Book Review: Pandora

Pandoraby Michael D. Pederson


Anne Rice
Knopf, 353 pp.

This is the first in a new series that gets deeper into the history of Rice’s vampires. I’m torn on this one. It is better than most of the self-indulgent tripe that Ms. Rice has been churning out lately (and it’s under six-hundred pages), but it does still tend to ramble on, as Anne Rice novels are prone to do. For a change, the story doesn’t involve the rather dreary, self-absorbed Lestat. Instead we have Pandora, a 2,000-year-old vampire who is telling her life story. lt focuses mostly on her pre-vampiric life, and her turning. The plot revolves around an attempt to kill the two original vampires (and, thus, all vampires), and Marius’ stewardship of the pair. The title character is drawn into the plot by the Queen of the Damned herself because she had been close friends with Marius when he was still human. Pandora turns out to be one of the more interesting vampires that Rice has created in some time; she has a strong personality and seems to actually enjoy the Dark Gift. Unfortunately, we do have to listen to Marius (if you’re familiar with the series, you’re also familiar with this whiner) bemoaning the vampire’s curse for most of his scenes. In The Vampire Lestat, Rice gave us a character that took great joy in his vampire lifestyle; to the extent of even becoming a rock and roll star. Since then, her characters (Lestat particularly) have become increasingly morose. As a result, l truly enjoyed Pandora’s more enthusiastic attitude. The fact that the book is set amongst the debauchery of the Roman Empire helps as well. The fact that Lestat is in a catatonic coma helps even more. If you like Anne Rice, it doesn’t matter what l say—you’ll read the book anyway (fanatics). If (like me) you’re ambivalent towards her work, you’ll probably enjoy this one more than usual.


Book Review: Chromosome 6

Chromosome6by Michael D. Pederson


Chromosome 6
Robin Cook
Berkeley, 460 pp.

The king of the medical-thriller is back with his latest story of genetic engineering, organ transplants, and criminal conspiracies. lt’s not great literature but it is enjoyable. I classify Cook in the same level of genre fiction as Crichton, Clancy, or Grisham; authors you read if you’re interested in being bombarded with endless trivia concerning their fields of expertise (fortunately I am). Once again Cook sets his story in the New York City coroner’s office. This time a mafia boss is killed, his body stolen from the morgue, rediscovered (mutilated now), and found to be the recipient of a mysterious organ transplant. Not a bad plot. Unfortunately the mystery is investigated from four different avenues so the answers come too quickly and there are few surprises. Still, it’s a fun ride.


Book Review: Foundation’s Fear

Foundationsfearby Michael D. Pederson


Foundation’s Fear
Gregory Benford
HarperPrism, 616 pp.

Three of science-fiction’s best hard-science writers (Benford, David Brin, and Greg Bear) have taken on the task of writing the next trilogy in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. Foundation’s Fear is the first in the new series. Being a long-time fan of the original it’s hard to judge this objectively. At times it feels very close to Asimov’s original material, at others it wanders into territory that simply doesn’t mesh with the other books. This time the story concerns Hari Seldon’s entry into the political arena—this isn’t bad. There is also a section involving computer simulations of Joan of Arc and Voltaire fighting an alien lifeform that lives in the galactic internet—this is jarringly out of place and doesn’t feel like Asimov. If you’re a fan of the original it’s worth reading, otherwise forget it.


Book Review: Los Alamos

LosAlamosby Michael D. Pederson


Los Alamos
Joseph Kanon
Island Books, 517 pp.

This murder mystery is Kanon’s debut novel. He’s chosen to set it at the culmination of the Manhattan Project during the final months of WWII, a setting already filled with tension and intrigue, even without a murder. The story revolves around the investigation into the mysterious death of a security guard at the Los Alamos facility. Our hero is brought in to ensure that the murder has nothing to do with the atomic bomb project, solving the crime is merely a secondary goal. Kanon does an excellent job of recreating the feel of the project and capturing the character of the people working there while seamlessly blending them with his own characters. Herein though lies the largest flaw of the novel—in murder mysteries you can usually discount the obvious red herrings, in Los Alamos you can also rule out the historical personalities, leaving you with few potential suspects. Even so this is a highly enjoyable novel and a first-rate mystery.


Book Review: Cold Mountain

ColdMountainby Michael D. Pederson


Cold Mountain
Charles Frazier
Atlantic Monthly Press, 491 pp.

I finally caved. Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain was the book on everyone’s X-Mas list this year and hasn’t left the bestseller’s list since. I finally read it and was extremely pleased.

Cold Mountain is part of a literary tradition ranging from The Odyssey to Star Trek: Voyager; it tells the story of a man’s journey home. Like Odysseus, the hero, Inman, must face a series of conflicts and distractions along the way (he even rises from the dead at one point). Cold Mountain is the first novel from Frazier and, like many first novels, is obviously a very personal story; the story of Inman is a fictionalized account of his own family history. Even though our hero is heading straight home, the story takes a more circuitous route—alternating between lnman and his girlfriend back home; she is a society girl left alone to run her late father’s farm. Even though each character has simple goals the story stays interesting, primarily by breaking off periodically to tell other short tales. The main characters have several stories each and everyone they meet has their own story. lt’s this almost free-form reminisence that gives the novel its quaint charm. Frazier has lovingly, and with great attention to detail, recreated the rural south in the latter part of the Civil War. You are left with a very genuine empathy for the characters, no matter how minor their role.

Although l keep hearing this book compared to Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels I think the more likely comparison is to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. Like Mitchell, Frazier shows very little of the war and is more concerned with focusing on the lives of people that are living in a society that is falling apart and making us truly empathize with them.

I only hope that Frazier has more family history to plunder for future novels.


Book Review: Making History

MakingHistoryby Michael D. Pederson


Making History
Stephen Fry
Random House, 380 pp.

This is the third book from actor/writer Stephen Fry. Making History uses time-travel and alternate realities (without becoming science fiction) to tell an amusing story of fate, determinism, and morality. Fry s firat book (The Liar, 1991, Soho Press) was a brilliant piece of comic insanity. In Making History, Fry has toned down both the comedy and the insanity but still provides an entertaining, philosophical read.

Making History plays with the most popular subject in the alternate history genre—Adolph Hitler. Fry uses the “history is immutable” theory (i.e. if there were no Lincoln then someone else would play a similar role) as the framework for his story. The main characters are Michael Young, a Cambridge history student who has just finished his thesis on the early life of Adolph Hitler and Leo Tuckermann, a physics professor obsessed with guilt over Nazi Germany (his father had been a senior medical officer in the Auschwitz death camp). The two concoct a plan to prevent Hitler from being born. The mechanics of time-travel aren’t important to the story; in a movie they would have cut to a three-minute montage showing the heroes developing time-travel to a soundtrack of Pink Floyd’s “Time.” Fry uniquely conveys this by writing the entire section in screenplay format.

The book is at its most entertaining when Young wakes up in the strange new Hitler-less world that he has created. After failing to fit in to this new world he discovers that the Nazi party without Hitler’s manic impatience and messiah complex is a more efficient and nastier creature. The fun of the book is in the details of a well thought out alternate reality so I won’t reveal any surprises here. In the end, our hero has to set things back to the way they were while discovering love and learning a few things about himself along the way. Good stuff.