It’s Up to Charlie Hardin

Review: It’s Up to Charlie Hardin, Dean Ing, 2015.It's Up to Charlie Hardin

Another February partly spent in Texas and parts between there and Minnesota. The books I took along were the Texas-centric Roadside Geology of Texas, Charles L. Harness’ Cybele, with Bluebonnets, and Dean Ing’s latest novel.

With the first sentence of the preface, Ing tells you this is not one of his usual books and what kind of book it is:

This is the sort of confession a man may indulge in if he is too lazy to commit the autobiography his grandkids asked for, and too self-absorbed to scribble the books his publishers wanted more of. It is also naked homage to Mark Twain, who in 1875 half-fictionalized the lively times he had enjoyed in his Missouri village thirty years earlier.
The setting for Ing’s version of Tom Sawyer is the Austin, Texas of 1944. (The book jacket has the wrong date.)
There are some typical Ing features: accident and the human emotions of pride, avarice, and ego tangling lives and leading to a collision of characters. This is not the first book of Ing’s to feature young characters in prominent roles.
But there are no fantastic elements. No espionage despite the mention of Nazis. And the only planes are model ones.
But it is a charming story told in a sardonic, wry voice not afraid to point out portentous connections to events the character are oblivious to and point out his characters’ foibles.
Our characters are
  1. The impulsive, stubborn, and prideful Charlie Hardin
  2. Charlie’s smarter and more prudent friend Aaron Fischer who still finds himself pulled into Charlie’s schemes
  3. Roy Kinney, sneaky, whiny, not too bright and 10 years old to Charlie and Aaron’s 12.
  4. Jackie Rhett, budding juvenile delinquent and something of a bully, fat, fast, and rather smart.
  5. Lint, Charlie’s clever and loyal dog.
Rounding out the cast is Charlie’s dad, a juvenile offender officer with the city, Charlie’s mom, a couple of criminals, and Eugene Carpenter, budding sociopath and criminal genius at age 13.
In the months between April and June 1944, Charlie and Aaron wander from diversion to diversion: model airplanes, combining melons and giant slingshots, flaming tires, wandering the capitol grounds of Austin seeking treasure and the storm drains of Austin responding to dares.
It was an age when kids like Charlie and Aaron weren’t feral or neglected — just normal, and a kid like Charlie wouldn’t find himself with a Ritalin prescription.
Ing tacks on an afterward hinting at the lines of between autobiography and invention.
I recognize the spirit of Dean’s story even if my boyhood, three decades later and in a very different setting, shared few of the events in Charlie’s boyhood.
All in all, a book that should appeal to many beyond Ing’s usual readership.
A Small Criticism
Charlie and Aaron seem a bit too naïve about the nefarious doings they come across. I’m not sure I would have been that naïve. Perhaps that’s what those three decades did in eroding innocence. Or maybe I just spent more time in the library than Charlie and Aaron.
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“Silent Thunder” & “Universe”

This is the last of my Dean Ing-related material though it’s possible you will get a review of his 2015 Tom Sawyerish It’s Up to Charlie Hardin. I started reading it after finishing Charles L. Harness’ last novel, Cybele, with Bluebonnets. Not coincidentally, both are novels based on their authors’ Texas boyhoods since I just got back from that state. (And the Harness novel is something of a masterpiece in many senses.)

The Quantrill books referred to are Ing’s post-apocalypse trilogy Systemic Shock, Single Combat, and Wild Country.  I have plans to look at those soon too.

Heinlein’s “Universe” got reviewed, of course, as part of Orphans of the Sky.

Sometimes you can figure out some underlying rationale for Ace Double and Tor Double pairings, but I can’t think of any here except for the purely commercial one of publishing an Ing novella. (Though both stories have religion as an element.) Tor has gotten into publishing novellas again, and that’s a welcome development.

Raw Feed (1992): “Silent Thunder” by Dean Ing/”Universe” by Robert A. Heinlein, 1991.Silent Thunder

