kittiwake: (travel)
An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature
kittiwake: (travel)
I opened my eyes upon a strange and weird landscape. I knew that I was on Mars; not once did I question either my sanity or my wakefulness. I was not asleep, no need for pinching here; my inner consciousness told me as plainly that I was upon Mars as your conscious mind tells you that your are upon Earth. You do not question the fact; neither did I.

There is a mystery about John Carter that is almost forgotten in the excitement of his adventures on Mars. He claims to be immortal and that he has been known as Uncle Jack to generations of his family but has appeared to be abut 30 years old (if indeed they are his relations, since he can't remember his childhood). I wonder whether this is explained in one of the later books, or whether his origins will remain forever mysterious.

I noticed that in a couple of places John Carter uses the word shambles in its old sense, of a place where animals are slaughtered and butchered. When he describes the aftermath of a battle as a 'bloody shambles' he is not swearing, and means that it is literally covered in gore and body parts, and not that it is a disorganised mess. I wonder if that meaning was still in general use in Virginia at the time of the American Civil War, or whether his use of obsolete terms is pointing to his immortality?

I liked Sola's story and how it showed that the green martians' cold and loveless society is a cultural artefact rather than determined by evolution and genetics I liked John Carter a lot too; he says that he isn't a hero because taking the easy way out never even occurs to him until afterwards, he sees the green martians as men and women rather than alien monsters, and he is very fond of animals and uses kindness to turn the 'guard-dog' into a loyal and friendly pet, and the unpredictable throats into reliable mounts who won't throw their rider at the worst possible moment and try to gore him.

There is one one thing about this book that I definitely don't like - Edgar Rice Burroughs is just rubbish at thinking up character names! The women's names aren't so bad, but John Carter is a boring name for the protagonist, and the martian men's names such as Kantos Kan and Tars Tarkas.just seem ridiculously clunky.


I nominated this book for the Motley Fool on-line book club, because the recent film based on it, "John Carter", was so badly received that I thought it would be interesting to see what the original story was like, and it won the vote for a book available as a free download.

Now that I have finished, I would quite like to see the recent film to see how they made such a mess of it. I would have thought that "A Princess of Mars" would made a good film, as it has an exotic alien setting, a likeable hero and heroine, romantic misunderstandings, character development (Tars Tarkas and the green martians), monstrous beasts (the white apes), cuddly beasts (the loveable Woola), and plenty of excitement in the form of daring escapes, airship chases, sword-fights and battles on land and in the air.
kittiwake: (stormclouds)
Gavving was fourteen years old, as measured by passings of the sun behind Voy. He had never been above Quinn Tuft until now.
The trunk went straight up, straight out from Voy. It seemed to go out forever, a vast brown wall that narrowed to a cylinder, to a dark line with a gentle westward curve to it, to a point at infinity—and the point was tipped with green. The far tuft.
A cloud of brown-tinged green dropped away below him, spreading out into the main body of the tuft. Looking east, with the wind whipping his long hair forward, Gavving could see the branch emerging from its green sheath as a half-klomter of bare wood: a slender fin.

This is a hard science fiction book about humans living in the gas torus surrounding a neutron star, and the diagrams at the beginning of the book are a great help to the reader in visualising the setting. A decaying gas giant orbits the neutron star, creating the Smoke Ring, a region of the gas torus that has a high enough concentration of air, water and other chemicals to support life. Humans have only lived there for the past 500 years, but have adapted well to their new environments, although in most of the tribes it is only the Scientist who knows much about their space-faring past. The AI that controlled the ship they arrived in is still waiting outside the smoke ring, and worrying about what has become of the descendants of the crew.

The unique environment has both benefits and limitations for the people who live in the smoke ring, and it is no utopia. The original composition of the ship's crew has led some of the tribes to practise slavery, and in both cases where a woman is approached by a man with a view to marriage, she immediately finds herself someone she prefers and marries him the very same day, so it seems that refusing to marry someone just because you don't want to is unacceptable. Unlike the 'birds' and most other creatures that inhabit the smoke ring, the humans do not have wings so they cannot leave the trees to go hunting. and they now live in isolated groups, some in low-gravity environments on the tufts at the ends of huge trees, and others in free-fall amidst floating jungles of foliage. They eat leaves and fungus growing on the trees, grow some crops and catch passing 'birds' for meat, using harpoons and bows. The tree-dwellers have evolved to be much taller and thinner than standard humans, and the few people who are still born with the old body-shape are seen as dwarfs, while the jungle dweller are even more elongated due to living in free-fall.

