Sunday, October 21, 2012

Bob Smith has a success with gay science fiction.

Bob Smith is a comic writer, and I have enjoyed some of his earlier work. But this novel is really entertaining in all sorts of ways.

Remembrance of Things I Forgot

Remembrance of Things I Forgot (272 pages, University of Wisconsin Press, $25.95) is your typical gay science fiction narrative.  I mean who wouldn’t want a time machine to go back and figure out what has gone wrong in a relationship or to try to change, just slightly, some of the things that have happened to you?

John Sherkston has these fantasies just as anyone might, but in his case--a gay guy with a partner who has invented a time machine—these are more than idle thoughts.  In fact, when Taylor drags him out to see the new invention, John is simply irritated and feels that he has to make the break.  He’s been more and more upset with Taylor since Taylor shifted politically so far to the right that he is working for the second Bush administration and making fun of democratic ideals.

When John gets to the hotel that hides the secret laboratory, he finds himself challenged once again by Taylor’s charm, and when he hears what the time machine can do, he imagines going back just far enough to keep Taylor from changing his political sympathies and maybe correcting a few other things, like his sister’s suicide, which devastated him but a few years before, and his father's death from alcoholism.

Of course, no one but John is surprised when he steps into the time machine and is hurled back to 1986.  Dick Cheney, the vice president, has flipped the switch, but John hopes that Taylor knows what is going on and will try to bring him back.

The first person John encounters in the past is his earlier self, Junior.  John is impressed at how much better looking his older self is, and Junior responds positively to John’s good build—he has recently been working out—and his familiar manner.  At first Junior feels that he has fallen for an older man, but when John persuades him that he is an older version of himself, Junior feel that it is just his luck that he would fall in love with himself.

John explains to Junior what he wants to achieve, and Junior at first doesn’t believe that his sister would commit suicide.  He is also appalled when John tells him about the political climate of the age and the particular egregiousness of Bush and Cheney, who had led the country into the Iraq War.

John and Junior hook up with an earlier Taylor, whom Junior hasn’t yet met, and all three decide they should do something to stop Bush form being elected.  They will travel to Texas on their way to California and do what it takes to prevent Bush’s victory.

Their trip is made more interesting when they recognize that they are being chased and threatened by Dick Cheney, both the vice president and his younger self, who seem to have gathered a militia to stop them.

The novel is beautifully paced and full of fun at every turn.  But what is most wonderful is the encounter with the past.  Aside from having to persuade members of his family who he is, he has to persuade them very difficult things about themselves.  It is a wonderful way to talk about the past and to confront those things that have made experience so difficult.

The novel has a happy ending—happy in the past and in the present as well—but it is how he gets to that ending that makes this such an entertaining book.

Bob Smith

Remembrance of Things I Forgot is available at Powell's, Vroman's and Amazon.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Jude Hardin starts a thriller series with an intriguing tale.

I picked up two of Jude Hardin’s novels, but I decided to read the early one first.


Pocket-47 (420 pages, Oceanview Publishing, $24.95) features Nicholas Colt, a private eye who lives in an old airstream trailer in rural Florida.  He’s had a rough life, not least of which included a plane crash that killed his wife and daughter.  At that time, he was a rock musician.  But now he’s simply trying to make ends meet by doing the work of a private investigator.

In this novel, Nicolas is deeply moved when he is asked to find a high school student who has disappeared.  The older sister of the girl is the person who approaches him.  Nicholas remembers his own daughter, and agrees to do this project for far less than his usual fee.

It isn’t too hard to find the missing girl, Brittany.  She’s hiding with an arrogant pimp, who bashes Nicholas as he tries to chase her.  Nicholas finally catches her and manages to spend some time with her.  She is a smart and smart-ass teenager, but he likes her and feels enough fatherly affection to want to save her.  She has other ideas, escaping from Nicholas and keeping her distance.

The story gets more and more complicated, and as it does, Nicholas Colt gets bashed and beaten at every turn.  Jude Hardin seems to enjoy putting him through it, and only occasionally does he offer his long-suffering hero a little down time with his girlfriend, who is not such an easy alternative to the seething bad guys.

When it turns out that Brittany has been carried off in a sort of militaristic cult,  Nicholas figures out a way to infiltrate the compound.  There is more physical endurance for the hero, but he manages to do what he needs to do.

The novel has a certain energy, and some readers will enjoy this hero.  I can’t say that I was won over, and I don’t think I’ll read the second novel in this series, at least not now.

Jude Hardin

Pocket 47 is available at Powell's, Vroman's and Amazon.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

William Boyd links mother and daughter in a fascination tale of espionage and betrayal.

I have liked William Boyd’s recent novels, so I picked up this one published in 2006.  I liked it as much as any.


William Boyd’s Restless (336 pages, Bloomsbury, $14.95) is billed as an historical thriller, and it does a wonderful job of playing two historical periods against each other.

The “present” of the novel is 1976, and Ruth Gilmartin, who is pursuing a doctorate in History at Oxford, is a frustrated and seemingly paranoid mother who lives deep in the Oxfordshire countryside and imagines that someone is lurking in the woods beyond her garden.

Ruth is busy enough raising a young son and trying to cope with a full docket of ESL students.  Her time is so full, in fact, that she has little time for writing her Ph.D. thesis.  But then when is that not true.

Anyway, Ruth is just about at the end of the tether with her seemingly demented mother, when the older woman hands her a document that turns out the be the account of her life as a spy, first in Europe and then in England and the United States.

Ruth can hardly believe that her mother, Sally Gilmartin, is the Eva Delectorskaya whom she reads about in the narrative.  Even harder to believe is the harrowing account of wartime espionage and betrayal, as Eva Delectorskaya becomes Eve Dalton and eventually the Mrs. Sally Gilamartin that Ruth knows as her mother.

As Sally’s narrative is fed to Ruth in small bits, it becomes increasingly engaging.  When Eva is recruited by a handsome British spy, she falls in love and has an intermittent affair, even as her situation becomes scarier and more threatening.

While we read about wartime Europe and the double-crosses of the Second World War, Ruth is still coping with her son, his estranged father in Germany, that man’s brother who comes to visit and brings all sorts of complications including his girlfriend.  And then there are also her students, who are importuning in various ways and even have the temerity to fall in love with her.

One of these narratives is meant to comment on the other, but at times it is hard to decide in which direction the commentary flows.  What is clear, though, is that Ruth becomes so caught up in her mother’s story that she is ready to play a part in it before the curtain falls.

This is a masterful novel and one that makes clear Boyd’s true talent.

William Boyd

Restless is available at Powell's, Vroman's and Amazon.