War With the Newts by Karel Capek
(Trans. by M. & R. Weatherall)
Giant Newts are found in the south seas. It's observed they're intelligent, capable of speech and using tools. How to exploit the Newts for human gain is soon discovered. Said "discoveries" spread across the planet and a period of unprecedented prosperity for humans ensues, "The Age of Newts." Various societies to improve the lot of the Newts spring up, schools for Newts are opened. Newts multiply and multiply, eventually finding themselves requiring more habitat to support their growing population. Newt habitat are the shallow coastal shorelines of the world and Newts begin a campaign to increase those. It doesn't end well for humanity.
Capek is a social satirist in the same vein as George Orwell, Jonathan Swift and (yes) Jody Scott, but very much a pessimist. The only ray of hope, of redemption in Newts is the postulated possibility that the Newts too will eventually destroy their civilization, for reasons similar to the cause of humanity's downfall, namely "human nature."
In the concluding chapter, The Author Talks with Himself, Capek summarizes the internal dilemma of his own pessimistic prescience, and makes the moral case for social satirists:
"Don't ask me what I want. Do you think that through my will human continents are falling to bits, do you think that I wanted this to happen? It is simply the logic of events; as if I could intervene. I did what I could; I warned them in time... They all had a thousand absolutely sound economic and political reasons why it's impossible. I'm not a politician or an economist; I can't change their opinions, can I? What is one to do? The earth will probably sink and drown; but at least it will be the result of generally acknowledged political and economic ideas, at least it will be accomplished with the help of the science, industry and public opinion, with the
application of all human ingenuity! No cosmic catastrophy, nothing but state, official, economic, and other causes. Nothing can be done to prevent it."
Written in 1936 War with the Newts may seem a tad slow in places for readers of today, weaned as we are on multiple, simultaneous, attention span-eroding streams of constant external input, but the reader willing to enter into the pace of Capek's novel will be rewarded with a story that is funny, sometimes horrifying, often thought-provoking, richly satisfying and still very much relevant, Recommended!
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I am not a fan of books in a series that do not also work as stand-alone novels, which Freshmen (The Felix Chronicles Book 1) doesn't quite. But up to that disappointing fact at the very end, and after the too-long prologue, I enjoyed it very much.
Felix Chronicles is a YA novel about Felix and his gang of pals during their freshman semester at Portland College. Felix, who recently lost his parents in a tragic accident, discovers his true identity as the Belus, a mighty sorcerer charged with saving the world from the evil Drestianite sorcerers and the Protectors, assassins pledged to destroying all sorcerers. Add to this the pressure of finals, a serial killer stalking only children, a crush he's afraid to pursue and the mystery of nearby Ashfield Forest, where people go in but they do not come out, and what a semester it turns out to be!
That may sound overwrought, but author R.T. Lowe (@TheRTLowe on twitter) is a skilled writer and manages it all well, the story carries one along and the characters are likable. With the caveat mentioned above, recommended.
(I received a free copy in exchange for writing an unbiased review.)
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This satire was first published in 1977, but its biting commentary still registers strongly today. Aliens trained in Western pop culture disguise themselves as well-known figures and embark on two intersecting tasks: judging humankind’s readiness to join the interstellar community, and searching for a ruthless criminal. Scott carries on the tradition of Mark Twain, using outside observers to remark on society. While the treatment of women is the primary focus, other targets include consumer culture and the general human willingness to be led by the nose by a charismatic figure. The narrative drags at times, but the speculative elements are well written and give a good sense of physical and cultural differences. A light touch keeps the moralizing from getting too ham-fisted, and this cautionary tale calling for a better world is a message needed now more than ever.
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Outlaws (Rebel Star Book 1) by Edward W. Robertson
Humanity is space-faring, but only within our own solar system. Everything, human or machine, sent to beyond vanishes without a trace. Jain has been investigating this mystery and is on to something but before she can divulge her discovery she is murdered.
Rada and Simm, operatives for a rival corporation are determined to find why and by whom, with the help of some space pirates, a sort of think tank called Lords of the True Realm and Jain's son who faked his own death.
Outlaw is basically a murder mystery set in space, and our protagonists traverse the solar system in pursuit of whodunit and what Jain discovered. The quotidian details of life aboard spacecraft, on stations or off-earth bodies is well drawn and enjoyable. The writing is good, the imagining of a reality where gender is irrelevant is impressively accomplished, but the characters are stock and the ending is a bit abrupt.
I find the idea of humanity becoming space-faring exciting and inspiring, so Outlaw checked enough boxes for me that I enjoyed it and will probably check out the next book in the series.
Headhunters From Outer Space by Bret A McCormick
Humor, nostalgia, metaphysical philosophy, oddball characters ... Headhunters From Outer Space is a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Zed and Fred, the titular headhunters, are talent scouts of a sort, that show up in Alvarado, Texas to recruit talent from the the performers and artists that gather at the club of Big Daddy Bostwick, 60's counter-culture icon. Also there to do a piece on the legend are a cynical reporter, uptight editor and photographer from a major news publication. The headhunters' recruitment methods are unique and what follows is a reality-expanding romp with the alien visitors.
It starts out a little slowly and there a few typos that proofreaders missed, but once Fred and Zed show up on the scene, it's all groovy man!
Recommended for those who appreciate the quirkier corners of speculative fiction that Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegut and Jody Scott inhabit.
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Orville Mouse and the Puzzle of the Clockwork Glowbirds (Orville Wellington Mouse Book 1)
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