As the story begins, things are going badly for the the Quinn Tuft tribe, as the Dalton-Quinn tree has been knocked out of the fertile central region of the smoke ring after passing too close to the planet Gold, and the Quinn Tuft tribe's Scientist believes that the tree is dying. A group of tribe members considered persona non grata by the tribe's Chairman is sent on an expedition along the tree in search of food and water and end up going much further than they ever expected.

I have read this book before, over 20 years ago, but although I remembered the unique setting, with the low gravity and the trees, I didn't remember the plot at all, although certain events rang faint bells with me during this re-read. I've ordered a copy of the sequel, and I hope it will be equally fascinating.
kittiwake: (sea)
Each night, in dreams, she still flow through the green-blue dappled vastness of the Void. The dim-lit chasms arched and wheeled around her. A space that is no-space, greater than the mind can conceive, immeasurable, ineffable, nowhere and nothing.
In her dreams she could still soar through the infinite sea-lit halls that her mind made of the Void's awful nothingness; dance amidst the motes of sifting dust; soar unbound and untethered as man has always yearned to do, and never done, save there.

from "The Fall of Lady Sealight"

This book contains fifteen stories and a poem, with a majority of female authors and also of British authors. The editor requested stories on the theme of dark tides or dark currents, and since several of the stories submitted concern electricity rather than the sea, as well as others which interpret the brief less literally, so the title "Dark Currents" fits well.

The stories are mainly fantasy and science fiction, and although there is a Cthulhu mythos story,"Sleepless in R'lyeh" it isn't really frightening, while the most scary story, "Home", wasn't really horror, being the tale of someone who lingered too long in a liminal zone, was caught by creatures from beyond the threshold, and made the mistake of drinking their wine.

My favourites were "The Age of Entitlement" and "The Barricade", while my least favourite was "Electrify Me".
kittiwake: (Default)
I won this coffee-table book in a raffle at this year's BookCrossing Unconvention in Nottingham. It contains lots of lovely photos of Northern Norway with accompanying text in four languages.

Twenty-odd years ago I went on the Hurtigruten, from Bergen in the south to Kirkenes near the Russian border and back to Bergen, and this book brought back some great memories. Maybe I should do the trip again, as I can see from the photos that things have changed. Places in the book that I remember from my trip include Torghatten, Bodø, the Lofoten Islands, Trollfjorden, Tromsø and the Arctic Cathedral,Hammerfest, Honningsvåg, Noth Cape, Vardø and the star-shaped fort, Vadsø and Kirkenes.

Norway is definitely on my list of places to visit again.
kittiwake: (dreams)
But on Friday, the scarlet lipstick you produced
as you prepared to leave me
Turned black on your lips;

On Saturday, your skirt was no longer orange;

On Sunday, the moon was blue;

On Monday, we crossed a city
Where contrite hymnsinging
Shook the stadium:
We could not tell
Whether the streetlights said Go:
Till we reached the no-speedlimit sign
Tears did not cease to run
Your eye shadow was not green but ash;
Tuesday, the sky was grey, with a black sun;

And today, at noon, there is no colour anywhere
Except the purple of your suspenderbelt

from "The Spectrum"

Published in 1969, this is a collection of ten short stories and one poem that appeared in New Worlds magazine. My favourites included "The Tennyson Effect" by Graham M Hall and "The Spectrum" by D. M. Thomas, but the story I liked most of all was "The Serpent of Kundalini" by Brian W. Aldiss. I have read a few other stories in which whole populations have been sent crazy, and seem to be living in a psychedelic, hallucinogenic world. In "The Serpent of Kundalini" Europe has been devastated by psychochemical bombs, but in other stores there have been some quite different causes for the madness.