Silent Thunder”, Dean Ing — I liked this techno-thriller by Ing.  It works mainly because Ing knows the clichés of the thriller story and knows his readers are aware of them too. We know Pam Garza is President Harry Rand’s ex-lover and Walter Kalvin’s toady, and Ing doesn’t try to futilely fool us. We know that Laurie Ramsay is going to get kidnapped, so that plot turn is done early.  Again, Ing doesn’t try to fool us. But Ing does tell a fast-paced, exciting story. The sf element, the Donnersprache, is an interesting device, and I wonder how much reality there is in the background details of German research into electronics and psychoacoustics. Spider Robinson once said Ing wrote moral fiction and that’s true. Here Ing uses the Donnersprache to get in a few truthful observations on the manipulability of democratic populaces and how not everyone has the right to his opinion if it’s founded on emotion and not fact. (Interestingly, Ing never gets into an obvious application of the Donnersprache. If it can electronically enhance the credibility of someone’s voice, why couldn’t the same techniques be used to create a very negative impression of a speaker? Perhaps this is what Kalvin does when Rand deviates from the former’s scripts. ) The violent way in which Laurie escapes her captor was surprising, and Ing’s way of showing the error of her former non-violence stance (a stance fostered by her mother). A child forced into violence to survive is something of an Ing theme as witnessed in his Quantrill books. I liked Ramsay being able to forgive dupe Garza and marry her and how traitor Terrence Unruh tries to kill Kalvin. Ing makes a nice point that a man may sell out for personal reasons (Unruh wants money for his family after he dies), but be unwilling to totally sell out his country. This statement has a counterpoint to Ramsay not saying anything until his daughter is safe. And Rand is furious at being unwittingly manipulated and used by Kalvin. He may be a dopy, repressive preacher, but he’s got integrity that helps save the day. But the very best thing about the story is that America is saved from fascism by a conspiracy of moderate-minded Masons — who assure a cabinet member that their handshake and promise has been good enough for centuries. It’s nice to see this much maligned group (the villains of many a fictional and alleged conspiracy) being the heroes.

Universe”, Robert A. Heinlein — A true classic. I liked the medievalism of the society in the spaceship:  a religious based hierarchy with our hero being hauled up for trial about his views of the nature of the ship and world outside a lá Galileo, storytellers with amazing memories who serve as judges too, and an easy acceptance of slavery under the muties. I also liked mutant Jim-Joes who seems a curious Heinlein character:  a learned man with little ambition (but capable of decisiveness). I liked him (them?) unable to realize the difference between fact and fiction in what he (they?) read.
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Firefight Y2K

More Dean Ing.

This time a book of fiction, speculation, and advice.

Raw Feed (2001): Firefight Y2K, Dean Ing, 2000.Firefight Y2K

“Preface” — Rather perfunctory introduction to the collection noting its diversity of fact and fiction pieces including historical fantasy and science fiction.

Fleas” — Almost literally a biter bitten story. This tale is also about a vampire-like predator preyed on himself, fleas on fleas since both are parasites.

“A Report on Advanced Small Arms Concepts” — Interesting article on some advanced concepts in military armor, transportation, and small arms. The article talks about a brainstorming session conducted for the U.S. Army by engineers and science fiction authors and addressing future military hardware for infantrymen. I thought the most interesting idea was the ramjet bullet which contains primer on the inside surface of a cylinder. After being propelled to velocities roughly matching a .45 Auto round, the propellant begins to burn and the round increases in velocity for more power, longer range, and a flatter trajectory for a round that would probably be about a .38 caliber.

Manaspill” — This story didn’t do much for me at all. I found it tedious. It used a fairly typical plot for a prehistoric story: plucky orphans discover talents while facing a tribe’s scheming shaman who knows much less about magic than orphan girl Thyssa. This story is set in Larry Niven’s When the Magic Goes Away universe (specifically it was first published in the shared world anthology The Magic May Return) which is based on the notion that magic is powered by concentrations of a material called mana.

Malf” — I rather enjoyed this story of nifty tree harvesters (they limb, cut, and stack the trees in place and walk on legs as well as roll on wheels) engaged in combat and how a skilled operator of the experimental machines turns out to be a vicious ex-getaway driver for the Mob. Real tree harvesters exist (this was a 1976 story) but not this elaborate or large. I presume, Ing being a former engineer, that the engineer jargon of the narrator is accurate to the profession. Villain Infante’s psychological instability turns out, in another case of literalized metaphor, to cause the instability of handling in one of the Magnum harvesters.

“The Future of Flight:  Comes the Revolution”, Dr. Leik Myrabo and Dr. Dean Ing — A brief article about, amongst other future transportation technologies, using laser powered rockets. Continue reading “Firefight Y2K”

Spooker

Another Dean Ing novel. This one has no real fantastic elements.

Raw Feed (2002): Spooker, Dean Ing, 1995.Spooker

I’ve liked Ing’s realistic details on espionage tradecraft and organizations, and this book didn’t disappoint in that regard — though, of course, the world of spies depicted is much more violent than it is in reality.

