to warm beds, be somewhat soft in the head, and ultimately find more fulfillment cooking and washing laundry than pursuing science or art. The general flatness of most of his characters, particularly the humans, doesn't help on this front. But, glaring as these issues are now, it's not precisely fair to fault Clarke for them sixty years after this tale was written... and doubtless modern works will have their own generational and cultural hallmarks that will make future readers roll their eyes at our flawed 21st-century worldview. His ideas and imagery are still somewhat interesting, as Clarke follows what turns out to be (for better or worse) the final century or so of humanity's planetary existence. It's not a bad book, and I'm glad I finally read it, but it ultimately isn't quite my cup of cocoa.

You might also enjoy:
Foundation (Isaac Asimov, Fiction - A lone planet on the galactic rim holds out hope in the face of rising interstellar barbarism and decay)
The Martian Chronicles (Ray Bradbury, Fiction - Collected tales and vignettes relate humanity's exploration of Mars, and the fall of two civilizations)
The Tripods: When the Tripods Came (John Christopher, YA Fiction - An English boy witnesses an alien invasion that strips humans of power on their home planet)
The Three-Body Problem (Cixin Liu, Fiction - A nanotechnologist is recruited to investigate a rash of tragedies in Earth's intellectual elite, with mysterious ties to a VR game and a shadowy organization)
The Expanse series (James S. A. Corey, Fiction - Humanity's colonization of space is disrupted by a remarkable discovery and dangerous conspiracy)
City (Clifford D. Simak, Fiction - A collection of nine tales chronicles the twilight of humanity and the rise of the Doggish race)
A Fire Upon the Deep (Vernor Vinge, Fiction - A Blight with godlike powers threatens the galaxy, with the only countermeasure lost on a primitive world)

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Strange & Unexplained Phenomena
Jerome Clarke and Nancy Pear
Visible Ink
Nonfiction, Unexplained Phenomena
Strange and Unexplained Phenomena

DESCRIPTION: All manner of bizarre occurrences, from UFO encounters to sightings of extinct animals, are discussed in an objective manner, leaning toward open- mindedness.

REVIEW: Much like Daniel Cohen's Encyclopedia of Monsters, this one is great for the range of topics covered and the manner in which they are handled. Sidebars add history, notes, and some words on the people involved in the continuing search for answers to seemingly unanswerable questions. They also make brief notes on Hollywood's approach to the subject, though they made a serious oversight by not mentioning TV shows like The X-Files once. It's interesting that this is the only place I've seen any mention of the new wild cat, the Onza, (which I first read about in Eyewitness Handbooks: Cats.) I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the unexplained mysteries of our world.

You might also enjoy:
Extreme Science (Phil Clarke, YA? Nonfiction - A look at scientists who have pushed the boundaries of knowledge and ethics)
The Encyclopedia of Monsters (Daniel Cohen, Nonfiction - Cryptids, sea monsters, fabulous beasts, alien encounters, and more)
Cryptozoology A - Z (Loren Coleman & Jerome Clarke, Nonfiction - Mysterious animals past and present)
Monsters: An Investigator's Guide to Magical Beings (John Michael Greer, Nonfiction - An alternative approach to unexplainable phenomena)
A Complete Guide to Mysterious Beings (John Keel, Nonfiction - Many unexplained mysteries discussed)
Myths & Mysteries of the World (Parragon Books, Nonfiction - Archaeological puzzles and paranormal phenomena from around the world)
Mysteries of the Unexplained and Reader's Digest Facts and Fallacies (Reader's Digest, Nonfiction - Unsolved mysteries, historical peculiarities, frauds and puzzlers from the ages)
The World's Most Incredible Stories: The Best of the Fortean Times (Adam Sisman, editor, Nonfiction - Articles from the long-running periodical about the unusual and unexplained)
Mysterious Places (Jennifer Westwood, editor, Nonfiction - Historic and prehistoric places that defy explanation)
The Mammoth Encyclopedia of the Unsolved and Unsolved Mysteries: Past and Present(Colin Wilson and Damon Wilson, Nonfiction - Articles on unusual phenomena and unexplained events)

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Extreme Science
Phil Clarke
Chartwell Books
Nonfiction, YA? History/Media Reference/Science

DESCRIPTION: Reanimated corpses, two-headed dogs, electronic brain control... they sound like the stuff of science fiction, but all have happened in the laboratories of real-life scientists, pioneers pushing the boundaries of their age's knowledge by any means necessary. Journey to the very edge of science, where the line between fiction and fact, triumph and tragedy, even genius and madness, is scalpel-thin.