He still heard breathing, movement of clothes, the writhing of toes inside shoe-caps. But these were not his. They belonged to the Charteris in the car, the undiscarded I. He no longer breathed.
As he huddled over the arrow, gulls tumbled from the cliff and sank into the water. Over the sea, the ship came. Up the hill, motors sounded. In the head, barefoot, a new age.
There had been a war, a dislocation.
kittiwake: (stormclouds)
Voor's world. The planet had once seemed so open and welcoming - but perhaps my kind were never meant to - I shook my head vigorously as if I could so flip away that insidious conclusion. Each and every world which my species had colonized had had one problem or another. that quality of need for mastery, which was a birth-part of us, was always so awakened into life to set us hammering some very hostile planets into earth-homes. No world was ever a paradise without any danger. In fact such might have been far worse a pitfall for my kind than the worse stone-fire-airless hell. We would only have atrophied there - become nothing.

I don't usually read YA fiction, but I picked this one up at a BookCrossing meeting. I think I read one of more Andre Norton books as a teenager, but she wrote so many books that I don't think I will ever be able to work out which ones I have read before, but I am sure that I have never read Voorloper before.

Fifty years after the colonisation of the agricultural planet of Voor, settlements in the north start to be wiped out by the mysterious Shadow Death, leaving everyone dead except for a few small children, all second generation settlers. When Mungo Town was destroyed, the only survivor was a five-year-old boy called Bart, who was left with no memories of what had happened, His father Mac also survived because he was away from home when the Shadow Death struck, and after the tragedy Mac and Bart became voorlopers, nomadic traders whose goods are carried in covered wagons pulled by gars (draught animals native to Voor, similar to yaks but with three horns). For near ten years of my life I had known Witol, yet never had he given me this salute. We had often speculated, my father and I, as to the intelligence of the gars - now I believed I had proof that they were indeed more than just the bearers of burdens which off-worlders classed them as being.

The northern lands are now mostly deserted, but there are a few mining settlements, protected by force fields and Mac and Bart are the only voorlopers to trade with them, which gives Mac the change to investigate the deserted holdings while he is on his way to and from the mines. A young healer called Illo, who also has an interest in the Shadow Death, asks to accompany them as they head north into the wilderness, but a violent storm changes everything.

The story has lots of black and white line illustrations, so you can see what the gars look like and get a clear picture of how the colonists dress, but Illo is always shown with loose hair, even though the book says that she wears her hair tightly tied back as all the healers do. The cover picture is very misleading; featuring a water creature that appears in one short scene. It has "a webbed and taloned paw, larger than my own hand" and it is described as clambering onto the top of the wagon, so it is obviously nowhere near as large as the Godzilla-sized monster shown on the cover, and is probably more like the size of a large salt-water crocodile.

But aside from the issues with the illustrations, and it being a YA novel, I did like it, especially the gars which are strong, reliable, loyal and intelligent.
kittiwake: (sf)
I have decided to read all six of the Eight Worlds books, and this is one of the four that I have read before. I'm not going to write a new review, but here is the review I wrote last time I read it.

As I'm going to read the books in order of publication this time, the hotline should seem less of a deus ex machina in the later books than it did the first time I read them.
kittiwake: (stormclouds)
Mrs Ayres sighed. 'How this house likes to catch us out, doesn't it? As if it knows all our weaknesses and is testing them, one by one . . . God, how dreadfully tired I am.

Were the strange and tragic events at Hundreds Hall caused by the ghost of a dead child, a poltergeist linked to the presence of a homesick adolescent maid, a taint of ancestral madness, the phantasm of a living person obsessed by the house (whether through wanting to possess the house, or wanting to escape from it), or by the house itself complaining of neglect? I quite like the fact that you never find out what has caused the strange events at Hundreds Hall, although the last few pages do seem to point in one direction.

Both the family and their servants realise that it is the Ayres family who are being targetted. The servants may be teased and frightened, but it is only members of the family who are harmed. 'I haven't done nothing,' she said, 'and I haven't said nothing! I don't like to think of it, anyhow. It makes me frit if I think about it when I'm downstairs on me own. It isn't my bad thing, that's what Mrs Bazeley says. If I don't go bothering him, she says, he won't come bothering me.'

I found Doctor Faraday quite creepy. He worms his way into the household, and seems not to see how much of a burden the decrepit house is to the Ayres family. Or rather, he does not want to see it, and no matter how many times they mention it, he brushes their worries aside. I noticed that it is shortly after he hears that Rod may possibly stop him from using the short-cut across the park, that Faraday started to push for Rod being committed, either voluntarily or against his will. Rod has to be got rid of because he is the one who keeps reminding his mother and sister of Faraday's social inferiority, and I don;t think he would ever have countenanced Faraday courting his sister. So I am leaning towards the trigger being the arrival of Doctor Faraday; maybe his obsessions did lead to the creation of a phantasm, but maybe he gave events the odd push himself, either consciously or not.