What was most striking about this book was its ending. Normally, you would expect hero Gary Landis to save, at the last moment, his new girlfriend (and long time friend) Janelle Betancourt from the clutches of Andy Soriano and his mother, Skander Masaryk. Not only doesn’t Ing do that, but, in the attempt of her grandfather, Swede Halvorsen, to save Janelle, he kills her with a stray shotgun pellet into the brain. If Landis were a series espionage hero who was habitually unattached, the killing of Janelle would simply be a resetting of his affairs for the next book. Here it’s a lingering tragedy.

It’s not the only thing strange about the presentation and structure of this espionage thriller. The initial spooker killings are referred to in the narrative voice of an unidentified narrative “we”.  We never do find out (and this, I think, is the biggest flaw of the book) who makes the attempt on Masaryk’s life after she defects to the CIA (we assume it’s the KGB but that’s only a guess). Continue reading “Spooker”

Butcher Bird

There are plenty of technothrillers and science fiction novels now about drones.

They weren’t very common when Dean Ing wrote this novel.

Sentient weapons have a history in science fiction going back to at least 1942 with Murray Leinster’s “The Wabbler”.

Raw Feed (1994): Butcher Bird, Dean Ing, 1993.Butcher Bird

This is the third in a series of related technothrillers from Ing, and it was a good, quick read though I liked it the least of any book in the series.

I liked the technology (though not detailed enough for me) of the Butcher Bird, a small, robotic, stealth craft designed for assassination via a nuclear powered x-ray laser.

Its designer and rogue user is Roland Clement who is a renegade aviation/weapons designer for Syria. He takes the Butcher Bird to South America, ostensibly to field test it by killing a French aviation designer who may be able to figure out the technology behind a spate of Mideast murders. Clement, though, has other plans. He manages to slip away from his Syrian masters with his Syrian assistant Selim Mansour and girlfriend Odile in tow. (He lies to Mansour to get his cooperation.) He embarks on a program of both assassination for hire (including the drug cartel of Ing’s The Nemesis Mission) and anyone who has ever laughed at him or can figure out his design. (He’s a borderline psychopath.  )

In the latter group is a hero from the other two books – aviation engineer Ulmer. His company is hired by the NSA to evaluate technology behind the Mideast assassination.  The Science Fiction Encyclopedia mentions the humane aspect of Ing’s work. I was reminded of that comment when Colleen Morrison and Wes Hardin – both heroes of The Nemesis Mission but minor characters here – almost quit their research project when they suspect they’re designing a craft for sole use in assassinations. Raoul Medina and Kyle Corbin from The Ransom of Black Stealth One (some of the best parts of the book involve Petra Leigh’s deceptions being discovered and a meeting between Ullmer and the presumed dead Corbin) try to stop a federal witness from getting killed. But plans go wrong and soon Ullmer is a target at the Oshkosh, Wisconsin airshow (a good touch that).

I liked the final scene with the Butcher Bird, narrated from the machine’s near sentient viewpoint (it has a complex program for target acquisition and stalking). I thought it was another good installment in a good series. I didn’t even mind the contrived cure of Corbin’s brain cancer via the radiation from Butcher Bird’s breached reactor. However, I did think it was a bit much for Medina to take up with Odile at novel’s end given that she helped hold him prisoner most of the book and is a fugitive.

 

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Pulling Through

Dean Ing deplores “the voracious appetite of the public for entertainment-for-entertainment’s sake”.

The didactic element of his fiction is nowhere better highlighted than in this combination of novel and how-to-manual. Once upon a time, my paperback copy was supposedly worth over $80 on the second hand market. I’m assuming that’s not the case now.

My memory tells me that Ing once stated that he decided, in this book, to make ground zero of his nuclear blast his friend Charles Brown’s house — incidentally the, until recently, location of Locus magazine. However, I have not been able to confirm that.

Raw Feed (2001): Pulling Through, Dean Ing, 1987.Pulling Through

“Introduction”, Spider Robinson — Brief details on Ing’s careers as a “Air Force interceptor crew chief”, engineer, automotive designer, media theorist, and writer of moral sf that Robinson compares to his cherished Robert A. Heinlein in his narrative skills and details. Robinson is also impressed that Ing was not a naturally talented writer. Evidently his first published story was not very good and pretty preachy.

Pulling Through— Given that relatively little of the story takes place outside of a fallout shelter and the surrounding estate, this is a surprisingly gripping and fast paced short novel about the minutiae of cobbling together survival equipment to avoid the worst of the fallout during an eight day period after several nuke strikes on the San Francisco Bay area. There is some detail as narrator Harve Rackham and his relatives struggle to make it to his estate and more when they leave.