REVIEW: This book attempts to encapsulate a vast subject - scientists at the very edge of knowledge, often ahead of their times - in accessible terms. It also delves into theorists, war atrocities, serial killers, and Hollywood treatments of extreme science subjects. That's an awful lot of ground to cover... too much to do more than merely touch on any given topic. It also can't help but feel random, insofar as topics and featured historical figures covered. The Hollywood section in particular is haphazard, picking and choosing among feature films (and omitting some landmark sci-fi in the process.) I would've preferred spending more time with the real scientists and experiments. As a general introduction to extreme science, though, this book isn't bad.

You might also enjoy:
Eve & Adam (Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant, YA Fiction - A teen girl discovers dark secrets at her mother's medical research lab)
Kiln People (David Brin, Fiction - Humans learn to make living clay replicas of themselves, which are inherently considered disposable property)
Young Frankenstein: A Mel Brooks Book: The Story of the Making of the Film (Mel Brooks with Rebecca Keegan, Nonfiction - Director Brooks talks about the making of his favorite film)
Strange & Unexplained Phenomena (Jerome Clarke and Nancy Pear, Nonfiction - Cryptids, UFOs, and other odd experiences and encounters)
Jurassic Park (Michael Crichton, Fiction - An experimental theme park uses DNA to create living dinosaurs)
Unbound (Richard L Currier, Nonfiction - Explore eight pivotal technologies, from "digging sticks" to the digital revolution, that have transformed our species and our planet)
Metropolis (Thea von Harbou, Fiction - A wealthy son of privilege faces the sin and slavery his father created in building a utopian, machine-dominated city)
Eurekaaargh! (Adam Hart-Davis, Nonfiction - A collection of obscure inventions, scientific failures, and leaps made ahead of their time)
How to Build a Dinosaur (Jack Horner and James Gorman, Nonfiction - New innovations in paleontology and related fields suggest the possibility of reverse-engineering prehistoric characteristics)
LUC (Kimball Lee, Fiction - A scientist's cloning project unexpectedly produces a sapient man)
Field Guide to the Apocalypse (Meghann Marco, Nonfiction - How to survive or avoid various apocalyptic disasters, based on Hollywood's sterling examples)
Animal Wise (Virginia Morell, Nonfiction - Scientists study how animals think and feel, with surprising results)
Myths & Mysteries of the World (Parragon Books, Nonfiction - Archaeological puzzles and paranormal phenomena from around the world)
Mysteries of the Unexplained and Readers Digest Facts and Fallacies (Reader's Digest, Nonfiction - Unsolved mysteries, historical peculiarities, frauds and puzzlers from the ages)
Frankenstein (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, Fiction - A man who thought to play God is tormented by his own abominable creation)
The World's Most Incredible Stories: The Best of Fortean Times (Adam Sisman, editor, Nonfiction - Popular articles from a long-running periodical on strange things)
Your Inner Fish (Neil Shubin, Nonfiction - The story of evolution as revealed by the fossil record and our own bodies)
How to Survive a Sharknado and Other Unnatural Disasters (Andrew Shaffer, Fiction - A "survival" guide to various made-for-TV movie disasters such as shark-filled tornadoes and mutated mega pythons)
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson, Fiction - An upstanding doctor's bizarre association with a monstrous stranger leads to a horrific mystery)
The Invisible Man (H. G. Wells, Fiction - A scientist achieves his ultimate goal of invisibilty, only to doom himself)
The Mammoth Encyclopedia of the Unsolved and Unsolved Mysteries: Past and Present(Colin Wilson and Damon Wilson, Nonfiction - Articles on unusual phenomena and unexplained events)
Anna to the Infinite Power (1983 movie DVD on cloning experimentation)
Back to the Future (1985 movie DVD - A teen boy accidentally takes a scientist friend's time machine back to 1955, where he inadvertently interferes with his parents' courtship; mentioned in text)
Blade Runner (Four-Disc Collector's Edition) (1982 movie DVD - A future world enslaves androids, some of whom rebel; mentioned in text)
Doctor Who: The Complete First Series (2005 TV series reboot DVD - A Time Lord takes humans on adventures through time and space; mentioned in text)
Jurassic Park (1991 movie DVD - An experimental theme park features genetically recreated dinosaurs; mentioned in text)
The Complete Metropolis (1929 movie DVD - A futuristic city of machines grants privileges to the few while enslaving the many; mentioned in text)
Planet of the Apes (1968 movie DVD - An astronaut crashes on a bizarre world where apes rule and humans are mere voiceless animals; mentioned in text)
Quantum Leap: The Complete First Season (1989 TV series DVD - Victim of his own experiment, a scientist time-travels by occupying other people's lives; mentioned in text)
Silent Running (1972 movie DVD - The last surviving ecosystems, on board distant spaceships, are slated for destruction; mentioned in text)
The Time Machine (1960 movie DVD - A 19th-century scientist travels through time to the twilight of humanity; mentioned in text)
Time After Time (1979 movie DVD on time travel)
Young Frankenstein (1974 movie DVD - In this Mel Brooks parody, a descendent of the famed doctor finds himself recreating his ancestor's infamous experiment; mentioned in text)