Although it is hard to tell Faraday's real motivation because he is the one telling the story, and no doubt twisting it to put himself in a better light, I don't think he loves Caroline at all. I think that in order to raise his social status and get his hands on Hundreds Hall, he is willing to put up with her plain looks, but only as long as she conducts herself as a member of the landed gentry should. He seems to actively hate her whenever he sees her covered in dirt doing housework like a maid, His obsession with the decaying house that is in reality a millstone round the Ayres' neck is senseless. It is not as if he is 'new money' riding to the rescue, like Caroline's ugly but extremely wealthy great-grandmother; he is a struggling doctor from working-class roots, who doesn't even own his own house. With him as head of the family and refusing obdurately to sell up, Hundreds Hall would have continued to fall apart, eating up the family's remaining capital and leaving them with nothing.

But he still got what he wanted in the end.
kittiwake: (stormclouds)
'They made it for war,' the little boy told me as we stepped out of the green portal, back into the playroom. 'You know that, don't you?'
'They made what for war?'
The game . . . Palatial.' He still had something of Count Mordax about him - there was a haughty disregard in his voice, above and beyond his usual predilection for teasing. 'It was for soldiers, the same ones your family helped to clone. They went inside Palatial and got memories of being in the war, even though they'd only just been grown. By the time they went into battle, they had as much experience and knowledge as if they'd been fighting for years.'

The story of the downfall of the Gentian Line and what happened next, is told by two shatterlings of the line, Campion and Purslane. Each chapter is split into three sections, with the other section narrated by Abigail Gentian, the originator of the Gentian Line, whose family had made its fortune in providing cloned soldiers in wartime. Having grown up in an asteroid-covering version of the Winchester Mystery House, with her development delayed, so that her childhood was extended by thirty years, Abigail eventually decided to created 1000 male and female clones of herself and send them out to explore the galaxy. Six million years later the remaining shatterlings are still crisscrossing the galaxy, and the Lines have become one of the major power structures of the galaxy.

The story of the boy Abigail played Palatial with, was a bit of a red herring. To start with I though that Abigail having forgotten his name, was to do with the secret of the House of Suns, and maybe he was the founder of that line. Later in the book, when it became clear that the boy had never recovered from the mental breakdown caused by Palatial malfunctioning, I thought that maybe the boy had moved on from playing Count Mordax to playing the original Ghost Soldier, and had either been unable to switch characters again after the Ghost Soldier's soul had been magically replicated in thousands of identical Ghost Soldiers, or that his final breakdown had come when the magician destroyed the Ghost Soldiers. But now I think that Abigail's memories of feeling incredible guilt over destroying the Ghost Soldiers, were actually the only way that the shatterlings' repressed memories could seep out, so it represented their guilt and not Abigail's guilt for something that after all only happened in a game.

In some ways I liked this more than the Revelation Space books, as the main characters did not do such stupid things so I didn't find them as annoying. Although this is currently a stand-alone novel, I would certainly read another book about the Gentian Line, or one of the other Lines, if Alastair Reynolds were to write one. However, Campion and Purslane's sections were narrated in very similar style, so it was never clear to begin with which of them was telling that part of the story, but that's probably because they were clones, rather than being due to bad writing.
kittiwake: (meditiation)
People who wish to escape from the grasp of the institutions of their time, and the opinions of the crowd, and indeed from ordinary life, are not misfits in modern society: their roots go back into furthest antiquity, as far as those of warriors; they were singing songs like these in ancient China.

I arrive all alone, I sit down all alone.
I have no regrets that people today do not know me.
Only the spirit of the old tree, in the south of the city
knows for certain that I am an Immortal passing by.

To ask what the practical results of escape might be is to miss the point of escape, which includes escape from purpose. Those who want a purpose must look beyond escape.

Having acquired this book from a down-sizing relative, I was undecided about whether to read it or pass it on, but I was drawn in by the fascinating chapter headings, such as "How people have repeatedly lost hope, and how new encounters, and a new pair of spectacles, revive them", "How people searching for their roots are only beginning to look far and deep enough", and "How the art of escaping from one's troubles has developed, but not the art of knowing where to escape to", which made it clear that it was an unusual kind of history book.