Certainly, the encounter with freebooting escaped convicts is covered in a detailed way as it precipitates the flight from the estate and the death of Rackham’s spoiled nephew, Lance.  However, most post-disaster novels would linger on those details, invert the proportion of the story that takes place in the shelter and that occurring outside. Ing seamlessly combines his obvious intent at showing how nuclear fallout can be survived with forethought and a minimum of equipment and a compelling story. The eventual marriage of ex-bounty hunter Rackham with Kate Gallo (former fugitive that he nabs on Doomsday and takes back to the shelter) was unexpected but plausible and well-done. So was Rackham taking in a couple of stragglers, both of whom ultimately die of radiation poisoning. That was not something you would expect the tough Rackham to do, but it was a very realistic act of mercy. Each of the characters have their strengths and weaknesses, even spoiled Lance. Besides the obvious call for survivalist preparation, Lance is a moral lesson by Ing in the dangers of children always being told of their alternatives and not being made to learn that some jobs and duties simply can not be shirked because they must be done. My biggest complaint about this story is that it features the same narrator character as Ing’s “Vital Signs” yet the alien contact and alien base on the moon are mentioned nowhere in this story which obviously takes place later in Rackham’s life. However, the events of that earlier story have evidently left no marks on the world or Rackham to judge by their not being mentioned. This is the same problem I had with Ing’s two related stories “Liquid Assets” and “Evileye”.

“Nuclear Survival”– Essentially these 54 pages present the rationale for the novel Pulling Through (that survival of nuclear fallout is possible but that one shouldn’t try it in cities and that the U.S. had no real civil defense plan while the Soviets had an extensive one), notes on how to accomplish what the novel’s characters do (specifically building an emergency airtight fallout shelter with emergency air filters and air pump as well as an emergency toilet), and general, but brief, survivalist tips on arranging emergency power supplies, clothing selection, food and medicine, and what skills may be useful in the post-apocalypse world. These sorts of articles always remind one that civilization is fragile and steps to survive its fall may, ultimately, be unnecessary but are not unwise. They are an insurance policy that only you can provide and that can’t be purchased.

 

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The Ransom of Black Stealth One

The Dean Ing series continues.

Raw Feed (1994): The Ransom of Black Stealth One, Dean Ing, 1990.Ransom of Black Stealth One

I found the plot of this book not as compelling or surprising (though I was once or twice surprised) as its sequel, The Nemesis Mission, but the characters were more compelling, and the tech of Black Stealth One aka Hellbug, a stealth v/stol with a pixel skin that, under computer direction, can render the craft nearly invisible (from a specific angle) to visual detect was more interesting.

Basically the plot is a toned down revenge story. Very talented military pilot and aircraft designer of the Hellbug, Kyle Corbett (my favorite stunt of his is flying the light Hellbug very low over the Gulf of Mexico to evade sighting and radar detection, so low he uses an air cushion effect for lift and to extend range); narrowly escapes death at the hands of someone in the U.S. Government. In revenge, he steals the billion dollar Hellbug and kidnaps Petra Leigh, niece (actually daughter but only Weston and Corbett know this) of CIA deputy of Science and technology, Dar Weston. He suspects Weston, a personal friend, is the one that tried to kill him.  (He’s right.) A thrilling chase ensues which Corbett wins. I knew it was inevitable that Leigh and Corbett fall in love, and I found Leigh annoying at first but less so as time progressed.

Norman Spinrad, in a review of Ing’s The Nemesis Mission, spoke of the joy of flying that infuses that book. That’s even more true here. Corbett loves flying the Hellbug, and we feel his thrill. His accomplice, Medina, (who he illegally smuggled Hellbug secrets to while they both worked on the project so Medina could improve the design of his own personal plane), loves flying too. Their crimes of espionage are motivated by this love. But the best plot element involves the character of Sasha, a male who throughout the book is depicted as giving secrets to the Soviets. They don’t know who he is, though. It’s revealed at novel’s end that it’s Weston – the same Weston who has been a thorn in the side of the Soviets with his counterintelligence operations against their agents. Weston has taken it upon himself to be a double agent to preserve the balance of power between East and West even if it means betraying American secrets as well as capturing Soviet agents. He tried to kill Corbett to stop him from being interrogated, an interrogation that would show Weston as a security leak. It’s a twist on the spy game I haven’t seen before. Corbett and Medina try to horn in on a CIA scheme to sell a prototype of the Hellbug to the Soviets as a disinformation ploy. They manage to get away with the cash and the Hellbug and are thought dead by the government.

 

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