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Beach Browsing : Summertime . . . and the Reading Is Easy

July 06, 1986|Jack Miles | Times Book Editor

What kind of book should go with you to the beach? A cheap book, first of all, one you can afford to see sun-bleached, sand-scratched , grease-stained and maybe lost altogether. A lightweight book, second, and that in two senses: a book that won't weigh the tote down and one that won't turn pleasure into civic or intellectual duty. An unexpected book, finally: not one you've heard so much about that actual reading has become superfluous but one you've barely heard about at all -- a "Why not?" book, a spin at the wheel of literary fortune.

The books that follow fit this description. Only a few are by very well-known authors . Only a few have been reviewed in The Times during recent months . Most are priced under $5. Many are purest entertainment. Those that are on serious themes are not of such oppressive sobriety that they could spoil a holiday. They were selected by the staff of the Book Review and are reviewed below by Times staff, some of whom--just to guarantee the suitability of the selections--did their reading at oceanside.


Privateers, Ben Bova (Tor: $3.50). Dan Randolph, a former American astronaut living in 21st-Century Caracas, Venezuela, is mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. He's particularly angry with the Soviets, who dominate space exploration. The United States has become an isolationist nation and has abandoned its space program. Randolph's adventures as a hard-loving, quick-tempered billionaire space industrialist are enough to keep the most action-oriented reader interested. Purists might call this Mickey Spillane-style science fiction, but it's great fun.

Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card (Tor: $3.50). The Bugger War has begun and we are losing badly at the start of this Nebula Award-winning novel. Mankind encountered the Buggers--a race so alien that communication is impossible and battles are to the death--while taking its first halting steps to the stars. We follow Ender Wiggins, a gene-selected 5-year-old general-in-training, through a crushing preparatory program and into real battle. We also watch his hyper-bright brother and sister as they stabilize a politically explosive Earth. The plot line isn't new, but Orson Scott Card has carried it off brilliantly, with careful attention to detail, believable characters and events, and a thought-provoking conclusion.

The Coming of the Quantum Cats, Frederick Pohl (Bantam Spectra: $3.50). Parallel universes are a time-worn science-fiction concern, and while Pohl honors the conventions, he does manage to infuse what is basically a "hard" science-fiction book (concerned more with hardware than perception) with a large measure of heart. The main problem is in the presentation of those universes: The subject is inherently disjunctive and Pohl doesn't help much, even lapsing into binary (as opposed to the traditional decimal) dates by book's end. Still, the notion presented throughout--that success and motivation are internal processes only slightly modified by place and events--is refreshing.

Schismatrix, Bruce Sterling (Ace: $2.95). Abelard Lindsay has more adventures in space than any one man should reasonably expect, but Lindsay is no ordinary man and his actions are often far from reasonable. It's about 250 years in the future. The schism is between the "Shapers" and the "Mechanists." Lindsay is an exiled Shaper, roaming the space colonies, surviving by his wits. Shapers have been genetically altered and conditioned to be superior beings; Mechanists have had their lives extended through advanced technology. Sterling's cosmos is believable and Lindsay's "Raiders of the Lost Ark"-style adventures keep the reader involved.


Major Enquiry, Laurence Henderson (Academy Mystery: $4.95). As far as the London police force is concerned a "major enquiry" translates as murder-or-worse (anything else is an "incident"), and the question here is whether the murder of 16-year-old Monica Henekey is the latest in a string of five rape-murders in northeast London (not likely), a "copycat" killing (more likely), or something else again. While it plods just a tad--like its protagonist Detective Sgt. Milton--this is still a bloody good police procedural with some intriguing plot twists and a denouement that really surprises.

When the Bough Breaks, Jonathan Kellerman (Signet Books: $3.95). Kellerman has a deft touch--particularly in setting scenes that are truly three-dimensional--in this study of a double murder, the key to which is locked in the subconscious of a traumatized 7-year-old girl. Called in to unlock it, Dr. Alex Delaware, a child psychologist, finds himself embroiled in a messy conspiracy of murder and child molestation--a subject, in less skilled hands, that could get, well, icky. While, at one point, Kellerman's plot threatens, temporarily, to get away from him, all's well that ends well. An engrossing novel played out in the barrios of near-downtown Los Angeles and the plush hills of Malibu.

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