should be ashamed
Join Date: 20 Oct 2005
Location: Highlands of Scotland
Re: Palimplists 2013
- Space Family Stone by Robert A. Heinlein - the quintessential Heinlein mix of Family Values, obedience to higher authority, reckless disregard for petty governmental restrictions, and the virtues of being able to do calculus in your head while in free fall (useful when squaring the circle of obedience to higher authority while demonstrating a reckless disregard for petty governmental restrictions). Nostalgic fun.
- Pavane by Keith Robert
- The True Adventures of the World's Greatest Stuntman by Vic Armstrong. In which I discovered a local chap with whom I have a nodding acquaintance (just) has worked on films starring Robert de Niro, Clint Eastwood etc. Small world.
- When the Comics Went to War by Adam Riches, Robert Frankland and Tim Parker.
- Worlds of the Imperium by Keith Laumer - Clonk! Sock! Pow! 1962 SF novel which pads out a short story's worth of plot with a lot of fist fights.
- Captain Black: a Romance of the Nameless Ship or Captain Black: a Sequel to "The Iron Pirate", depending on which edition you read. Well that was a marathon. I started this sometime towards the end of last year. I started reading this version online but got so irritated by all the typos I searched out the original scans from which the OCR had been done. Found out just why the OCR became utterly unreadable garbage from time to time and then had a rush of OCD madness and started to proofread the OCR. I had to borrow a copy of the 1911 edition of the book from Cambridge University library to fill in the missing pages. Next month sometime I'll finally get some print on demand place to burp out a copy of my meticulously corrected text which I will place on my bookshelves next to my copy of The Iron Pirate and then ignore, probably for the rest of my life. I have no idea why I'm doing this. It is a godawful book. The first one had a weird manic drive, the second is just repetitive and boring - though the moment where the pirates' submarine is attacked by a giant cuttlefish as it shoots the rapids down an underground Spanish river is something I won't forget in a hurry.
- Shane and Other Stories by Jack Schaefer
- A Sillitoe Selection by Allan Sillitoe
- Mr Fortune's Maggot by Sylvia Townsend Warner
- A Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne. Another never-read-before 'classic' of early SF. Verne apparently never left France. Having read this I wonder if he ever left his desk or lifted anything heavier than a pen. The amount of stuff the three protagonists lug about in this book is hard to comprehend. In addition to a two hundred foot long rope ladder, pick-axes, crow bars, four month's supply of food, flasks of brandy, a raft of scientific instruments etc. etc. etc. they also managed to pack a barrel containing 50 pounds! of gun cotton. This comes in useful when the travellers' way is blocked by a huge granite boulder. Amazingly it takes only 6 hours with a crowbar to carve a hole big enough to accommodate the gun cotton. Which makes me think either the granite was bloody soft (take it from me granite isn't) or Verne doesn't have a clue what he's writing about. Fifty pounds (25kg-ish) is the weight of a bag of cement and, according to my dad who played with plenty of the stuff during his National Service days, the volume would be about that of 25 house bricks. Then add the weight of the barrel itself... It's nonsense. I can forgive Verne the bizarre (to modern eyes) geology and palaeontology he writes about, he was playing well within the boundaries scientific knowledge/theory of the time* and was famously dismissive of Wells for inventing unscientific motors for his stories but I can't forgive him for things like this which are just stupid, lazy storytelling.
*The word 'palaeontology' had been coined less than 30 years before he wrote A Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
- The Tenth Victim by Robert Sheckley. Another never-before-read classic which is extra surprising given that Sheckley is a favourite author. This may have just become my favourite Sheckley. Short, sharp, and brilliantly funny. Laugh out loud funny. There is one long sequence of controlled chaos that had me laughing solidly for several pages. Best book of the year so far.
- Doctor Who: The Only Good Dalek by Mike Collins (Artist), Justin Richards (Author) Totally Crap 'Graphic Novel' which took five people to colour in.
- The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald - one of those never read before 'children's classics' which left me very very underwhelmed.
- The Dark Side of The Earth by Alfred Bester - a 1964 collection of short stories.
- Midworld - Alan Dean Foster an earlyish SF from the prolific Alan Dean Foster winner (wikipedia informs me) of a 2008 Grand Master award from the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. There's an International International Association of Media Tie-In Writers?
- The Big Gold Dream by Chester Himes. I like Chester Himes. He makes me laugh.
- Molly Zero by Keith Roberts. Oh dear. The first (and I hope it will be the only) book I have read written in the second person present tense. Or at least the only one that doesn't end each chapter with a decision and instructions on which page to turn to next:
What a piece of crap. I like Robert's writing. His Pavane is one of my all time SF greats. But this is endless repetitive meandering drivel. Basically we spend a couple of years wandering round a post-apocalyptic future with a petulant teenage girl who can't make up her mind whether she's gay or not (did I mention this was written by a middle-aged man?). During the course of the novel she falls in with various types and groups who give her ample opportunity to learn how shit everything really is. (It's Candide with tits!) The resolution is obvious from start and simply isn't worth wading through the book to get to. Molly Zero jointly won the 1980 British Science Fiction Association Best Novel Award. As far as I can find out, it has never been reprinted (in English) since. His next book, Kiteworld, was a cracker.