.It has been said that tor those who 'feel', life is a tragedy and for those who 'think', it is a comedy. There is no need to live only half a life. for those who both think and feel, life is an adventure.

Each chapter begins with a description of how one or more people, mostly French women, think and feel about their lives, followed by a discussion of how human behaviour and attitudes have changed over the centuries, illustrated by examples from various countries and historical eras. I was not keen on the descriptions of the women at the beginning of every chapter. The author delved into their deepest motivations and insecurities in his interviews with the women, but then presented them in an extremely off-putting way, so that they come across as cold and self-centred. I did find them less annoying towards the end of the book, but I may just have got used to the style of the descriptions.

The scope of the book is enormous, covering large swathes of history and the world, but it is also intimate as the title says, with its concentration on topics such as love and loneliness, compassion and curiosity, power and pessimism, and the vexed question of whether men and women can ever really communicate. Some kinds of behaviour have changed gradually over the centuries, but other ideas and attitudes seem to be cyclical. Cultures tend to alternate between optimism and pessimism, and there will often be a growing dissatisfaction with the status quo that results in permissive decades (or even centuries) being followed by more restrictive decades, before swinging back again.

Three centuries of lonely ridicule followed, and astrologers almost vanished. It looked as though old ideas could be consigned once and for all to the dustbin. but no, they do not vanish, and when there is a crisis, and when people lose hope, or when they feel that the world is changing too fast and not giving them what they want, when they do not know where to turn, they discover that the old ways were only packed away in their bottom drawer. they fetch them out, and try them on again.

This wide-ranging and intriguing book is definitely a keeper, but next time I read it I may skip over the descriptions of the women.
kittiwake: (history)
The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century

In addition, the patient should take a medicinal bath. For this the physician's assistant should 'take blind puppies, remove the viscera and cut off the extremities, then boil them in water, and bathe the patient in this water four hours after he has eaten.'

This is history told as if you were planning a trip to the fourteenth century and needed to learn what to wear and how to behave in order to blend in. It really brings the period to life, and shows the reader how the people of that time understood their world, rather than filter through modern eyes. A few historical events are mentioned in passing, but this is mainly a social history, although of course the Great Plague (which was not known as the Black Death until the nineteenth century) is covered since that had such a huge effect on people's lives, and led to the end of the feudal system. One thing I really like about this book, is that every section discusses the effects on people of different social class, as well as the differences between life in a town and in the country.

I found the chapter about clothing very interesting, and the colour plates helped a lot in showing how different classes dressed, and the difference between clothing at the beginning and end of the century. The invention of the button allowed clothing to be fitted rather than just hanging straight from the shoulders, and men's clothing changed more during the course of the fourteenth century than during any century before or since. What you were allowed to wear, in terms of cloth, fur and jewels was dictated by both your social status and your wealth, with restrictions in place for all except the royal family and the families of lords worth over £1000 per year. There are also laws restricting what you can eat, with the eating of meat forbidden on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, also creatures such as puffins and beavers counted as fish due to their aquatic lifestyle. The descriptions of typical fish dishes sounded interesting, so a fish-lover like me would be quite happy with three meat-free days per week, as long as I was able to afford fish. Although most of England is less than forty miles from the sea, and lords and abbots had well-stocked fish ponds on their estates, the dietary rules pushed up the price of fresh fish so the poor would probably be limited to dried fish.

Apart from the Great Plague and invention of buttons, it was also the century when the upper classes switched from speaking French to speaking English, and mechanical clocks came into use, leading the length of the hour to become standardised. Before then, hours had been shorter in the winter than in the summer as the short winter day was split into the same number of hours as the much longer summer day. Now that both systems in use, it became necessary to specify if you were using 'hour of the clock' rather than the old sun-based system in which the hour depended on the angle of the sun in the sky.

As a woman your best bet is to be widowed after you have learnt enough to be able to carry on your husband's craft or trade, as widows and elderly spinsters whose parents are dead have far more independence than any married woman, with Chaucer's Wife of Bath being a good example. Life in general was hard, the legal system harsh and the descriptions of some very peculiar medical procedures (treatments for tuberculosis involved sucking milk directly from a woman's breast or a goat's udder, as well as the medicinal bath described above) make it clear that it was not a good idea to fall into the hands of a physician, although you might have better change of survival if you required the help of a surgeon, but there were good tings too. The people of the fourteenth century liked to laugh, they loved music and dancing, watching plays and reading (or being read too).

