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More Solo Books - (update July 19)

"Triplanetary" by "Doc" E.E. Smith. Completed July 19.

“Doc” E.E. Smith pretty much invented the space opera genre, and Triplanetary is a good and well-known example. Physics, time, and politics never stand in the way of a plot that gallops ahead without letup.
Having earned a PhD in chemical engineering, it’s understandable that the heroes of Smith’s story are all scientists. He didn’t want to be constrained by the limits of known science, however, so in his hands the electromagnetic spectrum becomes a raw material to be molded into ever-more amazing and lethal forms, and the speed of light is no bar to traveling through the interstellar void.
Come enjoy this story of yesteryear, set in tomorrow, where real women ignite love at a glance, real men achieve in days what governments manage in decades, and aliens are an ever-present threat to Life-As-We-Know-It!

"The Man in the Iron Mask" by Alexandre Dumas, pere. Completed Mar 3.

In this, the last of the Three Musketeers novels, Dumas builds on the true story of a mysterious prisoner held incognito in the French penal system, forced to wear a mask when seen by any but his jailer or his valet. If you have skipped the novels between The Three Musketeers and this, a few notes will bring you into the story:

On one side – Aramis, now a bishop and secretly the Captain-General of the Jesuit Order, who believes he has found a path to a higher honor – the papacy. Monsieur Fouquet, the vastly rich minister of finance, Aramis’ ally. Philippe, the identical twin of King Louis XIV, who grew up in ignorance of his pedigree, and whose surrogate parents were murdered on the king’s order and himself sent into the notorious Paris prison, the Bastille, there held in solitary confinement.

On the other side – King Louis XIV, selected as the twin who would be king by his mother, and who intends that his brother will never challenge him. Monsieur Colbert, first minister, who is jealous of Fouquet and plots his downfall.

Unaligned and in danger of collateral damage – d’Artagnan, now captain of the King’s Musketeers and so the king’s chief defender, who suspects plots running beneath the surface and who is trying to unearth them. Athos, now the Comte (Count) de la Fer and one of the most respected noblemen of France. Raoul, Athos’ son and vicomte (viscount), desperately in love with Mademoiselle de la Valliere, who the king has taken as his mistress. Porthos, grown extremely stout and happy as the Baron du Vallon.

Aramis discovers the hidden Philippe and hatches a plot to substitute him for the sitting king, putting Louis in Philippe’s cell in the Bastille. This even succeeds… for a short while. But Aramis has not reckoned with a man whose loyalty to the throne exceeds his own welfare and who disastrously reverses the plot. Now it is time for the plotters to scurry to cover, there to figure some way to recover their lost ambitions.

"The House of the Seven Gables" by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Completed April 13.

"The wrongdoing of one generation lives into the successive ones and... becomes a pure and uncontrollable mischief."

Hawthorne's moral for "The House of the Seven Gables," taken from the Preface, accurately presages his story.The full weight of the gloomy mansion of the title seems to sit on the fortunes of the Pyncheon family. An ancestor took advantage of the Salem witch trials to wrest away the land whereon the house would be raised... but the land's owner, about to be executed as a wizard, cursed the Pyncheon family until such time as they should make restitution. Now, almost two centuries later, the family is in real distress. Hepzibah, an old maid and resident of the house, is forced by advanced poverty to open a shop in a part of the house. Her brother Clifford has just been released from prison after serving a thirty-year sentence for murder, and his mind struggles to maintain any kind of hold on reality. Cousin Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon is making himself odious by threatening to have Clifford committed to an institution. And after all these years, the deed to a vast tract of land, that would settle great wealth on the family, is still missing.

One bright ray of sunshine enters the house when cousin Phoebe arrives for an extended stay to allow unhappy matters in her end of the family to sort themselves out. While she lightens the lives of Hepzibah and Clifford, she also attracts the attention of a mysterious lodger named Holgrave, who has placed himself near the Pyncheon family for reasons that only come clear at the end of the story.

The real crisis arrives when the Judge, who strongly resembles the Colonel Pyncheon who built the house so many years ago, steps up his demands on Hepzibah and Clifford and unwittingly triggers the curse.