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Bad Unicorn
(The Bad Unicorn trilogy, Book 1)
Platte F. Clarke
Fiction, YA Fantasy

DESCRIPTION: Stubby, tubby middle-schooler Max Spencer is nobody's idea of a hero. He can't even stand up to Ricky "the Kraken" Reynolds, the school bully. His best friend, Dirk, is a gamer geek with only a tenuous connection to reality as others comprehend it, and even he's more likely to save your average world than Max. Indeed, the only thing that might hint at potential is an old book Max has had for as long as he's lived, a peculiar tome called The Codex of Infinite Knowability, which displays random information and zaps most people who try to read it. He only ever brought it to school because he was desperate for a last-minute book report. How was he to know that the weird things it talks about - killer unicorns, other worlds, little edible humanoids named frobbits, and more - were real? And how was he to know that he was being hunted down by the worst unicorn of all, Princess the Destroyer, and her pet wizard, Magar the Tolerated? Now Max is supposed to be the last blood descendant of the greatest magic worker ever known, and he - along with the Codex, Dirk, a gutsy girl named Sarah, an outcast dwarf, and a remarkably unhelpful talking knife - may be the key to saving three worlds... or utterly destroying everything.

REVIEW: This could've been a very stupid book. Its humor walks a tightrope between silliness, pop culture, and satire. How does it succeed? How did it get me to giggle at concepts like a zombie duck and a sapient video game and Glenn, the Legendary Dagger of Motivation? Having read it, I'm still not entirely sure, but I was laughing most of the way through. Part of the key, though, was not overlooking the dark chasms over which that proverbial tightrope crossed. Princess the Destroyer doesn't just poke people or threaten death or scowl and cackle menacingly, like many middle-grade villains - she deals out destruction as easily as blinking. The sapient arcade game isn't just a silly homage to a sci-fi trope, but rises above its humble, two-dimensional origins. Max and his friends make mistakes that aren't just slapstick pratfalls, but that cause real problem and occasionally cost real lives. Real humor needs some dark shadows to make it shine. (That, and some of the jokes and amusing asides are aimed just a little over the heads of the target audience, but not so they'd notice; Clarke's clearly aware that grown-ups sometimes read middle-grade fiction.) Characters tend to start as genre tropes, yet often have a little more to them, all of them growing during the course of the tale. The action moves between multiple worlds, as well as between the present and a post-apocalyptic future, while following different characters, sometimes making for a bit of a tangle as the reader tries to keep track of who is where doing what, and when. But there are some interesting plot developments, and it all builds to a nice finale in which everyone pulls their weight. Overall, I enjoyed it more than I expected - possibly more than it's decent to admit - and I look forward to finding Book 2.

