Howard Aiken: Portrait Of A Computer Pioneer

By I. Bernard Cohen

Rating: 2 stars

Howard Aiken developed one of the first world’s first computers, although since machines like the Colossus became known, his Mark I is no longer regarded as the first computer. I’m not sure that it would count anyway, since it wasn’t electronic and didn’t have any stored program capability. I must say that I struggled with this book. The history of the Mark I was interesting, but I found the book quite dry and academic, and Aiken’s personality irritating — he had a tendency to be very hard and arrogant at times. He was also important for starting one of the very first computing degree programmes in the world as well, at Harvard.

Book details

ISBN: 9780262032629
Publisher: MIT Press (MA)
Year of publication: 1999

Flight, Vol. 1 (Flight, #1)

By Kazu Kibuishi

Rating: 3 stars

This is a collection of graphic short stories, connected by the theme of flight or flying. The quality was variable, but there were more hits than misses. The style of art also changes dramatically between stories, varying from very cartoony, to anime to almost Dave McKean-esque art. Also very short to read. I finished this in less than an hour.

Book details

ISBN: 9781582403816
Publisher: Image Comics
Year of publication: 2004

Give Me Ten Seconds

By John Sergeant

Rating: 3 stars

John Sergeant has had an interesting life. He was in the crowd during Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech, he was in a comedy series written by Alan Bennett and, of course, he’s spent most of his life as a journalist and reporter. His dry wit shines through and he writes well. His anecdotes, both political and non-political, are interesting and entertaining and his commentary on political matters is definitely worth reading. Shame it was let down by a rubbish last sentence.

Book details

ISBN: 9780330484909
Publisher: Pan Books
Year of publication: 2001

Cold Comfort Farm

By Stella Gibbons

Rating: 3 stars

When Flora Post’s parents die, she ends up staying with relatives in the country at Cold Comfort Farm, and immediately sets about making their lives “better”.

It took a long time for me to warm to this book. The faux-early 20th century style threw me, and the protagonist was annoying to start with. The dour characters at the farm didn’t help either, but about two thirds the way in, things started coming together; the style started to work; and the comedy started to shine through. Worth persevering with.

Book details

ISBN: 9780143039594
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Year of publication: 1932

Wintersmith (Discworld, #35)

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 4 stars

I really enjoyed this, the third Tiffany Aching book. This one sees her dance with the wintersmith and have to face up to the consequences. Pratchett seems to have a lightness of touch with it and the Nac Mac Feegles are always welcome in a Discworld book, as far as I’m concerned. Tiffany is turning into quite a powerful witch, growing in power in much the same way that Granny Weatherwax did over the course of her books, so I’m not sure how much steam there is left in her, to be honest, but this was fun.

Book details

ISBN: 9780552553698
Publisher: Corgi Childrens
Year of publication: 2006

Blackberry Wine

By Joanne Harris

Rating: 4 stars

Like Chocolat, this book hovers on the edge of fantasy for most of the way through, although I think this book actually hops over the border for cheap fuel and cigarettes. I really enjoyed this story of a writer (Jay Mackintosh) who wrote one really good book and spent the next 15 years of his life with writer’s block. Wine permeates the book, although not to the degree that chocolate did Chocolat. I also liked the conceit of the story being told by an old bottle of wine that Mackintosh had in his wine cellar. I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read of Harris’ work and this continues that trend.

Book details

ISBN: 9780380815920
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Year of publication: 1999

Up the Walls of the World

By James Tiptree Jr.

Rating: 4 stars

A small group of military personnel are experimenting with telepathy and accidentally get in contact with an alien race called the Tyrenni. Their world is under threat from a giant being destroying whole solar systems, and they realise that their only hope of survival is to take over their human contacts.

This was a great book. I’ve heard people say that Tiptree’s novels aren’t as good as her[1:] short stories, then I’d love to read some of those, since this book was amazing. Her characters were sketches but detailed ones, all sympathetic, the descriptions of the alien world and civilisation were vivid. Well worth reading.

[1:] Yes, her: James Tiptree Jr was the pen name of Alice B. Sheldon

Book details

ISBN: 9780441854714
Publisher: Ace
Year of publication: 1978

Glorifying Terrorism, Manufacturing Contempt: An Anthology

By Farah Mendlesohn

Rating: 3 stars

This anthology was published as a reaction to the Terrorism Act 2006 and each story in it could be interpreted as breaking that law, particularly in regards to the “glorification of terrorism” clauses. In this regard, they were a mixed bag. Some were subtle and some were as subtle as a half-brick in a sock. The quality was generally high, although I was disappointed by Ken Macloed’s contribution which was fragmentary and a bit random.

The problem is really that, by its very nature, it’d have to be a mostly dystopian book. And, as I’ve pointed out before, I don’t like dystopian fiction much. However, the point is more to do with the politics, and I still feel that it’s an important point to make, and I’m glad that I did buy the book.

Book details

ISBN: 9780955468803
Publisher: Rackstraw Press
Year of publication: 2006

The Owl Service

By Alan Garner

Rating: 3 stars

Three children in the Welsh valleys are doomed to relive a legend and must discover the secret of the dinner service with the owl motif to stop it.

For most of the way through this book, I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. When I got to the end, I decided that I didn’t. The writing style is odd, with things sometimes changing from one paragraph to the next with the reader being left to fill in the blanks. While this is often an effective device, I don’t think it worked in this case in the contexts that were given. None of the protagonists were particularly sympathetic, and I didn’t care hugely what happened to them by the end.

Book details

ISBN: 9780152056186
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Year of publication: 1967

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