August book log

Several books this month. One reason is that I worked out part of why I can read the Cybook on the bus, and applied that to print books — I glance up for a second during the page-turn flash on the Cybook, and that helps minimise motion sickness. It’s not the only thing going on there, but it’s enough in combination with sitting over the back axle (thank you to micavity for the tip), that I’ve been able to read some print books as well. Thus I can grab a print book even if I’ve forgotten to load some new ebooks.

Oh, and I entered 600 books into LibraryThing this month…

Gerald Durrell: The Stationary Ark

Brief review on LJ, DW and WP

James Blish: Mission to the Heart Stars

Brief review on LJ, DW and WP

Harry Harrison: The men from PIG and ROBOT

Brief review on LJ, DW and WP

James Anderson – The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy

An affectionate and funny spoof of the classic 1930s country house murder mystery, with a great many nods to the masters and mistresses. Rather too many characters and their independent but interlocking intrigues for me to keep track of what was going on, and the characters and their intrigues aren’t quite interesting enough for me to not care about that. I’d probably have enjoyed it more if I’d read all of the classic mysteries alluded to. And I’m not convinced that it *is* possible to work it all out without guessing, even if I adored part of the solution to the primary mystery itself. I don’t regret buying this, but I’m glad I paid remainder price rather than cover price.

LibraryThing entry
The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy (Burford Family Mysteries 1) at Amazon UK
The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy (Burford Family Mysteries 1) at Amazon US

John Carnell: New Writings in SF 10

Anthology series, with issue with 7 new-in-1966 stories, edited by John Carnell. To review later. [review]

WJ Burley: Wycliffe and the Winsor Blue

One in the long-running police procedural series. To review later. [review]

ETA: knew I’d forgotten one…
Harry Harrison: Plague from Space [review]

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Book review: James Blish – Mission to the Heart Stars

Short YA novel, a sequel to “the Star Dwellers”. I found that I could read and enjoy this book without having read the first one, as there’s enough backstory worked into it that new readers aren’t left floundering. It’s set in a relatively near future, not long after mankind has first developed an interstellar drive and made contact with other intelligent species. One of those species is an energy-based lifeform which has been around since the Big Bang, but which is nevertheless culturally compatible with humans. The Angels have sponsored humans for membership in another galactic culture, one that is short-lived by the standards of the Angels, but still remarkably long-lived and stable by human standards. So long-lived that even having the normal probationary membership period cut in half at the Angels’ urging means waiting 50,000 years for full membership.

Naturally, some politicians are too impatient to wait. And so begins the mission to the Heart Stars, a journey to the heart of the empire to ask in person for immediate full membership. Along the way, the crew of the diplomatic mission ship see exactly how that peaceful, prosperous stability is achieved.

The book has a reasonable balance of engineering and social commentary. The science behind the faster-than-light drive is pseudo-science, but it’s the sort that’s extrapolated from real physics and internally consistent, not pure plot-devicium powered. It’s a little too overtly preachy, but that’s largely a result of it being a YA book written in the mid 60s. I’m not sure I’ll keep it any longer, but it’s a book I enjoyed enough that I’ve read it more than once.

LibraryThing entry
Mission to the Heart Stars (A Panther book) on Amazon UK
Mission to the Heart Stars on Amazon US
at Powell’s

Tales from the book mountain: Hilda Boswell’s Treasury of Children’s Stories

So, there are books in these boxes which I am Strongly Attached To. Not just the text contained therein, but the actual physical item. I’ve just pulled out what is probably the book I’ve owned the longest which is still in my possession. It is battered and tattered and falling apart, but it was like that before it ever went into the attic. I was given this book for Christmas when I was five, and I loved it to death. Pretty much literally. Hilda Boswell’s Treasury of Children’s Stories was an illustrated anthology of extracts from various children’s classics, with some short stories and poetry as well. This is where I first read Narnia and the Arabian Nights. Only short extracts here, but those extracts fired my imagination, and led to my having read pretty much the whole of Narnia and a (somewhat *selected*) long collection of the Nights before I hit my teens.

The real joy of this collection was that Boswell selected material that would appeal to adults as well as children. I didn’t stop looking at it occasionally even in my teens, or as an adult. And it’s not just the text. It’s richly illustrated, with at least one colour drawing on every page. I spent *hours* looking at the detail in those drawings. I’m so glad to see it again.

It’s really too fragile now to handle it much. So I’ve just ordered another copy from Amazon, gambling three pounds on getting a copy that hasn’t been read and re-read as much as mine has. And when it arrives, I will take my middle-aged self off to an armchair for an hour, and be five again. But that original copy, that tatty stack of old paper and card and thread — that’s just been gently put back on the shelf. That’s *my* book, and it says so on the flyleaf, in my mother’s handwriting.

Thoughts on the book mountain: Simon R Green

As will be obvious from recent posts on my main blog, I’m busy unpacking the book collection that has been in storage for the last decade. This involves giving serious consideration to whether in fact I want to keep any particular book, or whether I should dispose of it (blasphemy! cries a large chunk of my flist). My views on Simon R Green’s output run the full range from into the “dispose of” box without even thinking about it, to “prise from my cold dead hands”. Unlike some of the other authors whose books are about to get drastically pruned, this *doesn’t* reflect a change in my tastes in the last ten years. The ones that are going are the Deathstalker books, and that’s because around ten years ago I got part way through the latest one, and realised that not only did I not feel like finishing it, I never wanted to read another Deathstalker book again. Not even the first one, which I’d really enjoyed a lot.