The fourteenth century was a hard time to be alive, and although you might like to visit it as a time-traveller you probably wouldn't like to stay there permanently, but it was a time of great change so it is an incredibly interesting time to read about. And having read it , I want to read the fourteenth century classics "The Canterbury Tales" and "Piers Plowman", and re-read "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight".
kittiwake: (fantasy)
Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic

And so, perhaps urged on by the official indifference, the lions left their refuges to cynically strut their manes down our streets.

Without hunger, they are as tame as a little cat. But they eat all day, which is why it was impossible to know at which moment they would bite off the arm of a balloon salesman or swallow a kid.

This book contains thirty-three short stories (some very short indeed) and one poem. They are a mixture of fantasy, horror, ghost stories, magical realism and folk tales plus a fair few non-genre stories, and whatever the editors may claim in the introduction, I would only count three or four stories, "The Hour of the Fireflies", "1965", "Pink Lemonade" and maybe "Photophobia", as being science fiction.

A couple of the stories were quite predictable, but there is a lot of variety and most were very atmospheric, and I enjoyed most of them. Those I liked least were the stories about obsession, including "The President without Organs", a strange tale of freedom of information and national fixation with the president's body, and "The Transformist" and "The Drop".

My favourites were "Photophobia", "Lions", "Wittgenstein's Umbrella" and "Pink Lemonade".
kittiwake: (sea)
As I was on the road, observing the littleness of the houses, the trees, the cattle, and the people, I began to think myself in Lilliput. I was afraid of trampling on every traveller I met, and often called aloud to have them stand out of the way, so that I had like to have gotten one or two broken heads for my impertinence.
(Gulliver on his return to England from Brobdingnag)

The introduction by Gulliver's cousin is followed by a letter from Gulliver which makes him sound completely insane and obsessed by horses, and I started to doubt whether the journeys were a figment of his imagination. Gulliver becomes more and more neurotic each time he returns home, in marked contrast to how he copes with what should be far more stressful events while travelling. He takes shipwreck, mutiny and capture in his stride, and quickly becomes fluent in unknown languages, yet after his final journey he is unable to face talking to or touching his wife and children, and spends four hours a day or more in the stables talking to his horses.

I don't think you have to have detailed knowledge of early 18th century history to get the satire. Religious quarrels, politicians, lawyers and egg-head scientists are good targets for satire in all ages. the stories have plenty of amusing moments, such as the Lilliputian queen's horror at Gulliver's method of extinguishing a fire in the palace, and her refusal ever to occupy that part of the building again, no matter how thoroughly they were cleaned. However, when I came across this description of Lilliputian handwriting, it made me wonder whether it was a satirical dig at something I hand;t picked up on or if the author had just put it in to tease a particular English lady who had trouble writing in a straight line: I shall say but little at present of their learning, which, for many ages, has flourished in all its branches among them: but their manner of writing is very peculiar, being neither from the left to the right, like the Europeans, nor from the right to the left, like the Arabians, nor from up to down, like the Chinese, but aslant, from one corner of the paper to the other, like ladies in England.
kittiwake: (stormclouds)
He was one of the great humanitarian French freethinkers; and the only thing wrong with them is that they make mercy even colder than justice.

I remember reading some Father Brown stories at least 20 years ago, but possibly as long as 30 years ago. All I remembered was the solution to two of the stories, "The Invisible Man" from this collection, and another story in which people had been seeing monsters at a theatre. I had entirely forgotten about Father Brown's friend Flambeau, and one thing that did seem odd is that in the first few stories where Flambeau is still a criminal, neither he nor Father Brown nor the narrator even hinted that Father Brown and Flambeau had ever met before, or might have recognised each other.

Father Brown is a Miss Marple type of detective, someone that no-one expects to be any help in investigating a murder, but who comes up with insights based on their own life experience. The murders aren't all that involved, some of them are very easy to solve. Father Brown manages to get some religious philosophising into every story, and the identity of some of the murderers make it clear where the author's religious sympathies lie.

