Paul DiFilippo's newest book, "Fractal Paisleys" (Four Walls Eight Windows, 1997), is a collection of short stories combining the matchless lingo of DiFilippo with the fun of all-too-extravagant fiction. This is not your usual science fiction work filled with time travel and spaceships; it presents a unique combination of imaginative worlds and times with legendary rock music.
In one story, DiFilippo gives us a glimpse of a future in which an agoraphobic is coaxed outside in search of his Lovin' Spoonful record only to find that Greenwich Village is owned by Disney. Another story employs a suicidal teenager to save Kurt Cobain's daughter, the key to future society.
Although this book is not as futuristic or prophetic as "Ribofunk," DiFilippo's older collection of short stories, "Fractal Paisleys" proves to be an amusing read filled with a hilarious look into the future, past and present.
LAURA LEE CALVERLEY
"How Will They Know if I'm Dead? Transcending Disability and Terminal Illness" by Robert C. Horn III (St. Lucie Press, 1997) is the autobiography of a hero of today, a college professor battling Lou Gehrig's disease. It is a book of inspiration to all who read it.
Robert Horn shows how life can be meaningful even though he cannot move, has no speech and is dependent on a ventilator for every breath. He is still a vibrant, healthy and independent person mentally, emotionally and spiritually. He can think, reason and love.
As former U. S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop says in his forward, "By God's grace, Robert lives a life of faith, hope and love. And because he faces life and death with joy, grace and triumph, I think you will, too, as you read his book."
GRETCHEN M. KEELER
Christopher Logue's "War Music" (Noonday Press, 1997) is subtitled "An account of Books 1-4 and 16-19 of Homer's Iliad." Retold by a gifted contemporary poet, this "Iliad" is for modern readers trained on cinema and video.
Vivid, anachronistic images mingle our own time with prehistory. Here, a Trojan fighting near a beached Greek ship is caught by a counterattack:
"God blew the javelin straight; and thus
Mid-air the cold bronze apex sank
Between his teeth and tongue, parted his brain,
Pressed on, and stapled him against the upturned hull.
His dead jaw gaped. His soul
Crawled off his tongue and vanished into sunlight."
Logue does well too with the strange, interfering, quarreling gods, hard for readers to take seriously 20-odd centuries after Homer:
Rain over Europe.
Queen Hera puts her hate-filled face around its fall
And says to God:
"I want Troy dead.
"Its swimming pools and cellars filled with limbs . . .
"All that is left a blood stain by the sea."
Let the experts argue whether this "Iliad" is Homer's. "War Music" is exciting and beautiful.
The standard for the detective novel was set by Dashiell Hammett and after reading "The Thin Man" (Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1934), you'll understand why. This is the premier detective novel by the author who put the genre on the map.
Nick Charles, an ex-detective, is in New York with his wife, Nora, and their schnauzer, Asta, to escape the holidays and sobriety. It isn't long before Charles is dragged against his will into a murder mystery involving a series of related killings.
The menagerie of suspects includes an eccentric inventor who is missing and his equally eccentric family, a police informer, a lawyer and a gangster/bootlegger. The twists and turns in the plot keep you turning the pages, and the wit of Nick and Nora Charles leaves you with your hands clutching your sides.
To cap everything off is a surprise ending that truly is a surprise unless you're the great Nick Charles. This novel is full of suspense, wit and characters that are still true to life 64 years after its first publication.
* What's that book on your night table? Any good? Send us a review. We're especially interested in hearing about fiction that you don't see reviewed in The Times, but feel free to send us your opinions of whatever it is you are reading. Keep the reviews short (200 words tops), and send them (with your phone number) to Readers Reviews, Life & Style, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles CA 90053 or fax them to (213) 237-0732. We'll print the most interesting ones every other week. Sorry, but submissions cannot be returned.
* Next Week: Kevin Baxter on books for children and young adults.