Book Review: The Minneapolis Riverfront

Book Review: The Minneapolis Riverfront by Iric Nathanson

The city of Minneapolis grew up around the Mississippi River, and in particular, Saint Anthony Falls, which provided hydropower for the many flour mills that at one time made Minneapolis the flour milling capital of America.  This book, part of the “Images of America” series, tells the story of that patch of river and city.

The Minneapolis Riverfront

The Falls were first written about by Father Louis Hennepin in 1680 when he beheld the falling waters known to the natives as Kakabikah, Minirara or Owahmenah, depending on their language.  Father Hennepin immediately renamed the falls after his favorite saint.  Saint Anthony Falls was an important stop for Lieutenant Zebulon Pike in 1805, where he negotiated the purchase of some native land to build the military base later known as Fort Snelling.

Fort Snelling’s soldiers used the falls to power a sawmill to help build their fortifications and furniture, and soon other white folks were doing the same.  The settlement grew, and eventually the city of Minneapolis (“city of waters”) was born.

Due to overenthusiastic improvement attempts, the natural deterioration of Saint Anthony Falls (it would have disappeared in another couple of centuries) accelerated, and in 1869, the Army Corps of Engineers built a concrete apron that permanently altered its appearance, but stabilized its location.

Meanwhile, businesses and homes were built along the riverfront.  Unfortunately, a combination of changing milling practices and the Great Depression drove many of the flour mills out of business, and by the mid-20th Century, the riverfront area had become economically blighted.

Some stabs were made at revitalizing the area in the 1980s; I have fond memories of Riverplace, a destination shopping center where I got my first taste of authentic South Indian cuisine.  The business climate wasn’t quite right, and after a disastrous attempt to turn Riverplace into a gigantic nightclub, it quietly became just another office building.

Reclaiming much of the waterfront for parks, a museum and upscale living space has worked better, and in the 21st Century, the riverfront is doing well.  Recently, they even relit the Grain Belt sign, a gaudy artifact of Minneapolis’ history with beer.

The book is heavily illustrated with black and white reproductions of paintings and photographs of people and places of the Mississippi River and Saint Anthony Falls area.  There’s a few spellchecker typos; it could have used another editorial pass.

The primary market for this book is of course inhabitants of Minneapolis and the surrounding area of Minnesota, though it should also be of interest to tourists in the area.  (You could certainly do worse for a souvenir!)   A collection of the various “Images” books for the city would be a good resource for authors writing books set in the Twin Cities to allow descriptions of local flavor.  People from other cities might want to see if Images of America has a volume for their neighborhood.  (And if not, there’s your chance to write one!)

I note that these volumes are a bit expensive for their size–check to see if your local library has copies to inspect before you buy.

Book Review: Infinity Five

Book Review: Infinity Five edited by Robert Hoskins

This is the fifth and last (so far as I know) of the Infinity series of science fiction anthologies from Lancer Books.  As mentioned in my review of Infinity Two, they’re heavy on the New Wave style of story, free to have sex scenes and rough language (but not yet skilled at their use) and experimental storytelling styles.  The opening editorial mentions that SF has become a respectable genre for adults, but I’m not sure you could tell from this book.

Infinity Five

SPOILER WARNING: I’m going to be giving away some of the endings.

“The Science Fiction Hall of Fame” by Robert Silverberg starts us off with one of the more experimental pieces, Short fragments from different stories cobbled together around the reminiscences of an avid science fiction fan who has a recurring nightmare about possible futures.  It feels like Mr. Silverberg just grabbed random pages from rejected stories to fill out the length.  At the end, the nightmare becomes reality, and the fear vanishes.

“In Between Then and Now” by Arthur Byron Cover is about two immortal and nigh-omnipotent beings that have been fighting since they can remember.  One of them has a realization that his feelings have changed, but the other isn’t quite ready to accept this.

“Kelly, Frederic Michael: 1928-1987” by William F. Nolan is another “randomish fragments” story.  Mr. Kelly is dying on an alien planet, and his mind slips back and forth.

“Nostalgia Tripping” by Alan Brennert has people listening to oldies radio, except that what precisely the oldies are, and the history that created them, keeps changing.  It turns out that time travel has been invented and harnessed solely to change history to create these new “oldies” because 2003 is just that bleak.  An interesting concept, but perhaps wasted on such a short story.

