book log: Andre Norton — The Gifts of Asti

Short story originally published under the “Andrew North” pseudonym, now out of copyright. Nice little short about the last priestess of a god with both genuine power and an implied policy of non-interference. As invaders take the city below, the priestess and her non-human colleague take the back door out of the mountain temple, and find themselves on a strange path to a strange place of safety.

With this being a short story, the world-building isn’t to the same depth as in one of the novels, but Norton was adept at implying things with a few words. This has a number of Norton’s favourite themes presented in miniature, and is well worth a read if you’re a fan.

The text is available from Project Gutenberg and mirrors. The Gutenberg text is also available as a public domain audiobook at the LibriVox project, in both mp3 format and Ogg Vorbis format. The audiobook is about 41 minutes long and read by Mark Nelson. (You can find both the text and the Ogg Vorbis file mirrored at Wikisource.) I listened to the first ten minutes or so, and thought that it was an enjoyable performance.

April book log

I’d put off doing the monthly book log roundup because I was hoping to have reviews of individual books to link to, but reviews did not happen last weekend (because I turned out a couple of thousand words of WIP instead) and won’t be happening this weekend (because the flat is a mess of unfiled books and papers beyond even my slobbish tolerance and I’ll be spending the day cleaning and tidying). So herewith the list of books read in April. You will note a certain theme. This is because I downloaded everything by Norton which was available on feedbooks, and have been enjoying myself working through them.

All by Andre Norton, all available as legal free downloads from Project Gutenberg and mirrors such as feedbooks:

Plague Ship and Voodoo Planet, the second and third titles from the Solar Queen series about a young trainee spaceman aboard a Free Trader spaceship. The first two Solar Queen books were major comfort reads for me when I was a kid, so I was a little bit worried about whether Plague Ship would stand up to scrutiny [mumble] years on. But it’s still enormous fun. Voodoo Planet is novella length, and one I’d only read once or twice before. Good read, although I think wouldn’t have hooked me the way the first two did if I hadn’t already known the characters. Now I want to go and read Sargasso of Space and Postmarked the Stars again. :-)

Ralestone Luck, a 1930s pulp novel which was contemporary fiction in its day and period fiction now. Two brothers and a sister, almost the last of a titled family descended from an English aristocrat who turned pirate and fled to the New Orleans area. The once-wealthy family fell on hard times a couple of generations back, but the siblings feel that if they can find the Ralestone Luck, luck will return to the Ralestones. It was apparently the first novel she wrote (though the second published), and it shows. It’s definitely Norton’s style, and the writing is competent enough for it to be readable, but it *is* a 1930s pulp YA with some flaws in the execution. There’s a touch of white privilege which made me twitch, probably the more so because I don’t expect that from Norton. I’m glad I read it, but I’m also glad I didn’t pay to read it.

Started the Time Traders series. In April I read The Time Traders and Galactic Derelicts, and started The Defiant Agents (the only one I think I’ve read before). Since then I’ve finished The Defiant Agents and Key Out of Time, completing the original series of four books written in the 1950s and 60s. (Another three books were added forty years later, and are shown as co-authored — context suggests that they’re probably share-cropped titles rather than genuinely co-authored. I’d still be willing to read them if I came across them, because the share-cropped and authorised fanfic material in Norton’s worlds which I’ve read has generally been very good.)

The Time Traders sequence is set very firmly during the Cold War, and shows the adventures of a small team of government agents working on a secret time travel project, exploring through time to find the source of odd leaps in Soviet technology, and then using the technology they find themselves. Enjoyed this series.

Review: Cult Pens webshop

I stumbled over the Cult Pens website a couple of years ago when I was looking for a mail order source for my beloved Pentel R56 rollerballs. I promptly bookmarked it for future use, but hadn’t got around to ordering anything from them until a couple of weeks ago.

They stock a *lot* of different pens and pencils. More to the point, they stock the refills and accessories for them as well. You can buy both singly and by the box. The site has plenty of information on each line stocked, usually with their own commentary and not just the blurb from the manufacturer. It is obvious from the commentary that this place is run by pen geeks.

The sheer number of product lines makes navigating the site a slightly daunting task, but it’s well laid out into sections by manufacturer, and there is a useful interactive selection guide where you can put in the features you want and what you intend to use it for, and get back recommendations. There are also very good articles on mechanical pencils and technical pens, with an in-depth look at the different types and features, and recommendations for different uses at price brackets ranging from budget to extravagant.

The prices are shown both with and without VAT. UK shipping is simple — if your order is under 10 pounds, it’s 1.50, over that it’s free. They also ship internationally, with VAT deducted where appropriate.

The prices are reasonable, but generally not hugely cheap. I’m fairly sure I could have got most of the things I ordered a little bit cheaper by shopping around. But the advantage of using this site was that I could get everything at one site, all at a reasonable price, with clear information that let me decide whether it would do the job I wanted it for. I ordered 8 individual items and one box of a dozen black R50 rollerballs (which were in the Office Essentials, a small selection of nice office pens on heavy discount).

The shopping basket is reasonably easy to use. One thing I particularly liked was that I could leave it for a couple of hours, come back, and find the basket still there. I find it annoying when a basket times out after ten minutes or so — this is a security precaution which is useful when you have to sign into an account before you start shopping, but is simply a nuisance when the site doesn’t have any of your personal information until you actually check out. The main payment method is debit or credit card, but you can also generate an order from the basket and then select “cheque” as payment method if you want to pay by post using UK cheque or postal order.

I ordered on Sunday evening, received a clear and detailed delivery note with full UK VAT receipt by email immediately, and my parcel was with me on Tuesday morning via first class post. The items were packed loose in an appropriately sized bubble mailer, without any padding inside the envelope, along with a paper copy of the delivery note. I’d hope that more expensive items would have a bit more protection, but for the items I’d ordered this was fine.

I like this site, and will be ordering from them again. The only problem is the sheer amount of temptation one has to resist. :-)