Book Review: The Physics of Everyday Things

Book Review: The Physics of Everyday Things by James Kakalios

Disclaimer:  I received an uncorrected proof of this book for the purpose of writing this review.   No other compensation was offered or requested.  The final product,  due out May 2017, will have some changes, including a full index.

The Physics of Everyday Things

Today is no ordinary day.  While it may seem normal as you wake up and have breakfast, getting ready for a doctor’s appointment and a work presentation, today will actually be extraordinary.  For you will be accompanied at every step by Professor James Kakalios, author of The Physics of Superheroes, who will explain the physics behind the many objects you interact with every day.

In the tradition of Hugo Gernsback’s seminal novel Ralph 124C 41+, the narrative frame takes “You” (a prosperous business person with a late-model car and many of the latest gadgets) through a typical day in 2017 as an excuse to discuss the physics involved in such devices as digital timers, magnetic resonance imaging and flat panel televisions.  While not as thrilling as a superhero saga might be, the day is eventful enough to keep the story moving.  (And relatable for business people who might invest in scientific research.)

The book mostly skips the mathematical formulas that are the bane of non-scientists trying to follow physics discussions, but a basic understanding of high school level physics principles will make this book easier to understand.  There are figures to illustrate how some of the devices work, as well as both footnotes and end-notes.  T he finished product will also have an index.

Overall, the superheroes book was more fun, but is now outdated.  I recommend this volume primarily to business people and those who want to know a bit more about physics as it applies to real life.  (Well, except for a last discussion on flying cars and the physics of why we still don’t have them.)

Book Review: Trafficking in Magic, Magicking in Traffic

Book Review: Trafficking in Magic, Magicking in Traffic edited by David Sklar & Sarah Avery

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Trafficking in Magic, Magicking in Traffic

This fantasy anthology has a dual theme, as indicated by its title; magic as transaction, and magic while traveling.  The former theme brings to mind the classic Faustian bargain story, and the preface mentions that the editors got a bushel full of them, only a few making the cut.

There are eighteen stories, nine for each theme, divided into groups of three by subtheme, such as “Bad Roads.”  Most of the stories are new, but some have been previously printed.  Some standouts include:

  • “Ghost Diamonds” by Scott Hungerford.  A woman and her niece discover that compressing  crematorium ashes into a diamond allows calling the ghost of the deceased.  But they aren’t the only ones who have made this discovery, and someone’s been switching the ghost diamonds with fakes.  But why?
  • “Across the Darien Gap” by Daniel Braum.   A guide attempts to take a hunted woman through the rain forest between Central and South America.  His two-dimensional thinking may doom them.  This one has been made into an episode of Psuedopod, a horror podcast, and is now being lengthened into a book.
  • “Only a Week” by Joyce Chng.  This one might actually be science fiction, set in a futuristic Chinatown.  A courtesan seeks to regain her youthful beauty, but the medicine has side effects and can be taken only for one week….
  • “And the Deep Blue Sea” by Elizabeth Bear.  A courier must cross the postapocalyptic Southwest to deliver vital supplies.  But a deal she made years ago is coming due.  Can Harrie finish her delivery with the devil himself in the way?

There’s a good diversity of protagonists, and both happy and sad endings.  A couple of stories are perhaps a little too cliche, but the quality is generally good.

Unlike many small press books I’ve read lately, the proofreading is excellent.

I would recommend this book to fantasy fans in general, and modern fantasy fans in particular.

TV Review: Mannix

TV Review: Mannix

Hey, a show I actually remember watching first-run!  Private eye show Mannix ran from 1967-75.  It had a memorable opening sequence with a jazzy tune in waltz time and split-screen credits reminiscent of a monitor bank.

Mannix

Joe Mannix (Mike Connors) was an Armenian-American Korean War veteran, a little rough around the edges.  In the first season, he worked for Intertect, a high-technology detective firm with dozens of operatives and the latest in computers.  Mannix often clashed with his long-suffering boss Lew Wickersham (Joseph Campanella), since his casual look and hands-on methods often conflicted with the agency’s buttoned-down image.

The ratings weren’t so good, so the show was remodeled for the second season.  The computers, which the writers had never used well in the first place, and Intertect were gone, Joe Mannix was his own man, and he hired a black secretary (remember, in 1968, a black woman having a job as prestigious as secretary or glorified telephone operator was progressive.)  The decent run of the show indicates that this might have been a wise move.