“She/Her” by Robert Thurston is about telepathic aliens whose planet is undergoing first contact with humans.   Among the new concepts the visitors have brought with them is the significance of gender, as the humans innocently try to fit the aliens into their stereotypes.  This is actually a decent story with a good try at thinking in alien mindsets.

“Trashing” by Barry N. Malzberg goes back to trippy as an assassin attempts to kill a madman who is spreading riots and disorder.  Or is that really what’s happening?

“Hello, Walls and Fences” by Russell Bates is about an artist, or maybe an engineer, who’s asked to do something he finds repugnant by a wealthy man.   Unfortunately, he’s got a wife to feed (this was back when most married women were expected not to have jobs) and his solo work doesn’t sell, so at the end he has to accept the rich man’s job.  We never really find out what the process is or why the artist/engineer doesn’t like it.

“Free at Last” by Ron Goulart moves towards the silly.  A man with a Wide Open Marriage in 1992 is cheating on it by having a secret affair with his invalid aunt’s nurse.  Wide Open, of course, means no secrets.  As part of this, he’s also concealing that his aunt is already dead.  However, the man from the U.S. Department of Transition, which provides free funerals for all American citizens, is getting suspicious.  This one has a lot of extrapolating Seventies California goofiness into the future.  It’s maybe the best story in the issue.

“Changing of the Gods” by Terry Carr, on the other hand, takes a bitter approach to extrapolation.  It is a future where all the mainstream religions have collapsed, to be replaced with the Ancient and Apostolic Church of Christ, Pragmatist.  Yet they still have Fifties style ad agencies.  Sam Luckman is a creative type for one of those agencies, which has been chosen by the Pragmatists to create an ad campaign for “family control” to battle the hideous overpopulation of the world.  Luckman’s personal life is in the toilet, and his disgust with youth-oriented culture and the betrayal of his closest relatives boils over into the advertisements he creates.

Warnings for on-screen incest, pedophilia, castration, body horror.  Also casual homophobia: “homosexual rapists” are said to haunt restrooms.  This is all meant to shock, but just comes off as trying too hard.   One begins to understand why Mr. Carr normally was restricted to editing.

“Interpose” by George Zebrowski has Jesus snatched from the Cross by cruel time travelers.  Jesus is also an alien, not that it does him any good as apparently all his powers were withdrawn for the Crucifixion.

“Greyworld” by Dean R, Koontz is a full novella.  An amnesiac man who is probably named Joel wakes up in a suspended animation pod in a deserted laboratory.  After some wandering around, he runs into a faceless man and passes out.  When Joel awakens, he’s still amnesiac, but is now in a New England country house with his hot wife and distrustful uncle-in-law.  Several more layers of reality ensue.  It’s similar in many ways to Keith Laumer’s Night of Delusions, which I reviewed earlier, but has a more stable (if highly implausible) ending.

“Isaac Under Pressure” by Scott Edelstein wraps up the volume with a quick joke story about unusual genie containers.

Overall, this collection has not aged well, and is only worth seeking out if you collect one of the authors whose story hasn’t been reprinted elsewhere.

 

 

Book Review: A South Dakota Country School Experience

Book Review: A South Dakota Country School Experience by William E. Lass

By happy coincidence, shortly after finishing my review of a school book used in South Dakota country schools, I have found a book about being a student in one of those schools.

A South Dakota Country School Experience

Mr. Lass is a historian who attended eight grades at Emmett School in Union County, in the southeastern portion of South Dakota, during the 1930s.  (He wound up teaching history in Mankato, Minnesota for many years.)  While much of the book talks about his personal experiences, he also consulted historical records for the school and county to provide context.

The book is divided thematically, rather than chronologically, starting with a physical description of the school, then students, teachers and what they did there.  While some of Mr. Lass’ experiences are unique, Emmett School was fairly typical of a rural school of the time, and those who shared that education will no doubt be able to relate.  (He doesn’t seem to have had trouble with rattlesnakes, which were a problem in my mother’s area of South Dakota.)

It appears to have been plenty tough for teachers at these schools, teaching eight grades in the same room and trying to keep all the children busy!  For $585 a year, no less.

