Books to Read on Holiday

As ever, the States provided a rich source of baseball books, most of which will probably become available at Sportspages in the near future. Best of the bunch is The Game for All America, a sumptuous collection of colour photos showing the game at all levels and angles. This is the first book that comes close to Angell and Iouss' superb Baseball in terms of its quality pictures. This one cost $35 so expect to pay nearly £30. On this subject, I picked up the Sporting News guides, the James and Elias baseball abstracts and several other volumes at around half the UK price which proves for some reason we are still sadly living in the $1=£1 era of pricing, both for books and games - see Inside Pitch for further discussion on this.

I picked up a gem of a book in the shape of Tim McCarver's Oh Baby, I Love It! This is another one of those 'What I did in my baseball career' books but it stands out because McCarver (if it is truly he) can write well and because he went on after an illustrious career to commentate for the Mets thus stretching his contact with the game from the late fifties to the present day. The stories he tells have a humorous and human touch to them, always revolving around the personalities and their foibles rather than re-describing well documented pennant races or similar. There are some classic tales which are just so weird they have to be true and no area of baseball escapes the vitriol, McCarver is willing to give his view on anything from the DH controversy to why pitchers should not wear warm up jackets. It is a treasure trove of insights that is far, far better than most of the baseball literature around today. McCarver is of course famous for his unique relationship with Steve Carlton, which was the main reason I bought the book, but he also caught for Bob Gibson and has seen just about every game Dwight Gooden has ever pitched. He therefore knows a bit about pitching and his insights (and explanations of pitch types) are in a different league to the usual 'He had a heater that made my hand sting' crap. The section about Carlton makes this about the closest thing so far to a biography on the great man and for that alone it is worth reading, the rest is a bonus. I can only hope that when Carlton does finally concede defeat and retire permanently, we get a book as good as this one on his career. Any fan of baseball should search this one out as a priority. Book of the month by a short mile.

Coming soon to a bookshop near you is Tom Clancy's new one in paperback, Patriot Games. This is the third in the fat (600 pages) blockbuster series of books that has shot Clancy to fame and its theme is the touchy subject of terrorism. The book has problems. Firstly, it is somewhat overlong. The relentless action and suspense of the previous two books is scattered at best and only in the last 60 or so pages does he crank the action up to boiling point. One of the factors why it appears slow is that Mr. Clancy is a matchless writer when it comes to hardware and action, but he has a way to go on his character writing which this book is all about. They aren't exactly lifeless, more cliched and corny really. He isn't helped by the fact that the plot line needs laying out in detail and that the book is based largely in England and involves the Royal Family. Some of the quaint observations (when was the last time you heard the term 'Peeler'?) have to be seen to be believed and some of the dialogues and situations are hilarious. The quota of gung- ho and pro-American comments is high, but that is what Clancy is all about and for the sake of the occasional light read, I am willing to stomach it. He bravely plumps himself down in the anti-terrorist camp and shows cleverly just what is being done to fight the problem. He also handles the Irish-American funding links without pulling punches. The only other point is that the early chapters are baffling at times because it seems fairly obvious to me that Clancy changed some or all of the main characters' names and his WP missed a few occurences (or else I missed something). The hero switches between Jack and John, the wife is called Cathy or Caroline and the daughter is referred to as Sally and Olivia in the same page. Weird, sack that proofreader. Overall it is an average book with good bits, he can do better though it would make an excellent film - perhaps he realises this with Red October and Red Storm spawning the usual game/film/computer game spinoffs. My impertinent advice is for young Tom to stick with submarines.

The Burning Realm by Michael Reaves is the follow up to the superb fantasy novel The Shattered World reviewed last year by both Ellis and myself. The sequel suffers a little because it appears that Reaves had no intention of writing one. Consequently the first hundred pages are spent pulling the characters back into the plot and to be frank, the first half of the book is weak, lacking direction and interest. Reaves continues to use the occasional Call-my-bluff word and the style remains flowery yet very readable. There are also some very contrived plot twists that reminded one of Small World with its number of coincidences. Neither does he know the difference between ensure and insure which stands out quite badly. Sadly, there is no Beorn, the werebear who made the first book so memorable. Mainly negative points it is true, but sections of the book are as brilliant as the first and it still remains well above the average fantasy dross. Good, but not up to the standards of the previous book.

The next one may not be to everyone's liking but here goes anyway. I have, through my interest in computer graphics, got rather interested in the Mandelbrot set, Fractal geometry and chaos theory. All a little strange and definitely not the usual me but I find it all fascinating stuff and quite understandable. The book that started it all, The Fractal Geometry of Nature by Mandelbrot has now been joined by a much more accessible book, Chaos by James Gleick. I can only suggest you read it, for like Godel, Escher, Bach and other similar works, it is a revelation. Superbly written, thought provoking and not too heavy. Marvelous.

Not all authors at signings are like Douglas Adams. My faith in human nature has been restored by Terry Pratchett and William Gibson, both of whom have released new hardbacks recently and were signing them at Forbidden Planet without pretension, without gold Rolexes and without queues. Pratchett was launching Sourcery, the fifth in the Discworld series and preceeded the signing with a very witty and informative talk. The info gleaned was that he has already written two more Discworld novels, he is heavily into gin, that he likes the Luggage best of all the characters and that in Equal Rites and Mort he tried to get away from the gag based first two books and move to more of a coherent plot. In Sourcery, he tries to return to the jokes. I have yet to read it but as it features a yuppie Genie and a barbarian hairdresser it would seem to be another winner. By the way, Mort, fourth in the series, is quite excellent, giving the Death character a whole novel to develop. Of all the characters so far, I find Death by far the funniest and he he comes out with some superb lines. There are also two of his earlier SF works out in paperback that you may be interested in.

Gibson was signing Mona Lisa Overdrive, the latest of the three novels based in his very individual future world. Much of the story is set in a future London and again, looks to be up to the previous quality of Neuromancer and Count Zero. With all due credit to Adams, whom I slagged off in an earlier column, having read the whole of Dirk Gently on holiday I have to revise my opinion slightly. It is by no means a bad book, in fact parts of it are quite clever and witty, but the man is past his best. He is partially clinging to the fact that he knows a bit about Mac computers and feeds this in with synthesisers and a few sharp observations of life in Islington to make the whole thing passably trendy. Quite simply, Pratchett does it all so much better these days.

The other book news from 'Old Browser' is that Barry Hughart, of Bridge of Birds fame, has written a follow up for release in July. Should be worth a peek.

Mike Siggins. 16/6/88.

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