The Mill Creek DVD had two first-season episodes.

“Nothing Ever Works Twice”  An ex-girlfriend of Mannix hires him to work on her divorce case.  While this is a huge part of real private detective work, Mannix is the top agent, so normally doesn’t have to do it, but the ex sweet talks him into it.  One ambush later, Mannix finds himself framed for the husband’s murder.

It turns out that the husband was fronting for a gambling ring, so there’s plenty of suspects, including the conniving wife.  Mannix gets beat up some (a recurring theme in the series) and while the computers are no help, the high tech car phones Mannix and Lew have are instrumental in helping solve the case.

The first thing I noticed going from Fifties shows to this one was the much shorter skirts.  (The opening credits have a young woman twirl so we can see her underwear.)  Mannix smokes, he almost does this in the computer room at the office.  The transfer on this episode was sub-par; Mill Creek may have worked with an inferior master.

“The Cost of a Vacation”  Another ex-girlfriend, this one a model, hires Mannix to find her missing boyfriend.  This is made somewhat difficult by the fact that he’s been living under a different name, and neither of these may be his real one.   Eventually, Mannix ties this to an assassination plot.

We learn that between the Korean War and becoming a private detective, Mannix spent some time as a mercenary in Costa Verde.  He gets beat up and shot at some more.  The model (after he has saved her from a sniper) points out that Mannix gets shot at a lot and opines that it’s probably one of his friends.  (This becomes funnier over time as over half Mannix’s old war buddies that show up try to kill him.)

Mannix’s old war buddy in this episode doesn’t try to kill him, but is involved in smuggling illegal aliens into America using a charity as a cover.    The model spends most of the episode in a bikini, and there’s a bit of creepiness with Lew doing the voyeur thing with the office cameras.  (But not long; he’s shut off the cameras by the time she decides to leave.)

The ending is kind of a downer.  Mannix fails to stop the assassination or learn who hired the assassin, plus his war buddy and a random private eye get killed.  He does manage to save the model, but this is despite her lovelorn stupidity being what puts her in danger in the first place.

Mike Connors is great as Mannix, and the other actors are good too.  The show could really have done with a writer who would really explore the uses of computers in detective work.  Worth looking up.

Comic Strip Review: Johnny Comet

Comic Strip Review: Johnny Comet by Frank Frazetta & Earl Baldwin

Before Frank Frazetta hit it big with movie posters and book cover paintings of brawny barbarians and scantily-clad women, he worked in comic books and tried to break into the lucrative newspaper comics business.    After a couple of abortive efforts, Mr. Frazetta was hired in 1952 to do the art for Johnny Comet, the tale of a driver of midget race cars.

Johnny Comet

The strip was written by Earl Baldwin, although the name of Indy 500 winner Peter DePaolo was attached to raise reader interest.   Johnny starts the strip loaning a tire to a hapless competitor of his, who goes on to win the race while Johnny crashes his vehicle.  Johnny’s idea of becoming a  mobile car repairman almost immediately falls through when his jalopy is destroyed in Clover, California.

Fortunately, this puts him in position to help out Jean Fargo,  a garage owner who just happens to have a midget car that needs a driver.  Aided by engineer “Pop” Bottle, his acerbic wife Mrs. Bottle and mechanic Sparky, Johnny and Jean battle the evil Al Gore(!) and his secret backer, who have good reasons to not want Johnny Comet to win the race.

The writing is kind of mediocre, with the basic plot device of a job opportunity for Johnny or his friends meaning ruin for someone else, who will then resort to violence rather than think of a less criminal way of doing things used repeatedly.  Mr. Baldwin was also overfond of resolving plotlines with the karmic death of the villains or an offstage arrest.

The art, on the other hand, was excellent, with Frazetta’s trademark handsome lead, attractive women , vile looking villains–and some very nice-looking cars.  There’s some fine craftsmanship on display in these strips.  A nice touch early on was the safety tips tucked into panels that let you know not to do the crazy stunts the characters get up to.

Towards the end of the strip, it was reworked, with Johnny being renamed Ace McCoy and becoming a stuntman.    There’s one storyline of this, and then the strip was cancelled three installments into the next plot, leaving the characters hanging forever.