You decide to fight the Balrog. You draw your sword and attack... Turn to page 45
You decide to flee the Balrog's foetid lair. You grab the chalice from the altar and start to run... Turn to page 127
- Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman et al - yeah I know it's a comic book.
- Sturgeon in Orbit by Theodore Sturgeon. Pretty turgid bunch of stories which I struggled with and was rewarded in the end by the final story, a brilliant example of old-school schlock of monumental awfulness. The Incubi of Parallel X tells of a distant future where invading midget aliens have harvested the world's women for some vital ingredient for margarine - or something. Whatever the reason, the aliens were destroyed and now the world, with an over-abundance of men, is sinking into barbarity. Save, that is, for our hero whose father built a Gateway and hid lots of women in another dimension before inconveniently getting himself killed and taking the secret of its access with him. Needless to say after 20 years our hero finds a way in, for "even thirty or forty year old women would be of some use", only to find as the gateway collapses behind him (three dramatic chords please!) that the women are Giants! Some strange slippage in the fabric of blah blah has caused giant women to strut around the pages of a 1951 edition Planet Stories.
Luckily this make-it-up-as-you-go-along theoretical physics applies to time too. The hero thinks 20 years have passed; the women think it is a matter of months. Our hero is stranded in a world full of huge GOOD LOOKING! (i.e. not 'thirty or forty' year-old) women. Luckily for him, his girlfriend, back in the lab, fixes the dimensional gateway dingus damaged by the religious nutter on the loose and he gets home. The women take a bit longer to get back as they have to take a detour through another universe to get themselves back to normal size. Gloriously awful. I suspect the story was written to order to fit this cover painting.
'Remember the vibratory interaction theory of matter? It hypothesised that that universes interlock. Universe A presents itself for x duration, one cycle, then ceases to exist. Universe B replaces it; C replaced B; D replaces C, each for one micro-milli-sub-n-second in time*. At the end of the chain, Universe A presents itself again. The two appearances of Universe A are consecutive in terms of an observer in Universe A. Same with B and C and all the others. Each seems to its observers to be continuous, whereas all are actually recurrent. That's elementary.'
*give or take a bit.
- Merchanter's Luck by C J Cherryh. My first read of a novel by the prolific Cherryh (60 books since the mid-1970s) left me not particularly impressed. I spent a lot of the book wondering what the hell was going on and why. This despite the fact that people were endlessly explaining the situation to each other back and forth and then going off and explaining it to someone else. Sometimes there were long discussions where the local (to the newcomer, incomprehensible) political situation was explained and the characters would then go off and explain it all to someone else. Lots and lots of yadda yadda yadda in the book - interspersed by moments when the plot looked it finally might start to get going... whereupon everyone would start another round of yadda yadda explaining in tedious detail (including details of bank transactions) what was going to happen and why it was a bad idea. Maybe those familiar with the 'universe' the book was set it (developed in, currently, 27 novels and seven short story anthologies) might have had more idea but I was at a loss. I spent a lot of the time parsing sentences to try and work out what they meant too. A very odd stream of conciousness writing style that left me cold. The plot, when it finally emerged from under all the baffling verbiage, was very thin.
- The General Zapped an Angel by Howard Fast. The author of Spartacus writes SF! Just. A couple of these stories are passable, a couple are hopeless, couple are bloody awful, none would have been accepted for any SF mag of the period (or since). I doubt if they would ever have seen the light of day if Fast hadn't been a very established, well selling author.
- Eye Among the Blind (1976) by Robert Holdstock - well, I have no idea what that was all about. The human race died from inexplicable something, and some aliens evolved backwards (even after they had died), and the hero wasn't afraid any more at the end of the book. Ursula le Guin liked it (or got paid to like it) on the back cover. I've never understood any of her books either so I suspect it was just too damn smart for me.
- Trullion: Alastor 2262 by Jack Vance. I think I may be, finally, getting Vance. That was most entertaining.
- The Chessmen of Mars (1925) by Edgar Rice Burroughs. That too was fun, in a godawful compulsive guilty page-turning way.
- The Making of The African Queen, or: How I Went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost my Mind by Katherine Hepburn. Chatty little memoir about the making of a film I haven't watched in far too long. Not very informative but entertaining enough.
- The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl, C. M. Kornbluth. Another of those books that regularly appears in those '100 all time great SF novels' list which, it turns out, I have never read before. Its place on all those lists is well deserved. It's a great little book.
- Angado by E C Tubb. The 29th of Tubb's Dumarest books and almost exactly the same as all the others. This time though there was a gay character. Gosh!