The book is handsomely bound and has some color illustrations, as well as black and white photos.  The language in most of the chapters isn’t too difficult, and could easily be read by a bright fourth-grader on up; the epilogue has more difficult vocabulary and is rather bittersweet.  There are reference notes and a list of suggested further reading for the serious scholar.

This would make a good gift for an older relative who went to a country school themselves, or has an interest in South Dakota, but also should be shared with younger readers to show them how school was done in their great-grandparents’ day.    Consider purchasing it directly from the publisher, Minnesota Heritage Publishing.  Highly recommended.

Book Review: The Year’s Best S-F: 5th Annual Edition

Book Review: The Year’s Best S-F: 5th Annual Edition edited by Judith Merrill

This 1960 book features a selection of speculative fiction short stories published during the 1958-60 time period.  Editor Judith Merrill provides an introduction about the concept of wonder, chatty introductions to each story (she doesn’t think much of Kingsley Amis as a literary critic) and an ending summary (as well as a listing of “honorable mention” stories.)

5th Annual World's Best SF

The 22 stories themselves begin with Damon Knight’s “The Handler”, which is a metaphor for Hollywood phoniness, and end with “Me” by Hilbert Schenk, Jr., a humorous poem about the difference between machines and humans (which is as of now, still true.)

The absolute standout in this volume is the original novella version of “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes.  Charlie Taylor, a man with developmental disabilities, volunteers for an experimental surgery that increases his intelligence.  Told through Charlie’s own journal, the use of changing vocabulary, literary style and attitude is masterful.  The dawning of a new intellectual world, the disappointment when Charles learns that being smart doesn’t in itself make you happier, and the sinking horror when he discovers that it’s all going away make for a powerful gut punch.

The story is also commendable for the sharply drawn minor characters, like Fanny Girden, who fears what has happened to Charlie and considers it evil, but refuses to sign a petition to fire him because discrimination is against her principles.  The novel version is also excellent but contains more sexual content (sometimes published as Charly because of the Cliff Robertson movie.)

Also interesting is an editorial by John W. Campbell, Jr. titled “What Do You Mean…Human?”  It asks the perennial question of what precisely the definition of “human” is, and how to explain it to something that is not human, such as an intelligent robot.  The question remains open at the end, but it’s a good starting point for late night discussions.

“Mariana” by Fritz Leiber turns out to be about clinical depression, and a failed treatment program.

Mark Clifton’s “What Now, Little Man?” is a question about the nature of intelligence, and an uncomfortable look at colonialism.

“The Other Wife” by Jack Finney details how one man learned how to travel between alternate universes, and how he exploits this fact.  Kind of sexist, as he doesn’t let either wife in on what’s going on, but decides for them that this is the best use of his time.

Most of the other stories are readable, but also a bit forgettable.  As is common with books of this vintage, “World’s Best” means the English-speaking world at maximum, and there’s a heavy tilt towards white male protagonists.  The New Wave hasn’t quite hit in this volume, although there  is a hint of it in J.G. Ballard’s “The Sound Sweep” which focuses on the social effects of new acoustic technology.

Well worth looking up at your library or picking up if you see it at the used bookstore.

Book Review: The 66 Kid: Raised on the Mother Road

Book Review: The 66 Kid: Raised on the Mother Road by Bob Boze Bell

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

The 66 Kid

Bob Boze Bell has been a rock musician, cartoonist, radio host, magazine publisher and other interesting jobs.  And he spent most of his youth in Kingman, Arizona, where his father had gas stations on Route 66.  This is his memoir of those years.

It’s a coffee table book, lavishly illustrated with photographs and Mr. Bell’s paintings.  Fortunately, he has many family pictures and old clippings to illustrate his anecdotes and historical tidbits.  It’s a fascinating (if possibly biased) look at life in Arizona in the 1950s and 1960s.  Mr. Bell is an accomplished writer, and his prose is excellent.

Note that this is not a comprehensive book about the highway itself; it primarily covers the Kingman area and how Route 66 affected Mr. Bell’s life.

At a suggested retail price of thirty dollars, this book is good value for money if you’re interested in Arizona or Bob Boze Bell.  Others might want to see if their library has it for borrowing, as it is a handsome volume.

Of course, it would be remiss of me to close without a reference to the famous song, so here it is:

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