The Sunday strips had a separate continuity and are reprinted here in color; they quickly switched to a gag format, mostly about Pop Bottle and Johnny being bumbling men who manage to offend Mrs. Bottle even when they’re trying to help.

There’s also an article on Mr. Frazetta’s comic strip career (he wound up as Al Capp’s assistant on Li’l Abner for eight years.)

If you’re a Frank Frazetta fan, or a midget car racing fan, this is a must-have.    Others will want to check it out from the library for the good art and mostly fun read.

Book Review: Splatterlands

Book Review: Splatterlands edited by Anthony Rivera and Sharon Lawson

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Splatterlands

According to Wikipedia, “splatterpunk” was a movement in horror writing between roughly 1985 and 1995,  distinguished by its graphic and often gory descriptions of violence and attempts to create “hyperintensive” horror with no limits.  Supernatural elements are neither necessary or forbidden.  It seems to have been subsumed by newer trends in horror fiction, but never entirely died out.

Splatterlands is an anthology of thirteen short stories that try to recapture the feel of the splatterpunk movement.   As such, it is filled with sex, violence, sexual violence, crude language and a fascination with body fluids.  I’m going to come right out and issue a Trigger Warning for rape, torture, abuse and suicide.

For example, the first story, “Heirloom” by Michael Laimo, is about a woman who inherits a phallic symbol.  The main action of the story involves an explicitly described act of semi-consensual sexual violence.  If that immediately triggers your “do not want” instinct, then this volume is not for you.

Some stories that stood out include “Violence for Fun and Profit” by Gregory L. Norris, about the origin of a hired assassin/serial killer that’s frighteningly topical; “Housesitting” by Ray Garton (the only reprint), a relatively  understated tale of a housesitter who snoops and finds out things she’d rather not about her neighbors; “The Defiled” by Christine Morgan, about a band of Viking raiders who meet a karmic fate; and “The Devil Rides Shotgun” by Eric del Carlo, in which a police officer makes a demonic pact to track down a serial killer.

One story that really didn’t work for me was “Empty” by A.A. Garrison.  It’s about a woman in a post-apocalyptic world seeking medical assistance for her husband.  It turns out to be metafictional humor, (and I did like the protest sign that said “Too Many Adverbs”), but really came across as trying too hard.

Recommended for horror fans with strong stomachs, especially those who were fans of the original splatterpunk movement.  Probably not suitable for anyone else, despite the high quality of some of the stories.

Book Review: Beneath the Bleak New Moon

Beneath the Bleak New Moon by Debra Purdy Kong

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Beneath the Bleak New Moon

Casey Holland is a security officer for a small transit company in Vancouver, British Columbia.   She’s working the night shift during a new moon, and dealing with obnoxious twin sisters who flout the bus rules.  Suddenly, she and the bus passengers witness a hit and run accident caused by illegal street racers.  Casey tries to save the victim, but it’s too late.

As a result, Casey meets Danielle Carpenter, a rookie reporter with a burning grudge against Roadkill, the local gang of street racers.  She believes one of them killed her brother, and is taking dangerous chances to track them down.  She drags the unwilling Casey (who would much rather leave this to her police contacts) into the investigation.

More hit and runs happen, but these are no accidents–has Roadkill developed a taste for blood as well as their need for speed?  And do the twins know too much about the gang for their own good?

This is the third Casey Holland mystery; references are made to her having gotten too personally involved in previous cases (one was her father’s death.)  She’s apparently mostly learned her lesson on that score, so Danielle is brought in to be the reckless one.  Casey coordinates with the police whenever possible, given her quasi-authority status.

There’s a subplot involving Casey’s ex-husband and her current boyfriend, and very glancing looks at her foster daughter who may be getting a love life of her own.

This story is a bit closer to noir than to cozy, the conclusion is more the product of elimination of suspects than it is of clever reasoning.  Many of the characters come off as unlikable, but  we are seeing them through Casey’s eyes and she’s kind of judgmental.

This book should be enjoyable for those who want some, but not too much, grit in their mystery stories.  Also, those who wonder what happens to unlucky pedestrians in those Fast and Furious movies.  Check it out at your library, or there’s a special ebook offer at touchwoodeditions.com .

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