What I do like a lot, is the scene-setting. This can often be quite minimal in short stories due to the need to hurry the plot along, but Chesterton's descriptions of people, places, weather and time of day are strongly visual, and give the reader a vivid mental picture of events.

Between the silver ribbon of morning and the green glittering ribbon of sea, the boat touched Harwich and let loose a swarm of folk like flies, among whom the man we must follow was by no means conspicuous—nor wished to be.
kittiwake: (fantasy)
''Unhappy poet! But it's your own fault, my dear fellow. You shouldn't have treated him so carelessly and rudely. Now you're paying for it. You should be thankful that you got off comparatively lightly.'
'But who on earth is he?' asked Ivan, clenching his fists in excitement.
The visitor stared at Ivan and answered with a question:
'You won't get violent, will you? We're all unstable people here . . . There won't be any calls for the doctor, injections or any disturbances of that sort, will there?'
'No, no!' exclaimed Ivan. 'Tell me, who is he?'
'Very well,' replied the visitor, and said slowly and gravely:
'At Patriarch's Ponds yesterday you met Satan.'
As he had promised, Ivan did not become violent, but he was powerfully shaken.
'It can't be! He doesn't exist!'
'Come, come! Surely you of all people can't say that. You were apparently one of the first to suffer from him. Here you are, shut up in a psychiatric clinic, and you still say he doesn't exist. How strange!'
Ivan was reduced to speechlessness.
' As soon as you started to describe him,' the visitor went on, 'I guessed who it was that you were talking to yesterday. I must say I'm surprised at Berlioz! You, of course, are an innocent,' again the visitor apologised for his expression, 'but he, from what I've heard of him, was at least fairly well read. The first remarks that this professor made to you dispelled all my doubts. He's unmistakeable, my friend! You are ... do forgive me again, but unless I'm wrong, you are an ignorant person, aren't you?'
'I am indeed,' agreed the new Ivan.
'Well, you see, even the face you described, the different-coloured eyes, the eyebrows . . . Forgive me, but have you even seen the opera Faust?'
Ivan mumbled an embarrassed excuse.
'There you are, it's not surprising! But, as I said before, I'm surprised at Berlioz. He's not only well read but extremely cunning. Although in his defence I must say that Woland is quite capable of throwing dust in the eyes of men who are even cleverer than Berlioz.'

I have read "The Master and Margarita" four or five times before, and this re-read was for the Motley Fool on-line book club.

Although the Moscow of this novel is a determinedly secular society, religion is still lurking under the surface, with Ivan using an icon as a talisman and other characters occasionally crossing themselves. Professor Woland and his fellow-demons cause trouble wherever they go, highlighting the hypocrisy and inadequacies of the Soviet system. The death of Berlioz after talking to Professor Woland at the park leads to chaos at Massolit (the society of writers whose management committee he chairs) , the housing committee of the building where Berlioz lived and the variety theatre where his flat-mate worked, and drives several people over the edge and into the local psychiatric hospital.

Woland and his demonic minions work on the vanity and greed of the Muscovites, tempting the women attending the variety show with the latest fashions from Paris, before showering the audience with roubles that later turned into scraps of paper, or what is even worse, into illegal foreign currency. Margarita is my least favourite character, embracing evil without a backward glance, and in my opinion getting an entirely undeserved happy ending.
kittiwake: (media)
Richard accepted the sad inevitability that he was now a follower of The Northern Barstows like everybody else in the country. He knew who all these people were and how they related to each other, and suffered a nagging itchy need to know what they would get up to next. This must be what it was like to be a newly body-snatched vegetable duplicate and click in sync with the collective consciousness of the pod people.

When a jockey is ridden to death by his model girlfriend at exactly the same time as the broadcast of an episode of massively popular soap opera featuring an identical crime, the Diogenes Club (the branch of the secret service that deals with anomalous events) is alerted by Scotland Yard. Ghost--hunter Richard Jeperson is assigned to the case, but he never watches ITV because the adverts disrupt his psychic powers, and he knows less than nothing about the soap opera, so a beautiful academic specialising in The Northern Barstows is assigned to bring him up to speed, while Richard's assistant Vanessa goes undercover as an actress, playing the new girlfriend of one of the main characters, nicknamed 'lovely legs' by the cast and crew.

This highly-enjoyable novella is an amusing paranormal whodunnit with a well-realised 1970s setting.


kittiwake: (Default)

June 2012

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