- The Lion Game by James Henry Schmitz. At the time they were written the Telzey Amberdon stories were widely regarded, at least by the readership of Analog magazine where they first appeared and would often make the cover. This fix-up of three of the short stories into a rough facsimile of a novel makes me wonder why. It's awful. A heroine is 15 year old a genius, a law student, and a psi supergirl who can instantly hypnotise bad guys at will (except when she can't because the story would just stop if she did). Galumphing, leaden prose full of 'and then and then' telling loads of make it up as you go along back-story which just add layers of spurious complication but do little to advance the plot. (Heroine is captured and escapes, captured and escapes, captured and escapes, the end.) Yawn.
- Takeoff! by Randall Garrett - a reread. 'Humorous' SF which for the most part left me unamused; apart from the very funny, spot-on parody of E E 'Doc' Smith, "Backstage Lensman". The only reason I kept the book.
- The Paradise Game by Brian Stableford.
- New Worlds of Fantasy #3 ed. Terry Carr - small collection of short stories in which I discovered you could use the word 'fuck' in an American mass market paperback back in 1965.
- The Case of the Howling Dog by Erle Stanley Gardner. Another in my Unread Authors I Have Known About All My Life Project. The Case of the Howling Dog is a Perry Mason mystery. It is shit. Mason, as a character, is an arrogant arse who alternates between endlessly repeating the facts as known in the case so far to every character that wanders into the plot (thus in chapter two he recaps the events that took place in chapter one, in chapter three he recaps chapters one and two etc.) and brusquely ordering his cardboard minions to perform legally dubious acts without explaining why (apart from repeating variations of the same self-serving speech about his duty to protect his client/s). In the end there's the expected courtroom scene in which Perry pulls dramatic magic plot rabbits out of thin air and gets his client off. (Magic rabbits include the totally out-of-the-blue revelation that a character is ambidextrous, the announcement in the papers of the discovery of two bodies under a concrete floor at the original crime scene by detectives who didn't bother to tell the DA's office before they started digging. (The 'tecs were responding to an anonymous tip off from Mason, delivered to a local newspaper.) And the fact that the dog shot at the scene of the crime wasn't the dog everyone thought it was but an identical dog substituted by the murder victim to cover up the murders of the two people under the concrete floor.) In the end whodunnit isn't resolved, though the implication is that the client who Perry has proven innocent was the guilty party.
And it's stuffed full of writing like this:
I don't think I'll be bothering again.
[Mason is pontificating to his assistant about courtroom psychology.]
Everly's face lit up. 'All right,' he said, 'now tell me just how that applies to the jury. I'm commencing to think I see.'
- Exploits of Engelbrecht: Abstracted from the Chronicles of the Surrealist Sportsman's Club by Maurice Richardson. Reread of a collection of strange stories telling of the sporting career of Engelbrech 'the dwarf surrealist boxer'. A book to be dipped into from time to time rather than consumed in one sitting. Very funny and stupidly expensive; I have no idea where I bought my copy but there's no way I paid the stupid prices being asked for the same (first) edition at Amazon.
- Uncle by J P Martin - I loved the Uncle books when I was a kid. (I was not alone.) I'm glad to say my kids get it too. This must be the third time I've read this for a bedtime read to Number One Daughter. (And talking of stupid prices....) 24
- The Listerdale Mystery by Agatha Christie. Another of the Unread Authors list ticked off. Twelve bland little stories which shunt around a limited number of pieces: Crooks pretending to be policemen, announcement of stolen jewels in the paper, immediate finding of stolen jewels by hapless protagonist (who puts on the wrong pair of trousers, drives off in the wrong car etc.), assumed racism:
all pretty meh. So what. One story had promise, The Girl on the Train, which was shaping up to be a fun Robert Lois Stephenson style farce - after an argument with his benefactor uncle the suddenly impoverished nephew (the above mentioned George) sets out at random to have an adventure, and before many paragraphs have passed is embroiled in a farrago of spies, foreign royalty, and midnight skulkings. Then sadly, the plot just ran out of steam and the story stopped far too soon. If I suspected for an instant that Christie wrote more stories like The Girl on the Train I would dig deeper.
George had the true-born Briton's prejudice against foreigners--and an especial distaste for German looking foreigners.
- Confessions of a Pop Performer by Timothy Lea - I hate nostalgia. I hate all that misty-eyed, "Ooh, things used to be so much simpler then, and the sun shone all the time, and plums used to taste of something" bullshit. Since I grew up in the 1970s I think I'm probably almost immune to nostalgia. The 70's were shit. No one could get nostalgic about the 70s. Occasionally I inoculate myself against nostalgia by going and go looking at some 1970s popular culture. The sort of thing people look at and say "Ooooh... They don't make 'em like that any more..." This time it's Confessions of a Pop Performer one of 19 'Confessions of' sex comedy books and it is unmitigated shit from start to finish. The only twinge of nostalgia it generated in me was that I had forgotten that women's breasts were often referred to as 'bristols' in British sex comedies; I don't think I ever heard anyone call them that in real life - and I'm positive no one outside the pages of the 'Confessions' books and the sleazy 'Reader's' (hah!) letters of wank mags referred to a woman's naughty bits as a 'spasm chasm'. The only laugh I got out of the whole book was reading on the back cover that
('Major' film? Colombia's other 'major' films of the year included: Taxi Driver, The Man Who Would Be King....)