This may have been the first series in which I hit the “are you ever going to finish this story?” barrier. I will read very, very long series — I’m still enjoying Discworld. But the long series I will still read essentially consist of new stories in the ongoing history of that universe. Deathstalker turned into the sort of series where the author keeps thinking that one or two more episodes will finish off this story — and then finds that another million words have somehow sneaked in there, and the end of the arc is still a couple of books away.

I know that this is not necessarily a cynical spinning out of the story over unnecessary numbers of books just to keep the money coming in. Often enough it’s simply that the characters *will* not leave the author alone, or a nice simple outline turns out to need three times as many words as expected to deal with all the ramifications that spring up when you start writing the thing. I’ve watched a couple of friends get caught in that loop; and on a shorter scale, I’m the person who turned a 1500 word short story into a series that currently has around 120 kwords out in the wild and at least another 40k waiting to be written. But there comes a point at which I have to be just as interested as the author is in this soap opera in order to keep reading, and a lot of the time I’m not.

And yet one of the books on the “prise from my cold dead hands” list is also set in the Twilight of the Empire universe. Mistworld is one of the short novels in the same setting which came out before Deathstalker. Not everyone likes this, but I adore it. It’s one of the books I actively missed when it was in storage all those years, and the main reason I didn’t go out and get another copy was that by then I had a To Be Read pile that was threatening to turn into a mountain.

There’s a definite correlation with the length of the book, but that’s more a reflection of the length of the story unit. I’ll happily read the two Blue Moon doorstops, because even though they tie into the Blue Moon universe and you’ll get more out of them by reading the whole sequence in order, you don’t *have* to read any more than the one book out of the universe. And the standalone Shadows Fall is going to have to wait until when I have the time and attention to give to a complex doorstop, but it’s going on the shelf, not in the box.

I think this is partly that I’m feeling less inclined to read doorstops at all. But it’s also partly because Green’s work was, in my view, a lot more disciplined in the Blue Moon books.

I’ve never read any of the Nightside books, and that’s largely because I didn’t trust them not to turn into the sort of thing that annoyed me about the Deathstalker books. Maybe once I’ve made some inroads on the TBR mountain, I’ll give them a go.

Harry Harrison — The Men From P.I.G. and R.O.B.O.T.

In the far future, the interstellar law enforcement body is thinly spread and has to use more subtle methods than simply sending in a battleship. Here are two tales of the specialist corps which work undercover, sending in a single man with some very specialised help — the men of the Porcine Interstellar Guard, and the Robot Obtrusion Battalion Omega Three.

This pair of novelettes were written for children, but are equally entertaining for adults. Each story is a nicely constructed sf mystery, with both genres well integrated. In the first, a pig farmer arrives on a frontier planet with a ghost problem. But the pig farmer isn’t a farmer, and his herd includes a collection of very bright mutant pigs with a talent for trouble. In the second, one travelling salesman shouldn’t seem much of a threat to a cattle-ranching planet, but the locals are sufficiently paranoid to think otherwise. But not quite paranoid enough to notice just how many robots of all shapes and sizes will fit into that battered old spaceship… Deftly sketched characters, a pair of interesting plots, and often very funny, this is a cheerful short read.

LibraryThing entry
The Men from P.I.G. and R.O.B.O.T. at Amazon UK
The Men from P.I.G. and R.O.B.O.T. at Amazon US

Book review: Gerald Durrell — The Stationary Ark

Nowadays, a good many zoos are seriously involved in conservation work, the last hope for some of the most endangered species on the planet. In the 1970s, that wasn’t the case. This book was Durrell’s polemic against the keeping of wild animals purely for entertainment purposes, an impassioned plea for things to change. In a series of seven essays he set out the case for zoological gardens to be genuine centres of scientific excellence devoted to the preservation and breeding of the animals in their care, and described the work of the zoo he had set up for this purpose. He made himself highly unpopular in some quarters with his stinging criticism of then-current practice, not least because it’s well and entertainingly written, a successful appeal to the public at large to support his campaign. The first chapter is a little dry, but after that this is a fascinating description of the work of the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust. Funny, moving, and utterly devoted to the animals without ever lapsing into saccharine sentiment, this is well worth a read.

LibraryThing entry
The Stationary Ark

July book log

Okay, I give up, I’m not going to get time to write something I can call a review on July’s book. So it’s book log only. What I read in July:

PD James — A Mind to Murder

Second of the Dalgliesh series. The administrative assistant at a psychiatric clinic is murdered, in circumstances which make it clear that the killer must have been one of the people legitimately in the building that evening. But as Dalgliesh sifts through the stories of those people, he finds a multitude of possible motives, and a woman who was apparently liked by none but also hated by none. As usual with this series, the book is as much about exploring the personalities and interactions of the people as about the hunt for clues.

A Mind to Murder at Amazon UK
at Play
A Mind to Murder (Adam Dalgliesh Mysteries, No. 2) at Amazon US
at Powells

Miscellaneous fanfic

I’m picky about fanfic, and I don’t really like reading long pieces on a computer monitor (I was always a paper zine fan). But towards the end of the month I finally had some free time, and decided to work my way through some Torchwood fanfic on the LiveJournals of a couple of people who write reliably well and to my taste. I pointed at a couple of the stories — you can find my recommendations using the “fic rec” tag on my LiveJournal and DreamWidth accounts.