>Non-fiction – "Effortless Mastery"

>”Effortless Mastery” is a book by a jazz pianist name Kenny Wener about how to become a better musicians. The book is not much about actual technique but about your attitudes towards music. The title refers to the observation that most master musicians seem to perform with extreme ease – efforlessly – yet what they play is wonderful (check out some videos of Wes Montgomery, my favorite jazz guitarist, in YouTube).

Althought I enjoyed reading this book, the authors suggesstions do not paticularly apply to me – I still have a long way to go in basic mechanics of playing and understanding music, before the attitudes he talks about would be a problem.

>Non-fiction – "The Ghost Map"

>This is a short history of the cholera epidemic that hit London in 1854, written by Steve Johnson. The bulk of the story is how Dr. John Snow with some indirect assistance of Rev. Henry Whitehead, managed to prove Snow’s theory that cholera is a water-borne disease. This last fact was not known at the time, in fact the germ-theory of disease was not yet born, and the prevaling view was that sickness was cause by bad air or bad vapors.

Some time after the outbreak of the epidemic, Dr. Snow created a map that showed where people got sick in relation to the Broad Street pump – a popular water pump that was contaminated with cholera germs. This map, along with the papers that the doctor wrote eventually turned the tide against the idea that cholera spread through the air. This was the “Ghost Map” from the title.

Perhaps the most interesting parts of the book were descriptions of what life was like in 1850s London. You can be sure that it smelled really bad. The waste recylcing system consisted of people who waded through the sewage to find the useful bits. Among them were “bone-pickers”, “nightt-soil men”, “rag-pickers” and others. You could actually make a living collecting dog poop and selling it to hide tanners.

The actual writing in the book is somewhat disjoined. It jumps from the story of the epidemic to some comments about evolution of cities to some biological facts about cholera. I would have liked a more linear story of Dr. Snow’s work and how he came to the conclusion that cholera was waterborne.

It it interesting to think that by that time the microscope has already been invented and some scientists actually observed the cholera bacteria, yet no one connected it with the actual sickness.

>Science Fiction – "The Lincoln Hunters"

>In the year 2578 Benjamin Stewart is employed at the Time Researchers company. His job is to travel back in time on assigment by paying customers of employer. The jobs involve verifying some hitorical fact, taking a picture of something in a past, or maybe retrieving some artifact from the past. In doing this he must be able to assume a personage of some a person from the past. Others, who like Benjamin travel into the past are collectively known as Characters.

In “The Lincoln Hunters” Benjamin is given an assigment to record a speech by Abrahan Lincoln. The speech has become known as the lost speech, since it was never written down. However this particular Lincoln oratory became legendary, because of it’s subject – abolition of slavery – and it’s effect on the audience.

In any case, Benjamin’s job is to attend the rally Major’s Hall in Bloomington Illinois and record the speech. As in other jobs, the leader – that is Benjamin – had to visit the place first, before the rest of his crew, three other characters, joined him to complete the job.

From the start things go wrong. The engineers controlling the time machine make a mistake in their computations and Benjamin arrives in Bloomington the day after the famous speech. He decides to go into town to find the Hall and get familiar with the environment. Once in town he bumps into someone, who apparently had he had met the day before. From the brisk conversation, it appears that the initial meeting was not pleasant.

To his further consternation, he finds remains of a recording device that he, or one of his crewmen brought into the past.

As the author explains, if a time traveller meets himself in the past, or even just crosses paths with his other self back in time, he will immediately self-destruct. So, Stewart knows that if he comes to complete his mission day earlier, he will have to leave well before the next morning – or else he would meet himself and then self-destruct.

To complete the job Stewart returns to the office and then he and his crew (three other Characters) arrive back in Bloomington on the proper day. One of the members of the crew, is a man who thinks himself a Shakespearean Actor (with a capitol “A”), and who really enjoys a drink. Since Licoln’s speech was given at a polical conventions (one of the earliest conventions that led to formation of the Republic Party), the town is full of people having a grand time.

As planned Stewart and his crew attend the speech and make a proper recording. However on the way of of the Hall, the Actor is lost in the crowd, and he does not show up at the appointed time to go back to the future.

The rest of the story is centered around trying to find the missing crewman and trying to get back before the other Stewart arrives in the past. Let’s just say that the ending is not unexpected.

This book was fun and easy to read. I read it as a selection for our SF Book Discussion group. There were few interesting sidelines – for example, at one point a Character is explaing the “big lie” theory to Benjamin Stewart. He recounts of a war waged by an Egyptian Pharoagh (sp?), which the Egyptians decisively lost. Yet, when the pharoah came back to Egypt he announced that a glorious victory was won – and that’s how history recorded the event. Only much later, work of meticulous historians uncovered the lie.

Some of the technology of the future was bit odd – for example the recording devices used thin wire to hold the recording. But since the book was published in 1958 this is entirely understandable. By the way the author’s name was Wilson Tucker.