'Confessions of a Pop Performer' is now a major film from Colombia Pictures.
- Twilight Strangler (1975) by Charles Miron
Even by the standards of the fevered shite I usually punish myself with this is an incredibly BAD book. It took me days to read what is a pretty small novel. There are only 181 pages in the book but I read far more than that. It's such a bewilderingly badly written novel that I had to read most pages at least once before I could make any kind of sense of them. It took me a good five minutes to get past the opening two sentences.
Who knew months needed advertising?
Heather Howell tossed her blonde head six different ways, while from behind her a four rotor 1922 Oehmichen and 1939 antitorque tail Sikorsky helicopter came the sound of whirring cameras.
"Entice me" ordered Bert Neff, shooting his sixteenth commercial for the month of May.
I also spent a while listening to my inner reading-voice declaiming this book in the manner of a bad parody of a 50's Beat Poet with two reefer-high, frothy-coffee buzzing, black beret wearing, bongo-bashers patting their tom-toms in the background. It didn't make anything I was reading make any more sense but it kept me amused for a while. The whole book is very weirdly trippy. Odd for what is ostensibly a routine cop/crime novel. Ed McGinberg's 87th Precinct? The book is populated with characters (I'm being generous) who appear from nowhere and disappear just as quickly. The narrative slips (trips) seamlessly in and out of people's heads, from the present to the past then back again (sometimes arriving back in the head of someone else) without any clues why or when. Sometimes flashbacks handily flagwave their presence by wearing italics but mostly not. It's bewildering.
The sex scenes are great! Here's one of our murder victims - introduced two pages previously - having flashback sex with someone she just remembered in the previous paragraph:
Two pages after this she is dead, stuffed inside an oven of a plane on a crowded internal flight. She is not mentioned again. Mind you, the rest of the cabin crew don't have much of a chance to find her body because the book ends half a chapter later in a flurry of coincidences designed to get the book finished as soon as possible because the author has just noticed he's up to his required number of pages. We never do discover the why's and wherefores of the killer's motives - or how, on the last page, the hero got out of his own speeding car onto the back of the villain's speeding car and then be (simultaneously?) on the hood of the villain's speeding car. I need to read more of this guy's work.
Twenty pounds later he more resembled a boy who came into securities from business school. Denise could little resist when he invited her to his Gramercy Park apartment. She found herself admiring a Picasso linoleum cut.
"Erotic as hell, but pure genius," he said touching the back of her neck.
An hour later, in his blue and silver bedroom, she found herself more erotically stimulated by an imported vibrator with finger twirling action.
"Ralph, it's my first...!"
He never heard her final statement. His enlarged organ entered her like some missile hurtling through a sonar tunnel.
- Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
- The Incredible Adventures of Professor Brainstawm by Norman Hunter. Another re-read for Daughter Number Two.
- The Rose by Charles Harness. Well that was disappointing. The previous novels I have read by Harness have been great, bonkers, Van Vogtian, dreamlike nonsense. Wide-Screen Baroque Space opera. The Rose, considered by many to be his 'best', is really a long novella rather than a novel which plays with the Art vs Science "Two Cultures" debate. Not that interesting. It's very talky and the artificial nature of the debate is so crudely set up that it is impossible to be engaged. The Rose was propped up to book length in my edition with a couple of early stories, 'The New Reality' and The 'Chessplayers' neither of which, in the end, are worth much. 'The New Reality' in particular goes to great lengths to postulate the mutability of reality, i.e. the world really WAS flat until it was discovered to be round, and throws in lots of discussion about Kant's philosophy (the word 'Noumenon' gets used a lot) before ending in that most pathetic of SF cliches: male and female protagonist alone in a new reality/universe and he just happens to be called 'Adam' and she is called 'Eve'. Dear God! even in the 1950 this was a hoary old cliché. (Though it does still get used. Last time I know of was the closing moments of Alex Proyas', best-avoided, 2009 film Knowing. It really is such a shit ending it sinks anything, no matter how brilliant, it is bolted on to.)
- Uncle Cleans Up by J P Martin bedtime re-read for Number One Daughter.
by Ray Russell - I think it was the phrase "...her breasts trembled like flowers in a light breeze." that did it. That and a Marenghian description of our young heroine/next victim's pubic hair as a "fleecy nest" a bit further down the page.
- Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss. That was fun, and I learned stuff.
- The Tar-Aiym Krang by Alan Dean Foster under-achieving bit of cardboard, setting-up-the-series-to-follow SF which was littered with more than the usual amount of Batman SF (i.e. labelling everything with SFish sounding Bat Signs: Autochef, synthosteak, nictotubes etc.) Sloppily edited too. Maybe my apostrophe detector was on high alert after reading the Lynne Truss but I had never come across a "their's" before reading this.
