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Hart Williams

Olympics, Spies, Maps and 'Kink'

Chronicle of the Olympics 1896-1996, June Laing, ed.; DK Publishing, 312 pp., US$29.95. A handsome coffee-table book, I take it that this is one of those "project" books, with six editors listed, and Mr. or Ms. Kindersley at the top. A creditable reference guide to each of the Olympic Games, the book is gorgeously printed, with separate plates of the color pages taking on topographical dimension. There is a blow-by-blow wrap-up of each Olympics of the modern era, from Athens, Greece on April 6, 1986, to Atlanta, 1996.

There are, to be sure, omissions -- i.e. where the heck is Bob Richards, the old Wheaties guy, who vaulted fifteen feet with a bamboo pole? You'll find some omissions. But, on the whole, it is what it is intended to be: a lovely coffee-table postcard to the present Olympics. And an interesting slice of this crazy century's history. Recommended.

Ultimate Pocket World Atlas and Ultimate Pocket World Factfile, Andrew Heritage and Louise Cavanaugh, "Editorial Direction." Dorling Kindersley Publishing, 192 and 240 pp. respectively; US$12.95 both.

Again, these are well-done, well-written and well-presented reference books. The printing is superb, the maps are lovely -- good topographic representations with major roads, and quick facts. And, for what they are designed for, there are only two cavils. First, the binding glue seems somewhat stiffer than usual, and some care has to be taken in breaking the spines in -- though not, as often the case these days, a wretched perfect-binding from which cracked pages erupt with a disquieting regularity. None of that here.

Still, I wonder whose idea it was, in the FACTFILE, to put the map key and abbreviations in the BACK of the book (It's only the abbreviations in the ATLAS). Since reading the maps is difficult without the symbol key and abbreviations, one shouldn't have to page all the way to the end to find them. Recommended.

The Ultimate Spy Book, by H. Keith Melton, with a foreword by William Colby (late former director of the CIA) and Oleg Kalugin, (former Major-General of the KGB); DK Publishing, 176 pp., US$29.95.

The introductions are, nearly in themselves, reason enough to purchase this book. For fifty years the USA and USSR faced one another across the big chessboard, and the opposing captains now exchange professional love letters across two pages: "Thankfully, the end of the Cold War allows us to cooperate on common projects, rather than confront each other, as in the past." (Colby) The Russian is more direct: "Throughout the Cold War, the CIA was one of my main adversaries. Now that the United States and Russia are no longer enemies, I am glad of the opportunity to write this foreword alongside William Colby." (Kalugin)

Though we are in a state of cultural denial about this, the harsh realities of that era are nice to NOT have to contemplate, anymore. This is, in a very real sense, why Los Alamos was like it was for so long.

Here is a history of espionage, devices, spies, methods, written by an acknowledged authority in the field, written to a layman's level, filled with glorious photos of actual in-the-field devices -- from a Confederate cipher wheel to a Bell & Howell Audio-surveillance briefcase (complete with printed instructions in the lid), circa the late 60's or early '70s (which is, understandably where spook artifacts suddenly cease to exhibit a presence in these pages). It is that rarity in publishing: an aptly-titled tome. Recommended.

Kink, by Kathe Koja, Henry Holt & Co., 278 pp., US$23. Kathe Koja has built up quite a reputation in the past few years as a literary/horror/avant garde writer. She has been glowingly described as "one of the finest young novelists at work in America today" (her publisher's copywriter). But reviews hint enticingly at Poe and Sade, and Kafka and Camus. Well, what those folks so quoted might have been smoking at the time of said reviews is best left as a matter of some conjecture.

You'll find none of that here. What follows is a thumping, to be sure, but Kathe Koja COULD be a truly gifted novelist, and it's difficult to read through this purported "walk on the wild side" without suppressing a giggle.

Koja is, evidently, hoping that none who read this novel will challenge her chops, but this is NOT the wild side. To be sure, Koja's descriptive powers are sensual and brutal, even poetic, but description invariably takes a powder when she's describing sex. But that's the engine of the book! Sex is what is being sold here: Lovers (boy and girl) living a sort of petit bourgeois version of "bohemian life" take on a third, a woman. Ooooh! Scandalous!

Boy met girl. Boy has (conventional) sex with girl. Boy and girl meet girl. Boy has (conventional) sex with girls. Girls may or may not be having (pretty conventional) sex with each other. Whatever. To tell more would give away this slim plot. Suffice it to say that the ending would warm the cockles of June Cleaver's heart.

This is a cheat. Here, says author Koja, is a novel about sex, but I won't dwell on that awful sex. And it is a novel of bizarre, outlaw "relationships" (told from the unlikely position of the male's point of view -- about which, the less said the better), which are nothing if not STUNNINGLY conventional, something that might have happened years ago to Aunt Ruth when her cousin Wanda stayed that one summer.

Kink? Well that's the deep post-modernist symbolic word-thing that our male character thinks whenever there's a chapter to be ended.

Koja is a master of her tricks, devices and effects, but she doesn't seem to write about human beings as much as she writes about movies of human beings. Whatever else kink might be, this

is certainly not it. It is not "wild," "bad," "outlaw," or even "dirty." Koja's KINK is, as they say, brilliantly -- even magnificently -- conventional.

Copyright © 1996 by Hart Williams
All Rights Reserved.

Hart Williams is currently incommunicado. Or in Wyoming, which is sort of the same thing. Hart Williams' webpage has been selected as a pavilion in the Internet 1996 World Exposition by its Secretary-General. You can access both at: http://www.efn.org/~hartw/.

Comments can be sent to: hartw@efn.org

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