You might also enjoy:
Demons Don't Dream (Piers Anthony, Fiction - A computer game pulls two Earth kids into magical Xanth, to settle a demons' bet)
Galaxy Quest (Terry Bisson, Fiction - The washed-up cast of an old sci-fi series meets aliens who believe it was all real)
Fairy Metal Thunder (JL Bryan, YA Fiction - A modern teen musician steals magical instruments from Fairyland, leading his garage band to great success... and trouble)
Storybound (Marissa Burt, YA Fiction - A girl falls into the world of Story)
The Artemis Fowl series (Eoin Colfer, YA Fiction - A boy genius and criminal mastermind pits his wits against the entire Faerie nation)
King: The Graphic Novel (Joshua Hale Fialkov, Fiction - The illustrated adventure of the last man alive in a darkly humorous post-apocalyptic, monster-filled Los Angeles)
The Princess Bride (William Goldman, Fiction - A father and son bond over the story of a beautiful princess, an evil prince, adventure, danger, and True Love)
The Tales of Jig Dragonslayer (Jim C. Hines, Fiction - A craven but clever goblin, captured and forced to guide a group of bickering adventurers, learns that heroism is highly overrated)
Dark Lord of Derkholm and Year of the Griffin (Diana Wynne Jones, Fiction - A magical world is forced to entertain offworld tourists with reconstructed fantasy epic adventures)
The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (Diana Wynne Jones, Fiction - A tourist's guide to epic fantasy)
The Divide (Elizabeth Kay, YA Fiction - A sickly boy accidentally falls into a world where magic is real and humans are myths)
The Magic 2.0 series (Scott Meyer, Fiction - After meddling with the data file controlling reality, a modern hacker flees to medieval England to play wizard)
A Fate Worse than Dragons (John Moore, Fiction - A princess and her beloved knight scheme for a way to him to earn her hand in marriage, plans that go terribly awry)
Heroics for Beginners (John Moore, Fiction - Armed with a handbook of practical heroics, a prince sets out to foil an evil warlord)
The Unhandsome Prince (John Moore, Fiction - A determined girl frees a homely prince from a frog spell, but demands a better-looking husband out of the deal)
Rampant (Diana Peterfreund, YA Fiction - A modern girl must learn to hunt killer unicorns... but are they really the biggest threat?)
The Color of Magic (Terry Pratchett, Fiction - A magicless wizard must act as a guide for Discworld's first tourist)
The Wee Free Men (Terry Pratchett, YA Fiction - In a backwater of Discworld, young would-be witch Tiffany Aching faces an otherworldly threat)
Lumberjanes (Noelle Stevenson and Shannon Watters, YA Comic - Five girls discover some weird, magical goings-on at their summer camp)
The Princess and the Firedrake (Jim Stinson, YA Fiction - Cursed by being too clever, a banished princess must save her kingdom from an angry dragon)
The Bartimaeus trilogy (Jonathan Stroud, YA Fiction - A humiliated apprentice summons a djinni for vengeance, but learns he's in for more than he bargained for)
The Adventurer's Guide to Successful Escapes (Wade Albert White, YA Fiction - A 13-year-old orphan becomes part of a Rightful Heir quest that could save or destroy her magical world)
Princeless (Jeremy Whitley, YA Comic - In a fairy tale world, Princess Adrienne refuses to sit around waiting to be rescued and married off)
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (Patricia Wrede, YA Fiction - Sick of being the proper princess, a headstrong girl runs away to live with dragons)
Forever After (Roger Zelazny, creator, Fiction - After the battle between Good and Evil has been won, the powerful artifacts that won the day create no end of trouble)

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