- Jerry Robinson : Ambassador of Comics by N C Christopher Couch - Hagiography of the co-creator of Batman's sidekick Robin (and by extension every annoying kid sidekick in comics since), The Joker, the Batman logo, and sundry other bits of 20th Century iconography. I gave up reading the words after my third gushy encounter with : "of course no one knew then that in a few years time Jerry would..." etc. (or similar). Of course no one knew. No one knows. We don't need telling three times, in less than half a book, that people can't see into the future. Luckily there were copious pictures to look at instead.
- Tim Burton by Jim Smith & J Clive Matthews - Exhaustive, above average cut and paste review of Burton's film up to, and including, Planet of the Apes. The book does contain a couple of real clunkers though: they say Bela Lugosi never made a colour film when he starred in one, Scared to Death (1947,) and appeared in at least one other. Even more weirdly they seem to think George A Romero was an Italian director.
- The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges.
- Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome
- Prologue to Analog ed. John W Campbell
- Uncle and His Detective J P Martin Daughter Number One and I reach the halfway point in the Uncleathalon.
- Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. Come on Ms Clarke! it's been nine years... we need more! Please.
- Laughing into the Fourth Dimension: 25 Humorous Fantasy & Science Fiction… by Larry Lefkowitz. A review copy via Library Thing's EarlyReviewers. It's not good.
- Gods and Monsters by Peter Biskin - Collected articles and essays that could have done with a few explanatory footnotes in places.
- More Than Superhuman by A E van Vogt. The usual Vogty bewilderment served up in short stories - at least one of which later went on to form part of a novel.
- The Story of the Treasure Seekers by E Nesbit
- The Day After Tomorrow by Robert Heinlein. In a future America invaded by the massed hordes of 'slant-eyed', 'flat-faced', 'yellow', 'Mongoloid' Pan Asia only six men remain of the United States Army. Together they repel the invaders. The fact that they have just invented a brand new field of physics that enables them to slice the tops off mountains at the touch of a button, cure all known diseases and selectively set their 1920s style super-sciencey raygun weapons to select between those with 'Asian blood' and 'Caucasians' (people of African decent are totally absent from the book) is a bit of a help. Early datedly racist crap which I doubt (hope) is not in print any more.
- The Blonde Cried Murder by Brett Halliday a 1956 'Mike Shayne Mystery'. Workmanlike pulp.
- The Omega Point by George Zebrowski. Old style (even for 1972) SF in the Van Vogtian tradition. I'll not be rushing out to read the other two in the series.
- Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years by Michael Palin
- The Torrent of Spring by Ernest Hemingway. My first Hemingway and I loved it. I never expected to find him funny but I laughed out loud.
- Lady Killer by Ed McBain ( 1958 ) - a early example of the 54 or so '87th Precinct' novels. Strangely compulsive reading. McBain can make not much happening stretch out for several pages and make it zip by in seconds.
- The Deadly Percheron (1967) - Odd little crime novel which starts off intriguingly enough. A young man visits the narrator, a psychologist, because he is being paid by leprechauns to give money away and wear hibiscus flowers in his hair. The psychologist accompanies the young man to his next meeting with one of the leprechauns and finds out the man isn't mad and then is pushed under a speeding train to wake up a yaer later later, unrecognisably disfigured and locked in a Psychiatric ward. Great start. By the end it it has lost its way in farrago of improbable co-incidences and stupidities. Pity.
- The Coming of the Terraphiles by Michael Moorcock (2001) - that was a grind. I really had to force myself to finish this one. A Doctor Who novel. Moorcock has always been a very variable writer. Sometimes his books look like they were thrown-together-in-a-weekend, disposable trash; other times they are complex funny and re readable. The Coming of the Terraphiles looks like both. Haphazardly slung together trash masquerading as a frenetic complicated comedy. I would send it off to the eBay pile but as there were stacks of them in the Poundshop I bought this copy I doubt it'll be worth the effort.
- Murder by the Book (A Nero Wolfe Mystery) by Rex Stout - another in the I've Never read a Book By... project. Rex Stout wrote 33 novels and 39 short stories featuring Nero Wolfe, a corpulent, Mycroft Holmes-like private investigator. Murder by the Book is, apparently, the 19th novel. It chanks along quite happily going through the motions of the genre until the inevitable gathering of the suspects and the revealing of the murderer's fatal error. Quite often at this point in this sort of book the detective pulls some plot rabbit out of the hat and the reader thinks, "Aha! Of course, silly of me not to spot that". Sometimes the detective will pull a plot rabbit out of his arse and the the reader thinks, "How the hell was I supposed to know that? That's a bit cheating!". (The identical dogs in the Erle Stanley Gardner I read earlier this year are a good example.) In Murder by the Book the detective doesn't bother pulling out a plot rabbit from anywhere. Faced with the obvious suspect's unbreakable alibi the detective points at an underling (who hasn't been seen before or uttered a word for the whole book) and says "I had that man investigate your movements..." at which point the suspect breaks. No explanation of how his unbreakable alibi is broken, just the vague mention of someone having a possible plot rabbit to pull out and the book ends. At which point the reader thinks, "What a swiz! That's not just a bit cheating! That's real cheating with knobs on. I was robbed." I doubt if I shall return.
