Friday, October 27, 2006


Tom Valle is a liar. Disgraced by making up stories for a large newspaper, he is kicked out of his job only to land a new one in the nowhere community of Littleton, California. Trying to hide from his past, Tom now writes about the opening or closing of a new diner in the one-horse-town, or posts topics about equally mundane items.

But one day an accident happens on the highway near town and Tom goes out to check on it, and this scene will change his life.

A charred body is discovered in one car while the driver of the other looks nearly unscathed. Tom digs into the story and soon discovers that the dead driver was a castrated black man. But the name on the driver’s license in the corpse’s wallet doesn’t match that of a black man. Thus begins Tom’s research that will lead him down dark corners and straight into a huge government coverup.

Although ‘small-town, hiding-out, newspaper guy who breaks into a big story’ has been done before, author James Siegel accomplishes it with intense action, great dialogue, and makes no apologies for the cliche.

That Siegel can pull it off so well is extraordinary. He brings together the Vietnam War, World War II, and the modern day Department of Energy effortlessly.

The only downside to the entire story is some of the cliches. And although Siegel mentions that these things are cliche-ish, it still rings an alarm bell in the reader’s mind.

Even so, Deceit is aptly titled with so many twists and turns that readers will rush through the pages just to find out whodunnit and the more important, "Why".

Thursday, October 12, 2006


The Book of Fate by Brad MeltzerWes Holloway, an aide to the President of the United States, is shot and his face disfigured during an attempt on the President’s life. But that’s not the worst of it. Even more devastating is the death of Ron Boyle, one of the President’s close friends and advisors. Shot through the chest by the deadly assassin, Boyle bleeds to death on the way to the hospital in the back of an ambulance normally reserved for the President himself. And Wes had put Boyle in the President’s car, making him feel as though he were responsible for Boyle’s death.

Fast forward eight years and we find President Manning now a former President because of that "fateful" day. A picture surfaced during the scuffle with Secret Service agents and the shooter that showed Leland Manning (the Prez) behind a woman. The photo looks as if Manning is hiding behind her, even though he wasn’t, thus awarding him the public name of "the cowardly lion." Wes remains at his side but his life is eventually thrown into disarray by the presence of a man who sounds like Boyle. Could he still be alive?

That is the basic gist of this extremely heavy tome. To go into further detail would risk putting book review readers to sleep ...which is what THE BOOK OF FATE will do for many. That readers may actually finish the book is more an act of determination than joy, as the story is so poorly put together that its very structure nearly defies description.

However, there is one word that fits it perfectly: overwritten. Checking in at over 500 pages (or 15 CDs for the unabridged audio version), the novel could’ve easily been cut in half, if not in a third. Most of the problems lay with overly-drawn descriptions or overly-dramatic prose. There are so many times in the book where Mr. Meltzer (author) starts in on an initially tense action scene, only to have it fall completely flat by describing every hair follicle on a character’s arm, every chair in a room, every piece of paneling on a wall, and every crook in a person’s finger. It boggles the mind that an editor didn’t get his/her fingers into this forgettable story and cut it down just for the sake of saving a few trees!

This one is a definite bypass...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


1776 by David McCullough Books on history can often be a hard sell to both publishers and readers. The rehashing of old material gets, well, old. You either have to come up with an obscure piece of history that few know about but is engaging, or you have to recreate a larger section that is known by many and give some new tidbits. David McCullough does the latter in his excellent new book 1776.

All Americans know that this was the year the Declaration of Independence was signed. We all know what a tough decision it was for those who chose to place their names on this document, thus committing treason to the British Crown. And Mr. McCullough doesn't dwell on this aspect in 1776, but instead decides to show how perilously close the United States came to never being an independent nation.

For instance, did you know how few soldiers George Washington had under his command during this year? The British outnumbered him nearly three to one. Did you know how many times Washington and his troops abandoned cities and fled? Nearly too many to note. Did you know how indecisive Washington was as a General? He could hardly make decent decisions, let alone singular one's without the input of Congress or an aide. Did you know how many signers of the Declaration of Independence defected to the British side? Whoa.

The book comes complete with fine portraits of famous leaders, too, from King George III to George Washington.

Author McCullough's tight writing style and new insights make this an excellent read. Most will be able to finish the book in two to three days ...easily!

The great thing, too, is that you'll never have to wonder "how it all turns out." :)

Sunday, October 01, 2006


Neil Gaiman signs a stack of Sandman Books in 2006 at The Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame An Interview With Myth Master Neil Gaiman
Interviewed by Byron Merritt

In June of this year my grandfather, Frank Herbert, was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in Seattle, Washington. Neil Gaiman was the Master of Ceremonies and I’d been trying to interview him for some time, but our busy schedules always seemed at odds with each other. Since we were both going to be in the same place on the same day for the same reason, it seemed logical we might get together and chat a bit. Luckily, with the help of the staff at the SF Hall of Fame, we were able to tuck ourselves into “the green room” and talk about Frank Herbert, science fiction, and Neil’s writings.

I’d never met Neil before and I was surprised at how interesting he looked. At first sight he brought to mind the image of a rock star who’d just stepped off a Harley Davidson. A thick swath of black hair dangles into his eyes and constantly gets pushed out of his face, and his angular features are hawkish yet handsome. This was brought to my attention later by my great aunt (Frank Herbert’s sister) who whispered to me, “He is handsome. He looks like a young Neil Diamond.”

Rock star comparisons aside, Neil Gaiman has the writing ability of the greats of our time. His Sandman Chronicles helped launch DC Comics into mainstream literature, and his multiple award wins for his fantasy and science fiction stories are proof positive that he’s no one-hit-wonder.

(Special thanks to Anne Murphy and Brooks Peck for arranging the interview)

Byron Merritt: We’re kind of coming full circle here at the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in that I understand you’d interviewed my grandfather some years ago and now here we are inducting him into the SF Hall of Fame and I’m here interviewing you. What I’m dying to know is in what context did you interview Frank Herbert and what did you discuss?

Neil Gaiman: It was in 1984 or 1985 and he was in London promoting the David Lynch Dune film. The way I remember it is that the film hadn’t come out yet. I’d done a small interview with him but the most fun I had with him was during a press conference. It was memorable because it was so wonderful and odd watching him giving a press conference to these English hack journalists. I’m not even sure if these guys still exist because we’re talking more than 20 years ago and I think they’ve probably died off. There were these guys in grubby mackintoshes with their little thumb notebooks who turn up to ask ridiculous questions. I remember going up to one of these guys and he asked me who I was covering the press conference for and I said Space Voyager Magazine or something like that. And I asked this grubby fellow what he planned on asking Mr. Herbert and he said, “I plan on asking him if he believes in little green men.” And I thought: “What the hell are you talking about? This is Frank Herbert here! Have you even read any of his books?” So the press conference goes very well. Your grandfather talks about the origins of Dune and his writing career and the Dune film translation; some really interesting stuff. And then at the end there’s the question and answer session and this guy in the grubNeil holds up a copy of one of his booksby mackintosh stands up says, “Mr. Herbert I feel as a representative of the English press I have to ask you, do you believe in unidentified flying objects.” And your grandfather says, “That’s a really good question. I absolutely believe — listen to my words very carefully — that there are ‘unidentified flying objects’ in that there are objects in the sky that people have seen that have not been identified. But I’m afraid that’s as far as I go.” “Right,” says the grubby reporter, “so when the little green men come down from their saucers do you think they’re going to take us all away?”

Byron Merritt: Oh God.

Read the rest of the interview here.