- Feedback by Hugh Miller (1974) - low-rent, Shakespeare-loving private eyed based in Leamington Spa foils a gang of gay racists. Another off the top of the trashpile paperback and another trip back in time to the days where liberally-minded, anti-racists could happily beat up 'vicious poofs', and dismiss 'women's lib' as 'a bunch of weirdos, dog-in-the-manger chicks stuck with cunts and deprived of the imagination to make up the set.". Ah, the good old days.
- Hammer Wives by Carlton Mellick III (2013) - If I had paid real folding money for this book, instead of having traded it on Readitswapit for a the novelization of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle film, I would have demanded my money back - with menaces. I've not encountered much 'bizarro' fiction before - shorts online somewhere and a couple of Steve Aylett novels: Atom and Lint (both of which I loathed - I don't think I finished Lint). Hammer Wives confirms my underwhelment with the genre/marketing tool. Six short pointless stories stuffed full of violent surrealist goriness. Spotty adolescent wank stuff. The thing I think makes 'bizarro' fail for me is that it is just trying too hard; trying to make itself culty and 'out there' when real cults and outsider art comes from people desperate to be mainstream and failing. What makes works by people like Sean Wright and Richard Driscoll so interestingly awful and weirdly compulsive is that they are convinced of their own rightness. They want to be accepted; they want to be mainstream. For them it's the rest of us who are out of step. From my, albeit limited, experience of reading bizarro is seems that the writers of bizarro are trying to deliberately be as unmainstream as possible and running around trying to shock what is an increasingly unshockable world. (Bizarro titles by the same publisher include: Rico Slade Will Fucking Kill You, Zombies and Shit, and Fuckers of Everything on the Crazy Shitting Planet of the Vomit Atmosphere.) My four year old boy says, "pee, poo, willy, bum, fart!" for exactly the same reasons.
To add to my annoyance with the book (and the horrible thought that, at 53, I am, maybe, finally growing up) is the fact that Hammer Wives is so damn thin! The book has 156 pages. Usual guff at the front, publishers (c), 'also by', title page, contents... the text starts on Page 6 ends on page 120; each of the six stories is announced with a full page title which takes us down to 118 pages of text. Each story is dotted with wee graphics between sections and each of those takes up the space of four lines of text. There are 68 of them. That's 272 lines of text equal to four whole pages. The 156 page book is now down to 114 pages of reading text. To pad out what is looking suspiciously like a very thin book we then get six pages of author's notes about the stories, six pages of a pathetic little comic strip by the author which looks like the of the sort of thing I drew as a twelve-year-old in the back of an exercise book while I should have been doing my algebra. (Though, to give the author credit for honesty the strip is described as a 'half-assed filler'.) And then several pages of adverts for the publisher's entire back catalogue.
It cost me £1.10 to post the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle book to my Readitswapit swap partner. I feel slightly ripped off.
- Goblins by Philip Reeve - read to number one daughter for a bedtime read. Fun book. It had us in fits of giggles at least once a chapter.
- Elstree: The British Hollywood by Patricia Warren - breathy fannish rattle through the history of the various studios built in Borehamwood from the 1900s onward. Heavy on the adulation (actresses are often described as 'the lovely [Insert Name Here]', or 'the beautiful [Insert Name Here]') and pointless anecdotes; one producers' 'ingenious method' of keeping his production on schedule was to look at his watch. Gosh! The author is strangely obsessed by the many 'canny Scots' who played pivotal roles over the years. On the whole the book is disappointingly low on any kind of detail, which is sad given the author's claimed access to the Elstree vaults. The pictures were nice though.
- Shepperton Babylon: The Lost Worlds of British Cinema by Matthew Sweet Now this is more like it. A beautifully written, interesting, gossipy gallop through the history of British cinema with some of the sleaze put back in. My only criticism is that I could have done with it being twice as long.
- Byzantium Endures by Michael Moorcock. 400 page rambling chaotic 'autobiography' set during turmoil of revolutionary Russia. Much enjoyed.
- Singularity Station by Brian N Ball. Very thin, bloody dreadful piece of exclamation mark ridden tosh from an author now so negligible that no one has even bothered to make a Wikipedia page for him. He's most famous, I would guess, for novelising a few episodes of Space 1999.
Singularity Station is a novel in the Vogtian tradition, employs galactic-wide coincidences beyond any kind of credibly, probably, uses 'coruscation'/'coruscating' more often than in any SF novel not written by E E 'Doc' Smith, and has a villain who talks about himself in the third person. Unfortunately none of it is very inventive, interesting, or badly-written enough to generate any guilty pleasure. It's just dull. Especially those moments where Ball pads his thin story by repeating action from different viewpoints without adding anything other than filling the page with more internal monologue full of rhetorical questions. (From which we gather, in great detail, that whatever the hell is going on at any particular point is a mystery to everyone involved - including, I suspect, the author.)
On the upside; it is mercifully short.
- Wanderers of Time by John Wyndham - collection of early, very dated shorts (one story written in the 1930s had the Nazi Party still in power well into the Space Age). A couple are interesting precursors to his later better and more famous books. I don't think it's too fanciful to see the germ of the Triffids in 'The Puff-ball Menace' (deliberately mutated lethal fungi are released into the British countryside) or The Midwich Cuckoos growing from 'A Child of Power' (doctor describes a lone child mutant who can 'see' electricity and can 'hear' communications from Outer Space).
- Winnie the Pooh by A A Milne. For the umpteenth time. It still makes me laugh.
- F.A.T.E. No 2: Slave Ships from Sergan by Gregory Kern (aka E C Tubb) - the usual Tubby bish bash bosh muscleheaded 'adventure'.
- Wolfbane by Frdererik Pohl and C M Kornbluth - A new treasure. Pure dead good 1959 SF which must have been a major touchstone for the Matrix films.
- Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year 4 ed. by Lester del Rey - pretty run of the mill 'best of' 1974. More evidence that I just don't get R A Lafferty. Big enough name to get a mention on the front cover: 'Stories by Harlan Ellison R. A. Lafferty and some exciting new authors' (thus elbowing Harry Harrison, Fred Pohl, Clifford Simak, Robert Silverberg and John Brunner into the 'also ran's.) but his contribution was, for me, unreadable, I abandoned it half way through. What am I not getting?
- The Machine in ward Eleven by Charles Willeford - this one has been in my TBR pile for years. Hardly the "weirdest tale that has been published in America since Edgar Allan Poe" or likely to "scare the wits out of readers" rather a collection of okay stories I'll not remember a thing about by this time next year.
Abandoned in July: A Voyage to Arcturus
by David Lindsay. Written in 1920, 'avidly' read by Tolkien, an obvious influence on C S Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet
and its sequels, and frequently adapted to other media
including, it has to be said, a 2001 jazz concept album. (People still made 'concept albums' in 2001
!? People who like this book did.) I thought it was shite. The introduction asks us to be 'tolerant' and read it 'sympathetically'. I tried. But is so badly written and dull I gave up about the 90 page mark. I nearly gave up earlier after realising that the first chapter had spent 20 pages introducing us to a whole stream of characters that we were never going to meet again once they had done their job of introducing three total strangers to the plot (strangers not only to each other but to the laboriously introduced disposable characters too). Rank amateur writing with everything kind of described in some sort of vague way which left a suspicion of a kind of feeling that the writer was almost waffling with something that looked like a possible case of maybe terminal indecisiveness. Sort of.
- Nebula Maker by Olaf Stapledon - Right, I have now read an Olaf Stapledon from start to finish and my gods it was a bore. Mercifully it was short.
- Who Goes Here? by Bob Shaw - a funny little piece of SF from someone I don't normally associate with have much of a sense of humour - on the page at least. It was almost as if Shaw had read a couple of Harry Harrison's funnier novels and though "I can do that!" - and did.
- The Pastel City by M John Harrison - swords and super-science in a far flung future. The first of a 'sequence' or a 'series' (or whatever). I'll happily look out the others - though I have a sneaking suspicion there is a complete collected edition somewhere in the lower strata of my TBR pile.
- The Godwhale by T J Bass - a reread of a book that left a real impression on me as a kid. As it turned out I didn't actually remember all that much about the details of the book. I'd retained impressions and images from individual scenes but very little story. It's a book that must have had a similar effect on others because it's one of those books that regularly turns up in "I'm trying to remember the name of the book where..." threads on various SF forums. Looked at objectively the book is a bit of a mess: the story rattles along at a fair clip right enough but the characters are thin puppets, just there to deliver their lines - most of them are quite dispassionate and almost instantly adapt to extra ordinary circumstances without pausing for breath, the book's point of view will often, dislocatingly, change in mid paragraph and there are hiccups in the time line when we suddenly find ourselves ten or twenty years later without the author bothering to tell us. Despite all this it has something. Not a great book but memorable.
- Voyage in the Dark by Jean Rhys -
- Hospital Station by James White - another reread of a book that plays better in the memory than on the page. It's not really a novel more a collection of short stories that share the same characters and location - the Sector General space hospital: humans and aliens wrapped in two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal, all alone in the night. It can be a dangerous place, but it's our... oh hang on.... that's the opening narration to season one of Babylon 5. Very similar idea - but White got there 30 years earlier. I first read this back in the seventies and, like The Godwhale (reread earlier this month), it stuck. It looks dated now, the situations are contrived, the characterisations thin but as a bit of world building it has something. It was followed by 11 more novels, I'm not sure I have read any of them but I suspect I have, I'm far more familiar with the world of the book than I could possibly have learned from just reading this one. It'll be interesting to pick up a later one to see how things developed.
- The Silkie by A E van Vogt (1969) - another a fever-dream inducing fix-up novel made up by gluing together some short stories. This time three stories about a shape-changing evolved human and/or alien. In the book the hero saves the universe from wrong-thinking aliens while stuck in the form of a fish; encounters a shark on a spaceship filled with water; stands by helplessly as the Earth is redicimised to a small ball and put in a museum by a passing ancient entity. (Eventually the hero works out some way of turning the alien into a sun around which the Earth - automagically unreducimised - and the other eight hundred habitable planets in the museum - ditto - orbit.) And by the time the third bunch of wrong-thinking aliens turn up, our hero has acquired such godlike powers he manages to reboot the entire universe, subtly altering things so that none of the events of the book take place. I think. At the end I was so confused/bewildered I had totally lost the plot.
- The Frankenstein Collection ed. Peter Haining - 640 pages of variations on a theme - some of them a bit tenuous, I'm not sure I really saw the connection with the Herman Melville piece - and the editor's pre-story notes did sometime get a bit annoyingly spoilerish.
- Needle in a Timestack by Robert Silverberg - collection of workman like 1960's SF shorts. Most of which I suspect I will have forgotten this time next week.
Abandoned in September: My Name is Dee
by Robert Wyatt Dunn. Librarything review copy. I couldn't read beyond pg. 70.
- The Weapon Shops of Isher by A E van Vogt -a slightly less than usually bewildering van Vogt in which an immortal human marries the Empress of Earth. As he had married umpteen of her Xty great grandmothers over the centuries this is very weirdly incestuous - but he's trying to recreate the genetic accident that made him immortal so that's all right then. He's also got an automatic rat breeding machine that's been churning out lab rats of slightly longer than normal lifespan for a couple of thousand years. In addition to being the founder and mainstay of the perennial ruling house he is also responsible for setting up their opposition: the 'Weapon Shops' an organization that, equipped with screeds of rabbit-out-of-a-hat super-science gizmos, maintain an uneasy status quo. Things start to go a bit wonky when someone invents an FTL drive and everyone wants it for vastly different reasons. (Just to add to the confusion our hero also runs another super secret business empire that means that, when he turns himself into a giant and goes stomping the business district in an attempt to backmail the Empress into handing over the secret of interstellar flight, he only stomps his own property and has given all his employees the day off before he does so. What a guy! There are giant telepathic alien Spiders in the mix too.
- The Weapon Makers by A E van Vogt. The prequel to the above. And a right dog's breakfast it is too.
- In Deep by Damon Knight - SF collection containing a couple of stories that creeped the bejeesus out of me when I was a kid. Still interesting.
- The Shadow on the Blind and Other Stories by Louisa Baldwin & Lettice Galbraith. Period ghostly stories. Victorians scared easily didn't they? Most of stories by Mrs Baldwin ran along the lines: Long introduction of a respectable person or persons who then see a ghost - and DIE of fright! erm... okay.... or, as an occasional variation: Long introduction of a respectable person or persons who then see a ghost but! (and here's the twist) without realising it is a ghost. They only discover that they have seen a ghost when they find the person who ghost they have seen died at exactly the moment they saw them. At which point they might DIE of fright - or not. The Lettice Galbraith stories were vastly superior, less formulaic, often funny and far better written,
- The Bluffer's Guide to Cars by Martin Gurdon - Librarything review copy.
- The English Assassin: a Romance of Entropy by Michael Moorcock - Mr M in full-throttle stream of conciousness, New Wave, apocalyptic incomprehensibility. There are four books in the Jerry Cornelius Quartet. This was number three. The novels may, it says on the back cover of my edition, 'be read in any order'. I suspect reading them all simultaneously may help make more sense of them.
- The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
- Worlds of If Feb '65 - A E Van Vogt's The Replicators on the cover.
- The Weight of a Feather and other Stories by Judy Croome - a (self-published?) collection of very samey stories most of which read like they were done as exersises in a Creative Writing evening class. Purple prose, weird similies, too many adjectives - not enough plotting.
- Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake - which I almost gave on several times - not because of the writing but because of the erratic proofreading which capitalised nouns which didn't need it them (some of the time), didn't capitalise others that did, put commas the wrong side of speech marks (some of the time) and generally irritated the hell out of me. The book though was great fun. I can see why I didn't like, and abandoned it half way through when I was a kid. Not a lot happens and what does happen happens very slowly and with copious florid description.
- Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake
- Titus Alone by Mervyn Peake
- Projections 9 ed. John Boorman & Walter Donohue - I like the Projections series. They are like listening in to conversations between intelligent creative types talking about film. Sometimes it all gets a bit esoteric, sometimes it gets a little over-technical, but it's never condescending. The series makes no apologies and doesn't assume its audience is stupid or ignorant. This one is about French film makers. A bit interesting but mostly over my head, mostly because I have seen so little French cinema I had little to no idea what they were talking about half the time. Made me want to go and watch more though.
Last edited by JunkMonkey; 23rd Jan 2014 at 15:39.